How to Bring Back the Lost Art of Grammar and Writing
“I can’t write. I am just not good at it and my grammar sucks.”
This is what I hear all the time from young people and even adults. They are honest and straightforward about a skill they never mastered not because they couldn’t master it, but because they were never given the chance. Grammar is not a subject taught at schools and neither is composition or writing. Students are just supposed to know how to write. Learning grammar and writing has to be methodical, deliberate, and task done well. Most schools do not factor grammar instruction in the curriculum, not any more. The downfall of grammar started long ago, in the 1980’s when the national Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) decided to push forward a research stating that grammar exercises are not worth the work. The movement against teaching grammar in schools was convenient; teach less, stress less, and get funding to promote a more general language arts curriculum, all in the name of modern education. Now, I haven’t seen anything related to education that is not worth the work and can be seamlessly assimilated with minimum practice. The internet is full of articles trying to justify the lack of formal grammar education calling it “nostalgic” and “unrelated” to writing. By the way, that was probably the same sharp ax that got advanced math sacked oﬀ the public schools’ curriculum, but that is a topic for another blog. I have seen private schools that do oﬀer grammar, at least on paper, but do it mostly to justify the fees and fail to bring the meaningful connection between grammar, mechanics, and prose. Most of these schools have classrooms jam-packed with students, making it impossible for a teacher to be able to teach writing techniques effectively to a class of thirty-two students, give timely feedback, and proofread fruitfully. The results of rushed and styﬂing writing techniques can be just as damaging as no writing at all.
Either way, the lack of rigorous grammar instruction in the U.S. puts students at international disadvantage. Unlike in the U.S., students in the U.K., and China are taking national grammar tests yearly, and in almost every country in the world English grammar is a mandatory subject for any student pursuing higher studies no matter what the discipline of choice is.
To many of the students and parents today the fact that grammar is a low priority subject in the classroom but with high-stakes on tests like the SAT and ACT, comes as a cold shower.
After continuous surveys at the UC’s the faculty was united in their verdict concerning incoming freshman: “students are inadequately prepared for college-level work in terms of basic writing, reading, and thinking skills. For example, they lack in ability to think critically, to express oneself in a written format, and in ability to comprehend the nature of assignments.” One respondent said that students have a “high school-rooted misconception that one can pass a course without studying,” and several cited the lack of college-level reading and writing skills and other essential study skills. In their data titled: Identified Categories of Root Cause Factors for Failing, the student related factors such as Not Ready for College was 40 percent in a two-year colleges and 37 percent in a four-year colleges.
So, how do you get better at grammar? Attend an after-school grammar and writing classes or a weekend writing workshops. Writing is a craft and learning proper grammar goes hand in hand with this craft. Writing workshops paired up with grammar lessons provide time for internalizing concepts and discovering one’s voice as a writer. Here is the link https://voiced.live/ to a Bay Area local after-school that conducts classes on regular basis. VoicED was started with the purpose of providing quality grammar, academic writing, and speech and debate classes for middle school and high school students. The founder conducts writing workshops for middle and high school students to get them prepared with college applications and essays. The grammar and writing modules oﬀer unlimited guidance and yield results for students wanting to improve their grammar, write to publish, or simply get a better grade at school. The recommendation is to continue writing even after the classes, to practice the writing tips and techniques, and to ask for feedback to ensure that all the eﬀort is making the practice perfect. This is a guaranteed method to avoid repeating mistakes. It is true for all things and writing is no exception.
I love the Amazon book store or any book store for that matter, as nothing compares to the feeling of cracking open a new book. With the possibilities of self-publishing and freelancing, anyone can become a writer these days. But quality writing is scarce. And the demand for quality written material is growing by the minute as more and more products need buyers and the written word is still the most eﬀective way to get ahead. Good writing is very much worth bothering about.
I have friends say to me how they could one day do this or that and even write a book while they are at it. Yeah, sure! As if writing just appears in between whatever else you do in your life and it happens on its own, without any eﬀort. Writing is no doubt a hard work. But, when do our children start writing quality writing material? When they get to college, or do they write just to stay in college and graduate school, or to get that job, promotion, or to sell a product…the list goes on and on. The answer really is: quality writing material should be produced early, all the time. So, why don’t we just teach them English grammar, mechanics, and guide them to apply all that in some amazing writing?
Mostly because unfortunately, school is not a place where grammar is conceptually taught as a subject at the foundational grades. According to The Washington Post http://www.washingtonpost.com journalist Natalie Wexler, and her article titled Why American’s Can’t Write, “In 2011, a nationwide test found only 24 percent of 8th and 12th grades were proficient in writing, and just 3 percent were advanced.”
