Where’s the Grammar?
Author: Kelly Matteri
Throughout Sonoma County, many educators have begun piloting or implementing new CCSS-aligned publisher programs for ELA/ELD. No matter the publisher program, one question I hear over and over again is: “Where’s the grammar?!?”. Have no fear, language-loving darlings, grammar is not destined for neglect or abandonment. There have been, however, important changes to the way in which the teaching and learning of grammar is meant to occur.
In order to understand the nature of these changes, it’s helpful to look at the place of grammar in the California Common Core Standards for English Language Arts. Grammatical concepts, as traditionally understood, are specifically called out in the first area of the language domain (alongside their close companions capitalization, punctuation, and spelling) under the first area of focus in the Language domain of the standards, as seen below.
Conventions of Standard English
- Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when
writing or speaking.
- Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation,
and spelling when writing.
It is worth mentioning that the CA ELA standards document includes a special note that states:
“...The inclusion of Language standards in their own strand should not be taken as an indication that skills related to conventions, effective language use, and vocabulary are unimportant to reading, writing, speaking, and listening; indeed, they are inseparable from such contexts.”
This emphasis on the inseparability between grammar and the contexts of reading, writing, listening, and speaking is echoed in the text of the California’s ELA/ELD Framework , which has the following to say on the topic:
“Grammatical… understandings are important across all of the strands and they aid students in their interactions with increasingly complex text… Conventions are taught explicitly and are applied in the contexts of meaningful spoken and written communication….To support students to develop language awareness teachers create many opportunities for whole class, small group, and paired discussions about how language works.”
Taken together, these excerpts from the framework indicate that while the conventions of Standard English, including grammar and usage, should be taught explicitly to students, it is the application of the conventions to meaningful contexts of communication that should be the emphasis of teaching and learning. Accordingly, instruction and practice should not focus on repetitive, rote practice of rules. Grammar worksheets provide little or no authentic context for the application of conventions, and should not feature heavily in the teaching and learning of grammar in a common-core aligned ELA/ELD program. Students benefit from opportunities to study the ways in which language conventions impact overall meaning in communication. Educators should look for the publisher programs to provide students with opportunities to analyze and make intentional choices about grammar usage based on an intended message and effect, and to make changes to existing usage if needed or desired.