A Finely Crafted Run-on Sentence

Words, phrases, sentences and paragraphs… mostly in English.

COMMENTS! April 18, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — twoeyedgirl @ 1:09 am












Let me sum up.

Filed under: Uncategorized — twoeyedgirl @ 12:18 am

Well, I have to admit that my blog has been less than super successful, though I did all the required work. I like the idea of using blogs, and I have gained useful information from the work my classmates have been doing (much more than from my own blog, I’m afraid).

I think the trouble all stems from an poor topic. I am still enthusiastically interested in linguistics and language and grammar, but I had all kinds of trouble finding articles that matched my topic, especially when I was tying in the things we were learning about literature in class. I must have read three dozen articles and blog posts that I didn’t use, (although they were interesting) but very few talked about grammar. Would the simple answer have been to change my topic? Maybe, but I liked the things I was finding, when I was finding them, and I wanted to find more. I was partially successful.

As can be seen by my posts that my classmates did not get to comment on because I wrote them so close to the deadline, I was holding off for finding better articles. Sometimes I didn’t. This made some of my posts more relevent that others, but maybe it is still apparent that I attacked the topics with gusto.

As for my topic (defined in my first post), I still feel that grammar should be taught in school. Much of the research I did seemed to indicate that (effective) grammar instruction is very helpful in increasing mastery of the English language through writing. The question that is not so easy to answer is what KIND of grammar to teach, although that was indirectly answered as well. Most, if not all, of the relevant material I found on grammar instruction dealt with teaching English as a second language. This seems to be the place for grammar now, which does make sense in a way… native speakers do not need to be taught “rules” like subject-verb agreement and word order. However EVERYONE needs to be taught h0w to talk about language. Even ENG 261, which teaches that prescriptive grammar should be rejected in favor of descriptive grammar, we diagrammed sentences. Why? Because this is a way to describe language. I want to keep diagramming sentences. It’s kind of fun.

Quite separate from the content of the blog is the technological aspect and educational potential. I have used livejournal in the past for a personal blog and for communicating with friends, but I like wordpress for the more professional feel. It’s also easy to use, and I like the feature that allows drafts to be saved. I want to use blogs in my hypothetical future classroom, (more on that when I hand in my pedagogy project!) but I don’t know what methods or assignments I would like the best. I think that we had a lot of freedom with this blog regarding topic choice and what sources we used, and in a middle school or high school classroom I anticipate using a journal in other ways. This has been a good way to both organize my work and interact with the work other students are doing.

Yay blogs!


6th annual Teaching & Learning with Technology Fair!

Filed under: Uncategorized — twoeyedgirl @ 12:18 am

I attended the Teaching and Learning with Technology Fair on Wednesday, March 21. It was a yucky bus ride downtown for me, but I managed (with some help!) to find the conference in time for the presentation of awards and the keynote address. Dr. Peter Doolittle from Virginia Tech gave the presentation on technology in education. His style of address was great, because he used lots of audience participation exercises. I really enjoyed his discussion of cognitive psychology, especially the example about mental pictures. The audience shown 15 sentences on the projector that disappeared, and each person had one of four sets of directions about what to do with the sentence, without knowing what the other directions were. One group had to count the number of vowels in the sentence, one group had to make a mental picture about the sentence, and the other two groups had the same directions but were also told that they had to remember the sentence. Then Dr. Doolittle (ha, ha…) asked the audience questions about the sentences. The results showed that the people who were asked to create mental pictures had a much higher recall rate than those who counted vowels, and the instruction to “remember the sentences” made no difference in the amount of correct answers to the recall questions. We learn what we process, and whether it’s intentional or incidental doesn’t really matter.

