As I am a student aspiring to be an English major and one day earn a degree in Creative writing, I guess I should have a voice and opinion on the matter of how grammar should be dealt with, especially with how it should be taught. (Author note to self: Okay, that’s stereotyping man! Just because I want to have a degree that says I can write good doesn’t mean I have to have an opinion on anything about writing…) Anyway, let’s talk about grammar.
In my experience with grammar growing up, I hated it. I’ve mentioned it in previous blogs, so I see no point in going to grand details on the matter, but suffice to say that I hated English and reading as an adolescent and found it all pointless and/or a waste of time. Nowadays I do see an importance it, but I also feel that part of why one learns the rules of English is to learn how they can break those rules to create an impact on their audience; alas, I’m kind of getting ahead of myself.
As a student now, I don’t know if there should a set-in-stone way for writing, as I myself am still learning the importance of grammar. However, I do believe that there should be multiple ways to approach grammar and writing and that when it comes to revising and helping others with their writing, that it is easier to help another when they at least have something for me to evaluate (versus trying to help them stay grammatically correct as they write).
See, in my experience of being a writing consultant at my previous college (Centralia College), one of the major issues I felt that occurred with students was that many were so focused on having their grammar correct for the first time that it would take them hours upon hours, just to write a 2 page paper. I’m not kidding, there was one time I sat down with a student to help them with a paper, and because she was trying to keep the piece grammatical throughout the entire piece as she wrote, she struggled with getting the content which she wished to have in her paper there. And this wasn’t an issue with just this one student, it was an issue with many students. However, something that I saw that helped these students as I spent the quarter helping some of these students with their issues, was that I kept drilling into them that they should just try to get their ideas on the paper and worry about grammar last. What happened in some cases (I cannot say all, some people really are just different and have to do things their way), is that these writers were able to start getting their ideas out first at a faster pace, and then revise afterwards (both personally and through the writing center I worked at), and in the end, most of the writers were able to improve; and I believe this is because they were able to get their ideas out on paper first and because they didn’t spend each moment worrying about grammar.
I guess the point I am saying when it comes to teaching grammar, is that while it is important, I believe it should come second to content and that after a first draft, a writer should then shift their focus on making it grammatically correct; and that is where they can learn how to improve their writing.
Other places I have seen writing improve through the placing of content over grammatical rules first and foremost is in my friendships with random strangers across the world who try speaking English, and in my own life actually. The reason I actually started to find any value in grammar was because I started writing stories and drawing pictures (basically I was making a personal comic book and I think I’ve mentioned this story before); but the point here that I wish to make is that had I focused on the grammar last because I just wanted to write a story, and it was after I had written the story that I realized “Holy crap, this is a cool story, and I want it to make sense for my friends… I guess grammar is important huh?”
. . . Okay, so it wasn’t quite a thought like that, it was definitely more gradual. But like I said, content first, grammar second; that’s how I believe it should be taught.
Side note: Of course during the early grades of education where one is trying to teach children how to even write, yes, grammar is important. But not grammar to the university or college levels of academia.