–Hello, I’m Jason Stephenson, Director of
Secondary English language arts here at the State Department of Education, and
before I was in this role, I was a high school English teacher at Deer Creek
High School where I served on the standards writing committee. –And I’m
Brook Meiller. I’m the Executive Director of School Support and Improvement here
at the State Department, and in my previous role when I served on the State
Standards Committee, I was a director of Literacy for Norman Public Schools and
before that I was a teacher, high school English teacher. –And we’re here to talk
to you guys today about Standard 5: Language. And this is a standard that
sometimes strikes fear in some English teachers’ hearts just because it is all
about grammar, or maybe there’s something more to it, so we’re gonna explore that
today, and we’re gonna start by hearing from Brook, kind of her grammar story,
her journey in teaching grammar throughout the years. –Absolutely! So I
think like a lot of people when I first started teaching, I just looked at
grammar kind of as a set of rules, a set of things that I needed students to
practice in a way. I was teaching in 1986. That was my first year teaching, and so
there was this grammar book–I don’t even remember the title–but it was hugely
thick, and grammar at my school at that time was really arranged into units. So I
did a punctuation unit, and I did a parts of speech unit, and as a 10th grade
teacher parts of the sentence was really important, and we did a verbals unit, and
it just went on and on and on, yet kids didn’t know anything, and by the next
year, they had to redo parts of speech again, so you know that’s not right, and
you just keep looking for things that will help you integrate that language
study so that it sticks with our students. For me that was a professional
development with the College Board, and it was really the first time that I went
to a Summer Institute as a pre-AP teacher, a pre-Advanced Placement teacher,
and I had a consultant that really helped us see you don’t teach grammar
over here in isolation, you don’t come up with these sentences for kids to
identify. You just teach reading, and you teach writing, and you fold that language
in, and I really learned how to do that that summer, and then I taught that way
from then on, and I’ve been trying to teach teachers to teach that way ever
since. –So I maybe have a similar path in that
whenever I first started teaching, I taught the way that I was taught, and it
was through worksheets, and it was through here’s the list of rules, and
we’re gonna have a quiz, or I’m gonna mark up my students’ papers with every
single grammar error that they made and use my red pen, but what I found was that
wasn’t helping my students. They weren’t integrating what I was wanting them to
learn about different structures and types of sentences and where the comma
goes and all that. And what saved me in my teaching career was going to the
Oklahoma Writing Project summer institute, and it was there that I
learned about kind of the same thing you were talking about: folding grammar into lessons of reading and writing and to put the responsibility of figuring
out how to fix those sentences with mechanical errors, usage errors back in
the students’ court. So this was one tip that I learned: was instead of me
identifying grammatical errors, instead make a little dot at the end of the line
of the essay to indicate if there’s a major error that you want your students
to go back and find and correct themselves. If there are two major errors,
put two dots. If there are three errors, put three, and put it back on the
students to find, so that they’re the ones becoming better editors because we
as English teachers, we already know how to edit things. It’s our students.
–That’s right, and they’re just taking all your edits and fixing those and not learning
–Or they’re just saying here was how I scored on the paper, and I’m
throwing it in the trash, which that was just something that I could not handle
at first. Another thing too as far as teaching grammar–the reputation that we
have as English teachers–is sometimes people will say, “Oh, don’t judge my
grammar.” Like that’s the first thing that they say to us sometimes when they get
to know us or what we do.
–“I’m afraid to send you an email.”
–Right. And I just wish we didn’t have that reputation as
educators that we’re gonna come down harshly on people because
language is designed for different purposes, different audiences, and I make
typos sometimes in the emails that I send and the tweets that I make, and you
just have to move on because sometimes something needs to be super polished, and
sometimes there might be a few, a few mistakes. In our classrooms, though, we’re
wanting our students to show off what they know and to have really polished
grammar skills. But one thing that kind of changed the way that I thought about
grammar was listening to the Grammar Girl podcast, and she presented this
notion of prescriptivism and descriptivism when it comes to grammar.