Also interesting was the “Hype Cycle” graph that we saw about the excitement people have about new technology, which is really high at first, then dips low and eventually rises and tapers off, as Professor Rozema talked about in class. Immediately following the keynote was Dr. Doolittle’s break-out session on “The i-Podification of Education.” Both of his talks dealt with the ways technology could be integrated into the classroom past the “death by PowerPoint” that so many teachers have begun using as a crutch. Doolittle’s own PowerPoints were not “deathly” at all, and while his “intro to iPods” might have been more useful for the, um… older… professors who were unfamiliar with them, the incorporation of iPods into a variety of curriculums was very interesting. iPods are a great tool because they can hold so much information and also be portable. Expense is a factor, but I think that with the work Dr. Doolittle is doing and the programs that are already started at several universities, iPods will be a much more common and useful tool in the near future. (Once the graph has time to level out, of course.)

The other break out session I attended was “Digital Storytelling” by Russ Barneveld and Barbara LaBeau. This session was about using Photo Story 3 for Windows to create stories in the classroom, a project that they were using with their Education students at Grand Valley. I had never heard of the software before, and it’s free, so I might use it. The examples they showed gave me some ideas, but the presentation was weak and definitely contained “death by PowerPoint…” it made me a little embarrassed for Grand Valley that Dr. Doolittle was in the (tiny) audience for a weak an simplistic presentation that was nothing compared to the work he is doing. The presentation wasn’t very impressive, although I do think there are some great possibilities for digital storytelling in the classroom, both as an instructional deivce and as a tool for the students to create their own stories about themselves and literature.

The conference was interesting, and even though it was not intended for students, I found the presentations interesting. I also walked around the booths and looked at the presentations, which were mostly more impressive than the second breakout session. I’m sorry that I could not attend the Bright Ideas Conference, but I think this alternative was also interesting and useful.


English is a secret code.

Filed under: Uncategorized — twoeyedgirl @ 12:18 am

This article says nothing that I don’t know and everything that I already have been saying. But hear me out on it. It’s very convincing. And once again, though it is about English, it was not written in America, England, Canada, or Australia, and it was not written by an American, and Englishman, a Canadian, or an Australian. “Why I will continue to split hairs over split infinitives” by Michael Skapinker is about the pet peeves of English, and the book The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker. Infer/imply, uninterested/disinterested, I/me and split infinitives are among the nitpicky things mentioned in the article. They sound like just the kind of things that I like to be nitpicky on, kind of like good/well. Some of those things are not grammar, though, they are vocabulary. I certainly think vocabulary should be taught, although I hated vocab tests in high school with a fiery burning passion.

GRAMMAR is really what is on trial here. And, according to more and more people, it just doesn’t matter.

Pinker, in spite of his queasiness about “disinterested” for “uninterested”, is even more robust. Yes, there are ungrammatical sentences, he says. “Apples the eat boy” is ungrammatical. But beginning a sentence with “because” is not ungrammatical. Neither are split infinitives. (The rule that says they cannot be split is another holdover from Latin, whose infinitives cannot be split because they are one word.) Grammatical speech is the way people speak.

Any (native) English speaker speaks grammatically, because that is the only way TO speak. Ungrammatical sentences such as the above example are silly, and no one makes those mistakes unless they are learning the language. To further prove the point, there is this interesting little analogy

Imagine, says Pinker, watching a wildlife documentary. The narrator does not like what he sees. “Dolphins do not execute their swimming strokes properly. White-crowned sparrows carelessly debase their calls . . . the song of the humpback whale contains several well-known errors and monkeys’ cries have been in a state of chaos and degeneration for hundreds of years.” We would be incredulous, Pinker says. “What on earth would it mean for the song of the humpback whale to contain an ‘error’? Isn’t the song of the humpback whale whatever the humpback whale decides to sing?”

However, I have never met a teacher who allows her students to sing whatever they want in the classroom. This dilemma is the cause of debate (like the one that happened a few years ago over the Oakland Ebonics decision). Differing dialects have different grammatical correctness, but just because saying “we was” is wrong in one dialect doesn’t mean it is wrong inherently. This brings us to the most interesting (I think) part of the article.

Prescriptive grammatical rules are a shibboleth, he says, “differentiating the elite from the rabble”. “Shibboleth”, you will recall, comes from the Book of Judges and from the battle between the Gileadites and the Ephraimites. The Gileadites crossed the Jordan and when any Ephraimite tried to follow, they set him a little test: “Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth.” This was sneaky because “shibboleth” was an Ephraimite tongue-twister. They said “sibboleth” instead, marking themselves out as different.

