Sunday, November 3, 2013

Grammar- I LOVE to HATE it!

Every year, I am confronted with the fact that most of my students are completely uneducated when it comes to grammar and basic sentence structure rules.

It is like every time their teachers have said to them, "Hey guys, now it is time to put away art and take out your grammar workbooks" my students do this weird zoning out that only kids with ADHD can accomplish. I mean that while they are fully capable of going through the tasks assigned and even answer the questions the teacher directly asks them, nothing, and I mean NOTHING goes further than their preventative learning shield. They have developed this shield over many years of having to learn things they believe they didn't need to know or things that they have deemed "boring."

Yeah, all fine and good when they are younger and not much is required in regards to grammar when understanding the difference between a direct and indirect object is really not that important, but when they get to high school and they are required to actually utilize these skills and supposed knowledge in unique and meaningful ways, I get to see just how tuned out they have been during grammar lessons. Fun!

Don't get me wrong, I do not blame the teachers! This skill to actively participate and yet not is quite interesting and well developed, especially among the population of students I teach. But this leaves me with the task of trying to engage them, teach them grammar and sentence structure WITHOUT going into the identifying and diagramming, all while breaking through their protective knowledge shield.

I have to make grammar relevant and teaching it is difficult enough to hold their interest while also keeping in mind that I cannot, and I mean CANNOT, throw a ton of identifying words at these students. Why? Because they don't care what those words are. Seriously, you can say a word is a preposition, it sounds like "whah whah" to them. There is no connection between what the word represents and what the word is; and it can't really be connected either because there is no foundation from which to pull. So I find myself creating completely new ways of teaching fundamentals in 10th grade, such as the difference between a noun, verb, and adjective, all in a way they can understand. I find myself telling them to say things OUT LOUD so they can hear how a sentence is constructed to be able to then eventually understand where the mistakes are and how to change them.

These skills come slowly and with so much practice that I can't even begin to explain the lengths I have gone to help them! I have to reinforce concepts and fundamental knowledge constantly, building on whatever information managed to get through their "non-listening" force field. But, I have found that when I do away with the terminology that most English teachers use while teaching grammar, I am able to show them what they need to do and why. I utilize their sharp hearing and the need to be engaged in every way to teach them how a sentence should SOUND, instead of what it looks like on a diagram.



I think that if you say to students "What part of speech is the word 'attitude'?" and they respond with "verb," you should respond with, "Can you 'attitude'?" or "If I were standing here and you asked me to 'attitude,' what would I do?" It might help them visualize the difference between a noun and an verb. That makes so much more sense to me than just simply memorizing it. It helps them see the difference between something you "do" versus something that is there.

When I teach adjectives, I tend to use the verb "to be" in front of an adjective to show them it is a description. I ask them "Can I be 'pretty'?" If they answer "yes" I know they can hear the difference but need help singling out the word and prompted with the question to be able to identify it in context.

For me, teaching grammar is like trying to teach a toddler how to learn a different language. Instead of sitting there, calmly waiting for my lecture, with a pen ready to take notes, they would rather use a sharpie to tag the furniture. But when I show them what to do, ask questions in a format that helps them hear the difference of sentence structure and correct grammar usage, I can get the to use their strengths and apply them to learning something they are increasingly understanding is crucial to their success in their lives, regardless of where they go after high school.
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