We are a long way from
solving the problem of how to teach grammar in our schools. Part One of
this book reviewed the research that shows that traditional approaches
do not work. I tried to show that they do not do so because they focus
on teaching individual grammatical concepts, separately, without giving
students the ability to use them in analyzing most, if not all, of the
typical sentences that students read and write. The research that does
support the teaching of grammar supports teaching a limited number of basic
grammatical constructions and then having students apply that knowledge
to discussion and exercises related to style, logic, etc. There is, however,
relatively little research on such approaches, and what there is is limited
to instruction in one grade level or college course. Clearly more
research needs to be done. Hence, we are at a point, not of completion,
but of commencement.
The theoretical ideas presented in Part Two were instrumental in the development of the KISS Approach toward that completion, but they also suggest perspectives on grammar that any pedagogical approach should probably consider. Learning to identify parts of speech and individual constructions is not sufficient unless that knowledge is extended to questions of how the brain processes language. The KISS psycholinguistic model can probably be improved, and it certainly can be adapted for students at different grade levels. Such a model, in addition to explaining why some errors are errors, opens a vast field of stylistic questions that students could intelligently discuss in our classrooms. It gives students reasons for considering some sentences too short and others too long, and it also enables students to see the effects on readers of the embedding of various constructions. Likewise, enabling students to do basic statistical evaluations of their own writing gives students a much clearer view of how their style compares to others'.
The KISS theory of natural syntactic development was, as noted, based on the work of Hunt, O'Donnell, and Loban. It too could use more research about the details, but the basic outlines of this development appear to be solidly established. Thus, any approach to teaching grammar that claims to be based on theory and research will have to take, if not the KISS theory, at least the work of Hunt etc. into consideration. There appears to be no reason for teaching appositives and gerundives to students who are still struggling with clauses, especially since appositives and gerundives are far less frequent, even in adult writing, than are subordinate clauses.
Ideally, however, we need more than the basic outlines of natural syntactic development. Hunt, for example, suggests that the gerundive develops late because it is a reduction of the previously mastered subordinate clause. Thus, When they were going to the store, they saw an accident is reduced to Going to the store, they saw an accident. But in my study of 93 students' versions of the "Aluminum" passage, I was struck by a similarity in students' versions. Many wrote By using electricity, workmen separate the aluminum from the oxygen, but many others wrote Using electricity, workmen separate the aluminum from the oxygen. This suggests that the gerundive may also naturally develop through the reduction of some prepositional phrases. The study of the "Aluminum" passage also suggests that there may be certain cognitive differences that underlie syntactic development and/or styles. Some students treated the passage simply as a narrative -- first this happens, then that. Other students used grammatical constructions to emphasize purpose, means, etc. This suggests that instruction in grammar might be more effective if it is tied to some basic instruction in logic. In theory, as well as in research, we are still at the beginning of a long task.
Part Three attempted to bring together some specific ideas about how to teach grammar. Some of these ideas are new, but many of them are old and have simply been forgotten during the grammar drought. Here too, much remains to be done. Among other things, I hope that many teachers will review and test in their classrooms texts such as the Christensens' A New Rhetoric and Anne Obenchain's LINKS to Forceful Writing. In addition to such texts, there are probably dozens of excellent, but little-known exercises like the one presented by Wanda Van Goor, in which one set of sentences can be combined in two different ways to create two significantly different paragraphs. Finding and/or creating such exercises is time-consuming and not easy. The internet, however, now gives us an easy way of sharing them, thus making the effort even more worth while.
Part Four, of course, attempted to explain the KISS Approach and the KISS Curriculum. To my knowledge, it is the only discussion of grammar, based on theory and research, that even begins to explore the questions of what concepts should be taught at which grade levels. The KISS Approach, however, is itself only a general guide, a beginning. It is so in part because students cannot be expected to develop a complete conscious command of syntax in one year. Instruction, to be complete, has to be spread over several years, and that means that teachers and school systems would have to decide which KISS levels students would be expected to master in which grades. And, in addition to that, teachers (and/or school systems) will have to decide which rules of usage they are going to teach, and how (and if) they intend to enforce them. Much remains to be done.