But this surely is the point. Language is the way we signal what group we belong to. A 16-year-old can enthuse about a band being “bare safe”. A 66-year-old using the same language at the Royal Opera House would be regarded as either pretentious or peculiar, assuming anyone knew what he was talking about.

Prescriptive grammar really is a Shibboleth. And though no one is in danger of being killed by the Gileadites, grammar is a tool that can get the user into secret clubs and societies like jobs or social circles… or an English teacher’s good graces. The problem is that we are dealing with a grey issue with language. Knowing formulas could be the key to getting in good with the math or science crowd, but when an equation is wrong, there is no question that it is wrong. Linguists know that wrong and right can change dozens of times a day for just one speaker. Must an English teacher teach all kinds of “rights”? Just teaching the ones that students are not as familiar with implies that these are the “right” ones. But no one needs to be taught how to speak to their friends!


Creativity versus Imitation

Filed under: Uncategorized — twoeyedgirl @ 12:17 am

I found this article because it had the word “grammar” in it and therefore came up in my search. (One of my searches; I have tried several). It is not about instructing in grammar, but it is about literature and I thought it was interesting. We shall begin with the sentence in question:

Let’s take grammar for example. Obeying the rules of grammar is fine if you’re writing a conventional essay or a manual about car repair. However, when you’re writing creative literature you should write as freely as possible – without rules.

There are those that argue that if the writer does not obey the rules of grammar his work will be incomprehensible.

This blog post entitled “We Need a Revolution in Literature” was found on writershangout.com. Wolf Larsen writes that literature should not be so defined by its form- why are novels, plays, short stories, and poetry the only choices? They certainly aren’t.

He complains about the motivations of those that financially support authors and literature. Part of the reason I was interested in this topic is that it echoes what I heard from writer Kristin Gore when she came to this campus a couple months ago. She told my WRT 200 class that her book was marketed as “Chick Lit” even though she had not written it that way. But Chick Lit gets reviews in women’s magazines and gets places on bestseller lists. This is the way of all literature.

One of the reasons literature is so limited is that it is still shackled to the major publishing conglomerates and the universities. Literature will not be free until it has unshackled itself from the crass commercial interests of the publishing conglomerates and the conservative influences of the universities.

Publishing houses have one and only one purpose: to make money. They are hostile to innovation in literature, because publishing innovative literature involves risk. And they certainly don’t want to risk their money! The publishing conglomerates want to continue pouring potential best sellers (particularly airport novels) unto the market. And to the publishing houses that’s all literature is – a market.

If the only reason the public gets access to literature is the current taste of those in charge, then we can expect that we aren’t getting the most interesting or innovative literature available. The true greats do not imitate the old masters. Thsy study them, they learn from them, they surpass them.

Academia may claim to be interested in quality in contemporary literature, and academia may also be less interested in money. But academia is primarily interested in promoting the “great” writers and poets of the past and those who today imitate them. (Of course there are exceptions to this – there’s exceptions to everything.) Anyway, after learning in a university about the “greats” of the past what is the writer/poet to do? Should he imitate the “greats” of the past in his writing, or should he seek to create his own innovative literature?

By a young age Picasso had assimilated the “masters” of the past – and he went on to create new brazen works of art – he departed from the past – and created wonderful CONTEMPORARY masterpieces. Mozart also mastered traditional styles of classical music – and he went on to create music that at his time was INNOVATIVE.

In order to bring this post around to my topic, I suggest that the same rules apply to grammar. There needn’t be only imitation, only comprehensible means of expression. (Although the blogger has something to say about the definition of “comprehensible” as well…) This leads us to the question of who decides what the standard is, and then to that familiar criticism of the literary canon:

Many of the “great works” of English literature in the canon were written by “gentleman” with disposable income (that they didn’t have to work for) and lots of free time, as well as the high social connections to insure that their work was published. Not all of them were talented or had much to say. Is a writer/poet’s work “great” just because it’s included in the Norton Anthology and the professor taught it in your literature 101 class?

