Saturday, August 29, 2015

Analytical Grammar - A Review

In my circle of friends I am pretty well-known to be a grammar-nazi. I grew up with a grammar-nazi-English-French-Latin teacher. That would have been my mother. I have distinct memories of sitting around the dinner table which is now in my own dining room, listening to my mom and sister (10 years older than I am) debate nuances of sentence structure over the evening meal.

Today over lunch a few of these friends were laughing about my insistence on using this particular grammar program for the kids and one of them said, "You know, Hitler's speech writer was a grammar-nazi." That's the funniest thing I've heard in a long time. A true grammar-Nazi!

The weird thing is I hate studying grammar--I don't understand it and I can't always explain it, but you'd better believe I know when something is wrong, and I know how to correct it, edit it, reword it, and make you feel stupid in the process (my bad).

One of my mother's truisms was, "Good manners never go out of style." I have used that so much with my kids, but in this world of texting, internet butchering, and basic linguistic idiocy, I have edited it to add,
"Good manners and good grammar never go out of style."

When I went to school diagramming sentences was falling out of fashion, so I missed out on it until I was studying for my M.A. in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and my friend Kendra basically dragged me through a course in Intensive English Grammar. It wasn't my favorite thing, but I determined then if I had been exposed to diagramming when I was much younger, I would have much better fluency with grammar and would be able to break things down better for my students.

When it came time to see that my son was well-versed in the grammar and usage of his own language, I came upon Analytical Grammar, and decided that it made sense to me. I liked the author's explanation that grammar is a finite subject. It need not be studied indefinitely--only practiced once the body of knowledge has been learned. 

It starts out simply enough, but do not be deceived--Analytical Grammar is not easy. By the end of the second season there were a few sentences to be parsed and diagrammed where my son, who has made consistent A's on the tests, would look at me and say, "Who says that?" We may have skipped a few sentences in the exercises because I'm not into hard for hard's sake, but 98% of the exercises have been relevant, thorough and challenging.

Today Matt said to me, "That is one of the most practical programs we've ever done. I really find myself thinking about where to place my commas and how things go together." This is from the 14 year old who started the program at the end of 6th grade and has been working very, very slowly through it. It is set up to be done quite easily in three "seasons" if you are a fast worker and do little else like eating or sleeping. We found that we had to break it up into very small chunks. If he worked for more than 30-40 minutes a day on grammar, frustration would build and tempers would flare. Once we figured out just how much of it he could take in a sitting, however, it moved along much better.

I will admit that I wondered at times if I was killing his love of language, writing, or learning in general by having him tackle such a program as this. On the contrary, he is proving to be an excellent writer, an articulate communicator, and capable of tackling advanced texts. It has boosted his confidence as a student, and the skills he has gained in studying English grammar is helping him to rock the very dead, but not so easy Latin. It is proving to me that rigor is not always the enemy of education, as so many of our modern educators seem to think. Learning is not always fun--sometimes it's just old-fashioned hard work, and this curriculum falls into that category at times.

My daughter (10) has worked through book three of First Language Lessons for The Well-Trained Mind by Jessie Wise. It has been a solid program as well, but I don't enjoy teaching the scripted lessons as well, so we are starting Jr. Analytical Grammar this year, and so far she loves it. Unlike her brother, she more than tolerates grammar study--she loves it. Perhaps she will be able to take AG in bigger chunks when the time comes!

Here's the other weird thing about this curriculum and that is, in spite of my background and my credentials, I have learned more grammar working through this with my son than in any other course of study I have taken. If and when I go back to teaching ESL when the kiddos are done with their educations, I will be a better instructor for having used Analytical Grammar to teach my kids.

BTW - apparently the term "Grammar Nazi" offends someone.

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