Schuster’s approach to grammar is a very interesting one. I learned grammar the old fashioned way with memorization and worksheets. That was back in seventh grade, and I do not remember any of the technical terms. I have to relearn a lot of that in my linguistics course. If there is a better way to teach grammar to students I would like to learn it. I think it is a great idea to take into account what a student already knows about grammar because it is a natural part of learning to talk. I also like that Schuster believes that “many of the rules aren’t rules in the first place” (xv). Why be nit-picky if you don’t have to be? I like his practice of finding a popular non-fiction author who breaks the rules. I was surprised at the so-called “incorrect” grammar he found in the works of authors such as William Zinsser. And I think this is a good way to justify breaking certain rules.
In the introduction, Schuster wrote about when to correct or grade a student’s grammar. His argument agrees with Kittle because he believes that a first draft should focus on the content of the paper. He wrote, “the best thing we teachers could do to promote growth in student writers was to make positive comments on the content of what the students wrote and one suggestion on how they could improve next time” (xiv). I completely agree with this statement. When I read this in Kittle’s book I thought this was a wonderful way to treat student papers.
I firmly believe that writing can be very discouraging for a lot of students, and when teachers have a ton of red ink correcting every single mistake, students will want to throw the paper away. I love Kittle’s example from her own writing circle where a woman wrote about her paper’s organization and verb choices without ever commenting on how to improve the content of the paper. I think this is a really easy thing to do, and as a teacher I want to make sure that I do not do this to my students. Especially if I expect the student to develop the paper further. I think it is more important to boost a student’s confidence with writing by focusing on the positive than to point out every error on a draft.
I also liked how he wanted student input. At the end of each novel the students were able to vote on whether they liked it or not. Now, it could be argued that students will hate a lot of the classics because they are difficult to read. That is the point of teaching them; they are books students cannot read by themselves. But I think that students should have some say. Schuster also points out that some books go over pretty well with the students, and I think it makes sense to include those ahead of books students hate. I am not sure if this is something I would find helpful when I am teaching, but I think it would be interesting to try it and see what books students like best.
Another point that goes along with this is the story of Amy in Chapter 1. The traditional way of teaching grammar can be very confusing. I felt bad for this poor child who had absolutely no idea what a verb, noun, or adjective is. Public humiliation is never a good way to try and teach children. I think this holds true for middle school and high school students. Schuster points out that Amy’s confusion is natural because many words can fall into more than one category depending on the way in which they are used.
Grammar is extremely technical. Schuster goes into great detail about the origin of grammar books, but the point is that they don’t work. When students learn grammar by correcting the mistakes of others they quickly forget what they were supposed to learn. I am not saying that grammar isn’t important because it is. Poor grammar stands out. Students need to learn how to write effectively, and grammar is a huge part of that. But I think the traditional approach isn’t working. I am interested in reading more on what Schuster has to say.