Melissa's Response:

Neuleib & Brosnahan= N&B

I enjoyed both of these articles because they argue for a more practical use for grammar. I know that grammar has become sort of "frowned upon" by English teachers at all levels, and I think that's mainly due to the formal instruction N&B criticize. I, at first, thought that this article was going to be about the uselessness of grammar instruction, but it turned out to be that these authors believe in the strength of grammar but disagree with the traditional way in which it is taught. I concurr. "Practice of forms improves usage whereas memorization of rules does not" (N&B 147). I believe this to be completely true. It's just like with vocabulary words. I must have memorized at least 30 words a week in my Senior English class in High School, and I don't remember any of them. And I remember thinking then that memorization was useless, that I would probably learn the words if I was taught to integrate them into my personal vocabualary instead of memorize them for a test, and once the test was taken, delete them so that there would be room for next weeks' vocabulary words. The same goes with grammar. If we are only having students memorize names of parts of speech and merely testing them on their memorization skills, we are not teaching them that they can have control over their composition rhetoric.

N&B also discuss that it takes time to teach/learn grammar: "First, none of the grammar studies...extended beyond one semester--"a time span much too short to permit development of the degree of conceptualization necessary for transfer to take place"' (N&B 146). This poses a problem for college English teachers since we only have our students for a brief 3 or 4 months. I just think that if we teach students the value of grammar (that mastering it makes them better writers, more respected in a professional/academic setting, and opens more stylistic options for them as writers) they may leave our classrooms at least a little more mindful of this pertinent issue. I believe that an awareness, on the student's behalf, will lead them to learn grammar on their own.

I think the Weaver article took the theories offered by N&B and presented a practical lesson on how to make grammar instruction effective in the lives of our students. Weaver asserts, "Students will inevitably need guidance in applying these concepts during revising and editing" (154). I believe that Weaver's approach to grammar is a good one...because it has worked for me. Last semester in my Grammar class, we studied grammar by finding examples of certain functions in our own work. It was more difficult finding things in my own writing, but once I found what I was looking for, it dawned on me that, unconsciously, I was making certain mistakes that harmed my paper, or that I was perpetuating certain sentence patterns that desperately needed variation, and so the lessons proved very useful, because I was learning how grammar controls a large part of the way my ideas flow or "sound."

When reading this article, I also began to think of a certain idea that we've read earlier (I forgot who wrote it), but which states that a sentence is a microcosm of a paragraph. So I connected that with this reading because Weaver's approach to grammar is having students rearrange one sentence and analyze the effects of each rearrangement: "By thus discussing the effects and effectiveness of placing modifiers differently, students develop a sense of style and an ability to suit the grammar to the sense of what they are writing" (Weaver 156). So back to what I was saying: If we can have our students rearrange sentences and discuss the effects thereof, in theory, we are teaching them to rearrange entire paragraphs, and entire compositions, thus making them more aware of organization and structure in their entire writing.

  • Noelle

Neuleib and Brosnahan’s article was very helpful in defining the various types of grammar and the importance of operational instruction vs. formal instruction. I honestly believe that being able to identify patterns of errors within your own writing is the most useful type of grammar lesson. I can remember the undergrad. Grammar class I took; I made a 98 in the course. I can’t remember a thing off of the worksheets and etc., but I do specifically remember how Dr. Davis made us write 2 page papers using certain sentence forms and structures. Using these structures required that we understand the operational rules and employ them. I still have some issues, but I learned the most about grammar through these writing activities.

In one-on-one conferencing, I can see that some students face the same type of situations. Once we go through the paper, I can ID error patterns and then address those with the student (depending on where the student is in the writing process). I can then show the student the proper form and how it is used. The student then continues to look through the paper with me and is generally able to pick out and correct the same types of errors. So, I completely agree that operational/functional grammar instruction is way more helpful to a student than the “formal Grammar” drills. I am glad that these distinction were provided in this article—I have ran around for years saying that I think a focus on grammar inhibits student writing, but now I can see that I have been fairly successful in assisting the student in his/her development of correct grammatical forms w/o the drills and worksheets.

