Thursday, August 19, 2010

Reining in Grammar with Social Networking

Originally published @ old blog site.

At times I see a gulf between formal grammar instruction English teachers provide and the grammar lessons parents want their children to receive. Early in my career, grammar lessons resembled the isolated study I experienced in junior high. These days grammar talk in my classroom looks more like my Facebook profile. Last week I posted a status update about my evolution into twitter chat:

Twitter chat is turning out to be a great way to connect w/ English teachers to discuss mutual concerns via #engchat. Tonight Twitter chat between parents and teachers #ptchat. This is awesome! If you aren’t on Twitter, you should be.

This status update prompted the following conversation about parental concerns over grammar instruction:

S.H: I wish every English teacher would spend some time discussing mis-placed apostrophes and incorrect homophones this school year. I am tired of seeing newspaper headlines and articles with sentences like “Coach reigns in practice when it’s hot.”

It makes me wonder who reigns during cool weather, if not the coach, assuming that “it’s” is meant to be the contraction of “it is” and is referring to the weather.

Spell check has made us lazy. It is NOT a replacement for knowing English, and it does not catch incorrect use of possessives and homophones.

L. B-K: I’m not an English teacher, but I understood “it’s” as a contraction of “it is” and referring to the weather. If the journalist was referring to the coach being hot, isn’t it correct to use either the word “he’s” or “she’s”, or even “they’re”? I am just curious…not trying to present an argument.

E.E.T: ‎”Coach reins in practice when it’s hot” is correct. Rain, reign, rein.” It’s” (contraction for “it is” and “its” possessive pronoun….

English is a living language, so I predict we’ll see one form of “its/it’s” within the next 25 years as “text speak” continues to influence spelling. Look for other changes, too, such as the continued death of the subjunctive mood as in L’s example, “If the journalist was…” The subjunctive reads, “If the journalist were….” This expresses a condition contrary to fact, but I see many English teachers who no longer use it. It’s on its way out, so is the rule against split infinitives, as in “to boldly go” vs. “to go boldly.” The latter is correct.

S. H: Star Trek ruined us on split infinitives!

What is the status of dangling prepositions?

L. B.-K: rein…right! I didn’t catch that one, being I was more interested in the “correct” use of the pronoun “it’s”, which I know was referring to the weather.
I suppose I read S’s comment wrong? I thought she was stating that “it’s” was misused.
I still would like to know if the coach was being referred to being hot, instead of the weather, what pronoun would you use?

E.E.T: L, use “it’s” since the antecedent is clearly the weather.

S: The rule against ending a sentence w/ a preposition is ignored by most. Purists such as myself try to avoid ending sentences w/ prepositions. I suppose this is from having Mrs. Rucker for eighth grade English!

I think students care about using grammar correctly, especially in formal writing. These days I use “Personal Style Manuals” and conferencing as the primary way of raising student awareness of grammar issues. I’m thinking about ways to evolve grammar instruction via social networking. If Facebook as grammar book works for parents, perhaps it will for their children!

Click here for a brief pro/con perspective on the value of social networking in the classroom.

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