Does the study of grammar improve writing?

by Lindsay Jeffers

In a casual conversation on the patio this weekend, my mom brought up the importance of diagramming sentences so that my daughter could learn how to write well.  My husband started to chuckle, anticipating what I was about to say in response.  As I fumbled through an explanation of why diagramming sentences is not an effective way to improve writing skills, I recalled this great post by Patricia Dunn, which succinctly sums up the research on traditional approaches to grammar and their effect on writing and also provides links to those studies.

Dunn writes:

“When well-meaning teachers use the same old isolated grammar drills, textbook exercises, or worksheets that students’ grandparents may have been subjected to when they were in school, students’ writing does not improve.”  She continues, “Peer-reviewed research over the past fifty years has consistently shown that isolated grammar drills and worksheets do not help students improve their writing—and in some cases can make writing worse.”

On the topic of grammar, Dunn concludes:

“Grammar, it goes without saying, is important. We use it every time we speak or write. However, for students’ writing to improve, they need to write, not fill in blanks or fixate on error. They need to be engaged in authentic writing in real genres, for real audiences, and for real purposes.”

It was worth my time to read this post again as a reminder of what really engages students.  I’m also going to send this one to Mom.  

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Read the full post here.

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