Monday, October 26, 2009

Sharing Learning: To Teach or Not to Teach Grammar? - That is the Eternal Question

Sharing Learning: To Teach or Not to Teach Grammar? - That is the Eternal Question
It seems to me that the key lines of division within grammar instruction (meaning syntax, word choice, usage, punctuation, and even spelling—a catch-all term that most English language-arts teachers use to describe the “stuff” that we “have to , but don’t want to” teach) have been drawn between those who favor part to whole and whole to part instruction. As a brief aside… isn’t this much akin to the graphophonic (phonics-based) and whole language reading debate? Anyway, here is my take on the assumptions of both positions: Advocates of part to whole instruction believe that front-loading instruction in the discrete parts of language will best enable students to apply these parts to the whole process of writing. Following are the key components of this inductive approach. 1. Memorization of the key terminology and definitions of grammar to provide a common language of instruction. 2. Identification of grammatical constructions leads to application. 3. Familiarity with the rules of grammar leads to correct application. 4. Teaching the components of sentence construction leads to application. 5. Distrust of one’s own oral language as a grammatical filter . Advocates of whole to part instruction believe that back-loading instruction in the discrete parts of language, as is determined by needs of the writing task, will best enable students to write fluently and meaningfully. Following are the key components of this deductive approach. 1. Minimal memorization of the key terminology and definitions of grammar and minimal practice in identification of grammatical constructions. 2. Connection to one’s oral language is essential to inform fluent and effective writing. 3. Reading and listening to exemplary literature and poetry provides the models that students need to mimic and revise as they develop their own writing style. 4. Minimal error analysis. 5. Teaching writing as a process with a focus on coherence will best enable students to apply the discreet parts such as subjects, predicates, parts of speech, phrases, clauses, sentences, and transitions to say something meaningful. Of course, how teachers align themselves within the Great Grammar Debate (See is not necessarily an "either-or" decision. Most teachers apply bits and pieces of each approach to teaching grammar. I take a stab on how to integrate the inductive and deductive approaches in How to Integrate Grammar and Writing Instruction (See


  1. Mark. This is a complex set of questions. I think I lost the thread half-way through. But, I'd like your opinion on a related question. Spelling

    Spelling is one of the strands in education that gets no real attention or respect. Many think that in an era when not just computers but even phones come complete with spell checkers, studying spelling is obsolete. Spelling is not the focus of standardized testing or otherwise considered very strategic.

    Nevertheless, the weekly list of spelling words with a spelling test is a mainstay of virtually every elementary school classroom. Spelling lists are tied to learning phonics, to learnign vocabulary, and to many other approaches to learning.

    Any thoughts?
    john, aka the Mayor
    BTW - Under resources on my site, I have a pair of articles that touch on this question.

  2. Dear Mr. Pennington,

    Thanks for you comment on my blog, What an honor! I am following your blog as I am new to writing, thus I can learn more from you. I wrote a comment in reply to yours on my blog. My sincere thanks.



  3. many thanks for commenting on my blog. i am very pleased with that. i am already become your followers in order to keep learning to be good writers :D. actually, i am fresh graduate from certain university in Indonesia. i took English as my subject of my study. to sharpen my language ability, i begin to learn writing English composition on my blog. it is my hope that we can share knowledge, especially English education.


  4. Bring in the relevance and ramp up the rigor. Keep it positive and everyone learns a little more.