Reviewer # 5
Dr. Vavra has presented a much-needed guide
to an effective and exciting
approach to teaching grammar in which the instruction is integrated
into reading and
writing lessons. This book is like no other that I am familiar with,
because of the
1. The use of authentic literature and student writing
2. The simplicity of the terms (except for gerundive)
3. The contextualizing of the KISS approach into the history of grammar
as it has been over the last two generations.
As my comments will point out in detail, I have the following recommendations:
|1. Assume a lower level of prerequisite knowledge on the part of the
2. Give more examples: this will address #1.
3. Refer more to contemporary brain-based pedagogy: color-coding, kinesthetics,
and rhyme, music, all kinds of visuals, and learning styles. As a university
V. may not be conversant with the language of public school teachers,
but speaking to the
audience in this language is necessary. A little research on brain-based
differentiated instruction, graphic organizers, and learning styles
would yield up just the
4 Accordingly, if this book is published, it should have lots of eye
appeal: charts, set-
offs, pull-quotes and call-out boxes, summary boxes, lots of cross-referencing,
Grammar is a scary subject for most people, so the book needs to do
all it can, visually, to
keep the reader going.
About this Review:
What follows is a running commentary which
I kept as I read the manuscript. I
had a little trouble with Dr. V's organization, as you'll see. Although
he does a splendid
job of establishing reader expectations in his introductions, there
were several points at
which I assumed that his discussion of a topic was complete, only to
find later that it was
covered in more depth. Thus, some of what I say is rendered moot, but,
as a reader going
along page by page, that is what I experienced. In short, some organizational
may be required, at least to assure the reader that further explanation
I took the perspective of a teacher-reader
who reads this book without much
knowledge of the substance of grammar or how to teach it effectively.
even English teachers are in this boat, grammar having been neglected
for so long. My
extensive experience working with English teachers is that their weak
grammar is a sore point, a point of embarrassment, even though they
are in good
company. So, it is important to deliver the basics without seeming
Vavra does this, but I think he needs to assume an even lower level
knowledge. For example, your average English teacher cannot distinguish
traditional grammar and transformational grammar. Talk to her in Chomskian
("deep level") and you've lost her.
The voice and tone are reader-friendly and
clear here. At the outset, the teacher
would feel welcome and comfortable with this text. I'm wondering about
the choice of
third person P.O.V.: I'd prefer to be addressed in the second person.
I think that is more
inviting to the reader.
Dr. Vavra uses the term "gerundive" rather
than "participle," but I think that's
going to pose a problem. Teachers tend to be extremely trepidatious
about anything new
when it comes to grammar. "Gerundive" will definitely be a scary term,
especially as it is
so closely related to "gerund." So, I'd suggest "participle" throughout.
Overall, here, the message is clear and important.
But I think Dr. Vavra needs to
be even more basic than this: What do we mean by grammar, anyway? Set
operational defInition. Most public school teachers conflate the terms
and mechanics. They even get style and voice into the act. So, begin
at the beginning by
defining the key term.
Part One: (pages 1-6)
Again I suggest the change in POV. Here's
what the last paragraph would then
Suppose you teach seventh grade. I would
suggest that you can do such research
yourself, research on the writing of your own students. Such research,
of course, would
enable you to become your own "authority" about what your students
Chapter 1: Why the Grammarians are Wrong
A note on diction: The word "exercises" evokes
a very outdated approach to
grammar instruction. Perhaps we could employ another term here, such
as "task," "trial
sentences," "sentence models," or something that sounds a bit more
I do love the notion of teaching prepositional
phrases first. They are easy to
recognize. Two points: First, give some reasons why knowing how to
prepositional phrases will improve my language as a third grader: providing
place detail, varying sentence beginnings, delaying the subject,
identifying the subject (as
not an object of a prepositional phrase), checking for redundancy,
achieving rhythm. I
find that very few teachers can answer the question: Why should
anyone know how to
identify prepositional phrases? beyond knowing how to get subjects
to agree with their
verbs. Second: Let's not confuse a preposition with a participle.