So prescriptivism is enforcing every rule and saying that language is static,
that it doesn’t change, and this is maybe the reputation that those English
teachers who are marking everything up with red pens have, but a descriptivist
simply describes what language is doing and is more of a believer that language
is fluid, and it’s changing over time, and one example that I can think of that is
like people saying in the past decade or so like “Adulting is hard”–like being an
adult. But that kind of structure or word formation didn’t exist whenever I was
growing up, and so language does change. So I try to be a little more forgiving
or understanding whenever I see structures or words or choices that my
student writers were making if I felt like it was in keeping with how language
was evolving or changing.
–Absolutely, absolutely, and I think about when your,
when your structure is perfect sometimes, you actually lose meaning. So I just
re-watched a wonderful movie called Saving Mr. Banks.
–Yes, I’ve seen it.
–They’re talking about writing the song “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” and it’s just so
wonderful, and they’re singing, and they’re happy, and then all of a sudden
someone says, “Really it should be, ‘Let Us Go and Fly a Kite,'” and they try to sing
that sentence, and it’s just terrible, and the whole tone and the mood is just lost.
And so that’s another part of that descriptivist, of what do I want my
language to do, what do I want my message to be, and maybe that structure is going
to change my message.
–So that’s really getting into the nitty-gritty of what
Standard 5: Language is all about.
–Absolutely. –So we’re
gonna look right now at an example from sixth grade in Standard 5, and so
those objectives there are divided into the reading and writing strand, and
really what standard five is all about is students will apply knowledge of
grammar and rhetorical style to reading and writing. So do you want to talk about
reading strand or writing strand?
–I’ll talk about the reading strand.
–So when I think about one of these objectives is that students
will compose or–excuse me–students will recognize different types of sentences
that signal relationships, and so I think about when we put text in front of
students, and we really just even focus on just what’s the sentence structure,
how many of these sentences are simple, how many are complex, how many are
compound complex, and so on and then always ask the question: And what is the
effect of that? So identify what you see, and then ask, “And what is the effect of
that?” and I think what’s so exciting is that students begin to see sometimes the
simple sentence is the most effective sentence in the passage because of what
it does, because of what it evokes or that’s exciting.
–In its placement. Maybe it comes at the very end after a long series of compound
or complex sentences.
–And really whenever we’re asking our students “What
is the effect?”, we’re moving away from DOK 1, of I’ve identified this sentence as
a simple sentence, but now we’re saying what is the effect, so that’s how we get
our students to be more critical thinkers as as readers and then also
writers. So in the writing strand here in standard five, this is all about students
demonstrating their command of standard English grammar and usage throughout
their writing, and so if we look at these objectives here, one of them is about
recognizing and correcting vague pronoun usage, and that may seem to some people
like do we really need to work on that, but this is all about being clear and
creating clarity in writing, and I am a person who in my writing sometimes has
vague pronouns, and I go back in and have to correct that, so it’s teaching our
students to just be clear in how they’re communicating because we don’t
want their message to be lost, and so that’s just one example here in standard
five for sixth grade. So we thought right now that we’d talk about
how can we actually apply this in like a lesson, and we looked at an opening
paragraph from Highlights magazine, and we noticed that it used a series of
dashes and adjectives, and we thought “You know–let’s look at the example sentence,
and then we could imitate that in our own writing.” So I guess we’ll start with
looking at the mentor, or do you want to just read your imitation of it?
–So why don’t I read the mentor text? –Okay.
–The one that we want students to understand
because of its content, but then we also want to use it for them to imitate.
–The rhetorical style or the structure.
–The structure, whatever it might be in their
own writing. So the the original paragraph from the Highlights article
says, “As a company that helps children become their best selves–curious,
creative, caring, and confident–we want kids to understand the importance of
having moral courage. Moral courage means standing up for what we believe is right,
honest, and ethical–even when it is hard.” There is so much language to unpack in
that, and and I really think that depending on the age of student, you
could start as young as third grade with that and just talk about how many
sentences are there. There’s two.
–Right? Just two sentences.
–So let’s now go write something
that we care about and use two sentences. It can be that simple in terms
of helping them see how the language and the structure is working, but as students
get older, what would you focus on with maybe a sixth grade class, Jason?
