Education Nation: Revived support for grammar instruction

With American schools focused on raising reading and math scores to meet accountability requirements, writing often takes a backseat. The class of 2012 posted the lowest average writing score on the SAT this year since writing became part of the exam in 2006.

But with 45 states adopting Common Core standards that include writing and specifically grammar, some educators are examining new ways to bring grammar back into the classroom.

Roberta Stathis

“I think increasingly there’s an understanding that while we don’t ever want to go back to the drill and kill approach, from research and educators, we know that [explicit grammar instruction] is a critical component in education,” said Roberta Stathis, executive director of The Teacher Writing Center, which runs the Grammar Gallery, an online resource for writing and reading instruction.

Day three of NBC’s Education Nation summit featured the winner of the $75,000 Citi Innovation Challenge, a website called NoRedInk! that helps students improve grammar and writing skills. The website incorporates popular culture into student lessons and allows teachers to track progress on individual writing concepts, with lessons aligned to the Common Core standards.

Currently, emphasis on grammar in curriculum varies from state to state. The Teacher Writing Center has seen an increase in districts using its online writing program, with about 50 currently participating. But Patrice Gotsch, associate director at the Center, says there are some teachers and administrators who don’t embrace explicit grammar instruction. 

While grammar was one of the most-emphasized subjects during the 1950s, schools have shifted away from it since then, according to one study. “There’s plenty of research that traditional grammar instruction and diagramming sentences does not work,” said Sandra Wilde, a professor at Hunter College in New York City.

When the Common Core standards are rolled out in 45 states in 2014, teachers will be expected to explicitly teach concepts like participles and infinitives, and students will be expected to explain usage of such terms.

Wilde says she expects that the revival of grammar will prompt companies to develop new products and textbooks. She added that developers should ensure that online sites aren’t replicating the old grammar workbooks in a high-tech package. “To be good,” she said, “the developers would be well-served by really working with some literacy people who are up to date in the field and have some innovative ways of thinking about it.”

POSTED BY ON September 25, 2012

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Sandy Hughes

As a Latin and English teacher, grammar such as diagramming sentences and understanding our words are used is the way students really understand English. Hooray!

[...] más bajo que se ha tenido desde que en 2006 se incluyó esta asignatura en el examen.Publicado en Hechinger Report Sin embargo, con la adopción del Common Core (núcleo común de enseñanza) por parte de 45 [...]

Barbara Stuckey

Winning a patent in writing, I’ve spent twenty years establishing follow-up track records and outcomes in closing the achievement gaps in schools and the collaboration and writing gaps in the professional workplace. (Of course those students struggling in schools become adults struggling in college and workplaces and taking careers they think will not require writing.) With our approach, we’ve seen remarkable outcomes in times from 2 weeks to 7 months with 70 trained teachers and, as well, for professionals suffering from struggles with writing. The approach ties to intuitive thought, organizes English as a binary system with no exceptions, concentrates on context meaning “between the lines.” Not a gimmick, it enhances and does not impugn other approaches and applies a binary explanation for grammar as well as writing and thinking. Please see our film, documentary work-in-progress, All Boats Rise, Please consider staying in touch. Adding blogging, on-line articles, and conversations with educators would add the perfect component to our current, very-small-company national expansion. Best regards. Hoping to hear from you. Barbara Stuckey Please see P.S. below

P.S. My only hesitation in this reply is that under the tab Outcomes and Results, the web designer misspelled Magic as Majic and Achievement as Achievenent – two disasters I will have corrected post-haste.

Nancy Schadt

I completely agree with Sandy Hughes. I took four years of Latin in high school and learned the meaning of Latin/Greek prefixes and suffixes, as well as diagramming sentences, in elementary school. I enjoyed diagramming and the clarity of knowing the function of every word, phrase and clause when I finished. As a former high school English teacher and current English adjunct, I am appalled at the ignorance of American students, when they enter college, about the fundamentals of their own language. I cannot accept that, in some form, “traditional grammar instruction and diagramming sentences doesn’t work.” It worked for me, and it certainly worked better than whatever passes for grammar instruction now. “Explicit grammar instruction” is an essential part of a child’s education; currently, the “system” is cheating all American children of their basic right to speak and write their language correctly.


I couldn’t disagree more. I happen to love grammar but realize that majority of students do not. They want to be engaged in things that have meaning and are interesting. Grammar rules are NOT the most exciting thing to discuss and explicitly learn about. Sandra Wilde is correct in the above statement. If you want to improve student “achievement” in regards to grammar and writing the evidence and research reflects that it it best done through READING not instruction where lecture dominates. Teacher lecture=student disengagement.

Ron Woods

As a middle and high school English teacher for twenty-six years, experience has taught me (as have many, many students) that direct grammar instruction does indeed reap positive rewards. Students at both the honors and inclusion levels want to know and understand their language and how it works. They look forward to each day’s warm-up activity of identifying sentence parts, clauses, structure, capitalization/punctuation errors, and diagramming sentences. The majority leave at the end of each semester with a sense of real accomplishment (and more than a few become experts at synthesizing this information). Further, students have told me repeatedly that direct grammar instruction has helped them to become more proficient, confident writers. Current research indicates that grammar is best taught with regards to students’ own writing; I offer that a balanced blending of the two is most beneficial. Reading is insufficient toward grammar instruction because students focus either on decoding words or on plot (interest); they do not seem to notice how grammar helps them to enjoy the reading activity.

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