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Grammar FAIL, Part Two

barclay_barrios
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In my efforts to address grammar in the classes I teach, I tried a new online tool this semester (offered by another publisher so I will speak a bit generally here). I was suspicious from the start.  The critical literature I know suggests that “skill and drill” doesn’t work, that students can identify errors in writing exercises but then make those same errors in their own writing.  Still, I saw that what I was doing wasn’t enough, the publisher made good claims about effectiveness of their system, and they offered to let me and my students try it for free. I’ll admit I implemented it a bit lackadaisically.  I put it in the syllabus, assigned it as one small portion of their grade, had the publisher rep come to class to explain it, and urged students to use it in my end comments on their papers.  We’re one week from the end of the semester; 4 students have completed it, 3 are working through it, 3 signed up but did nothing, 13 didn’t even sign up. Of those who did give it a try, their experiences have been telling, if anecdotal.  More than one has told me something along the lines of “I was so focused on comma splices that I aced the online diagnostic but I keep making the error.” I can’t say I am surprised. I don’t want to dismiss this tool or the possibility of technology to assist in language and grammar skills.  It may be that what’s needed is a shift not in the tools but in me.  I’m not sure but I’m having students reflect on this particular tool as part of their final assignment so I will have more fodder for thought then. In the meantime… Grammar? FAIL.
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About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.