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Teaching Grammar as a Resource for Writers Dr. Jan Frodesen Director, English as a Second Language Department of Linguistics UC-Santa Barbara email@example.com
Outline of presentation • The role of grammar in teaching composition • Prevailing attitudes about grammar • Need for new perspectives • What does “grammar as a resource” mean for student writers? • What’s a teacher to do? Guidelines for helping students develop academic language proficiency • Sample activities for writing classrooms • Text analysis activities (noticing, explaining) • Production activities (guided exercises, composing and revision tasks)
To begin, a thought about grammar from a writer… Grammar is a piano I play by ear. All I know about grammar is its power. Joan Didion
The role of grammar in the teaching of composition First we will briefly look at: • Prevailing attitudes about grammar in the field (L1, L2 composition) Then we will consider: • Why new perspectives on grammar are are needed
Prevailing attitudes about grammar for writing instruction “In composition studies, grammar is unquestionably unfashionable. It is frequently associated with ‘low-skills’ courses that stigmatize and alienate poor writers while reproducing their status as disenfranchized. This association emerges naturally from teaching methods that present grammar as a fix-it approach to weak writing, rather than, as Martha Kolln describes it, ‘a rhetorical tool that all writers should understand and control’.” Laura Micciche, “Making a Case for Rhetorical Grammar” (CCC 2004)
Some supporting evidence… • “My students have been so beaten down by emphasis on grammar, I don’t want to further weaken their confidence in themselves as writers.” Spoken by a veteran college writing instructor
More “dissing” of grammar… Remarks reported by Terry Santos (2005): “I’ll never teach grammar in my writing classes: I don’t want to be accused of malpractice.” “I’m glad I never learned formal grammar; now I’ll never be tempted to teach it.” “Teachers only teach grammar in a writing class because it’s easy and makes them feel like they’re doing something.”
Or… • Some may even think of grammar focus in writing as being about as helpful as the toad in this little poem: A centipede was happy quite, until a toad in fun Said, “Pray, which leg comes after which?” This raised his doubts to such a pitch He fell distracted in the ditch Not knowing how to run (Author unknown, cited by Richard Feynman in The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, Perseus Books, 1999)
In sum … • Grammar instruction, especially at the sentence level has often been thought to be: • Unnecessary • Remedial/stigmatizing • Unrelated to larger concerns of purpose and audience • Detrimental to students’ composing processes
However: As evidenced by discussions in both L1 and L2 composition literature (including journals for K-12 ), teachers, researchers and curriculum developers are advocating new (and improved!) approaches to grammatical focus other than traditional grammar.
Why are new perspectives needed? • Recent reports such as the intersegmental (CCC, CSU, UC) document on English Competencies for Entering Freshmen stress that students need to learn a range of academic registers and that language focus should be an important part of the curriculum in preparing high school students for higher education and beyond. • Develop in applied linguistics and composition offer new directions for teaching grammar ascentral to many components of writing:
New Perspectives: Centrality of Grammar • Meaning: Grammar is integral to meaning making We draw on our language resources to make choices about expressing meaning. • Text cohesion and coherence: Writers use a variety of grammatical devices to organize, focus, emphasize and link ideas. • Stance: Writers draw on various linguistic forms to engage readers, express attitudes about ideas, establish an authoritative voice, etc.
New perspectives on academic writing • Academic texts: • Are not decontextualized but differently contextualized from those contexts familiar to students • Are complex in a way different from the complexities of conversational language Schleppegrell, 2004)
Linguistic vs. cognitive demands Schleppegrell (2004): Descriptions of academic writing as decontextualized, explicit, complex often interpreted as cognitive issues. Instead, we need to consider the linguistic issues: Different language for different genres/purposes, many of them unfamilar to our students
Need for explicit language instruction • Students often given assignments with expectation that they understand directives such as “Use a formal academic style,” “Be clear,” “Put it in your own words,” “Use appropriate vocabulary” • Need to show student writers how texts are structured and organized and how language is used for different purposes and audiences
Issues related to advanced level multilingual writers • Their language problems not always easy to diagnose compared to those of less proficient writers who have many obvious grammar/syntax/lexical errors • Though some problems similar to L1 developing writers, others are not: Educational backgrounds and literacy experiences may be very different • In the case of entering freshmen, often their academic vocabulary has been acquired receptively (e.g., for SAT preparation), and they have had few opportunities to use this language productively
So what does “grammar as a resource” mean for student writers? • Students develop awareness of different kinds of grammatical forms and structures used in different types of texts.