In a highly mobile society like ours, with students regularly transferring into and out of school systems, we should probably have one clearly identified set of grammatical terms (one pedagogical grammar) and one or more clearly defined curricula designed to teach both the terms and their application. Such a grammar would mean that everyone who was using it would know that in the sentence "He thought she would make a good president," the main clause is "He knows" OR it is the entire sentence. Likewise, within that grammar, infinitives would be universally considered as phrases, OR as clauses, but not both. Confusion (and terminology) would thus be limited. Students who move from one school system to another would not find that the meanings of terms have mysteriously changed on them. And, by limiting the confusion about terminology, more emphasis could be put on how an understanding of the terms can improve one's understanding of sentence structure, reading, writing, logic, etc.
Establishing a nationally accepted single pedagogical grammar (and corresponding curriculum for it) will not be easy. Perhaps it is not even desirable. But clearly something must be done. The first step is to stop arguing about grammar in general and to identify specific grammars. KISS Grammar, and the KISS Grammar Curriculum are obviously being offered as a candidate, but I am well aware that other people may propose other models. The different models should be clearly designated so that everyone will be able to discuss the advantages and disadvantages, successes and failures, of each. This could lead to the widespread acceptance of two or three models, but at least everyone would know which schools are using which models. The current confusion is intolerable and clearly a disservice to our students.
This disservice affects students in a number of ways, causing confusion, frustration, and perhaps even a negative effect in their writing. In addition, we need to keep in mind the increasing focus on standardized tests. There is, of course, great disagreement about such tests, but the facts are that they exist and that our students are being evaluated in terms of them. Some of the questions on these tests concern grammar, and, with the current confusion, the terms used in these tests may be different than those that many students are currently being taught. The test makers are not going to listen to hundreds of different voices suggesting dozens of different sets of terminology and concepts. But a single (or even two or three) standard set(s) of terms and concepts, supported by major organizations such as NCTE, would enable us to put tremendous pressure on the test makers, not only about the terminology, but also about what is and is not developmentally appropriate for students at different grade levels. Whether we agree or disagree with the idea of testing, we should all be able to agree that the tests that are given should not hurt students because we, as a profession, cannot agree on what should be taught.
An Invitation to the KISS Web Site
The KISS web
site, I should note, is somewhat difficult to navigate. It has grown far
beyond my initial expectations, and that growth has been in different directions
as I have tried to meet the varied interests of visitors. Some people,
for example, have wanted justification that grammar should be taught at
all. Others want basic instruction in identifying clauses, etc. Others
are interested in which terms should be used, and how they should be defined.
And still others are interested in research.
The site, which is open to everyone for free, attempts to address all of these questions and needs. For those interested in the questions of why, what, and how, the site includes the entire text of Teaching Grammar as a Liberating Art. This manuscript, written almost twenty years ago, includes a fairly detailed history of the teaching of grammar. It also includes more detailed presentations on both the KISS theory of natural syntactic development and the connections between syntax and writing, reading, and logic. Parts of the book in your hands are adaptations of sections of TGLA. On the web site, TGLA has been supplemented by an area called "Essays on Grammar." These essays range from "Save Money! Burn the Grammar Textbooks!" to essays on definitions of grammatical terms and to discussions of what should be taught and how.
