Issues in the Theory and Practice of Sentence Combining: A Twenty-Year
John C. Mellon. .....1 [Note his negative comments on O'Hare's study.] [HX-Daiker01]
"I fixed upon the early junior-high grades as the level at which to conduct the study." (4) [But he does not tell us why he settled on these grades. Apparently, he was not teaching at this level.]Sentence Combining, Style, and the Psychology of Composition
"Professor Gerald Lesser, Harvard's eminent psychologist of human development, in his course on educational research, began regular use of Bateman and Zidonis's NCTE monograph to illustrate an experiment poorly constructed as to design and statistical treatment." (5)
["Part Four: Syntactic Fluency and Learning" (15-21) is extremely good. It discusses, among other things, cognitive development and "chunking." He strongly suggests that cognitive development must precede increases in syntactic fluency.]
"Moreover, until we change our research methods, the door is open for clever empiricists with axes to grind to sabotage college sentence combining by the simple expedient of attributing performances that they, the experimenters, have actually prompted by other means to the supposedly automatic effects of sentence-combining practice -- or to the lack of such effects. Suppose, for the sake of illustration, an instructor secretly interested in debunking sentence combining assigns sentence-combining exercises throughout the term, but then, just before the final intertest essay, trots out Strunk and White's famous dictum: Simplify! Simplify! Use short declarative sentences and prune all unnecessary wording! Then suppose the instructor marks and grades that essay accordingly. A week later, without further comment from the instructor, the students write what are destined to be their posttest compositions. Can anyone doubt that a majority of the students, seeking to conform to their instructor's most recent message, will consciously opt for a plain-style largely unadorned by modifiers and nonrestrictive statements of any kind, thereby providing the researcher with exactly the structure counts he or she needs to put the whammy on sentence combining? The same thing could also work the other way around, where a researcher wants to demonstrate the superiority over sentence combining of some other form of structure-expanding exercise. In this case, the students need only be rewarded near the end of the term for electing to include a great many free modifiers and nonrestrictives --"packing the patterns," as Christensen used to say -- and they too will provide the numerical posttest data sought by the investigator.
In general I think we should abandon, at the college level, the kind of research designs we have been using, where experimenters pit their experimental groups against control groups of their own choosing. (27) [This is great, but it underestimates the intelligence of pre-college students -- who can also recognize and often produce what is expected of them.]
"Sentence combining produces no negative effects . . . ." (35) [He has no proof of this, and he never even begins to provide a theory of natural syntactic development (such as Hunt's "late-blooming constructions.")]
Measuring the Effect of Sentence-Combining Instruction on Reading Comprehension
Stanley B.Straw ..... 43
Examining the Fit of Practice in Syntactic Manipulation and Scores of
Warren E. Combs ..... 50
Prospects for Sentence Combining
Elray L.Pedersen ..... 56
Sentence Combining in a Comprehensive Language Framework
.James L. Kinneavy ..... 60
PART II RESEARCH IN SENTENCE COMBINING
Parallel Sentence-Combining Studies in Grades Nine and Eleven
Maureen A. Sullivan. ..... 79
"Ney's (1974) psycholinguistic model" (91) [Ney, J.W. Notes toward a psycholinguistic model of the writing process. RTE 8, 157-69.]Problems in Analyzing Maturity in College and Adult Writing
"In 1965, Kellogg Hunt's study launched a number of sentence-combining studies directed toward enhancing students' syntactic fluency in writing. In 1977, Hunt continues to point the way. In the NCTE monograph Evaluating Writing. Hunt expresses his hope for the beginning of "rich and varied curricular experimentation" now that the English teaching profession has a theory of syntactic development that covers a broad range of structures and has more than one way of measuring progress toward adult skill in writing." (93) [I don't remember Hunt using the term "theory" before the 1977 article, and in that article, he wrote: "The kind of information given previously as to which structures bloom early and which bloom late would be preliminary to actual measures of teachability at a given level." (102) Sullivan, like most of the people who followed her, totally ignored that statement.]
