Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The sad truth about English teachers

I knew my grammar and punctuation fetish was getting out of hand when, on a recent trip to the beach, I had casually written all the famly's names in a line on the sand, and my two daughters, aged 8 and 10, proceeded to add in commas. They have t0 live with me. And it's clearly rubbing off.

Last week I was asked to speak at the staff meeting of a local high school about the kinds of writing expected at university. "How much did grammar and punctuation matter at university?" was the first question I was asked. And I really didn't know. I know - I think - what I expect or hope for, but I really don't know about what is expected elsewhere.

But it struck me as significant that this was the first question that was asked. In the 90 minutes of the workshop I'd presented, I hadn't mentioned grammar or punctuation at all. But here it was: first off the block. But what I really wanted to say in response was this "If I had to choose between students who will grapple with ideas, take risks with new concepts, explore their question but fall over with expression OR students who write perfect prose but trot out established ideas without internalising or struggling to extend themselves, I'd go for poor expression every time." Of course such a dichotomy is, to a certain extent, ridiculous. But as a teacher I have often found that when my students are really struggling with ideas, their writing skills deteriorate, and I don't mind, because they're learning.

Image by BookRiot


Andrea Duff said...

Thank you, Lisa, for the party game idea (see cartoon). Next time I have a party, I will make it a grammar party and use this idea (even though I don't have many friends).

Margery said...

Punctuation is integral to good communication and the expression of ideas. Shoot John, and Shoot, John have quite different meanings. Creative expression and accuracy with both language and punctuation are not mutually exclusive endeavors.

Andrea Duff said...

Thank you, Margery :)

Laura said...

You want me to read your brilliant ideas? Then express them clearly and don't ask me to supply the punctuation and try to guess what that misspelled word means.

e-purser said...

Hi there - I'm visiting your site for the first time, being always interested in all things grammatical, and I note on the right of page that you did a poll of responses to what you phrase as the 'ideas versus expression debate' - I'd be really interested to see the stats from that - can you let me know? I'll keep exploring your site meanwhile :)