Different types of grammar for different text types • The environmental impacts of the wine industry have been assessed in recent years. The different stages of the wine grapes cultivation and production all contribute to the global impact of the industry. From a case study for Environmental Science and Management
Different types of grammar 'SO YOU'RE THE Mexican who doesn't speak good Spanish," the Univision Radio producer sneered as we discussed whether I should appear on his show. Wow. My "¡Ask a Mexican!" celebrity star is no brighter than gaffer level, yet rumors and whispers about my personal life already buzz around town.From My Sinful Spanish Syntax By Gustavo ArellanoAugust 28, 2006
Grammar as a resource for students • Students also develop a rich repertoire of language options: Different ways to introduce, develop, focus and link ideas in writing and to reference the ideas of others.
Drawing on language options • Replacing overuse of logical connectors with lexical links to create cohesion. • Using relational verbs instead of logical connectors X results in Y instead of Therefore… Example: Therefore, Henry lacked a respect for his father. Revised: Henry’s belief that his father was weak resulted in a lack of respect for him.
Grammar as a resource for students • In addition, students learn that there are different systems of grammar from which writers consider their choices.
What are “systems of grammar”? • Reference system in English • Personal pronouns: it, they • Demonstrative pronouns and adjectives + NP: this, this belief • Definite article the + NP the beliefs of many writing teachers regarding the role of grammar in writing • Comparative forms: such, such a + NP such beliefs; such a response
Systems of grammar • Modality for expressing probability/possibility • Modal verbs: can, could, might, may • Probability verbs: indicate, attest to • Frequency adverbs: frequently, scarcely • Probability adverbs: perhaps, maybe • Determiners: many, most
Grammar as a resource for students • Students learn, too, how writers make different choices among grammatical forms based on communicative purposes and assumptions about readers.
Different choices for different purposes • From student essays: • Wendell Berry thinks that escaping nature is what we seek for satisfaction, but how can that be so?… He also mentions, “Life will become a permanent holiday.” That is impossible! • Let us not part from nature nor from technology: instead let us carry them both with us into the future!
Student essay examples, cont. • Although technology has caused many people to lose sight of their own capabilities, we cannot overlook the medical advances and research possibilities that it has allowed us and still allows us. (Schleppegrell, 2004, p. 59)
Grammar as a resource for students: • Students learn as well theways in whichgrammar and vocabulary interact • New approaches to grammar recognize that grammar and the lexicon are overlapping, not separate domains and have complex interactions. • Lexical-based grammar assumes that vocabulary choices affect grammatical choices. • Corpus-based resources offer much insight in this area (corpus grammars, collocation dictionaries, concordancers).
Collocations • Definitions of collocation ‘the company words keep’ (J.R. Firth) ‘the ways words combine in predictable ways’ (Holten & Mikesell, forthcoming)
Collocations • Here are some examples of collocation (from Moon, 1997, cited in Holten & Mikesell, forthcoming) • Idioms: Don’t count your chickens • Compounds: collective bargaining • Phrasal verbs: give up • Fixed phrases: how do you do • Prefabricated routines: the fact/point is…
Interaction of grammar and vocabulary • Lexical choices have grammatical consequences Television does not find happiness, but serves more as a time out. He criticizes that cars would create more accidents and deaths in the nation. Invention and necessities help develop each other through history. Student written examples from Holten & Mikesell (forthcoming)
Grammar as a resource for students • In addition to all of the previous gains, students learn that grammar functions at the larger discourse level, not just the sentence level, to create focus, clarity and information flow
Discourse grammar and information flow • In writing, “flow” may mean to student writers a nice sound to writing as it’s read, but that flow is achieved grammatically as well as lexically by the structuring of information in sentences, with given (“old,” “known”) information presented first – the theme– followed by new information - a comment or claim about the theme. Linguists often call this topic-commentstructure.
Information flow: Given and new information From The Hurried Child (para. 3 in handout) This idea of childhood as a distinct phrase preceding adult life became inextricably interwoven with the modern concepts of universal education and the small nuclear family (mother, father, children – not the extended family of the earlier eras) in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the heyday of the original Industrial Revolution. “Given” information or themesummarizes the ideas in the previous paragraph, so this information is known to the reader. Note the use of reference word this.
Information flow: Student sample Consider the information flow of this passage from a research paper: [A] sweat lodge is made of long saplings, which are stuck into the ground and bent inward to form an igloo-shape. These supports are covered with blankets. [The] diameteris about six-feet. In the center is a hole in the ground. Rocks are heated until they are hot outside the hut.
