June 26, 2010
The Printable KISS Workbooks Page Return to Background Essays
The KISS Approach
to Teaching Sentence Style


     Cinderella's fairy godmother changed her fortune primarily by 1) giving her a chance, 2) by changing her self-image, and 3) by changing her style. As teachers, the KISS Approach enables us to be our students' "godparents." In the process of using the KISS Approach, teachers will find many opportunities to give students chances to excel. Often, these chances will be related to opportunities to change their attitudes towards grammar and towards their self-images. These opportunities may be as simple as telling students about the "advanced constructions" in their writing. We all blossom under the sunshine of praise, and KISS offers many opportunities for it. More importantly, however, the KISS Approach can provide students with the opportunity for substantive control of their writing styles. In effect, it can eliminate the "pumpkin phenomenon." 
     By "pumpkin phenomenon," I have in mind most of the current attempts to improve students' writing styles. These attempts come in a variety of methods and exercises, from sentence combining to teaching students to use appositives, etc. Teachers who make these attempts believe in their effectiveness (obviously), but there is no proof that they have any long-term effect on the majority of students. Behavioral theory, moreover, strongly suggests that they have little lasting effect. The reason for this is simple. Because they do not tie into the students' conscious understanding of how sentences work, the effects of all these exercises die away, just as the training of a rat dies away. N1 As in Cinderella, therefore, midnight comes, and the magical effects of the exercises disappear. Unfortunately, in real life, there is no prince. 
     The KISS Approach differs in that questions of "style" should be related to the constructions that the students are learning to recognize and manipulate. If the KISS Approach is spread over a number of years, it presents students with significant amounts of time, first to learn to identify the constructions at a specific level, and then to manipulate those constructions for different stylistic effects -- and to discuss those effects. In essence, the approach enables students to make stylistic decisions on their own. This, in itself, makes the approach far more effect than having non-understood stylistic exercises imposed on them by teachers. N2
     Stylistic exercises are scattered throughout these workbooks, so the rest of this document provides an overview to some of the questions that are involved.

Sentence Length and Variety

     Two fundamental aspects of syntactic style are sentence (or, more precisely, main-clause) length and variety in the types of constructions that are used. Most textbooks either explain these aspects of style without enabling students to identify the underlying constructions, or they push students toward the authors' stylistic preferences as if the students were rats. [See Note #1.] Our students are not rats. They can all think, and they are perfectly capable of making stylistic decisions on their own -- especially if we give them the tools to do so. The fundamental KISS Approach to style, therefore, is to enable students to identify constructions, and then to give them examples -- from real texts --  of the various ways in which these constructions affect style.

     The question of main-clause length can be somewhat complex, but that it is an aspect of style is fairly obvious. Young writers write shorter main clauses, and thus shorter main clauses, in general, suggest a less mature mind behind the writing.  Research by Hunt, Loban, and O'Donnell suggests that, on average, third graders use 7.6 words per main clause. Sixth and seventh graders use nine; twelfth graders use fourteen, and professional writers use twenty. (Click here for more on this.) Years of analyzing the writing of my college Freshmen indicate that they average 15.5. However, we need to remember that these numbers reflect group averages. Some college Freshmen average nine, whereas others average 25.
     For some students, the question of main-clause length is very important. As I point out to my students, their instructors in history, plastics, automotive or health do not count the words per main clause in their students' papers, but they do automatically get a sense of the students' styles. The psycholinguistic model shows that readers chunk all the words in a main clause to each other. At the end of a main clause, these words are dumped to long-term-memory and STM is cleared for the next sentence. These "dumps" create a sentence rhythm in the reader's head, a rhythm that is primarily based on main-clause length. If that rhythm is relatively short (and simple), it may, for example, suggest the mind of a ninth grader. Can (I ask my students) a ninth grader understand the material that they [my students] are studying in college? Will their instructors think so? Or will the short simple style have a downward pull on grades? 
     At the other extreme, the psycholinguistic model suggests that students who average 25 words per main clause are putting a heavy strain on the reading ability of their instructors. The model suggests that the longer and more complex that sentences become, the more "slots" in STM the reader will need to use just to process the sentence structure. If they are too long, and too complex, sentences that are perfectly correct may still overwhelm and confuse readers. (Keep It Simple.)
     We need to realize that the generalization about length and mental maturity is complicated by at least two corollaries. The first is the question of intended audience and purpose. In long, complicated sentences, ideas have a bad habit of getting in the way of each other. Good writers, therefore, will at times intentionally simplify their sentence structure to make sure that important ideas are clearly conveyed. The second corollary is that some advanced constructions shorten main clause length. Going to the store, he saw an accident. is three words shorter than When he was going to the store, he saw an accident. Thus words per main clause is an important aspect of style, but it is not an absolute. As the preceding example suggests, constructions that add variety to sentence structure may simultaneously make them shorter.