Several years ago, I began to receive numerous requests from practicing teachers who wanted help in teaching clauses. They could not, they said, themselves identify clauses. What should they do? What could I suggest? There are, of course, numerous textbooks that explain what a clause is, but I am not aware of any text that enables teachers to learn how to unravel the clauses in their students' writing. I therefore spent a summer creating the "Self-Paced Course." The "Self-Paced Course" uses the texts of nine jokes, six fables, and the opening paragraphs of six major novels as exercises which teachers can use to master the constructions of KISS grammar. Each text is analyzed at each of the KISS levels, so teachers can print out the unanalyzed text, mark it for prepositional phrases, for example, and then check it against the "Answer Key." The notes on these answer keys are aimed at explaining some of the complexities that appear in real texts, for example, ellipsed parts of constructions. Teachers who feel uncomfortable with their current ability to identify basic constructions should probably begin with the "Self-Paced Course." One of the advantages of the web, of course, is that teachers can do this without anyone knowing that they are doing so. When I developed the course, I intended to add more texts to it. (I always plan things that will take nine lives.) Then, I changed my mind, deciding instead to focus on "Cobweb Corner," the KISS research area. Teachers who complete the exercises in the "Self-Paced Course" and who want further guidance can probably find it in the "Corner."
"Cobweb Corner" is so called because the statistical research of Hunt, O'Donnell, and Loban has largely been abandoned since the 1970's. It is, in essence, my research workshop, and as such it contains several incomplete studies. Currently, however, it has fairly complete studies on, among other things, the writing of fourth and of seventh graders. It also contains my "Aluminum" study, the analysis of six Shakespearean sonnets, and a statistical analysis of the fables and novel openings in the "Self-Paced" course. Each of these studies includes a complete KISS analysis of each of the texts. Some of include an analysis of each passage at each level. Unlike the notes in the "Self-Paced Course," the notes on passages in "Cobweb Corner" are more concerned with what constructions should be taught at which grade level, and with how to teach them. I will be putting more time and thought into "Cobweb Corner" because I'm fascinated by what such research can tell us.
The "KISS Instructional Matrices" are a relatively new addition to the web site. Part Three of this book ("The Wide World of Sports -- Exercises, Methods, Techniques") is based on the matrices. As people began to visit the site, many had interesting ideas to offer. Among other things, the matrices are home to the articles by Robert Einarsson (on embedded and aligned phrases) and Father Kriegshauser (on diagramming). The matrices are an attempt to collect and share ideas for teaching different constructions at different grade levels, and I am hoping that teachers will continue to send in suggestions. I will do my best to post these suggestions on the matrices, either by including the texts or by linking to relevant web sites.
Pennsylvania College of Technology has recently provided a list server for KISS Grammar -- The KISS List. One of the interesting aspects of this list is that many members are home schooling their children and are thus in a position to use the ideal KISS curriculum without having to deal with the grade-to-grade coordination problems in the schools. Not only are these people testing many aspects of KISS theory and practice, but they are already making productive suggestions for exercises, etc. Information on how to join the list is easily available from the main KISS web page.
The discussions on the KISS List have revealed the need for more practical exercises and day-to-day direction for using the KISS Approach. The Instructional Matrices provide suggestions for how to teach, but some parents and teachers are not prepared to untangle, or even identify the constructions in real, randomly selected texts. A new section on the site, The KISS One-a-Day Workbooks, is designed to meet this need. The plan for the workbooks is to devote one "year" to each KISS level, with at least one practical exercise for each day of the year for each level. The first three months of each "year" are devoted primarily to recognition exercises, with the rest of the year devoted to application. Members of the KISS List are contributing some of the exercises. The idea, of course, is not that people should follow the workbooks day by day. In effect, the workbooks state a specific objective (recognition of prepositional phrases) and then offer a number of exercises from which parents and teachers can choose. Direct links to instruction material and relevant teaching suggestions should make the Workbooks a practical guide and a source of numerous exercises for anyone who wants to use the KISS Approach.
Although, as I write this, the Workbooks are in a very initial stage of development, they are now my primary KISS focus. The KISS Approach was originally developed almost twenty years ago, at a time when the teaching of grammar had to be defended by theory and research. Much of the original KISS material was developed to meet those demands, but that time is now over. Now it is time to get to the practical. I hope you will visit the site. Even if you don't love it, perhaps you'll at least like it. The address is www.pct.edu/courses/evavra/KISS.htm.