Words Enough and Time: Syntax and Error One Year After
Elaine P. Maimon and Barbara F. Nodine. ..... 101 [HX-Daiker01]
[This interesting little study explored the possible increases in errors as a result of sentence-combining practice. (All of the major studies basically ignored errors.) These researchers looked at faulty subject-verb agreement, dangling verbals, misplaced modifiers, fragments, vague pronoun reference, faulty parallelism, and comm-splice/run-on sentences. They used Hunt's "Aluminum" passage for both the pre- and the post-test. Embedded errors per 100 words increased from .48 on the pre-test to 1.25 on the post-test. In other words, the rate of errors almost tripled!]The Relationship of Reading Comprehension to Syntactic Maturity and Writing Effectiveness
Several of the articles in this collection explore whether or not sentence-combining can improve reading skills. (Most suggest that they do not.) This interesting, but difficult-to-read, study turned the question around and attempted to determine if reading ability determines students' performance on sentence combining experiments:Multivariate Analysis in Sentence-Combining Research
"Alternatively, the single significant discriminant function suggests that initial reading comprehension moderated the change in syntactic maturity and in certain variables of writing effectiveness that accompanied the instruction in sentence combining. Specifically the better -- but not the best -- readers showed the greatest change in syntactic maturity and in those writing skills that are associated with "richness of detail." The poorer and the very best readers showed the greatest change in sentence-structure quality. Since the significant holistic growth of the sentence-combining group did not define the discriminant function, it occurred as a function of some variable other than reading comprehension. Organization and coherence, the second non-discriminating variable, simply did not change in either the control or experimental group. These findings suggest that the collection of learned variables referred to as syntactic maturity manifest themselves in writing skills as richness of detail." (114-115)
Developing Paragraph Power through Sentence
Anne Obenchain ..... 123 [HX-Daiker01]
[This is a fascinating article by the author of the LINKS TO FORCEFUL WRITING program. She did conduct a statistical study, but unlike most of the major ones, she clearly focusses on the relationship between meaning and syntax. Although she is mainly concerned with subordinate clauses, she argues for the main idea in the main clause, and also presents some compelling ideas for left-branching modification. The latter is delightful in view of Christensens' obsession with right-branching. In effect, Obenchain may have some excellent materials for use with seventh, eighth, and ninth graders.]Sentence Expanding: Not Can, or How, but When
[Suggests that attaining writing competency may be related to reducing [not increasing] word/T-unit and clause/T-unit counts:
"Students whose pre- and posttest essays were judged competent significantly increased their word/T -unit and word/clause counts, but not their clause/T-unit counts.
Students whose pre- and posttest essays were judged incompetent did not
significantly change their T -unit counts, counts that still remained higher than
the essays judged competent.
But most important were the counts of the students whose pretest essays
were judged incompetent but whose posttest essays were judged to be competent. They had significantly decreased their word/T-unit and clauser/T-unit counts.
It was at this point that the issues became more fundamental than simply
the relative effectiveness of combining and imitation exercises. The different
responses to these expansion exercises by students at different levels of
competency suggest that the exercises' usefulness may vary according to the
abilities of a student. We therefore began to ask a different question: not just
how sentence combining should be taught, but when. One answer suggested
by the above data seems to be only when a student is ready for it, only when
he is already a competent writer or ready to become one." (139)]
"Unlike some others who have excluded sentence fragments from their T-unit
analyses, we chose to include them. We simply combined every fragment with
whatever sentence it logically connected to and counted it as part of that sentence. We did this for three reasons.
First, the putative basis of the T-unit is a minimal terminable unit, a unit that is in
fact based on a sense of cognitive closure at the end of a main clause and its modifiers. Since the accidents of punctuation are systematically ignored in isolating multiple T-units within single orthographic sentences, it would appear at least odd not to apply the same standard to a single T-unit spread across multiple orthographic sentences. For
many students, a period is simply a mark that they have stopped to think for a moment
before going on. On another occasion, a student as he paused might jot down a comma
or nothing. Periods do not always reflect cognitive units.
Second, it seems odder still to exclude fragments from an objective T-unit count but
to compare the results of such counts to holistic and trait judgments based on papers
that included those fragments. It would be self-evidently foolish to cross out fragments
before the papers were given to a reader for his judgment. Any reader can quite easily
integrate most fragments into the stream of discourse. Indeed, the discourse might
seem incoherent if such fragments were arbitrarily deleted. Perhaps some special count
is appropriate in this matter. But ultimately, it is contradictory to compare counts
based on texts whose fragments have been edited out with judgmental counts based on
texts whose fragments have been left in.
And finally, there is the thornier matter of what constitutes an illegitimate fragment.