     Variety in sentence structure is, without doubt, a stylistic asset. Fourth graders and far too many college Freshmen write using primarily simple S/V/C patterns. The problem, however, is that most attempts to help students develop a more varied style simply end in confusion, and even, perhaps, more errors. Typically, for example, primary school teachers attempt to get students  to vary sentence structure by having them begin some sentences with prepositional phrases. But since students are never effectively taught to identify prepositional phrases in the first place, this SR conditioning has little, if any, long-term positive effect. It may, however, add to confusion and frustration. Thus a father wrote to me to complain that his daughter's teacher was making her begin some sentences with prepositional phrases. He was upset because he was sure that when he was in school he was taught that beginning a sentence with a prepositional phrase is an error. It seems probable that this father confused prepositional phrases with that silly rule about not beginning a sentence with "But."
     The KISS Approach clearly deals with sentence variety, but most of the exercises are not so labeled. That is because most of the exercises are based on passages from real texts. The students are taught to identify (and thus be able to discuss) the underlying basic constructions, and thus every exercise becomes a model. Students will regularly note, for example, prepositional phrases at the beginning of sentences, but they will actually note far more than that. Really sophisticated sentence variety results not from the use or placement of individual constructions, but rather from the embedding of constructions within constructions.


     Another fundamental aspect of syntactic style, texture, may be the most important. I start my presentation on texture by asking students what the word means -- outside the context of grammar. To help, I suggest that they consider some examples -- the texture of the window glass, the texture of a wall, the texture of the rug, the texture of someone's sweater. It usually does not take students long to name some textures -- soft, hard, smooth, rough. Then I ask them to explain why some things are smooth and others rough. This usually takes the class a lot longer. Finally, someone will point out that the fundamental difference is surface structure. If we consider something to be smooth, our sense of touch cannot perceive any bumps on it -- the surface is flat, whereas if we consider a surface to be rough, we can feel bumps or ridges on it. I usually draw a flat and a wavy line on the board to illustrate the difference, and the class as a whole usually agrees with this distinction. 
     Most of the students quickly found words to describe textures, but it took a lot longer to explain an underlying cause of textural differences. Most of the students, although they regularly describe textures, had never even considered what causes them. I suggest that their teachers in other courses (history, math, science, construction, etc.) will sense, and even to some extent be able to describe, textural differences in students' sentence styles, but they will not have thought about the causes of these differences. It is, after all, the English Departments' job to teach students about writing and style. But because teachers in other disciplines can sense differences in style, they may give higher grades to students whose writing has a better texture.
     Perhaps the best examples of differences in syntactic texture involve clauses. The "sub" in "subordinate" means "under."  Thus subordinate clauses tend to push the ideas expressed in them downward, or into the background. That leaves the ideas in the main S/V/C pattern in the foreground -- the "bumps" so to speak. Readers, of course, perceive and process the information in subordinate clauses, but it is usually perceived as background or supporting information. The sentence texture thus creates a focusing lens -- main ideas are in the main clause pattern. 
     One way of demonstrating this to students is to use the first three sentences of the "Aluminum" passage:

Aluminum is a metal. It is abundant. It has many uses.
The first thing I note to students is that these three sentences are "smooth": each sentence consists of a single main clause, and thus, structurally, they are all at the same level -- all equally important. But smooth is usually not good in sentence structure. It doesn't make any difference what field students are in, in every field of study, in any question or paper, some ideas are more important than others. And their instructors, in all fields, will sense the flatness and lack of focus in papers that primarily string together main clauses. They will do so simply because other students will have a better control of texture. For examples:
1) Aluminum, which is an abundant metal, has many uses.
2) Aluminum, which is a metal and has many uses, is abundant.
3) Aluminum, which is abundant and has many uses, is a metal.
4) Aluminum is a metal that is abundant and has many uses.
5) Aluminum is an abundant metal that has many uses.
By subordinating some of the ideas, the first example foregrounds "uses," thereby suggesting that "uses" is the main idea that will be developed. The second example suggests that abundance will be the focus of what follows. The focus of the third example is "metal." The fourth example is even more texturally complex in that it establishes aluminum as a metal and then suggests that two aspects of this metal will probably be further developed -- its abundance and it uses. In the fifth example, on the other hand, "abundant" has been reduced to an adjective modifying metal. Having read this version, most readers would not expect any development of "abundant."
     There are, of course, many other ways in which the ideas in the three sentences from the "Aluminum" passage can be combined. The point, however, is that because it teaches students to identify constructions such as subordinate clauses, the KISS Approach enables students to explore and discuss such questions and to arrive at their own conclusions. Some grammarians and linguists, for example, have objected to the KISS emphasis on MIMC (main ideas in main clauses). They point to numerous exceptions (which is what most grammarians and linguists are concerned with). Fortunately, at least some of these grammarians admit that MIMC is a valid basic principle, but the problem with all of these people with whom I have discussed this question is that they do not seem to care about the fact that most students cannot identify clauses in the first place. The KISS Approach enables students to do so. 
     Two other problems with the teachers who object to the MIMC principle are that they provide only isolated sentences as examples, and they provide no theoretical justification for their position. Wanda Van Goor, at Prince George's Community College, has provided an excellent example of the MIMC principle in the "Alicia" exercise. In it, students are given seven compounded sentences and are asked to revise the passage by subordinating the ideas in one of the main clauses in each sentence. They are to do so by supporting one of two possible topic sentences:

a) In spite of her many problems, Alicia won the contest for Prom Queen. 
b) Alicia, who won the contest for Prom Queen, had to overcome many problems. 

The supporting sentences are:

1. Her boyfriend, Ralph, had lots of influence as the captain of the football team, and he almost missed the deadline for nominating her.

2. All of his teammates promised to vote for Alicia, and most of them did; but some of them never got around to voting at all.

3. The basketball players originally supported one of Alicia's rivals; they eventually gave their votes to Alicia.

4. Alicia had trouble raising enough money for her campaign, so her sorority sisters came to her rescue.

5. Trudy was Alicia's campaign manager, and she did a terrific job; however, she came down with the flu halfway through the campaign.

6. The ballots were counted and re-counted; they clearly gave Alicia the title of Prom Queen.

7. Alicia experienced many trying times, and she finally became the new Queen.

Students end up with two significantly different paragraphs, one of which emphasizes Alicia's winning, whereas the other emphasizes the problems.
     The KISS psycholinguistic model also supports the MIMC principle. The model suggests that every word (except interjections) in every main clause is chunked to another word or construction until everything is chunked to the S/V/C pattern in the main clause. Psycholinguistically, therefore, every word  and construction faces toward (and thus puts focus on) the words in the main clause S/V/C pattern. Clearly, syntactic texture affects the focus of any text. It foregrounds some words and ideas, and pushes others to the background. Specific textural patterns, such as parallel constructions, can greatly enhance the clarity and logic of a text.

Parallel Constructions

     The phrase "parallel constructions" refers to placing equivalent ideas into parallel (equivalent) grammatical constructions. A good example is Lincoln's "government of the people, by the people, for the people. . . ." A non-parallel statement of this idea would be "the people's government that they control for their own purposes." In the non-parallel example, the three ideas expressed by Lincoln in the three prepositional phrases have been scattered into a possessive noun used as an adjective, a subordinate clause, and a prepositional phrase. Parallel constructions suggest thoughtful, controlled writing (or speaking), and they are usually appreciated by readers (or listeners). They are especially important in thesis, focal, and topic sentences where they often lay out the structure of the entire essay, a section of the essay, or a paragraph.
     Technically, any compounded constructions can be considered as parallel. A simple example is a string of adjectives that modify the same noun -- the big, old, beautiful, Southern mansion. Another example is a string of direct objects -- Aleisha likes to play baseball, tennis, soccer, and hockey. In cases such as these, students do not really need to be taught that the constructions are parallel. Instead, they often need to be encouraged to include the adjectives, or to use a number of specific examples instead of a single general word such as "sports" in "Aleisha likes to play sports." Formal instruction in parallelism is thus more important as students' sentences become longer and include more ideas in each main clause. Exercises on parallel constructions are spread throughout the KISS workbooks.

