Why I switched to English Language Arts
In a past life, music was my life. In fact, I was a competitive pianist for all of middle and high school, and entered college at the University of Washington (GO DAWGS!) as a piano performance major. After realizing that sitting alone for 3-4 hours a day practicing my piano wasn’t what I was meant to do, I switched to music education. Nowhere in my mind did I ever think I’d be musing about grammar.
During my career as a band teacher, our prepared students for the California Standards Test (CST) by having a literacy review the week prior to the test. During that time, my school extended third period by half an hour so that everyone could review a grammar packet with the students. Each day, we covered a different concept with our classes, regardless of what subject we actually taught.
After a couple of years of this, I realized that not only were the students bored, they didn’t quite understand the concepts, nor did they want to. I personally love grammar and am a stickler about it, so I found it to be quite enjoyable. I decided that I would try to shake things up by explaining the concepts in my own crazy way, using students’s names in my examples, and changing up the sentences to be silly.
As strange as it sounds, that literacy review was the impetus for my switch to English. It’s SUCH an important subject, only equal to math. I wanted to make a difference by making English and literacy FUN, because the ability to simply read and write was so important to the students’ futures.
I started out teaching English with such gusto, particularly when it came to grammar. I slowly taught grammar every Friday, and and then practice during warmups. As boring as that may sound, the students actually liked it! I remember having students who couldn’t or wouldn’t do any other work, were failing classes, etc., but they could label parts of speech like a BOSS. I felt so proud of them!
And stepping back…
Somewhere along the way, other standards and concepts took priority over grammar practice. I always felt like we had so much to cover in such a short amount of time, so last year I dropped grammar (I’m wincing as I type this confession). I figured my students could write well without it, right? Plus, grammar isn’t the same thing as mechanics, and aren’t those more important anyway?
Looking back, I did my students a great disservice by not incorporating grammar. I can see it in their writing this year: they’re making mistakes that they shouldn’t be. Perhaps it was a summer slump, but there’s no doubt about it: eliminating it was a huge mistake.
My epiphany about grammar
The more I think about it, I think I gave up grammar because I couldn’t think of a more effective way to teach it. Grammar taught out of context seems wasteful and boring. We would build momentum with other concepts, only to have to stop the train to work on GRAMMAR! I could almost feel their souls dying when that happened, as if grammar Friday was a form of punishment, or a way to make them appreciate Monday through Thursday even more! I let my own inability to innovate interfere with their needs, and this year I need to fix that.
Honestly, I’ve spent a lot of time researching the best ways to teach grammar in a way that will actually make a difference. I don’t want to teach it the way I’ve always done it – I want something more engaging, interactive, and meaningful. I’ve learned through research that there are a few “outside of the box” options. However, much of it consists of paid programs and/or worksheets.
Luckily, I found something that I’m going to try out. I found a post from TMI Flips English about a lesson called 8•pARTS by Jon Corippo. It seems to weave in the parts about my teaching that I enjoy: being silly while teaching content!
There’s also a great website, NoRedInk, that can be used for practicing grammar concepts. It’s best if you do a pre-assessment for a few grammatical concepts (such as clauses and phrases). Then you can use the data from that assessment to guide your teaching. Then I would suggest doing the direct teaching with grammar, and using NoRedInk as a formative assessment.
Another recommendation is incorporating grammar practice into your daily warmups or as bell ringers. These short but sweet nuggets of grammar can really help you assess student progress so that you can better plan for future lessons.