The Power of Positive Grammar

GUMS–Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling.  If there were really a way to get around teaching this business in fifth grade, I’d have found it.  Since it is un-getaroundable, I’m trying to figure out a more positive approach.  I’ve been hanging on to a DOL (daily oral language) program, because it doesn’t seem harmful and is quickly done each jam-packed day.  I am required to use a word study program, which I feel okay about, so spelling (and to a limited extent usage) is in a decent place. And my writer’s workshop includes focus lessons and conferring in the GUMS sphere, but it doesn’t feel substantial enough, and I don’t want editing to take over our writing work.

But for grammar, mechanics, and usage, I’ve been searching for something different than the deficit model that DOL provides.  My students certainly learn with DOL–they learn to spot what is wrong in a sentence, and often can fix that sentence.  That seems to be where things stop, as students do not transfer this knowledge into the sentences they construct–at least not to my satisfaction.

I might have drifted through another year (or two or three) with no change, but I ran across an article on the National Writing Project website.  Written by Bev Matulis, it was about her work with “featured sentence structure” to provide positive examples for students to study and imitate the structures/strategies of sentences from great kid lit books.  Matulis referenced the work of Don and Jenny Killgallon, so I sent for a couple of their books–Sentence Composing for Elementary School and Story Grammar for Elementary School.  I like the way the books build on concepts of parts of speech, sentence structure, etc., and leave room for some inquiry.  The best is that each concept gives multiple rich examples, allows students to explore and recognize patterns, then holds students accountable for trying these patterns out in their own writing. 

So I’m planning to use the Killgallon texts to jump-start this more positive approach to learning about English.  My “glass half empty” voice is crabbily griping about the increased time requirement for this work, and that is a valid concern.  Every decision in teaching can feel like robbing Peter to pay Paul.  But there is also a hope here for me, that this sort of work will contribute in significant ways to the growth of my students as writers, and therefore as thinkers.  And since I’ve been looking at restructuring my reader’s workshop, I’m going to find a way to make this fit and function in my practice.

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