Of course, some “great” works of the past are better than others. Some of these gentleman of leisure in the canon had talent – in addition to the work ethic necessary to produce great literature – but not all of them.

Literature has not even begun to reach its potential. In fact, literature will not even begin to reach its potential until all of humanity has ample food in its stomach and plenty of free time.

Saying something like ‘celebrate our differences’ is a little too “Mr. Roger’s Happy Fun Time” for me, but in this case it is kind of true. There is no reason we have to always imitate. And I think that the example of the rich white man in charge is exemplary of the kind of language rules that we have. The people in charge decide, but the people in charge aren’t the only people. They aren’t even the majority. You can also equate slang (and maybe even the dreaded text speak” to the following discussion of fads:

Nearly everything ever painted, sculpted, or written in “good taste” later withered and died with time. “Good taste” is nothing more than what is in fashion at the time – and as time passes what was in “good taste” centuries ago becomes trivial.

Many of the masters of the past in literature, painting, sculpture, and music were nothing less than innovators and revolutionaries in their time. Their work often caused controversy because they were not enslaved to tradition. They did not care about “good taste”. They could give a damn about the opinions of others.

Grammar good taste is equally silly and changing. Half our grammar rules came about because people wanted our language to be more like Latin, and they aren’t even in the same family.


The pendulum swings back?

Filed under: Uncategorized — twoeyedgirl @ 12:17 am

The title of this article caught my eye right away: “Grammar gets more respect” by Dennis M. Clausen. Grammar? Respect? Splendid.

As it turns out, I like the article a lot, so I’m going to go ahead and copy/paste the whole thing.

I suppose it was only a matter of time before a university professor who writes a column would start talking about English grammar. For readers who want to run for the exits at the mere mention of the word, this is your first opportunity.

For years, most of my students at the University of San Diego indicated that they studied very little grammar in their local K-12 classes. In recent years, however, informal surveys of my students reveal that instruction in grammar is back in vogue in our local schools. My son, a fifth grader, is studying so much grammar that I gave him one of my college handbooks to use as a reference tool.

The San Diego County Office of Education certainly believes grammar is an essential tool in the teaching of English composition. Searching the SDCOE’s Web site for the word “grammar” reveals numerous programs to assist teachers and students who are struggling with the rules of English grammar. The SDCOE’s Web site, which reflects the courses and subjects that are taught in our local schools, is reassuring to those of us who still believe grammar plays an important role in the writing and editing process.


History has witnessed some wild swings in the way grammar is taught. The generations prior to 1960 were thoroughly indoctrinated in the rules of grammar. The 1960s and 1970s saw a 180-degree swing in the other direction, as many educators argued that grammar should not be taught at all. Instead, they believed students would naturally learn the principles of grammar if they were required to read and write extensively.

Today, the pendulum is swinging back in the other direction again. The new SAT has a multiple-choice section on grammar that will require K-12 teachers to teach the subject at all grade levels. These educators will seldom win popularity contests. They may, however, be the difference between a student receiving a letter of acceptance or rejection from a major university.

There was a time when some of my students referred to me —- none too affectionately, I am afraid —- as the “grammar god” because of my relentless insistence that their writing had to respect the basic rules of English grammar. I have mellowed somewhat. I have seen too many writers with a little knowledge of English grammar lord it over others who occasionally violate some obscure grammatical rule. On the other hand, I am loath to join the ranks of those who insist instruction in grammar serves no useful purpose.

Students do not need to memorize 300 pages of grammar to be effective writers, but they do need to understand some basic grammatical principles to edit their papers more effectively if they are to succeed in our universities and in life.

Grammar is merely a set of conventions that have evolved over the years so writers can communicate their ideas more clearly and forcefully. Without these conventions, traffic on the information highway would move as slowly and chaotically as traffic on our city streets if we removed all signs and traffic lights.

Nuff said!