In reflecting on this article, I think back to the student I visited with Wed. morning. He came in for a conference because his 1301 teacher had sent him over to the SWC. I asked him if he could tell me a bit about his paper. He discussed it very coherently; he laid out a logical sequence answering his instructor’s prompt. I then asked him if I may read his paper, and he become somewhat sullen. “Oh, I can’t write,” he said. “Nonsense,” I replied. “I am sure you write just fine. You told me all about it and it sounds very good!” I patted his hand as he looked down at the paper then handed it over to me. I was shocked when I looked at the paper marked all over the place---and I mean ALL Over! Just because the marks are in blue ink doesn’t make it any less discouraging. Scrawled largely across the top in very large print was: “Go see a tutor in the Writing Center for help.” The next three pages had much of the same hieroglyphs, scribbles, scratch outs, smart assed comments and etc. I read through the paper, trying to ignore the distracting marks. The student looked embarrassed and I continued reading aloud. After finishing the paper, I could see that he was indeed a very fine writer. He presented a logical argument, used appropriate support for assertions, average word choice etc. Nothing, in my opinion, that constituted the blue markings all over the place other than the guy had some issues with commas! I praised the strong points of his essay, talked about where some things could be clarified, and than talked about how he could “clean it up” for his final draft. I went over the comments the teacher had made with him one by one. He was very relieved to know that his “writing does not suck.” Poor guy—all that over some comma splices and ROs?. I showed him the forms and he corrected the rest himself as I watched. What do you think helped him more---the blue ink or fixing the errors w/in his own writing?

Weaver’s article was cool. Her argument was very similar to that of Neuleib’s and Brosnahan’s. Her examples of participle instruction were very intriguing. I like the way she pulled sentences from already published texts and worked with them. I especially like the “I AM” poem exercises. I think this all goes back to the main point that without a context (a passage, a student composition etc.) it is very easy to memorize rules [and later forget], but true learning comes through an understanding of the forms and functions in writing. Much like my “attack of the blue pen” student, nothing made much sense until he understood the function of the grammar rule w/in the context of his own writing.


Melanie's Feb 8 reading response (something different)
Where Contessa meets Shaughnessy

Butch's Responses

The teaching of grammar, as it is addressed in the Neuleib and Brosnahan article, presents itself as a dilemma for Basic Writing teachers because of some of the misconceptions outlined by the authors with respect to formal grammar instruction and its effectiveness in higher education composition. The Meckel study referenced in this article plays an important role in identifying critical issues involving the effectiveness of grammar instruction. However, some of its conclusions are somewhat confusing to me such as the first one that notes “Although grammar has not been shown to improve writing skills, ‘there is no conclusive evidence, however, that grammar has no transfer value in developing composition skills” (147). In its fourth conclusion, the Meckel study notes that there are more efficient methods of producing immediate results in student composition concerning sentence structure and usage versus a systematic method of grammar instruction. Unfortunately no example of these methods are given, but it would be interesting to learn what they are. The study’s last conclusion that reads “Practice of forms improves usage whereas memorization of rules does not” (147), is not a contention that I completely agree with simply because I believe that while students may indeed need to practice grammatical forms in order to improve their writing skills, especially at the higher education level, they must have some working knowledge of grammar rules. Neuleib and Brosnahan’s use of various grammar and composition experts to confirm that teaching grammar will improve writing skills certainly lends credence to this contention and it only seems logical that those teaching grammar should be required to have sufficient knowledge of this subject to help students learn to write in higher education.

Meanwhile, the Weaver article dovetails nicely with the Neuleib and Brosnahan article and the Meckle study in that it offers a method by which students can learn to practice grammatical forms as outlined in her discourse. I agree with Weaver’s triple aim to; teach students those things that will contribute to their writing, use suggested simplified grammatical forms, and teach grammar in a specific context. I suppose that students experimenting with these forms and the errors that will ultimately be made in their use will facilitate guidance by the teacher and better comprehension on behalf of the student. This practice with sentence forms and patterns also provides a means for the basic writing student to become familiar with grammatical terminology and structure that I believe will lead to improved writing.

After reading the first article, my contention that grammar rules must be learned in order to proceed with learning how to write still hold true. However, the Weaver article changed my mind somewhat once I read through the concepts of sentence combing and generating, but grammatical terms and examples, I believe, must still be learned in order to benefit from this type of grammar sentence instruction.

I understand what Neuleib and Brosnahan are saying about grammar being important, even if “formal grammar” lessons are not. However, I don’t understand their conclusions about teachers. Their final conclusion was that teachers were not well prepared to teach grammar. But the way they figure this out doesn’t mesh with the ways of teaching grammar that they expect teachers to use.

They state that “school grammar,” or Grammar 4, is what one would find in traditional textbooks. This is the kind of grammar that they claim is ineffective in teaching students. However, this is the kind of grammar test they give to the teachers to determine if the teachers are capable of teaching grammar. If they expect the teachers to be able to teach grammar in context, then why are they tested out of context? Why aren’t they given student papers or observed in conferences?

While I don’t disagree with the whole article, I guess I just didn’t like the way that teachers were described. And then there was this: “[M]any either used a comma to separate the two clauses and/or neglected the apostrophe for its” (150). Neglected the apostrophe?! Oh gasp! All joking aside, I think it is easy to get caught up in the rules (even claiming that we don’t) and neglect the more important aspect of whether or not the writing makes sense and communicates.

