Part Two: Theory

The opinion has even been voiced that school instruction in grammar could be dispensed with. We can only reply that our analysis clearly showed the study of grammar to be of paramount importance for the mental development of the child.
--Lev Vygotsky (Thought 100)

       In the KISS Approach, theory, research, and practice are finely interwoven. This part of the book thus frequently refers back to the section on research, but it also is intimately involved with the question of practice. One of the major reasons that conventional instruction in grammar has failed is that constructions are taught outside a theoretical framework. Many of the ideas developed in this section are adapted from lectures or observations that I share with my college Freshmen, and many of them would probably also be understood by middle and high school students. Thus, although the discussion is primarily theoretical, I am suggesting that much of it should be included in our classroom practice.
       Practice is the key to consciously mastering grammar, but the questions remain, practicing what, when, why, and how? In the KISS Approach practice is a matter of learning to identify and discuss the effects of a limited number of constructions. These constructions should be introduced a few at a time, and, after some initial group work, students should be encouraged to identify them and discuss their effects in randomly selected passages from their own reading and writing. Although this approach is actually simpler than the traditional approaches to teaching grammar, it requires a much larger investment of time for each construction. This makes the questions of what, when, why, and how much more important. Parts Three and Four of this book address the questions of why and how; this part explores the connections between the research and theory and the what and when.


       The research suggests that students need only a limited number of grammatical constructions, but to date, we do not have a comprehensive, powerful, pedagogical descriptive theory of grammar that explains exactly which constructions students should be taught. To address that question, we need to ask what it is that we expect students to be able to do with their knowledge of grammar. Most teachers will probably agree that we want students to be able to use their knowledge of grammar to be able to discuss how sentences work -- How do they convey meaning? What makes an error an error? And what are some of the stylistic differences in sentences?
       To answer these questions, we (including the students) need a model of how the brain processes sentences. Chapter Four describes the KISS psycholinguistic model of how the brain processes language. The model shifts students' focus from meaningless memorization of isolated rules to a fascinating exploration of how their own brains make meaning from words. The model is also the foundation of KISS explanations of errors and style. Once students understand the basic principles of the model, questions of what is correct and what is incorrect, what is good, and what is bad, are resolved by the model, not by the teacher. No longer is the teacher the "grammar cop."
       With the model at the heart of the KISS Approach, the next question is what grammatical terms do students need to know so that they can discuss any word in any sentence in relation to the model? For this purpose, traditional terminology works fairly well. It is, however, possible to simplify and clarify traditional terminology by using some of the fundamental concepts of modern linguistic grammars. Chapter Five explains and attempts to justify these KISS modifications to traditional terms. The chapter also explains how the KISS approach eliminates some of the terminology that is usually taught. As a result of these modifications, KISS provides a relatively simple grammar that includes everything that students need to be able to explain how any word in any sentence is syntactically connected to a main subject / verb pattern. With this theoretical explanation out of the way, Part Four can focus on the practical questions of how and why to teach all the constructions of KISS grammar.


       The primary purpose of Chapter Six is to show how the constructions presented in Chapter Five should ideally be spread across grades three through eleven, thereby following the conclusions of Hunt, O'Donnell, and Loban on natural syntactic development. Such sequencing of instruction would require much more coordination among teachers of different grade levels, so the chapter also explores how the KISS sequence of instruction can be limited to a smaller number of years, and even to a single year. The end of this chapter also addresses some other questions that have been asked about the KISS approach.