I agree that I had little grammar instruction… after 8th grade anyway. After I started high school I learned that the official grammar policy was that the students should be able to figure out grammar themselves based on the examples they encounter in books and magazines. This was a surprise to me, who had had proper sentence structure instruction for years, and a shock to my mother and her family full of schoolteachers. Not teach grammar? Barbarians.

So I was pleased (though once again, surprised), when I read that grammar is making an educational comeback. (I haven’t noticed such a thing.) This could be a bad sign, however, when it combines with the topic that many of my classmates’ blogs deal with: STANDARDIZED TESTING. Shudder. If grammar is showing up on tests, then it will have to be taught, right? And so it begins.

“On the other hand, I am loath to join the ranks of those who insist instruction in grammar serves no useful purpose.”… so am I. I think that Mr. Clausen is right in stating that “Students do not need to memorize 300 pages of grammar to be effective writers, but they do need to understand some basic grammatical principles to edit their papers more effectively if they are to succeed in our universities and in life.”

BASIC GRAMMATICAL PRINCIPLES are a great compromise. Not only will students’ writing be a little more polished (because written and spoken English do not work the same way), but they will have a head start in their foreign language classes, too.


I thought this was interesting.

Filed under: Uncategorized — twoeyedgirl @ 12:17 am

Found here.  I don’t have much to say on the article except that I think that the debate over whether grammar instruction could stop or cause violence is very amusing…

Teaching grammar stops violence.  French Minister of Education Gilles de Robien insists that his new initiative to improve grammar teaching in French schools will actually avert a repeat of the riots that took place in the fall of 2005, when immigrant teenagers ran through the streets night after night looting stores, attacking police, and burning thousands of cars.   

De Robien’s proposal promotes grammar to the top of the educational food chain, more important than reading, mathematics, or science.  The minister insists that only by learning the parts of speech and the function of words within a sentence can human beings make sense of the universe, take control of nature, and impose our intelligence on the world. 

According to a special report that de Robien commissioned, grammar imposes rules on words, forcing us to express our ideas clearly and precisely.  Without that precise expression, humans are no better than animals.  The minister warns, “When young people have difficulty expressing themselves the tone can rise quickly.”   So starting next Fall there will be a minimum of two hours of grammar instruction per week from the earliest grades through high school.  With this new emphasis on grammar, French children will learn to express themselves better, and to riot less. 

But British Minister for Schools Jim Knight reacted to De Robien’s plan with derision, noting in a letter to the Times Education Supplement that grammar lessons in the schools don’t prevent violence, they cause it.  And while the Washington Post recently reported that grammar was starting to reappear in American classrooms, the U. S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings told the annual conference of the National Council of Teachers of English meeting in Nashville that grammar was dropped from the American school curriculum early in the 20th century because teachers, not students, found it too difficult to understand.  “Bring formal grammar back to the classroom,” she predicted, “and you’ll have angry mobs of teachers overturning cars in the parking lot and torching them.” 

To underscore how un-American grammar really is, Spellings reminded her audience that when Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez waved a copy of Noam Chomsky’s Aspects of the Theory of Syntax in a recent United Nations speech protesting American Middle East policy, the very next day the 1965 grammar book shot to the top of the charts at Amazon.com.  “Those grammarians hate freedom,” she concluded.

Nonetheless Bob Gates, who replaced Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense because Rumsfeld had trouble expressing himself, and who is so opposed to French ideas that he only eats freedom fries, thinks that grammar could become an important new weapon in the War on Terror: “Just make those insurgents diagram some sentences,” Gates told the senators at his confirmation hearing, “and they’ll will throw down their guns and throw up their hands.” 

Grammar is one suggestion about how to get the Iraq War back on track that President George W. Bush says he can get behind.  After all, he chided Secretary Spellings at a recent cabinet meeting, those French rioters were mostly Muslim, weren’t they?  “They write from right to left over there,” he added. “Did you know that?”   Even Tony Blair reluctantly admitted that the French might be on to something:  “Give the enemy a good dose of grammar,” he told a BBC interviewer, “and they’ll go right to sleep.”