Some Direct Implications of Texture for Teaching Writing

Thesis Sentences

     The thesis sentence is the most important in any essay, but many students have problems, not just with the concept of "thesis sentence," but also with their construction.  The texture of a thesis sentence is very important because it sets the readers' expectations, and thus the focus for the entire paper.  The following excellent example is from a student's paper that I use as a model for the first major assignment in my Freshman composition course:

Almost every FTD rose arrangement can be made-to-order within a pattern; however, there are exceptions, including color dependent and dried arrangements. 
If you could read the entire essay, you would see that this sentence lays out the entire structure of the paper. (Some teachers call this type of thesis an "essay map.") This is a very simple type of thesis.
     But it is a very effective type of thesis, especially for papers in other courses. Instructors in psychology, metal working, biology, and carpentry, for example, usually assign broad topics for papers. Students are expected to narrow that topic, focus it, and then show the instructor how much they understand about their chosen topic. In this situation, thesis, focal, and topic sentences are crucial. In effect, these sentences state "I'm going to show you what I know about _____." The sentences in the body of each paragraph then demonstrate that knowledge. If these sentences are missing, or poorly focussed, then the instructor has little, if any, idea of what the details in the paragraph are supposed to demonstrate. Grades will suffer. Thus one of the first places to work with students on syntactic texture is the thesis sentences of their papers.

"I think" and "I believe"

     What students are often taught about the use of "I" is troublesome. Some students are simply, and incorrectly taught never to use it. In many circumstances, dependent on audience and purpose, the first person pronoun is perfectly acceptable. Here, however, we are concerned with the textural implications of  "I think" and "I believe." Many students fill their papers with these subject / verb combinations, usually at the beginning of sentences. They thereby make the "I think" or "I believe" the subject and verb of the main clause. The preceding discussion of MIMC suggests that, by doing so, the students make their thinking or believing the focus of the paper, thereby distracting from the topic of the paper. (Strike One.) It also indicates that the students do not understand that an essay or paper automatically conveys the thoughts and beliefs of the writer. (Strike Two.) 
     Finally (Strike Three.), it suggests that students do not know what these words mean when they are used by experienced writers. In polished prose (as opposed to informal notes, etc.), most good writers use "I think" or "I believe" to flag arguments that are weak. They also usually put it within another clause, thereby making it parenthetical, or in KISS terms, an interjection, rather than the subject and verb of a main clause:

a) Sally would be a good president.
b) I think Sally would be a good president.
c) Sally would, I think, be a good president.
The first example is obviously the thought or belief of the person who wrote it. Thus (b) does not add anything to (a), but it does shift the focus to the writer. In (c), the "I think" will be read by most readers as an indication of some doubt on the part of the writer. In effect, it says, "I do not know. If you push me on this point, I may be wrong." In a written text, in other words, good writers will use "I think" or "I believe" to flag arguments that they realize are weaker than all the other arguments that they have not so flagged. (Not all arguments are equal.)
     Note what this means, however, for the students who fill papers with "I think" and "I believe" at the beginnings of sentences. Not only does it shift the focus to them as the writers, but it also screams "I'm not sure about what I am writing about!"  And, if the writer does not have confidence in his or her own ideas, why should anyone else take the time to read the paper?

