It’s been an odd school year for me. I have a lot of freedom and very little to lose, so it’s been a year of throwing caution to the wind and trying new things. I tried the Global Innovation Exchange Challenge, Genius Hour, StrengthsExplorer, and most recently, I ditched our traditional grammar textbooks in favor of lessons based off a quirky workbook with “Clamdigging” in the subtitle (more on that in a bit).
Some of these things have worked well. Some clicked and made a difference. Some royally flopped. But that’s OK, too. I learned, and I think more importantly, my students have seen me learn. They’re seeing me try new things, some that work and some that don’t. When the experiment flops, I admit my mistakes and talk through what went wrong with them so we can all learn together.
The thing is, I think these students may be more high-school-ready than the last set of 8th graders I sent off into the world. I’m doing less traditional English teacher-y stuff, but their writing is improving. Their analytical skills are improving. And they’re definitely getting more digital practice than the previous class.
I sat in a faculty meeting last month and a new-to-the-school teacher asked how often we update curriculum. “Do you change it often? Or do you stick with the same stuff every year because you know it works?” The official answer was that they don’t change often, and when they do it’s mainly to update to the newer edition of whatever curriculum they’ve been using for decades. This was stated as a positive, and in some cases, it can be. But I cringed inwardly as I listened. Because what if the world is changing around us, and we aren’t changing with it? What if what worked 10 years ago isn’t preparing kids for today?
And what if it wasn’t really working as well as you thought to begin with?
Which brings me back to grammar. I hate teaching grammar. I do it because I understand the value. In some ways, it’s one of the most important things that I teach. People judge your intelligence based on your grammar. If you can’t write a sentence correctly, no one is going to take your resume seriously. So I teach the grammar. Every year. To every grade.
And that’s the problem. I’ve literally taught the same grammar lesson to 9th graders and 12th graders on the same day. Students have the same 8 parts of speech, the same comma rules, and the same nonrestrictive adjective clauses every year. And it doesn’t stick. It doesn’t improve their writing.
Sure, some kids get it, but then those kids have to sit through the same repetitive grammar lessons every year because their classmates don’t get it. And by the end of the lesson, when students are dutifully filling out their worksheets correctly, it still doesn’t translate into their writing. So what was the point?
So all first semester this year I put off teaching grammar. I avoided looking at those beat up yellow textbooks that the school has been using years. I used them last year, and I felt I could probably start over at Lesson 1 with these kids and they’d have the same struggles with them that they had before. So I just didn’t do grammar for a long time.
But obviously, I can’t send them off to high school without any grammar practice in 8th grade, so I had to do something.
Enter Loving Grammar: Mr. Lund’s Guide to Professional Clamdigging, by Steven Lund.
It’s the curriculum my 10th grade English teacher wrote. He became fed up with traditional grammar books, decided to take matters into his own hands, and wrote his own. He approached grammar by starting with the big picture – sentence patterns and the major functions (or “moves”) that words can play within a sentence. From there he broke it down into the smaller pieces and detailed rules, but always relating back to English as a word-order language and specific sentence patterns. I’ve incorporated pieces of his content into my teaching in the past, but always as a supplement to something else, not as my core grammar curriculum. This time, I decided we were going to tackle the whole out-of-the-box approach head on and embrace becoming professional clamdiggers. After all, even if it didn’t work, it couldn’t be worse than those traditional, forgettable lessons, right?
I’m currently teaching out of my own personal copies of the book – a 3 ring binder with hand-written notes Mr. Lund gave me when I was a first year teacher 10 years ago, and also a published copy I bought for myself last year. I only have seven students in my class right now, so we can get away with sharing. We read through dialogue portions in a form of silly class role-play, discuss the rules and examples together, and take our mastery quizzes every class until they all get it right.
And it’s working.
OK, so we’re only four lessons in, so that statement may be a bit premature, but still. Two kids left class yesterday saying they liked doing grammar this way because they’re actually learning it. How often do kids say they like their grammar lessons? Students are asking questions for the sake of understanding, rather than getting the right answer on a worksheet. The connections are finally happening, and it’s awesome.
And that old yellow textbook on the shelf? Maybe it served a good purpose in the past, but those aren’t getting touched this year. If I’m able to stick around next year, I’m going to request the school officially update the 8th grade grammar curriculum, because I can’t go back to teaching it the old way.
#IMMOOC4 is going on right now. I see the Facebook posts and Twitter chat answers from my PLN, and part of me feels left out. I really enjoyed being a part of the last IMMOOC because that community is so engaging and exciting. It’s a group of people who love trying new things in education! I didn’t join this time because I have a lot on my plate right now, including multiple books I’m already reading. Picking up another one just for the sake of joining the book study didn’t seem like the best use of my time right now. But I like seeing the joy of innovation going around. I like lurking on the discussions of new ideas and best practices. I like seeing teachers passionate about improving the learning experience and engagement of their students. And I realize that even if I’m not officially part of the IMMOOC group this year, I can still claim to be a part of the Innovator’s Mindset. Because I’m doing it. I’m trying new things and engaging students in learning in the process.
And it’s pretty stinkin’ cool.