Reflections on Rhetorical Grammar

[2009] A few weeks ago I asked a student to share a paragraph from her exploratory analysis.  When she placed her writing on the document camera in front of the class, I noticed that her sentences had many grammatical problems.  I had asked her to the board so that we could reflect on content, yet the obvious errors were difficult for me to ignore.  So after a brief exchange about the ideas of her paragraph, I pointed out her comma splice and misuse of the semi-colon, asking an embarrassingly rhetorical question:  “Does anyone see anything wrong with this sentence?”  The class’ silence and the student’s embarrassment were enough to prevent me from ever using that kind of questioning again!  I felt horrible.  Even if other students did see the error, who would voluntarily – let along publicly – “bring down” a peer?  To make up for the awkward moment, I quickly told her exactly how to change the problem and returned briefly to content before she rushed back to her seat.

Now, a couple of weeks after this incident (and only a day after reading Micciche’s “Making a Case for Rhetorical Grammar”), I have many questions: 

  1. Why did grammar instruction feel so out of place in a discussion on content?
  2. What prompted me to openly ask the class to correct grammar mistakes for her?
  3. Why did I immediately feel awkward and why did grammar jump to embarrassment when we discussed grammar?
  4. How much of the “awkwardness” is from my own perspective – my discomfort with correcting my students; my desperate desire to avoid upsetting them; my belief that kindness is the best teaching tool; my belief in collective conversation and arrival over “right” and “wrong”?
  5. How much of this scenario was caused by the “scariness” of grammar (or even my failure to implement it regularly thus far) and how much by my lack of corrective confrontation with my students?

Micciche, my current professor of Teaching College Writing and author of “Making a Case for Rhetorical Grammar” suggests in her article that grammar be incorporated into conversions about content through a focus on style.  Had I invited students to contemplate grammar (i.e. local sentence structure, word choice, and punctuation placement) as it effects tone, voice, and an author’s overall style, I believe this awkward moment would have been avoided.  I am so excited to begin incorporating grammar through this lens.  

Already, I’ve incorporated Rhetorical Grammar into today’s course topic:  “Introductions & Transitions.”  See my detailed class plan the following blog entry.  Overall, I plan to focus my students’ attention on the organization of words within sentences (so far, I’ve focused only on sentences within paragraphs and paragraphs within essays overall) especially as this affects cohension of thought within their deliveries.  Next quarter, we’ll focus on this much earlier!

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