Later, in high school, students are expected to write, analyze, proofread, read for content, and do it all just somehow organically. Teaching writing is an incredibly diﬃcult job. Teaching is a diﬃcult job, but to teach writing requires the unconditional attention and guidance from a teacher, who is not just teaching the mechanics of the process but is willing to get to know the individual student and bring out all of the hidden treasures of their personality which will create the conditions for evolution. It is a labor of love and a merging of minds. It takes time and continuous effort.
In an article published by the Carnegie Mellon University the faculty breaks down writing as a “complex task involving many components, skills some of which students lack completely.” Among other things, these skills involve:
- reading comrephension
- analytical skills
- writing skills – including writing mechanics: grammar, sentence structure, and spelling
- planning a writing strategy
- communicating ideas clearly and concisely
- constructing a reasoned, demonstrable argument
- organizing ideas effectively
- effectively marshaling evidence and using sources appropriately
The ﬁrst rule of thumb when writing is to remember that the primary purpose of your writing is to “capture” the readers and make them want to keep reading. You do want them to read but you don’t want them to feel like they are doing work. Not at all. The reader comes to you to be informed, entertained, or to be persuaded. All the same, don’t make the reader work too hard or they will ﬁnd somebody else that makes the work seem fun and easy. If your point takes twice the time and eﬀort to understand, you have lost the eyeballs.
Although, there is no official formula on writing, it doesn’t hurt to go over some helpful guiding principles. Follow these and you should have an easier time writing. For a complete guide and a fill-in format to help with outlining your next project, go to https://voiced.live/ and in just few clicks your writing will sound its best. The format is designed to propel your writing one step at a time to a well-finished product.
Unity – Is the piece of writing solving a problem? Find your choice of problems that need to be solved and stick to solving those problems. Going around in all directions will confuse the readers and leave them with a sense of loss of time. No matter how many problems your writing is revealing simultaneously, and no matter what suspense you are building, you must solve all by the end.
Clutter – Tell us about yourself in 100 words or fewer. This is a common prompt in many job or a school applications. Hundred words is just a little over a paragraph. Apparently, a larger than life personality will have to fit in just one paragraph. Now what? How to start? Not a problem, all that is needed is to be selective with our phrases as one bad apple can spoil the basket. If one of your phrases is ﬂoating aimlessly and fogging up the entire meaning of your hard work, your paragraph is in trouble. Check all usage of prepositions and prepositional phrases ( a refresher course on prepositions or parts of speech is oﬀered by VoicED) Prepositions are excellent modifiers that can show relationships but can create clutter or confusion if incorrectly used.
Misplaced modiﬁers can create humor of the wrong kind.
Consider this example: Uncle Chris saw a deer bounding across a meadow on his way to work.
Say what and who now? This is the time when a refreshing course in grammar and diagramming can ﬁx all bugs.
Check your adjectives. Thinking with clarity requires eﬀort and practice. It is not something that just happens one day and like most things that require eﬀort and energy there will be days when you will be behind.
Clutter happens when you start camouﬂaging your ideas and saying what it is like and not what it really is.
Examples of verbal camouﬂage:
pursuant to = under
in respect to = regarding
in absence of = absent
Please check the word count and see how many words you’ve saved.
So how do experienced writers hold the readers’ attention? Here is how:
1. Address the reader directly – make a statement that is focused toward the reader as if he or she is right in front of you and you are telling a story. Be direct and brave as if you are starting to build a conversation with a stranger and you are getting information about them by telling them your story first. When your tone is friendly and direct, most people can relate to what your writing or at least express interest.
Here is a starting example: For me breakfast on Sunday morning is not just about butter-rich pancakes and fresh strawberries.
The next example begins with a dramatic quotation: “Mr. Stanley, you are hired and I am so happy to meet you.” A middle-aged Japanese man was holding up a sign with my name on it, standing in the middle of the airport all smiles, completely ignoring the shock on my face. I had just landed in Tokyo for a family vacation. It turns out I was hired, but for what?
2. Begin with an anecdote or example. If your anecdote is humorous or mysterious you are bound to hook the reader.
Example: On my very ﬁrst day visiting Bombay, I learned a lesson I will never forget.
3. Begin with an unusual or educational fact.
Example: Money may not always be able to buy you family, but in Japan, it can buy a pretend family member, at least for a little while. Yuichi, a 35 year old charming man, has created a new job description. He can impersonate a best friend, father, husband, or any family member you need for a day at you big event.
The lessons in teaching grammar and writing can be a continuous way to create independent thinkers and resolute decision makers. After all, that is what education is all about, isn’t it? My suggestion to all parents has always been: The moment anyone tells you that grammar is a mundane and unnecessary way to bore your child at school, look for the door and run. After all, the hardest sentence our children will have to write one day, is a sentence without grammatical structure and meaning. A sentence that is a product of a failed effort.