Surely, at this stage of our understanding, we have to acknowledge that some
fragments are legitimate. But since distinguishing between legitimate and illegitimate
fragments would require a sense of stylistic judgment that massive counts cannot
afford, we cannot practically pre-edit texts to make those distinctions. (And under any
circumstances, the data cleansed of fragments revealed insignificant changes in the T-unit analysis.) (Ftn. #4, 145-6)
PART III SENTENCE COMBINING IN THE CLASSROOM
Anybody Can Teach English
Kellogg W.Hunt ..... 149 [HX-Daiker01]
This is a personal history, general summary essay. It is interesting to note that Hunt's degrees (B.A., M.A, and Ph.D) were all in English literature. He summarizes what happened to instruction in grammar very nicely in a prophetic statement that should also serve as a warning to current advocates of teaching grammar:Sentence Combining and Composing in the Classroom"I remember the promise that transformational grammar had for language education fifteen years ago. Then extravagant promises were made. Its rise was meteoric, and the shower of sparks from its tail was golden. But when that sun exploded, it left a black hole where grammar used to be. And just as there are black holes out in space where no matter can enter, so no grammar-like study will be tolerated in the schools again for many years to come." (153)In view of Sullivan's comment about Hunt's "theory," it is interesting to see what Hunt himself had to say at the conference:"In anticipation of the publication of more and bigger SC curricula, we should note that there is already available a certain amount of data telling when a given transformation is likely to enter a child's syntactic repertoire. In the monograph on the Aluminum passage (Hunt 1970a) we tabulated each transfonnation used by each age group in rewriting each one of the original sentences. That information shows stages of development and also, of course, shows one way to get more infonnation of a similar sort.Hunt apparently realized that "a certain amount of data" is not the same as a theory. In effect, Hunt and his peers had well-described when various syntactic constructions "blossom," but for some reason they made few attempts to explain the how or why of their appearance.
In a paper called "Early Blooming and Late Blooming Syntactic Structures" (1977) I have given data to support Francis Christensen's belief that use of a certain structure is a mark of real maturity. The data presented in that paper is from a rewriting experiment, and is surely objective and persuasive. Furthermore, data from such a source is much easier to obtain than data from thousands of words of free writing produced by students of various ages." (153-154)
Using 'Open' Sentence-Combining Exercises in the College Composition
Donald A. Daiker, Andrew Kerek, and Max Morenberg. ..... 160
Sentence Analysis and Combining as a Means of Improving the Expository
Style of Advanced College Students
Jeannette Harris and Lil Brannon ..... 170 [HX-Daiker01]
Harris and Brannon argue that, at least at the advanced level, sentence-combining is more effective if it is combined with instruction in grammatical, primarily syntactic terms which allow the students to understand and discuss what they are doing and why:Sentences: The Focal Points of English Teaching"Working with ... students in the Writing Center at East Texas State University, we discovered that an approach which combined sentence analysis with sentence-combining practice yielded rapid and satisfying results in increased maturity and improved style of writing. While most proponents of sentence combining deplore the inclusion of any type of grammatical analysis, we found that with advanced students the addition of this component increased both the rate and quality of improvement. " (170)The grammatical terms that Harris and Brannon mention in this article are very close to the terms/concepts of the KISS Approach -- "subject," "adverb," "prepositional phrase," "participial phrase" (the KISS "gerundive"), "dependent [Ouch - EV] adverbial clause," "noun clause," "infinitive phrase," "gerund," "nominative absolute," "direct object," "predicate adjective," "postponed subject," "coordinating conjunction." It seems to me that their approach was very much like KISS. The students, using these terms, analyzed the syntax of their own writing and that of specialists in their field. When they did this, they saw for themselves the differences in syntactic style.
If we remember that they were working with advanced college students, their emphasis on sentence-combining makes sense. (See Hake and Williams, above.) They concluded:Sentence analysis gives the students an objective means of looking at their own writing, and sentence combining gives them the means of improving it." (174)It is interesting to note that Harris and Brannon consider right-branching less mature than left-branching constructions. Unlike many of the other researchers, however, including Christensen, by teaching their students how to analyze sentences, they give their students the ability to choose for themselves.
Out of the Classroom: Sentence Combining in Training Programs for Business,
Industry, and Government
Paul V.Anderson ..... 184
Towards Teaching the Logic of Sentence Connection
Arthur L.Palacas ..... 192 [HX-Daiker01]
Palacas' article is important for anyone who is interested in combining instruction in grammar with instruction in logic. In terms of sentence-combining (the topic of this book), he claims that all combinations can be viewed as expressing logical relationships. He suggests analyzing texts (and having students analyze texts) in terms of "addition," "simultaneous state or event," "sequential position," "illustration," "restatement," "contrast," "concessive opposition," "opposition," "cause/reason," "effect (result)," "conclusion," "purpose," "choice," "comparison," and "conditional." (199-200)The Role of Old and New Information in Sentence Combining
Doing Sentence Combining: Some Practical Hints
William Strong ..... 209
His derisive tone turns me off.Bibliography of Sentence Combining and the Teaching of Writing. ..... 216
Index ..... 228