In paragraph 2 of page 4, Dr. Vavra needs to
clarify what he believes to be the
main clauses of "He thought she would make a good president." He needs
to do so in
context and explain the reason. The teacher-reader is undoubtedly going
to feel lost
here if this is not done. Dr. Vavra needs to keep in mind that his
(almost definitely) have a lot to learn about what to him is very natural.
Accordingly, Dr. V needs to give his readers
constant assurance that all things
will be made clear as we go along. And, I think Dr. V need have no
fear of being
redundant: most teacher-readers will need the built-in review, and
most will not read
word-for-word, cover-to-cover if they are working with the book on
The metaphors are wonderful.
Last paragraph on page 5, end of Chapter 1:
I need an example of the
sentences referred to here.
Summary: What is present here is wonderful,
but needs to be made more
explicit to the novice teacher. Dr. Vavra needs to integrate more spoon-fed
into his argument: I'm thinking of the maxim, "Talk to your readers
as though they
are ignorant of your subject, but not stupid."
When it comes to what English teachers
know about grammar, I have found that one can never underestimate what
people don't know (because they've simply never been taught it.) Oh,
and it wouldn't
hurt to commend the reader now and then for wanting to learn.
Chapter 2: Why the Anti-Grammarians are Wrong
A picking-apart of the Braddock study, et al.,
is of much interest to those who
already know a lot about grammar instruction and its travails; however,
I think Dr. V
would be better off clipping much of this information. It is too detailed
practicing teacher, and will likely lose her attention.
Re: the Bateman and Zidonis Study: Translate
the quotation into more
Re: John Mellon's Experiment: I'm left with
a question here: Don't the terms
"extra instruction in composition" and "more mature sentences" entail
the teaching of
Re: O'Hare: Give an example of what the O'Hare
sentence combining method
Summary: For this chapter to be accessible,
I suggest a text format that steers the
reader to what she might be interested in and ready to handle. Perhaps
could be placed less prominently, maybe as an appendix. I'm afraid
that the teacher-
reader will get discouraged.
Chapter 3: Research on Natural Syntactic Development
This is a vital topic. I'm afraid the average
teacher-reader won't know what it
means at first glance. I suggest a subtitle: A Natural Scope and
Sequence: When are
humans ready to learn what?
Begin with a definition of NSD. Teacher-readers
would be familiar with the term
"language acquisition theory," but not necessarily NSD. The audience
will be interested
in lots of examples of natural syntactic development, such as the point
subordinate clauses are likely to be used. The named-references, though
not be of interest and are likely to turn the reader away. Actually,
this is a concern that
permeates the manuscript for me. Again, I'm afraid that the harried
teacher who has
emerged just far enough to read a book like this would cast it aside
as too college-text-
like. I can't stress enough the importance of understanding who the
reader is, what she
needs to know, what she knows. Don't overwhelm her. She won't stay.
Hunt: Give examples of T-units at various grade
levels. We need more than just
the stats. Again, more examples of sentences continue to be needed.
I like the examples on the bottom of p. 13.
I'd like to see more attention given to POV:
"You may have a student who..."
type of sentences that bring the teacher-reader right in.
Summary: The technical nature of the
material must be balanced by more
examples, summary statements, metaphor, "you" statements, and other
writing is crystal clear; however, the material itself will be new
information to the
readership. New information dissipates if not presented slowly.
Part Two: Theory
Chapter Four: Grammar in Motion
I like the Bernstein analogy.
The explanation of deletion, embedding, and
reduction is clear and concise.
I think the word "shifted" should replace
I really like the connection to reading: teachers
will appreciate this, as we are
always looking for ways to understand and improve reading comprehension.
The "crash site" metaphor is excellent.
The Psycholinguistic Model...
We need examples of the long and short T-units
that students might write and
wish to revise. (p. 7)
The description of texture is fascinating.
The P-Model...KISS theory of NSD
The three natural laws on page 15 are useful
Summary: I think the teacher-reader
would be comfortable reading this, and
would learn a lot about how language works. To make it even more accessible,
I'd like to
see the setting forth of more numbered lists. The unbroken narrative
is difficult. Teacher-
readers of this kind of informational text are more used to bulleted
and numbered lists,
and other textual features that aid and organize reading. This material
is so rich: give the
reader all the help you can, as editor and as author.
Chapter Five: What Should We Teach?