Heather Dorn

-- Elva Martinez Article: Approaches to Grammar Instruction by Janice Neuleib and Irene Brosnahan

I would like to know when grammar is first taught and when is it last taught in the secondary school? Can grammar help writers? I think grammar is very hard to be taught. We learn grammar at an early age and forget the rules. As for me, I do not remember much of the grammar rules. Now, in this Master program, I am force to focus on items that I have forgotten such as grammar. These are things I have never thought of until now. Because of my number background and age, mediocre writing was sufficient.

Neuleib mentions “A few years ago, every time we did a workshop in the schools, teachers were shocked when we said that studies showed that teaching traditional grammar would not improve student’s’ abilities as writers (149). Is it more beneficial to let the writer write and find their grammatical errors or should the writer study grammar before starting to write? “Error analysis fits with Meckel’s recommendation that students work only on the errors in their own writing and not on rules external to that writing (147). One thing I have learned in this program is write, write, write, practice, practice, practice, makes me a better writer. Grammar comes in when revising and editing.

Article: Teaching Style through Sentence Combining and Sentence Generating by Constance Weaver. Here I am thinking about grammar again. I like this article on how Weaver introduced the participial phrases, of how moving the order and the free modifiers –ING phrases changing the effectiveness of the sentence. I did not remember all this. I like what Weaver is doing with her students. This sentence example, “I wish we could get wet,” said Lily, watching a boy ride his bicycle through rain puddles” (155), made me visualize the turning of her head while watching the boy. I was amazed of the power of the participle phrase. This is my first class that talks about grammar. Do teachers know all this? I think English teachers know all this but what about other subject teachers. Here I am contradicting myself. Remember how Neuleib and Brosnahan’s article (149) on how teachers need more background in grammar. They are not capable of grading in grammar. How much grammar do the teachers know? I believe because grammar is taught too early in the education life that we forget the rules.

In trying to find connection, Neuleib, Brosnahan and Weaver, they agree that memorizing rules do not help to improve writing.

The issue of teaching grammar within composition classrooms is one that many people disagree about. And although many instructors do not believe that it should be taught in that setting, I have never had a literature or writing class in which some aspect of grammar was not brought up. I believe that the two go hand in hand, so the question shouldn't be should we or shouldn't we teach grammar in comp classes, the question is how do we get the students to retain the information.

While I appreciate the various teaching methods that Weaver offers in her article, they still don't seem like the kinds of activities that will inspire students to engage with the material in a significant way that will lead to greater retention of the material. Grammar is a tricky subject--because everyone hates it. It isn't interesting to everyone, so teaching it and learning it are very dry processes.

Reading these articles reminded me of taking Linguistics and the notion that learning Grammar is like learning a new language. The terms used for parts of speech are so foreign--learning the terms is almost as difficult at learning what they represent. I wish there were some easy answer, but grammar is grammar. everyone is bad at it, and everyone hates it.


<<<<<<< Anne's Response

I took Dr. Sullivan's grammar course last semester. I went in with a huge chip on my shoulder because of my utter and complete lack of grammatical knowledge. Some of my classmates were self-proclaimed grammar nazis and others tried to hide their confusion about grammar from the nazis. Still, I felt like the most clueless of them all. But I did learn from the class. We used Martha Kolln's book, ''Rhetorical Grammar," which emphasized looking at one's own work to learn grammar and the best usage of grammar for your own rhetorical purposes. The class and book emphasized the practical approach to grammar that the authors of our readings did.

One arguement that we continually faced in that class was the preceived benefits of teaching formal, or perscriptive, grammar versus nontraditional, or teaching through application. There were quite a few teachers, including younger teachers, who fought tooth and nail defending perscriptive grammar. Can you guess which I was for?

I was taught formal grammar, and it didn't work for me. Therefore, I was a against teaching grammar at all for quite a while because I thought, hey, it didn't work for me, why would it work for anyone else? So I fought tooth and nail against it. I did not even know about the Braddock study until my grammar course, so I never used it as fuel for my charge. But now that I have read the literature, I am more clear on my arguement. I think learning grammar is an important part of becoming a good writer; however, I do not think teaching formal grammar is the way to teach it. (Like Weaver, Neuleib, and Brosnahan.)

Ok, Anne, get to the point.

