#5 In high school, language standards are recognized to be moving targets not unchanging edicts.
Three important standards are introduced in the high school that should help students to understand the changing nature of language and the various guidebooks and manuals that that will guide and limit their writing in college and career. The Common Core approach of teaching writing as a craft will help students to adapt their writing as needed to these changing requirements.
9th and 10th grade – Write and edit work so that it conforms to the guidelines in a style manual.
10th and 11th grade – Vary syntax for effect and consult references for guidance as needed.
10th and 11th grade – Apply the understanding that usage is a matter of convention, can change over time, and is
#4 Vocabulary development is a part of the language standards.
Vocabulary usage and acquisition is the third strand within the language standards. In some previous ELA standards, vocabulary was considered a reading standard. The Common Core Standards view vocabulary as a part of language skills.
#3 Imprecise standards still lead to confusion.
For example, an important standard calls for varying sentence pattern without defining the term pattern. Does this refer to varied structure (simple, compound, complex), varied pattern (NV, NVN, NVNN, NLVA, NLVN), varied style (periodic, cumulative, running), varied openings (phrase, subordinate clause, subject, predicate), or perhaps all of the above.
#2 Language standards should be retaught at every grade-level in ever greater complexity.
This means that teachers cannot focus on the grade specific standards in isolation but must instead weave the new grade-level content into a greater understanding of previous years’ standards. Here is the direct quote from the introduction to the Common Core language arts standards.
Students advancing through the grades are expected to meet each year’s grade-specific standards and retain or further develop skills and understandings mastered in preceding grades. Beginning in grade 3, skills and understandings that are particularly likely to require continued attention in higher grades as they are applied to increasingly sophisticated writing and speaking are marked with an asterisk.
#1 Students should be focused on the why of language in addition to the what.
The language standards represent a subtle but noticeable change in philosophy towards viewing writing as a craft. This in turn means that grammar, usage, and mechanics cannot be treated as isolated, esoteric pursuits. Instead, they must be taught as tools of the writing craft. Take for example the key standard, “Vary sentence patterns for meaning, reader/listener interest, and style.” This standard is introduced in the 6th grade and is marked as being a standard that is particularly likely to need revisiting through the 10th grade. Students in this new paradigm cannot stop at being able to identify a particular pattern, or at being able produce each pattern, but must be able to choose which pattern would be most effective. This implies that students must know why a particular pattern is advantageous. Here is a quote from the introduction to the Common Core under the sub-heading, Key Features of the Standards for Language.
The Language standards include the essential “rules” of standard written and spoken English, but they also approach language as a matter of craft and informed choice among alternatives.
Many standards include wording about choosing (rather than just using) this or that grammatical structure for a particular effect. Theoretically, students should be able to explain why they selected a particular construction. Whether these standards can be accurately assessed by standardized tests remains to be seen. Regardless of whether accurate measurement of progress in these standards can be achieved, exposing students to the reasons why grammar is important can only enhance their motivation to learn it.