The information about formal, syntactic, and
notional definitions will be new to
teacher-readers. Proceed with caution.
Good point about the pronouns.
The explanation of nexus and modification on
page 7 is wonderful. I would add,
for clarification, that an adjective or adjectival answers the questions
kind? how many? and adverbs/adverbials answer when? where?
why? in what manner? to
what extent? and that nouns or noun phrases answer what?
and may be substituted with a
1. Which house? the house that burned down
Compounding and Ellipsis:
2. He burned the house why? because he wanted the insurance
he wanted what? the insurance money
3. Which fireman? the rushing fireman
rushing where? to the fire
4. He burned what? the house Why? to get the insurance money.
to get what? the insurance money
I would consider the "on" in "put on" to be
a particle, rather than a preposition
with an ellipsed object. I think of "put on," then, as a phrasal verb.
Phrasal verbs "teach"
easily, and are readily found in the language. A favorite exercise
of mine is to ask
students to note phrasal verb appearances in their favorite half-hour
sitcom. Phrasal verbs
are peppy and ubiquitous.
Summary: At the close of Chapter 5,
I feel well-equipped and ready to learn how
to practice my tools so I can build a doghouse.
Chapter 6: When...?
This looks like a reasonable and practical
Give examples of "more advanced" prepositional
phrases" to explain spiraling.
The teacher-reader would appreciate some concrete
pedagogical ways to teach
prepositional phrases: song lyrics such as "over the river and through
the woods to
grandmother's house we go"; "under the boardwalk down by the sea, on
a blanket with
my baby, that's where I'll be"; "somewhere over the rainbow." Color
is a powerful
learning tool: hi-liting prepositional phrases works well, as does
using manipulatives and
kinesthetics, such as Leggos. Dr. V. is not an elementary educator,
obviously, but some
so-called "brain-based" learning strategies are easy to find and effective.
Question: If we define a clause as having a
C (complement) component, what
about the intransitive verb?
The discussion of the Standards is important,
but I think it is misplaced. The
teacher-reader is expecting to continue with the sequencing. The Standards
should go elsewhere; maybe in the "why teach grammar" discussion, or
Dr. V has such strong and well-developed opinions about them, as a
Summary: This chapter should follow through on the "when to teach
avoid spinning into the Standards.
Part Three: The Wide World of Sports: E, M, and T
Here we have a series of effective ideas for
getting the job done.
The Word-Family chart is excellent.
The connection between affixes and roots and
grammar is powerful. More of this.
Summary: The parade of E, M, and T's
here is wonderful. May I suggest
throwing in a few pedagogical tidbits about differentiated instruction,
intelligence theory, learning styles, etc. Although experienced teacher-reader
these things, the novice would appreciate, and maybe even expect, this
kind of talk.
Chapter 8: Exercises for Expanding
The comparison between fourth, seventh, and
college freshman writing is
illuminating. This is the first I've seen of this kind of analysis.
The model passages are very well-chosen and
useful. Perhaps we could see more
about other rhetorical devices used in them, advancing the cause from
grammar alone into
grammar and rhetoric.
Summary: Teachers will love using literary
examples. They should be
encouraged (shown how to) find others and use them to teach grammar.
Chapter 9: Exercises for W, L, and S
Again, lots of effective suggestions and choices
for the teacher here.
We need an example of right-branching and left-branching sentences
Love the Gibson part about POV: Teachers are often
stuck on this, some insisting
that the only acceptable voice is the stiff third person.
Summary: This is a useful chapter that
teachers will find enlightening and
accessible. Again, more examples could only improve it.
Part Four: The KISS Approach
Effective and inviting introduction
Chapter 10: Introduction to KISS
Entertaining and effective example of the
purpose of punctuation. Teachers will
Because error correction is a major concern
of teacher-readers, Dr. V should
spend more time addressing solutions, including the Hostage 50 policy.
The discussion of semantics in the teaching
of grammar should take place sooner.
On page 16 we do find a more thorough discussion
for dealing with student errors.
Perhaps the previous mention should allude to this segment. I think
the work of Rei
Noguchi would work well here, particularly regarding clause boundary
Rather than the "I don't know," response,
which many teacher-readers will feel
uncomfortable with, I suggest that the teacher rely on these questions:
purpose? Who is your audience?
