Each year teachers are amazed at how little their students know about grammar, usage, and correctness. "Why don't you know this?" they ask their students. "Didn't your teacher TEACH you this last year?" Blank expressions on their faces, the kids shake their heads "no," but a visit to last year's teacher brings indignation. "I certainly DID teach them (fill in the blank with your favorite grammar term)!" she says testily -- or quizzically, depending on her mood.
Sound familiar? It does to me, which is why I bought GETTING IT RIGHT. After years of frustration with "Teflon Grammatical Memory Syndrome" and with correcting a gazillion errors on a gajillion student papers, I looked to two familiar names -- Michael Smith and Jeffrey Wilhelm -- for answers. I wasn't disappointed.
Smith and Wilhelm start with conclusive research that the teaching of grammar in isolation does not work. Then they roll up their sleeves to show us what DOES work. Essentially they argue that it is a depth vs. breadth issue when it comes to grammar. Rather than trying to teach everything, teachers should focus on what's important and most likely to benefit the students in the long run. Their two justifications for teaching a term? "1. The term is so commonly used that teachers, texts, and tests presume that students know it. 2. The term is essential to being able to explain an important issue of style or correctness."
Boiling the vast world of grammar minutiae down to 16 basic terms/concepts, Smith and Wilhelm demonstrate creative ways to teach them based on their own experiences as well as those of student teachers who have worked under their tutelage. The practical ideas will be invaluable to teachers looking for new methods of reaching their kids in this most challenging of tasks. Prompts and handout examples are provided, along with samples of typical student errors and ways to help students learn from them.
Teachers will especially appreciate the section called "A Model Sequence: Learning to Proofread." Here the authors have mercy by telling teachers to free themselves of their shackles. Circling every error on every paper is NOT productive (unless improving your own editing skills while your kids learn nothing counts as "productive"). Instead, teachers should model proofreading and provide practice on carefully selected concepts, then serve as mentors by teaching specific skills and having students serve as their own editors by focusing on errors related to those skills only. Also, peer proofreading ideas that work are spelled out -- one in particular that involves creative use of the TV series CSI. Here it means "Correct Sentence Investigators" -- and yes, the proofreaders are "agents" and the errors are the "crime" (meaning you're about to witness the unlikely marriage of "fun" and "editing").
Buy it. Read it. Use it. Most importantly, it will help your students become better writers and self-editors; less importantly (but still worthy of your consideration!) YOU will feel a little more sane and a lot more effective when you send your kids off to the next grade where they might just surprise their new teacher by saying, "Participles? Yeah, we actually DID learn how to use THEM last year!"