–We could identify the types of sentences that are used here: a complex sentence, another
complex sentence it looks like at a cursory glance, and then imitating that
same kind of structure of saying, “Now I’m gonna write two complex sentences,” and
then as students get even older, even though dashes aren’t in our Oklahoma
Academic Standards for language, we could still probably have high school students
notice this use of em-dashes here in this passage.
–And what the effect of those
–Right, because this would be something that is set apart, and it’s, you
know, stronger than a comma, stronger than a colon. You can’t use colons the way these dashes are being used, and we could challenge students to use some dashes
in their writing as well, which is what you and I did in our imitation
sentences. So do you want to share yours first?
–Absolutely. So I tried to imitate
this sentence pretty closely in terms of using the dash and how many sentences I
wrote and the structure of those sentences.
–Okay. –So my imitation is, “As someone who cares deeply about education– authentic, valued, equitable, and relevant–
I want our country to have the courage to invest in children. I want to live in
a world where we don’t question how much education costs, much like we don’t
question how much defense costs–no price is too high for our children’s futures.”
–Hear, hear! I’m all excited.
–You know what’s interesting? As I was writing that sentence, and I kept going back to
the mentor sentences, the mentor paragraph. It made me add more words. It
made me be more thoughtful of my point, and how do I get to that point in
structuring. It made me play with language, and I think that’s what our
kids don’t have time to do is just play with language. You know the thing–“That’s
really neat. I could do that!” –Yes! And we need to find that time in our classrooms
for students to get to play with words and sentences and see the effects. So I
kind of had a similar experience in crafting my imitation–that I was trying
to get the dashes in and the series of adjectives and making sure that it
flowed well–and so here’s what I came up with for mine: “When I started my first
year of teaching–excited, nervous, hopeful, and overwhelmed–the only thing that
boosted my confidence was the tie around my neck. I couldn’t manage a classroom,
but I did know how to tie a half Windsor knot–something my students did not know.” And so whenever, whenever I was writing that, it just brought back all these
memories of that first year, of like teachers saying, “Why are you wearing a
tie? It’s Friday. You can wear jeans and a T-shirt.” I was like, “I need this tie,” you know?
And so this would be like a launch into like writing a personal narrative if I
wanted to use that. So I took a persuasive mentor text from Highlights
magazine and repurposed it for an opening paragraph for perhaps a personal
narrative, so there we go.
–And mine was repurposed to the opening paragraph of even a
podcast. I mean that would have been a great first sentence for a podcast.
–Just to launch into what you care about. And, and, I really feel like
that standard 5 because it’s embedded in reading and writing–like all of them are–
it’s really intended to make us better readers and make us better writers, and
so when we start having students examine a piece of text–yes, for its content, of
course we want its content–that’s why we’re reading. But we also…
–Like standard 3 literary analysis.
–Correct, correct, but we also want to talk about “How did the
author get that done?” and so the way the author got that content across is
standard 5 in language. And we just have to keep saying that.
–And just revisiting and re-examining texts throughout the year where we can see the
different moves, the craft moves that those different writers made.
–Absolutely. And I think you’ve got
some resources for us in the curriculum guides.
–Absolutely. So at the
end of the standards booklet, there is a grammar companion that explains a lot of
the different terms that our students are expected to know, gives example
sentences, of different kinds of sentences, and so that’s just at the back
of the standards booklet. And then also if you hop online to the curriculum
framework, that grammar companion is pulled out separately in a smaller
document if you want to access it that way, and then also the curriculum
framework has different literacy progressions that show how the standards
build over time and change throughout the grades. And there’s even a
punctuation literacy progression that shows by grade level when are the
different punctuation marks expected at those different grade levels as well as
parts of speech. And if our students who have been working with these standards
for a number of years now eventually you know get through that vertical
progression, then they’re going to know these parts of speech, and when they get
to ninth grade, hopefully our, you know, freshman English
teachers are not having to teach our students what a preposition is because
our students will have been working with those for a number of years. So the
frameworks are there as a resource, and we just really hope that teachers are
able to use standard 5 as a way to help their students become
better readers and writers, and it’s not necessarily all about
“I found a predicate nominative in this sentence on a worksheet.”
–All right. Well, thank you all for listening, and we wish you luck with standard five.