In a recent conversation about grammar and writing, I made the following point. Hope it is helpful.
In view of the widespread agreement of research studies based upon many types of students and teachers, the conclusion can be stated in strong and unqualified terms that the teaching of formal [traditional] grammar has a negligible or, because it usually displaces some instruction and practice in actual composition, even a harmful effect on the improvement of writing. (pp. 37-38)
Now even the UK is up-in-arms about the inadequacy of using standardized tests to access writing skills. Here are a couple of quotes from an article:
Head teachers fear some pupils in England have been graded incorrectly in a writing test that forms part of their national curriculum tests or Sats.
It also polled members in one local authority – Lancashire – where 47 out of 48 respondents reported “serious inconsistencies” in the way different papers were marked.
In June, a review of Sats by Lord Bew recommended the creative writing test should be scrapped and children’s creative writing skills assessed by teachers.
Of course, they are running into the same issues we face with our own SAT writing section. It is genuinely improbable that we will ever create a standard way to judge writing quality through a mechanical method. We attempt it with the supposed ‘rules of grammar and punctuation’—but if you spend any time studying and reflecting, you will realize that such things are not standardized. Actually, it is impossible to create a static set of rules for a fluid thing. Language continues to adapt and adjust and grow. Sorry, that’s just how it works. Language may be the only truly democratic thing on the planet (Thank you Rudolf Flesch for this point!). A writing course could be the answer, but wouldn’t it need to foster freedom instead of crush us by its rules?
If English had a static set of rules then wouldn’t we all talk like Shakespeare? Well, methinks I doth protest too much 🙂
Language is indeed fluid, and creative writers come up with even more cool-and-unique-to-the-moment ways of communicating things. You can rest assured that Shakespeare wouldn’t have written with the same ‘grammar’ if he were alive today. Or, stated plainly, if he had—we wouldn’t know who he is!
Isn’t it time for all of the stuffy grammarians to recognized excellence in writing on the basis of some other set of criteria rather than their own ‘approved’ set of rules? N.B. – I didn’t say, “Give up on excellence in writing.”
My suggestion? Go back to sound. Recognize language is an instinct in the same way music is an instinct. Pay attention. If people like a song…maybe there is a reason. If people like a writing style…maybe there is a reason for that too! In fact, could the reason be that it just sounds cool, whether it is grammatically approve or not?
What if we permissioned (cool use of a verbifying a noun that I’d get a D for in school) our own children to write, at least occasionally, in a way that just struck them as sounding great? What new writer with a new style might we gift to the world because of our kind empowerment to write in a fresh way (it will also possibly become the new ‘good writing example’).
Recently I ran a few of my sentences through a popular grammar-fixing software program…and I did poorly (a D 🙂
Next, I ran Faulkner and Hemingway through the same program…they did worse than I did!
Maybe the other experts will figure it out and we can have the creativity perfectly programmed out of us. In the meantime, why not join my expertise and help a generation of writers by encouraging them to write with their instinctive ear for what sounds how they want it read? Curse the rules…full Grace ahead!
Write well and write free,
P.S. Thoughts? Comment away…let’s think together.
P.P.S. If you found this helpful, you might want to know I have a whole curriculum available to teach children how to write by sound (instinct): It’s called The Writing Course
I picked up the following comment from a forum related to a homeschool curriculum we use.
If you skip to the bottom (my response), you see a simple reason to start writing BEFORE studying grammar.
My son is almost 12, and was a reluctant writer until he did Fred Lybrand’s Writing Course.
He used to do anything to avoid putting pencil on paper.
We went through the Writing Course back in August/September.
It’s November, and my son just finished writing his first novel of 28 chapters.
He’s about to start the “Make it Better” step by going back over it, and putting it into the computer.
He’s also thinking about splitting the chapters right in the middle of the action,
so that his reader won’t be able to put it down (like so many of the books he’s read).
He spends about 20-30 minutes per day writing, without any coaxing or interference from me.
I can hardly believe it. Thanks to Dr. Lybrand.
At this point, I’m not pushing him to do any more than that 20-30 minutes because he is now doing it because he wants to. As he gains confidence in his writing ability, I may push him along, but I’m hopeful that he’ll do it of his own accord. I just don’t want him to
go back to hating to write, which could happen if I push.
Along with “The Writing Course”, we also received “The Essay Course”,
which Fred recommends that we do at age 13-14 I think. Until then, I feel that we’re on a good track for now, letting him write about whatever he wants for 20-30 minutes per day.
“The Essay Course” will get him ready for college, when that time comes.
I feel like I can relax, and just let him blossom as a writer on his own terms for the time being.
Thanks Fred & Jody!
Thanks so much for all your kinds words. Your son is not an exception with our course, but he certainly is on the path to being exceptional!
The problem most of us have with writing and helping our kids write is that we have been taught by the schools to work backwards.
Far better to write and then learn grammar (if you must ;-)…just like we do with talking.
Recently, I was speaking with a friend who is a musician. It struck me in the conversation how foolish it would be to make children learn Music Theory before they ever pick up an instrument.
This is the exact mistake we make (and a few others)— We try to teach them Language (Grammar) Theory before we really let them just learn to make a little music first!
Again, thanks for sharing how we’ve helped a little.
Fred (and Jody) Lybrand