Last Updated July 2, 2011

Cobweb Corner 
-- The Research Basement
This area is devoted to research on natural syntactic development.
Welcome & Introduction 

Why the Statistics?

The Mechanics of Statistical Syntactic Analysis

A List of KISS Research Projects

Suggestions for Research Projects

Additional Reviews of Previous Research 

The Question of Errors

Sentences That Cause Problems for the KISS Approach

Welcome and Introduction

     Welcome to the Research Basement, otherwise known as Cobweb Corner. I call it that because, although a lot of English teachers refer to the research that supposedly proves that teaching grammar is not effective, not very many of those teachers have looked at the research. Approximately fifteen years ago, when I first attempted to publish some articles about the teaching of grammar, my articles were rejected with comments such as "This person is totally unaware of the research of the last twenty yars." So I decided to study the research.
     Almost all of the research involves time-consuming, statistical analysis of passages of students' writing. Some of it is very interesting and very good; some of it stinks. The good stuff is primarily by Kellogg Hunt, Roy O'Donnell, and Walter Loban. They analyzed passages of students' writing to see if they could find ways of measuring -- statistically -- the differences between the writing of young kids and adults. Much of my work is based on theirs. Unfortunately, some people misused this research and, with comparative pre- and post-test studies, attempted to prove that teaching grammar is not effective. Their stuff has had a major harmful effect on the teaching of English for the last two decades. (For  bibliographiesy, click here. For a long review of the harmful stuff, click here.)
     Unfortunately, the research by Hunt, O'Donnell, and Loban used transformational concepts which many teachers do not understand. That, combined with the fact that the students' writing that they analyzed is not available for review, led me to want to follow up on their research. In particular, I wanted to see if and how their approach could be modified such that students, even students in fifth grade, could participate in such research themselves. But such research -- on a scale that would convince educators -- is extremely time consuming. Because I teach five sections of writing each semester, I don't have a lot of time to devote to it. So I poked along, particularly because I devoted a lot of time and energy founding Syntax in the Schools, the newsletter that has now become the official publication of the NCTE Assembly for the Teaching of English Grammar. Recently, however, there has been a lot of discussion, particularly on the NCTE and ATEG list servers, about the "research that proves that teaching grammar is not effective."
     The advent of the web allows me to respond in some detail to those people (including English teachers) who claim that research proves that teaching grammar does not improve students' writing. In the review of the harmful stuff, I show why their research is invalid. Here, in the Cobweb Corner of the Research Basement, I will be exploring the many questions involved in statistical research of natural syntactic development. Although the Spring 95 project is far from complete, the completed parts show several things:

    the questions and problems involved in such research;
    the questionable validity of the anti-grammar research; and
    the advantages of using the KISS approach.
The completed sections of the project also include transcripts of students' writing. These transcripts not only enable people to challenge my work, but they also provide a database for others who wish to study other aspects of students' writing (such as the use of transitions, paragraph structure, etc.)
     Your comments and questions are welcome. I will try to answer them as best I can. If you send me e-mail, there will be less chance of my accidentally deleting it if you put "Grammar" in the Subject line. I hope you find this corner interesting and useful.
Contact me.
-- Ed Vavra
December 29, 1997

The Mechanics of Statistical Syntactic Analysis