Apart from my work as a PhD student, I teach first year composition at UMass. As my personal response to “teaching grammar,” and to address the very common grammatical anxieties of writers, I implemented a grammar blog. It’s called Grammar Gossip, and all of its content is created by my first year students.
Grammar is often a “hotly” debated topic amongst scholars, students, teachers, social media users, internet trolls, and the list goes on. Where is it’s place in school? Where is it’s place in the world? WHO TEACHES GRAMMAR?! It can strike the most confident writers with crippling fear, and can befuddle the most eloquent speakers. So, I went with a blog. Something fun, light, informative.
I initiated this blog in the Spring, and have decided to give it another go this Fall. (I’ll be introducing the blog genre later today!) While I had preliminary feedback from my students, and my own observations in their writing, I wasn’t completely sure if this blog was having any impact on their interest in writing, grammar, the course, etc. And then yesterday, I got my Spring students’ evaluations.
Taking a step back, I did have reason to believe the blog was “working.” Students were excited to talk about revisiting old conventions they assumed they would remember, and I noticed our blog discussions appearing in their writing. For example, the week on semicolons brought a whole slew of (mostly effective) semicolon usage. That’s why I decided to continue using the blog, despite a lack of concrete feedback.
Within my evaluations, so many of my students commented on the use of the grammar blog! They wrote about feelings of excitement for getting to try their hand at a new genre, while others commented on the usefulness of having situated grammar discussions throughout the semester. Most important for me, however, were the comments talking about the benefits and joy of talking about grammar in a low-stakes setting. That for me was and is crucial.
Grammar is scary, for multilingual students and native speakers alike! Blog writing is informal; it includes videos, pictures, links, and other multimodal components. Although we’re covering the same material we would with a traditional comma lecture, the blog appears more low-stakes and allows students the opportunity to play with grammar and take on the role of expert. They become the teachers for their peers, and that feels pretty darn good!
While I know that this semester may not receive the same accolades as last, I can feel a great deal better about introducing Grammar Gossip to my new batch of students, and those still to come. And perhaps my personal successes will influence other teachers’ reflection on the space for grammar inside, and even outside, the writing classroom.