Saturday, January 26, 2013

Learning from Grammar

What can students learn in a grammar unit? Here’s what some of my 10th graders wrote:
  • I can learn more through teaching others.
  • I thought trying without fearing failure is important.
  • As I learn more about the structure of sentences, I see so much order and rules, but yet great literature is never boring and redundant.
  • I had those moments that I realize that I was using wrong grammar until now.
  • As I was studying grammar, I was trying to translate the sentences into Korean, and I realized they are related in several ways. Parts of speech is used in other languages too. Like Korean and Japanese I use. If I learn grammar, it will help me with other languages.

Posing questions for students that frame the unit and drive inquiry I learned from Understanding by Design two years ago. Requiring students to reflect on what they’ve learned I got from Productive Group Work and formative assessment last year. This year I made the time for me to reflect on their answers.

The format for student reflection was a beginning and ending reflection (what do you know about grammar before and after the unit), and daily answers to the following questions:
  • What was the most interesting thing you learned today?
  • How did you lend a hand to someone else today?
  • What still seems confusing? What will you do next to clear up your confusion?
  • What is an answer to one of the 3 unit questions you thought about today? (How does knowing grammar help me...[1] talk about what makes good writing, [2] learn other languages, and [3] appreciate the order and diversity of creation?)

I learned that this is an important thing to do, and that I can do it even better. I got a lot of good, specific feedback, and I got some vague, incomplete feedback. Could I improve learning by teaching students how to give good feedback? A little more structured time, more monitoring, some models? 

It’s worth a try. Particularly noticeable were answers to “What still seems confusing?” that just said, “everything,” and proposed no plan at all for clearing up the confusion. It’s no surprise that those students were the ones that did poorly in the unit. Identifying what one doesn’t know is the first step in learning, and knowing how to go about getting help is the second.

What if every student could articulate something like this every day:
  • “The difference between some pronouns that may be used as an adjective (particularly this). I would answer more of the sample questions.”
  • “At first the difference between objective complements and predicate nouns and adjectives was confusing, but I cleared up my confusion with Mrs. Essenburg.”
  • “What the difference between compound and compound-complex is. Ask a friend who’s passed sentences already.”

Then maybe they could all end the unit with reflections like this:

“Through this whole unit, I learned more about the structure of grammar and not just how to name parts of speech. I learned that if I am able to explain a concept to my groupmates, then I know I have learned it. The 1st unit question was what I found most interesting because even the textbook and Mrs. Essenburg had said that good grammar is not necessarily good writing because grammar is not the way to write, rather a description of how people write.”

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