Teacher/Practice Spotlight: Mr. Hillman

 

We need to inspire our students, as Ms. Walden is quoted as saying on Ms. Abraham’s blog.  English education has traditionally not inspired, but rather “demoralized” through inflexibility and a “one-size-fits-all” mentality. (Kirby & Crovitz, 3) This is especially true when it comes to grammar, as we’ve all experienced the meaningless activities throughout our writing careers, having been given worksheets to complete over and over again in school. The truth is that according to research grammar taught in isolation does not necessarily improve a students’ writing and may not even have a positive impact. (4) It still needs to be taught, however, but the question arises: how can we teach grammar in classrooms that emphasize writing as a process, classrooms that “[acknowledge] the value of students’ personal experiences and stories, and [promote] students’ choices in determining topics for writing,” (3)   It’s kind of a strange question to ask because writing and grammar go hand-in-hand, don’t they? Well, yes and not necessarily. A five year old can write all he wants, but won’t learn basic writing without some help. In fact, the question of grammar was the first challenge mentioned in Inside Out. Their suggestion? Kirby and Crovitz propose “that we embed small units of mini-instruction as occasions present themselves with student work.” (4) Grammar in context. Sounds great, right? It was with this concept in mind that I approached Mr. Hillman and his AP composition class.

 

Talk about walking into a textbook. The moment that I walked into Mr. Hillman’s classroom, it was like walking into the book Inside Out, and seeing for the first time the practices that we have been learning about with Dr. Baker-Doyle in ED605. Writing is the main part of everyday life for his students. I’ve visited Mr. Hillman a total of three times over the past ten days. Each day, in each class, he begins with a writing warm-up, an exercise designed to activate the writing minds of the students. The rest of class consists of peer-editing, reading, creating, and ultimately making a class of writers. Its fun, but also challenging and each day brings something new. In a class where getting students to write authentic, personal pieces is of the utmost importance, my question for him was this: can embedding mini grammar lessons within a writing-as-process classroom be effective grammar training? His short answer was “yes, especially with 12th graders.” Students in the upper levels of education won’t do “off the shelf” grammar lessons. It just won’t work. What needs to happen, according to Mr. Hillman, is that writing teachers (and students) need to search for patterns in writing that indicate the areas in need of improvement. The full interview can be listened to here.

Grammar tips for pre-service (and current) teachers:

  • Focus on writing fluency before focusing on control & precision.
  • In upper levels of education, full grammar lessons probably will be difficult and may not work at all.
  •  Think about teaching grammar in the context of student writing. 
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