Only five years ago, with a goal to develop strong writers, O’Neal sought to answer certain essential questions: What are the qualities of effective writing? What strategies do writers use to improve their writing? What techniques do writers use to communicate their ideas? The curriculum chosen fits the bill. Its mission aligns with O’Neal’s goal to graduate students who can clearly communicate their thoughts and ideas with confidence. Based on this underlying objective, the English department sought to make time for grammar by introducing a grammar curriculum. Students learn grammar inherently through reading and writing; however, teachers felt that students in all grade levels could benefit from grammar instruction taught in a similar format throughout. They considered many options for grammar instruction, but they felt that a consistent, strategic approach was the best fit for O’Neal’s community.
After piloting the program in fifth and seventh grades the last part of 2021/2022, the English department adopted Easy Grammar, a curriculum written by Dr. Wanda Phillips. Students easily achieve an understanding of grammar for every grade level with this program. “The curriculum is so simple and prescriptive,” states English Department Head Dr. Nicole Camastra. “Students are taught a little bit at regular intervals, and one concept builds on to the next.” English teachers take 10 to 15 minutes at the beginning of a few classes each week for a grammar lesson. The curriculum is specific for each grade and easily administered by the teacher.
The Spiral Approach
Easy Grammar uses the spiral approach to having students achieve mastery in grammar. Every lesson builds upon a previously learned concept. To make time for grammar is to learn it effectively and efficiently. Middle School English Teacher Catherine Hardy piloted the program last year where she saw significant improvement as students started to apply their grammar skills in their reading and writing units “The goal is mastery of the concepts,” states Mrs. Hardy. “This is done as grammar skills are built upon throughout the year. At the conclusion of each unit, there is an in-depth review.” Students take a pretest at the beginning of each school year followed by an assessment at the end of the school year to compare results and track achievement.
Learning Grammar Intentionally
Today’s adults remember their grammar from structured learning in grade school. Yes, even a little memorization was included. To identify a preposition is to memorize what they are. Beginning in the first grade, students learn punctuation, capitalization, and sentence formation. In the third grade, they cover prepositions. Through preposition memorization, the students can eliminate prepositional phrases from sentences for easier identification of the noun and the verb. Every grade level introduces another layer to the grammar structure. Taking these short daily lessons, students begin to identify what they have learned in their assigned reading, and they apply their skills to their writing projects and oral presentations.
Building a Strong Foundation
There is much debate on the proper way to teach grammar. Many feel that it should be taught through writing projects or identifying grammar components when reading literature. Although this method is very present in O’Neal’s reading and writing curriculums, spending an additional 10 to 15 minutes frequently and consistently to make time for grammar and focus on the fundamentals only furthers students along their path of effectively using and comprehending the English language. In an educator’s blog entry written by Melissa Kruse, she states,
“Grammar isn’t about tight buns, small spectacles, or red pens. It’s about teaching students to think from creative angles. It’s about having the ability to organize words, phrases, and sentences for maximum communication power. If students don’t know grammar, they don’t know what’s possible with the English language.”1
The Benefits of Learning Grammar
When most feel that students learn grammar organically, how well one learns the fundamentals is important. Proficiency in grammar equips students with tools to communicate in a good light with unwavering confidence.
Here are a few benefits worth mentioning:
- Portrays a positive image of the writer/speaker
- Illustrates effective communication skills
- Encourages logical thinking
- Increases vocabulary
- Influences the quality of writing and speaking
The use or nonuse of proper grammar establishes an individual’s presence or brand in this digital world. A person’s written or spoken word defines who they are. Proper grammar is a powerful tool.
Grammar is a Life Skill
From the simple email to the college application, or job interview, and even that social media post, grammar matters. Much like math skills when doubling a recipe or building a house, the need for grammar skills does not stop after high school. Dr. Wendy Troxel, the Director of the Center for Research at Kansas State University and an Associate Professor in the Department of Special Education, Counseling, and Student Affairs, shared her thoughts about the importance of teaching grammar:
“I guarantee that faculty at all levels (undergraduate through a doctoral program) notice poorly written work by students. Whether consciously or unconsciously, the reader tends to take the author less seriously, especially in some academic disciplines. Some blame society and social media and social class, but as the sociologist, Harry Edwards once said, ‘Minimum expectations become maximum goals.’ Right or wrong, most of the humans who live in higher education still expect a very traditional and conventional scholarly approach to writing. At its core, skillful writing reflects good thinking. Even if the content is strong, the impact of the work is diluted by lack of attention to formal speech (proper grammar) in most disciplines.”2
Precision Precedes Passion
If one put a magnifying glass on a sentence, the small precise elements that formed that sentence show how attention to detail matters. The simple building blocks of something bigger must be technically and thoughtfully designed to construct that perfect message with clarity and conviction. This is why the School makes time for grammar. O’Neal is cultivating future leaders and forever learners. Students find success by building confidence in themselves by way of proper communication skills that will forge their life journey.
1 & 2: Kruse, Melissa. “Why We Should Teach Grammar.” Reading and Writing Haven, Melissa Kruse, 19 Oct. 2021, https://www.readingandwritinghaven.com/the-nerdiest-of-confessions-why-we-teach-grammar-and-you-should-too.