EdWeek Digital Directions Article on Teacher Survey
Here is the latest in a string of polls that basically asks the same question over and over again. HAS TECHNOLOGY HURT STUDENTS WRITING ABILITY? Inevitably the survey comes up with the same results. Students still have a lot to say but sometimes don’t know the correct way to say it. Researchers always point to a lack of spelling and grammar knowledge as the result of students texting and using word processors. What is always overlooked is that grammar instruction came to a screeching halt about the same time as the technology revolution started.
In 1985, the National Council of Teachers of English reported that 50 years of research showed that teaching grammar in isolation does not improve speaking or writing. This resolution significantly halted the explicit teaching of language arts in the classroom. As with all education reforms, the baby was thrown out with the bath water. More recently the NCTE has had a bit of a rethink with a set of guidelines (not a resolution) written in 2002 on the importance of grammar instruction. These guidelines point out that grammar is really teaching the structure of language and the different choices that writers have to express themselves. Perhaps, in those 50 years between 1935 and 1985 so-called grammar instruction was mostly an exercise in enforcing rules of usage which admittedly can be culturally biased, but that did not mean that it was wise to remove all language arts instruction and particularly real grammar instruction.
So let me propose a new survey for teachers about writing and technology. Here are some of the questions that I would ask.
How much time a week do we as teachers spend teaching language arts and grammar specifically?
How much time to do we devote to students reworking small pieces of writing using different grammatical constructions?
How do we use technology to instruct and practice grammar?
I believe the results of this survey might give us a lot more clues to students’ lack of knowledge about correct and effective language. Just, one closing point. I also do not think that the measure of whether we are doing a good job as writing instructors should be whether our students produce merely correct text. I would hope that we are seeking to produce students who can write eloquently and persuasively using the full range of tools provided in the English language. For that to be the goal, you must teach grammar.