May 31, 2012 by k. liz
So, this is a continuation of last week’s post on grammar and spelling in the classroom. Last week, I looked at whether or not I personally think that this is an important issue. The result is still inconclusive. I have mixed emotions on this topic, because I personally think that grammar and spelling are important for myself, but I realize that the culture that we live in, this global, technological world, does not place a high premium on grammar or spelling. So, my conclusion to last week’s post is that I think it is important to convey to your students what grammar and spelling indicate about a person. I do think that there are jobs in this world that require good spelling and grammar, and I do think that good spelling and grammar reflects a certain personality or character type. So, we need to convey this, and we as teachers ought to make the acquisition of grammar and spelling available to our students.
That being said, I don’t think that we should be sticklers on grammar and spelling if we don’t have a stated objective for why we are doing so. So, if you do have a stated objective, great! Be a stickler, and stickle with all your might. But, if you don’t actually have an objective that applies to your students, then I don’t think you should be so tough on them. That leads me into my last two points on the topic:
2. Do we (as a culture) communicate that spelling and grammar are important?
I have a feeling that we don’t. This was touched on somewhat in my own personal philosophy, but let me just give you a couple of reasons why I feel that our modern culture does not value grammar and spelling.
First of all, look at the most popular forms of communication in our modern world: SMS, Facebook, Twitter, e-mail. Have I missed some? I’m sure I have, but most probably they will fit in anyway. Twitter is a good example. Brevity is valued much more than grammar or spelling. I have read tweets that written correctly would have been much longer than the allotted 140 characters, and yet that avenue does not seem to mind the inaccuracies.
I know that they aren’t completely extinct, but how many people do you know that actually use proper formatting, grammar, and spelling in every email? I mix it up. It really depends on to whom and why I am writing the email, and how I feel at the moment. Facebook? Same deal. SMS? The same as twitter, if not worse.
I wonder if these things have changed so much in the modern era partly because the amount of text that we generate on a daily basis has grown a lot. We have the capability to produce and save a lot more than people in the past have. (This isn’t a proven statistic, but just thinking through all of the avenues in which we write today, based on what people used writing for in the past. It’s true, we no longer have the pages long love letters, but we have several thousand SMS texts a month!)
Finally, even in deep technical reading for my master’s degree this year, I encountered hardly a book or article that did not have a grammar or spelling mistake in it. That honestly really annoys me, to read very academic literature with mistakes. But, we’re all human, so I understand it. But, it does say something that you can have a book published and re-published, and still not find all of the errors!
These are just a few of the examples of how the text that our students encounter on a daily basis is proving to them that grammar and spelling aren’t really all that important. Maybe that’s a harsh way to put it, I know that there are still some very language conscious people in these networks, but perhaps the amount of people who aren’t grammar conscious is conveying to our students that you don’t have to be so concerned with grammar and spelling.
3. What’s a good model for approaching these things in the classroom?
So, what do we do with these thoughts? How do we make them worth the while of thinking them? Well, I have a couple of suggestions.
First, we do really need to make our students aware of these realities. We can’t expect to “keep them in the dark” and hope that they’ll turn out to love grammar and spelling and never realize that no one else cares. That’s why I included number 2, they’re going to notice! So, we need to just let them know up front in which situations grammar and spelling really matter and in which they aren’t as important. We should not make our students feel like losers because they struggle with spelling or grammar, especially if they are second language learners, because with that mindset we ought to be viewing a huge portion of our population as losers! So, in the thinking stage, we need to make our students aware of the realities of spelling and grammar in the real world.
Practically, it is still really important that our students are able to work with language, acquire it, and use it for communcation. In my personal opinion, teaching skills like phonetics, the IPA, collocations, circumlocution, and other skills for working in the language are hugely beneficial for our students. By teaching them these skills, we are giving them the tools to actually use the language for communication rather than focusing on the little pieces that will leave gaping holes in their language ability. I think that this can also give them a proper perspective on grammar and spelling. By showing them how to figure out grammar and spelling, and that they are important, but that communication can still happen without perfect grammar and spelling will help them to figure out what level they want to achieve for themselves.
Sidenote: I think that as a teacher, this is something I might struggle with at times. I am a high-achiever, and I want all of my students to be. But it is not really my responsibility to make them a high achiever. I need to make them successful in what they want to pursue, not necessarily what I want them to pursue.
I think that also creating in the classroom different tasks and different types of activities that call for different levels of accuracy is important. I am working on a writing strategy right now that incorporates writing types like tweets, facebook statuses*, emails, and formal letters. By incorporating all of these different types of writing, I will be able to give my students the opportunity to communicate without worrying about spelling or grammar (or almost worrying about it the opposite way, by having to shorten and cut out irrelevant things in their 140 character tweet!) but to develop their idea until it is polished and worthy of sending to a prospective employer in a professional manner.
I realize that these thoughts are still a little rough around the edges, but I hope that they make sense to you. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic! Leave a comment below telling me if you agree or disagree, or any great activities that you’ve been using in your classroom to focus (or not focus) on grammar and spelling.
*I actually looked this up – so for you British readers, substitute “status” and you Latin readers “statii”. Hope you Americans are happy. 🙂