Grammar Incognito

Since I use Ponsott and Deen’s The Common Sense in class, I get to use their chapters about sentences, grammar, and puncution . Like the folks say t it’s baked right in. That’s important because in another class I teach, a first year academic writing class, we don’t have much time to talk about sentences and the way we talk about grammar and punctuation is in the context of corrected a essay. Ponsott and Deen, however, talk about “grammar power.” They offer students the view that knowledge of sentences, grammar and punctuation (they make very clear distinctions, but it all rolls into the same sensibility) gives them authority over their writing. A significant number of college students I meet do not experience that power.

Ponsott and Deen, especially early in the semester, ask a class to rewrite a colleague’s sentence, then listen to them. They aren’t arbitrary teacher produced sentences, but sentences produced by students as part of drafting. In a way, all that grammar power grows with the experience of something novice writers do not take for granted: you can rewrite a sentence many ways, and rewritng it an be the path to clarity of thought and expression. But it helps to be able to recognize, or identity, a few common features that go a long way towards helping you know where you might interven ein a sentence to see it differently.

When they hear each others versions of a sentence, of course, right away, they see that a colleague’s sentence can be expressed in sixteen different ways. We prove that together. And as we do it more, and listen more to the sentences we make, we become tuned into what exactly makes one different than another, and how some express a nuance that the original sentence did not.

Go figure.

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