Monday, August 16, 2010


My daughter and I had an afternoon outing to the library today, and I felt a major pang as I saw the displays of beach reads and baseball books.  Then I reminded myself that whenever I start writing a new novel, I always want to set it in September.  I was a kid who loved school, and I am a grown-up who will forever love fall.

Today dawns the beginning of the last week of summer vacation in the Ford household.  Next Monday, Patrick starts in his new preschool class (fingers and toes crossed for potty training success!).  On Tuesday, Jim goes back to prepare his classroom for incoming middle school students.  On Wednesday, Kate starts kindergarten (!).  I have a week's reprieve (grading research essays for my online class), and then I will be back in the classroom the following week.

Jim attended an in-service a few weeks ago for a new Junior Great Books curriculum that has him excited about the coming year.  Likewise, I found two great books that have me looking forward to the year ahead.

The first is Getting it Right: Fresh Approaches to Teaching Grammar, Usage, and Correctness, by Michael W. Smith and Jeffrey D. Wilhelm.  Because I have mostly been winging it in the teaching-myself-how-to-teach department, I've learned that the area in which I feel most hopeless is grammar.  It seems that something either "clicks" for most students in about second grade... or it doesn't.  If you get to college and don't know what a run-on sentence is, is there still hope?  I'm still not sure, frankly, but this book offers the best information I've found in terms of helping students to grasp basic grammatical concepts.  It references studies and research and talks about the general uselessness of studying grammar independent of the writing process.  It also offers the wonderful suggestion of limiting the number of terms introduced to students and suggests that one teach grammar on the basis of a very limited number of concepts.  Students need to know what a noun is, for example, but an appositive?  Not so much.  This concept seems intuitive to me, but if I followed my textbook to the letter, I'd spend weeks confusing my students with talk of nonrestrictive clauses -- never mind that I know how to use them but still have to look up the proper terminology myself (every time!).

Even better, this book offers plenty of tips for helping students to learn and remember what is taught.  Pantomime, anyone?  I can't wait to try these exercises with my students come fall!

One of my husband's major undertakings with his sixth graders is vocabulary.  Likewise, I generally (in response to a student request in my first semester of teaching) open my college classes with a "word of the day."  My husband has started finding photos and videos to help his visual learners associate a mental picture with a given word, and I have taken my cue from him.  

I picked up a novel at the library this week that I will purchase for my husband's classroom ASAP.  Its enticing title is My Life as a Book, by Janet Tashjian. Not only is it a terrific story, but it is aimed at reluctant male readers and makes a point of offering enticing visual renderings (by the author's teenaged son) of vocabulary words on each page.  A middle school teacher's dream! 

Wishing a happy summer's end to all!  And don't forget to enter the Barbara Bottner Book Giveaway! -- Jeanne Marie


Carmela Martino said...

Thanks for sharing the grammar reference, JM. It's one I'll pass along to my adult students who have trouble with grammar.
Hard to believe the summer is "winding down" with the warm weather we're still having, but this is definitely a time of transition!

Jeanne Marie Grunwell Ford said...

We are actually having a bit of fall-like weather here after a very hot summer.

Thanks for your comments, Carmela. The grammar reference is actually probably more appropriate for teachers (middle school through adult learners) than for students.

I would say that the majority of my adult students (probably 75%, many of whom do not speak English as a first language) have significant trouble with basic grammar. I suppose that many of you who are teaching future writers have a self-selected group that tends to excel in this area. What teaching has taught me is that many students who are extremely bright and have wonderful ideas have an incredibly difficult time with expressing their thoughts clearly.