Monday, September 24, 2007

It's all in the spin...

The first set of papers I ever collected horrified me. So many grammatical errors, and I thought, such basic ones, too. Well, I still think "there" basic mistakes (oooh.... even in quotation marks, that grates on me...), but I no longer "take it for granite" that everybody knows the proper way of doing things. I pretty much count on covering fragments, run-ons, and comma splices in the beginning of the semester.

The thing is, I went for literature because I liked analyzing the ideas of literature. Grammar came naturally to me because I practically grew up in libraries, or at any rate, with my nose in a book. Now, my comp courses were a good eight years ago, so it's possible I'm forgetting, but it doesn't seem like my profs spent much time on grammar--it was assumed we'd either already grasped the basics, or we'd learn as we went. Bottom line: I haven't had to do much with grammar, and it doesn't particularly excite me, but it's a necessary evil.

So it was as much sarcasm as anything else when I wrote their reading homework up on the board last Friday, with the following underneath: "Grammar fun time!" A bit cheesy, but as an English teacher, I recognize that a certain amount of groanworthiness is allowed, nay, even expected.

Today, after I'd taken care of matters of housekeeping--roll, handing back assignments, etc.--I asked in a chipper tone who was ready for fun with grammar.

I got a couple lukewarm responses.

I stopped. "I want to hear you cheer," I demanded. What can I say? The power gets to my head sometimes.

A small chorus of "alrights" and "yeah!s"

"That's better." I then split them off into pairs, breaking up some of the buddy units that have developed, and gave them a worksheet that asked them to identify the sentence-level error and correct it. I let them use their books (for those who brought them!), as I'm more interested in them gaining the concepts right now. It also tacitly rewards those who've done their reading and further rewards those who brought their books.

It took most of the remaining class period, during which I circulated through the classroom, giving pointers here and prompting with questions there, and I used the last ten minutes to start going over the answers as a class. I reinforced the rules as we went, and I also backtracked to pay a little more attention to comma splices, which seem to pose the biggest problems.

I don't know if it was the group work, or what, but they were buzzing, calling out answers and everything. I asked first for the type of error, then for the fix, and then if anyone came up with alternate fixes. It gave me an excuse to half-sing the opening lines to "Conjunction Junction." ("Nooo..." a student groans, covering his ears.) Oh yes, I was hamming it up. English teacher's prerogative.

We were almost out of time, but we go over one last sentence, a run-on. One student wants to fix it with a comma. I stopped in mock horror and asked "what [he] just did to that poor sentence."

The others call out, laughing, "It's a comma splice!" Hallelujah.

I've never had that lesson go so well. I'm glad it did. This class was my early morning class, and they've been D.O.A. for the last few weeks. I'd been waiting them out, waiting for them to thaw a bit and start getting involved. I'm holding my breath, but this seems like it could be a turning point. And to think, I have grammar to thank. And a healthy dose of spin combined with some good-natured sarcasm.

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