In “Grammar and the Teaching of Writing: Limits and Possibilities,” Rei Noguchi initially explains possible reasons why formal grammar instruction seems to have had generally negative effects on writing skills. Of the three given causes, I think the first two causes make the most sense, at least to me (because I firmly believe that any kind of grammar knowledge can somehow be applied to writing). I agree that grammar is not the easiest aspect to learn, and it is true that many students, regardless of their grades, do not find grammar so fascinating or interesting enough to fully absorb what they learn. Regarding the first cause, Noguchi states that “abstractness” and “impreciseness” make “traditional grammar so difficult” (Noguchi 5). Ah, the impreciseness of grammar. I can definitely relate to that because sometimes, I do not know whether a comma is truly necessary. For instance, in elementary school, my Language Arts teacher taught us to put a comma in a series of things, such as “I had blue, yellow, green, and red crayons.” But at some point, someone told me that “No, you’re not supposed to put a comma before ‘and’ in the list of things” (e.g., “I had blue, yellow, green and red crayons). I still honestly am not sure which one is the “more correct” one, and I think there are many other cases in grammar where two different rules can be both right. Noguchi also talks about teachers spending a lot of time on explaining “abstract technical vocabulary of grammatical analysis,” such as predicates and relative clauses, which only make the subject even more difficult (6). I know that these terms are necessary to classify various components that make up grammar, but sometimes I wonder if they are really necessary in understanding grammar. It cannot hurt to know them, but I do believe that spending too much time on these terms can really slow down the actual process of learning the application of the terms. This happens at times in my Spanish class, where the professor may use the abstract, unfamiliar vocabulary to explain tense names or subjunctive sentence structures. Seeing the majority of the class confused, the teacher would nod and go, “All these terms are even more confusing, right?” Nonetheless, when we see examples of how the subjunctive sentences work, we easily grasp the idea. As for the second given cause, Noguchi says that even if students have “adequately learned,” they are unable to apply what they learn because “they are neglectful” (4). I think the problem is not just about being neglectful, but it also has to do with the degree of adequately learning or how much the information actually “sticks” to one’s mind. In addition to complete understanding of the material, students need to know various cases of applying the knowledge and consistently practice the new material. Since not everyone wants to do this, it occurs to Noguchi that students must be inattentive or neglectful, which may possibly be an underestimated or even erroneous conclusion.
Then, Noguchi moves on to conclude that grammar does not really overlap with content or organization; the only area in writing in which grammar can help is style. While reading this part, I instantly thought of my first tutee. She comes up with good connections between the authors that are interesting to read, and the flow of her essay is usually easy to follow. However, her writing is very sloppy and consists of a lot of grammatical errors, such as run-on sentences, tense disagreements, and missing commas. I do not believe that she does not know how to use these grammar rules, but it is just that she does not proofread thoroughly. Also, she has an unnecessarily wordy style of writing that leads to redundant sentences at times. To an extent, I understand Noguchi’s statement because I do not think her problem with grammar affects the arrangement of her essay. Nonetheless, I partially disagree with his statement that formal grammar “cannot help students improve or generate content” (9). Surely, knowing good amount of grammar cannot help “generate” amazing ideas or brainstorming. But I think grammar can definitely aid in improving the content. Usually, I read over what she has written, and ask her what exactly she is trying to say. When she explains things out loud to me, the ideas are simpler to understand; on the other hand, when she tries to write them down, she tends to complicate her wording. That, in turn, obfuscates her great ideas and interferes with the clever connections in the content of her essay. When we work on making her sentences more concise, I think this definitely “improves” the content by making the ideas easier to grasp and understand. This is crucial in writing because a good paper has the writer effectively delivering his or her ideas to the reader.
When it comes to dealing with grammar, I believe that finding balance is the key. After introducing the Connors-Lunsford study and the Hairston study, Noguchi tells us that teachers are responsible for “informing students of the possible socioeconomic penalties” and “eliminating these [features that produce negative public evaluations]” (31). I thought the word “eliminate” is a bit too radical. As Curzan has stated in the previous reading, it is a pity that certain uses of English dialects entail biased judgment; nonetheless, when using these features of English, everyone has the right to question, “Who says so?” Rather than eliminating these features altogether, teachers should discuss the context of such usage, as in what cases it will be appropriate to use these types of features or not. Another issue is shown in the Connors-Lunsford study, which shows that teachers often “highlight certain types of stylistic errors while ignoring other types” (24). This is bound to happen because everyone has specific pet peeves and grammar is probably not an exception. My AP English teacher in high school would not allow us to use to-be verbs in our essays. EVER. It was implied that one’s grade depended on the percentage of to-be verbs used…You have no idea how happy I am now that I can use to-be verbs whenever I want. Another teacher of mine in the past had a problem with semi-colons, which he limited to only one time per page (or none at all is even better). This “bias” to mark certain errors also needs to be fixed by finding some kind of middle ground. Maybe people should divide up the emphasis when marking errors, so that somehow, only particular types of errors do not get more frowned upon than other errors. This balance is not only beneficial for students, but also for teachers themselves since they have now learned to distribute the importance put on various errors.
Overall, I thought it was interesting how Noguchi tries to break down the categories of grammar to see which error occurs most frequently (e.g., punctuation errors) and which one involves serious social consequences. Towards the ending, he asserts, “much…grammar has been taught without taking into account the kinds and quantity of errors students actually make in writing” (32). I have to disagree with his generalization here because I had a completely different experience in my Expository 101 class. After grading the papers, my teacher actually identified what specific aspect of formal grammar each student had the most difficulty in using. Afterwards, for the presentations about grammar, he assigned the corresponding topics to each of us to present in front of class. I thought this made so much sense because I was given the topic that I had the most trouble in. I had the responsibility to go out and work on this grammar topic I was given, and I thought I understood so much better after all the preparation and research I had done on this topic.