What about our FYP? Inbetween three major portfolios, when do we have time to teach grammar? I know it used to be worse with five portfolios, but three major writing and developing projects in a semester is a lot for students. They are able to do it and succeed, but I feel as if I am always teaching to the portfolio. I cannot tell you how many times I have modeled a rhetorical analysis in class with the hopes that my students will understand it. A few weeks later they are writing their drafts, peer reviewing, and turning them in. There never seems like there is enough time for them to really develop, draft. and review their documents. I.E. there is never enough time for the students to retroactively look at any of their writing for errors and patterns in their writing. Which means there is never enough time for me to teach grammar applicably.

Ok, Anne, so what are you going to do about it?

I don't know. Students get really bored of their research projects really quickly, which kind of eliminates the idea of cutting it down to one portfolio. Maybe two? Is that two few? I really like teaching using portfolios. I feel like the students feel accomplished handingin a complicated and (hopefulle) complete piece. I don't know... maybe I'll write a new portfolio sequence for 1301 for the fall. I like writing new portfolio sequences.

Ok Anne, where is your conclusion?

I think we do need to integrate grammar instruction into our FYP classrooms. For those first year teachers like me who need the grammatical help, we could possible provide nonmandaory sample lesson plans or general suggestion for ways new instructors can integrated grammar lessons in a nonformal, applicable manner.

Grammar is meaning-making and fundamental to language use. From a linguistic perspective, it makes no sense to question whether grammar is important. From a pedagogical perspective, we can discuss how to teach grammar, but even then we would need to recognize that the grammar 1-5 range mentioned by Neuleib and Brosnahan does not capture the role grammar plays in language use. Because grammar is meaning-making, it is possible to help the students understand and use grammar through meaning-oriented activities and feedback (a simple but significant example being the typical writing center consultation with its give and take between reader and writer: it is not necessary for the student to be able to describe or name the structure or function being used). It is definitely easier to teach grammar rules and “help” students by alerting them to “c/s,” “frag,” “pron,” or whatever the house code might be, but it doesn’t seem to work that well. Even with students who are more comfortable with the formal grammar (e.g. many ESL students), I would argue that it’s better to avoid focusing too much on the rules. It’s also important to integrate any explicit grammar instruction with the overall writing process.

Learning the (often archaic and oversimplified) structure or nomenclature of a particular grammar model might certainly be useful to language and writing teachers, but I don’t think it is of much use to the students. Neuleib and Brosnahan argue that teachers need to understand formal grammar, but I think their most significant point is that “teachers [must be] informed about the imperfections of traditional grammar” (149). To me, this means more than just realizing that traditional grammar models may be ambiguous and limited—it also means understanding that traditional grammar (and, indeed most grammars) addresses only a few aspects of grammar.

Weaver’s examples illustrate an approach to grammar that will probably prove more effective than de-contextualized, grammar 4-centered exercises—provided, as Weaver notes, that it is combined with follow-up activities and that the activities are relevant to the student’s writing. Timing and relevance are crucial; even “traditional” grammar activities can help if they are introduced when the student is engaged in the meaning-making process. Looking back at a text makes it more difficult to see the meaning component of grammar.

It is important to make it clear that grammar structures don’t carry meaning (i.e. “correct” grammar use is not the same thing as good writing. The rules must not become the focus of grammar teaching. Textbooks are responsible for some of the misconceptions and confusion. Grammar is typically introduced as rules and categories (what Neuleib and Brosnahan call Grammar 4); while this is one way of perceiving and representing grammar, it makes it more difficult for students (and teachers) to see grammar as context-dependent and meaning-making.

Olaf >>>>>>>


I don't really know what my thougts on grammar are? Should English majors be small scale grammarians, or is this simply part of the english teacher stereotype and persona? How can we expect students to learn anything in a semester? Not just grammar, but spanish, or you know, anything? While I think I can identify certain parts of speech, it seems to me that grammar has always been one of my weaker points as a writer. Does it mean I write badly? NO. But it means that people have to remind me about passive voice, they have to remind me about comma splices each semester, almost as if it's some sort of ritual.

I know that formal grammar is important. It helps out the academic voice. But exercises, you know, the cheesy old school ones, don't seem to be the real answer. I did grammar drills, and where did it get me? Still clinging to the elementary rule that adverbs should end in "ly" and that adjectives are something else!

I was interested in exactly the way the "error analysis" works. This puts more pressure on the instructor to "diagnose" writers, but in the same breath, I liked the ideal that an error can be "understood of evidence of intention" (148). I think that some degree of grammar instruction is unavoidable. It isn't like we can just dump it all together. the world would be one giant myspace message--what would this do to audience?

I also found it interesting that "the parts of speech are defined neatly, sensibly, and logically by inflectional forms in Latin but that they are defined neatly, sensibly and logically by inflectional forms in Latin but that they are defined inconsistently and illogically by mixing form and function in English" (149).

Flaws or ironies? You decide.

-Erica Rangel