Thematic positioning and coherence • Looking at the themes (sentence subjects of introductory elements) of a piece of writing can reveal the extent to which the text is structured coherently or whether it seems to shift topics.
Grammar as a resource for students • Yet another very important area of grammar in writing is that students develop effective ways to express interpersonal relationships: their stance on ideas and their relationships (engagement) with their readers.
Expressing stance and engagement • Over the past decade or so, academic writing has gradually lost its traditional tag as an objective, faceless and impersonal form of discourse and come to be seen as a persuasive endeavor involving interaction between writers and readers. • This view sees academics as not simply producing texts that plausibly represent an external reality but also as using language to acknowledge, construct and negotiate social relations. (Hyland, 2005)
Expressing stance in academic writing Stance: This refers to the interpersonal relationships that writers have with readers and their texts. We take positions in relation to what we are writing about, and we position ourselves in relation to others who hold points of view on the topic. To persuade others, we need to show competence and to express our views in a way that is convincing. We do this with language among other things.
What does grammar have to do with stance and engagement? • There are many different ways to express our evaluations and attitudes in our writing • We hedge our claims with words like perhaps, possibly, suggest • We boost claims with words like of course, obviously, X shows • We express attitudes about what we say with words such as unfortunately, hopefully, remarkable, agree
Problems multilingual writers have with expressing stance • L2 writers rely on a more limited range of markers of doubt and certainty (e.g., I think, probably, definitely, it is clear that) than L1 writers • They make strong commitments that are not appropriate for the claims (e.g., using always or never when a claim needs to be qualified.) • They use stance markers inappropriately or in ways not common to academic writing It is clearly showing that these buyers usually lack confidence. Probably, they can learn the importance of confidence. Hyland and Milton (1997) Hyland and Milton note that little attention is paid to these important linguistic devices in writers’ handbooks, style guides and most ESL textbooks.
Grammar as a resource for students • And finally: Focus on grammar as a resource means that students will gain better understanding of the interrelationships of the aforementioned areas. Writers need to draw on a variety of features that characterize different registers.
Interrelationships: Stance in different academic disciplines • Hyland (2005) found striking differences in how markers of stance and engagement were used across disciplines. Example: Appeals to shared knowledge such as “Of course, we all know…” used frequently by philosophy, marketing, sociology but not sciences such as physics or biology. • Many multilingual students, including international graduate students, need to become more familiar with the ways in which writers express stance in their fields in English.
What’s a teacher to do?Helping students develop proficiency • Teach grammar not only reactively but proactively Reactive: Responding to diagnosed errors, responding to students’ questions and requests for information Proactive: Anticipating needs, providing instruction and practice that addresses specific task demands, develops fluency, provides a range of structures for expressing stance, making connections, etc.
Helping students develop proficiency • Use content-based and genre-based approaches to grammar teaching • Anticipate and incorporate grammar at points where students need knowledge/ practice for particular functions or tasks • “Mine” assigned readings for examples of grammatical structures, lexico-grammatical relationships that may be helpful
“Mining” texts • Some examples: • Frequently used clause patterns that serve particular functions; e.g., relative clauses used for definitions • Varied use of verb tenses for different purposes: Establishing time frames, introducing topics, topic shifts, providing background information, expressing writer stance (e.g., conditional tenses for the latter)
“Mining” texts • Set or routine phrases (multi-word units) often used in academic writing for introducing sources, agreeing, disagreeing, comparing viewpoints, etc. • Different word forms for key vocabulary –e.g., civil, uncivil, civility – and the grammatical forms needed with them (articles, nouns, etc.)
Helping students develop proficiency • Encourage students to “Read like a writer” • Explain how this is different from reading for content. • Discuss how you yourself developed as a writer this way. • Model the process as it related to language focus – take a short text and discuss what you find and how it can help you in your own writing.
Helping students develop proficiency • Have students read, discuss and write about the features of different text types • Look at textbook pages, newspapers, blogs, e-mail, texts from different disciplines, etc. • Ask students to bring in examples of texts to discuss in groups. • Have students look at different examples of student writing. • Provide brief guides or charts for them to complete to direct the activities – they can be very simple!
Helping students develop proficiency • Show students how to use a variety of resources (paper and online) for composing and revising • Dictionaries • Thesauruses (online and paper) • Corpus-based references: Collocation dictionaries, concordancers • Writing handbooks with useful templates (e.g., Graf & Berkestein’s I Say, They Say)