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There is a terrific article in the March issue of NCTE’s Council Chronicle by Trisha Collopy, laying out both a rationale and some practical strategies for incorporating challenging and complex readings in community college classrooms at all levels. Much of the content in the article will resonate with integrated reading and writing (IRW) instructors; we know that deep reading will make a difference for our students—as they discuss “reading that matters” (12).
But I would suggest that such readings also offer an opportunity to revisit our approach to grammar (where we so often resort to decontextualized sentences, prescriptive rules, and worksheets – none of which seems to have a demonstrable effect on the quality of student writing). What if we invited students to consider language structure as a reading strategy, a means of reading closely, constructing meaning, and interpreting rhetorical moves and stances? What would that look like? What would it require for instructors?
I’d like to explore the instantiation of a “reading for grammar” pedagogy over the next few weeks. The foundation of such a pedagogy, however, rests on a linguistically and rhetorically consistent definition of grammar. Perhaps what is needed is a set of threshold concepts to frame and undergird the pedagogy, akin to Adler-Kassner and Wardle’s Naming What We Know.
Here is a first attempt at such a list, garnered from studies in applied linguistics, language acquisition theory, and the composition classroom. I would welcome an opportunity to revise, expand, and refine the list as others share expertise.
- Grammar is a rule-governed system for producing and interpreting language.
- All speakers possess a grammar; speakers may access multiple grammars for different purposes.
- Grammars are neither “good” nor “bad.”
- The specific rules of grammar are derived from the habits of communities of practice.
- Grammars change.
- Knowledge of a word includes knowledge of the grammatical structures in which that word participates.
- Academic/written grammars are acquired; they are not native to anyone.
- Conventions of written language are arbitrary.
- Grammatical knowledge can be both tacit and explicit.
- Speakers working within a particular grammar make choices.
- The effectiveness of a grammar choice is related to the listener/reader’s ability to interpret that choice.
- People make judgments about others because of grammatical choices.
- People establish and maintain identities through the language choices that they make.
- Grammar is informed by previous experiences with language in a variety of discourse communities.
- There is no such thing as complete mastery of academic grammar. (Or perhaps there is no such thing as a common academic grammar.)
- Educated speakers can disagree about practice (Oxford comma, “healthful” vs. “healthy”).
- Grammar is contextual, rhetorical, and meaning-driven.
What else? I would love to hear your thoughts.
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