Walker Gibson's Tough, Sweet and Stuffy

     Walker Gibson's Tough, Sweet and Stuffy (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1966) is an easily readable book, but it is a book that you will probably want to keep handy because it is packed, not only with ideas, but also with examples of stylistic analyses and questions that you may want to have your students use. I also like Gibson's approach to the use of statistics. He uses a fair number of them, but unlike the educational researchers, he is not interested in a posture of statistical "validity." The educational researchers often look very impressive with their "T-tests," "stepwise regressions," etc., but when one looks at what they have counted, how, why, and what it means, one is often left empty, especially since one does not usually have access to the texts that were analyzed. Gibson, on the other hand, gives us the texts, and he uses simple counts and percentages to make his points. 
      Perhaps the most important lesson we can take from Gibson's book is that there is no one "good style." Almost all of the discussions that I have seen about "improving" students' writing imply, but never define a good style. The general assumption is usually that students should write longer main clauses, with a greater variety of grammatical constructions, deeper levels of embedding, with a minimal use of the passive voice. The accompanying implication is that we should "train" students to write this way, without giving the students the analytical ability to make stylistic decisions for themselves. Gibson, on the other hand, distinguishes three different styles and ends up with a style machine with sixteen countable criteria (134-135). Along the way, he gives lots of examples of, and discusses the implications of, each of the criteria. 
    Gibson notes that his style machine is a "Model T" -- a beginning for a way to analyze styles. The criteria he presents, however, are almost all easily usable in our classrooms (at, of course, different levels). The first two are the proportion of monosyllables and words of more than two syllables in the passage. Although this is not directly related to grammar, it suggests a little KISS-like class groupwork assignment that could probably be used, with some help from the teachers, as early as third or fourth grade. The students could each take a short sample of their own writing, count the words, count the number on monosyllabic words, etc., and then calculate the results and share them with the class. Gibson, I think, would strongly suggest that the teacher remain judgmentally neutral in presenting the results. Third and fourth graders are probably too young to make solid evaluative judgments about such things, but the class averages will speak for themselves. Students whose passage contained almost all monosyllables will see for themselves that they are below the class average, and, like all of us, will probably want to move toward the middle. When this exercise is used with older students, on the other hand, teachers may want to give the students a brief explanation of this aspect of Gibson's style machine, and then let the students discuss both their own results and the validity of the machine. (According to Gibson, for example, 78% of "tough" writers' words are monosyllabic, compared to 68% for "sweet," and 56% for "stuffy.") Note also that this exercise gives students meaningful practice in syllabification, and it also integrates the teaching of English and math. 
     Gibson's third criterion involves how many first-person and second-person pronouns a passage contains. Overall, he suggests that first-person is "tough"; second person, "sweet"; third-person, stuffy. His distinction could be an interesting way of approaching a problem that we, as a profession, have not dealt with very well.  Some teachers tell their students never to use first person; others forbid the use of second. In spite of all such instruction, however, most of our students get to college without knowing the difference. There, they have instructors -- in disciplines other than English -- who tell them not to use first person. Many of the students, however, do not know what that means. Good students have told me that they have had papers either marked down a grade or returned to them for rewriting, because they used first-person pronouns. The fault for that is ours. In some disciplines such as human services and many of the technical areas, the accepted profession style forbids the use of first person.  Our fault is not in forbidding, or not forbidding, the use of such pronouns, but rather in our not teaching students to recognize the differences so that they can adapt to different requirements. 
     The fourth, fifth, and sixth criteria in Gibson's machine can all be used at KISS Level Two. The fourth involves the number of subjects of finite verbs that are neuter nouns as opposed to nouns that refer to people. (Neuter nouns suggest stuffy style.) Fifth is the proportion of finite verbs in the total words. Count the words in the finite verb phrases and divide the result by the total number of words.) Sixth -- the proportion of finite verbs that are forms of "to be."  As with monosyllabic words, students who are working at KISS Level Two can do an exercise in which they analyze their own writing, count the various constructions, and come up with class averages. If there is time, it is even more helpful to have the class analyze passages from selected types of published writing. 

   The seventh criterion is the proportion of verbs that are passive. Within the KISS framework, in which students are actually taught how to identify passive verbs in the firsts place, students can actually use this criterion themselves. Have the students work in small groups to measure the "passive ratio" in different kinds of texts -- newspaper articles, essays, business communications, explanations of processes, etc. To find the ratio, students would count the number of passive finite verbs (verb phrases count as one, and the number of active verbs and phrases. The ratio would be the number of passives divided by the total number.
     Classroom teachers might want to make this a continuing class research project by starting a database of the results. One year, for example, the some of the students analyze a newspaper article. The results would go in the database as a newspaper article. The next year, some students also do a newspaper article. Their results would also be put in the database as a newspaper article. Each year, another newspaper article (or more) would be added to the database. Other students might focus on descriptions of a process. Thus "process descriptions" could be another category in the database. You might even want to have some students focus on specific writers, for example, George Will. One article by Will might suggest his typical "passive ratio," but the results of ten different studies of Will's writing would probably be much more accurate.
     Note that this type of project introduces students to the logic of statistical studies. A conclusion based on one sample is called a hasty generalization fallacy. In other words, before making a conclusion, one should study several samples. If the students have access to the passages analyzed by previous students, they could actually discuss not only whether or not Will's "passive ratio" is the same across passages, but also why he may have opted for the passive in specific sentences. Such instruction is far more meaningful than exhortations and prohibitions about passive voice.