I love the Vesalius story about the horse's
teeth: it reminds me of the "rule" that
sentences "can't" begin with a coordinating conjunction.
Why would there be "...a great deal of harm
in trying to teach students to do so
(begin sentences with prepositional phrases)"?
It's a great idea to have students list their
"don't's" and then try to find living
examples of these "don't's" in real text. Students then need to do
the critical thinking
part: Why is (whatever) a traditional "don't" and why does the writer
in real text choose
:to "do the don't"?
The more affirmative our instruction is in
grammar, in my opinion, the better. I
hate to see "grammar instruction" degenerate into a list of no- no's.
That ain't what it
'sposed to be about.
On page 10, we have an explanation of why
we shouldn't teach students to begin
sentences with prepositional phrases. This needs to be connected to
statement, which baffled me when I read it a few pages ago.
The concepts "inductive thinking" and "deductive
thinking" should be used here.
The section on "Student Attitudes" is tangential,
as is the following section. These
ideas, though interesting and relevant, should be deleted.
Summary: The most important part of
this chapter is the Game. I hope that, in
published form, it is presented with easy-to-follow visuals.
I think this book would benefit from a reader's
guide, suggesting what teacher-
readers should read at various levels of their expertise. If I'm a
novice teacher, where
should I begin? Does the author expect me to read this cover to cover?
Again, I'm suggestion more attention paid to
the pedagogical value of color: hi-
liters, colored index cards, Leggos, etc. There's a lot of research
to support the use of
color for learning to categorize and remember.
Also, I'll stress the need for having the
students know what prepositional phrases
can do for them as readers and writers.
If we spend all of our grammar time in the
company of great literature and great
oratory, we're in the money.
Summary: I commend the way the instruction
and review to the teacher is
camouflaged in this chapter. This is exactly what your teacher-readers
need: they need to
be "reminded" of what that basics are, but without noticing that it
is they, rather than the
students, receiving the instruction.
Again, I'll offer the suggestion that hi-liting
(color-coding) is a more durable
learning tool than parentheses. Keep the colors for the parts of speech
constituents consistent and students will always keep the association.
Chapter 13: KISS Level Two
I should say here that Dr. V's voice in these
last few chapters has been much more
lively than was his voice in Part I.
Dr. V obviously knows a lot about the pedagogy
of Art Whimbey, et. al. I suggest
infusing more of this valuable information throughout. Teachers will
want to know that
teaching grammar is also teaching learning-how-to-learn. That's
a commodity that we
can't get enough of, and another sell for grammar instruction. Another
thing that Dr. V
could do a great job of is consistently pointing out how learning the
KISS approach is
related to how we learn other subjects: math, scientific concepts,
categorizing and classifying, generalizing, and (that golden word)
The "Inflated Balloons" work is important.
A point to make about diagramming is that it is meant as a way for facilitating
understanding, but often ends up complicating things. Today, "graphic
organizers" are the
rage: diagrams languish in displeasure, but, ironically, they are the
organizers." Perhaps if teachers could revisit diagramming, thinking
of it as a way of
making a sentence easier to understand, rather than just some sort
of relic from the days
when schooldesks were bolted to the floor and Jimmy dipped Mary's braids
inkwell, they could teach through diagramming.
Here we obviously get into more sophisticated
terminology and structure. Still
the explanations are plainly stated; I think the teacher-reader who
reaches this point
will be ready for this level of information.
Dr. Vavra's book is remarkably well researched
and thorough. With the state
of grammar instruction as it is, has been, and will be for the foreseeable
teachers are unlikely to be able to put something like this into place
They would need substantial administrative support, including a serious
in staff development just to get teachers to learn the content. But
once they know the
content, the KISS approach is certainly advantageous, in whole or in
Whenever we talk about grammar instruction,
we must be mindful of the need
to bring it all the way home: that is, how does grammar instruction
make a difference
in the student's ability to speak, understand speech, read, and write
effectively? How does knowing all this information get transferred
measurable, in this day and age of testing? Now that the SAT has what
they call a
"grammar" component (and we could argue on that term), the timing may
right to introduce something new and exciting.
I learned a lot from reading this manuscript.
I could learn more by reading it