Grammar and Teaching Response

Kevin Dahaghi

While initially reading Rei Noguchi’s “Grammar and the Teaching of Writing: Limits and Possibilities”, I was reminded of Curzan’s essay on grammar in which she argues that the “rules of grammar” should be challenged by students. Noguchi discusses the possible reasons behind the negative effects of formal grammar instruction. The author provides three probable causes for this with the first being that “formal grammar, being uninteresting or too difficult, is not adequately learned by student” (4). This cause criticizes both grammar as an interest and the way in which it is taught. I believe this cause to be the most visible in schools. Learning formal grammar in elementary and middle school always felt monotonous and unexciting. My teachers would use “Schoolhouse Rock” videos to add excitement to the grammar lesson and not have to teach it themselves.

Seeing as formal grammar is taught with no room for creativity and personal influence, students neglect the lessons of it. Students enjoy exercising their own control over writing and grammar is taught as unchangeable standard. Noguchi furthers this cause by incorporating the “abstractness” of formal grammar and the metalanguage used to discuss it. Students are able to understand the various concepts when they are visualized, however, when spoken aloud, the concepts of grammar are difficult to understand. As a college student and a writing tutor, I still cannot explain what a predicate or a relative cause is. My method of correcting grammar is to simply read the sentences aloud to hear if they sound correct. Moreover, Noguchi lists the second probable cause as the failure to transfer formal grammar knowledge to writing situations. I find this cause to be true of my students who claim to understand grammar and succeed in all the grammar exercises I pose to them. While they comprehend grammar, their essays are riddled with grammatical errors, most commonly the comma splice. Grammar functions as an inhibitor for my students thought process therefore, they ignore the rules of grammar until the essay is completed. When trying to present ideas, students find it easier to write in colloquial language and fragmented sentences. Then, an inadequate proofreading occurs and students leave fragmented sentences and misused or missed punctuation marks in their essays.

When Noguchi analyzes the relationship between grammar and organization, she notes, “formal grammar instruction rarely focuses on the organization of meaning” (10). Although grammar is based on order, structure and placement, it does not necessarily improve writing as writing is primarily focused with meaning. Grammar is focused on the inner portion of a sentence, not the connections amongst sentences and paragraphs. The area in which learning formal grammar is beneficially is style. This is not surprisingly to me considering many of my students attempt find their own styles while violating grammar rules. Students will often write lengthy, run-on sentences that overuse commas and incorporate numerous conflicting ideas. Students who understand formal grammar better are able to exploit this knowledge and create a unique style of writing. Noguchi admits to grammar’s positive relationship with style, however, she reasserts her argument that teaching formal grammar is a misuse of time in writing classes. I agree with this notion. It is more important to instill the principles of organization and content first as an essay can be well written despite lacking style. As a writer, I now use a bland style of writing that focuses less on word choice and more on universal meaning. Noguchi would contest my statement in saying “style is not something completely isolated from content and organization, but something which interacts with both” (13). I now realize that my placement and choice of words affects the meaning of my sentence.

This view of style provides it a much more significant role when compared to organization and content. This view of style places the reader in a position of power. Depending on how the reader perceives the meaning of a word to be, it can alter their perceived meaning of the sentence. I find myself in this position of power often when reading a student’s essay and coming across words I feel sound too moralistic or inappropriate. Although how the word reads to me differs from how the word will read to the professor or another reader. Noguchi illuminates the way in which teachers place greater penalties on certain grammatical errors than others. My past writing teachers would emphasis the penalty for missing a comma. Consequently, I emphasize the penalty for adding an unnecessary comma in a sentence. The way in which grammar was taught to me influences my view of certain grammatical errors.

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