     Adjectives are the subject of Gibson's eighth, ninth, and tenth criteria. He makes a distinction between "true" adjectives and "noun adjuncts" 

you call a particular modifier an adjective when you can transpose the construction in which it appears into a sentence pattern using be or seem. Thus "the tall children" can be transposed into "the children are tall" or "the children seem tall." Furthermore you can inflect the modifier: taller children, tallest children. Tall then is a true adjective. But the noun adjunct school  children won't work. "The children were school." "Schooler children." "The schoolest children seemed school." (78)
This distinction between "true" adjectives and noun adjuncts is not part of KISS. But Gibson's distinction here gives me the chance to explain, from a slightly different perspective, how KISS differs from traditional approaches to teaching grammar, including those that claim to be new and linguistic. The traditional approach is to teach the rules of grammar, isolated from how they are used and what they imply. Gibson, however, uses the distinction to suggest an aspect of stuffy style. In stuffy style, 5% of the words are noun adjuncts, as opposed to 1% for tough and 4% for sweet. At some point within the KISS sequence, therefore, teachers may want to introduce this distinction, not as a definition and rule for itself, but rather as a tool for discussing style. 
     The same is true for Gibson's ninth criterion, the number of adjectives modified by adverbs. He primarily has in mind the word "very." I once had a teacher who told me not to use that word. But such judgments can be made by students themselves -- if we give them the conceptual tools with which such judgments can be intelligently discussed. 

     The next three criteria are appropriate for KISS Level Three. KISS actually suggests a lot more that can be done with clauses, but Gibson includes # 11) length of included (i.e., subordinate) clauses, # 12) the proportion of total passage inside such clauses, and #13) the number of words separating subjects from their verbs. High average length, high proportion, and large separation are, according to Gibson, all reflections of stuffy style. I urge you to read his book for the details and the reasoning. My point here is that, within the KISS Approach, these are all questions which students can study, discuss in class, and then decide for themselves.

     Gibson's fourteenth criterion is of particular interest for the debates about what grammar should be taught, why, and how. It involves the frequency of the "determiner the."  Within the "pro-grammar" community, the linguists want determiners taught as a separate part of speech.  As always, the reasoning is complex, and I can understand why ESL students (who have particular problems with them) need to see determiners as a separate category (but I would keep it as a sub-category of adjectives). For native speakers of English, however, the distinction may simply add to the grammatical clutter and confusion. The linguists argument, to the extent that I understand it, is that determiners function differently than do "adjectives." This is true, but once we let them start down this path, the linguists make all kinds of distinctions -- in all parts of speech. They make so many distinctions that all of our students' time will be spent in studying their [the linguists'] categories, with none left to focus on those that are stylistically interesting or important. 
     Gibson's approach is significantly different. He began, after all, with some randomly selected passages which he put into three categories, and then he asked himself if there is any way to establish some measurable criteria for distinguishing the categories.  He discusses not all determiners, but just "the," to show "its function as an implied expression of intimacy" between the writer and the reader (130). Here, as always in Gibson, grammatical terminology is subordinate to the objectives of stylistic analysis. 

     The last two of Gibson's criteria involve fragments, contractions, parentheses, italics, dashes, question marks, and exclamation points. Punctuation can be taught at various levels within the KISS Approach. The important thing to note here is that Gibson considers these as characteristics of different styles, not as "do's" and "don't's."  He suggests, throughout the book, that the three styles are extremes, often used for different purposes. His examples of "tough" are primarily from novels; of "sweet," from advertising; of "stuffy," from official documents. 

     Gibson's book is not a text to be dumped on students. Currently, even if the students could understand it, they could not apply his ideas for the simple reason that we do not teach them how to identify all the subjects and finite verbs in a text. The most important thing about the book is Gibson's method -- making judgments based on the analysis of real texts. Along the way, Gibson suggests a variety of stylistic questions that teachers may want to have students discuss. 
     We need to remember, however, that life is not a fairy tale, and that teachers are not really fairy godmothers. We cannot perform miracles. Cinderella's fairy godmother changes Cinderella's fate by using a pumpkin for one evening.  In real life, however, even instruction throughout an entire year can simply result in a pumpkin effect unless that instruction builds upon what came before it. Simply giving students definitions and rules is not going to do the job. If we really want students to improve their writing styles, don't we need to give them the ability to analyze sentences such that they can make their own judgments? 

1. As an undergraduate, I was "fortunate" enough to take a course in behavioral psychology. I spent fifteen weeks training a rat, and learning about S-R conditioning. Teachers who advocate the isolated use of exercises should either take such a course, or produce proof that such exercises have a lasting effect. 

2. I attended a series of workshops on "Outcomes Assessment." The Director of the workshops repeatedly emphasized that all decisions on outcomes, and on their assessments, have to be faculty initiated and faculty owned. Otherwise, they will be resisted and ignored.  I note this because, in teaching grammar, we usually ignore the fact that in almost all cases, we, as teachers, impose stylistic exercises on students. We never give them the chance to make decisions on their own.