Sunday, March 9, 2014

Jeff Anderson, Grammar Guru, Helps with Classroom Management?

Last Tuesday, my district was fortunate enough to have grammar guru, Jeff Anderson, leading the 3-6 general education teachers and 7-12 English/Language Arts teachers in professional development. We teachers have been clamoring for this discussion for some time now. We know in our heart of hearts that standard worksheets of years ago is NOT right, but that integrating grammar into the curriculum to the point of its entire disappearance is not good either.

So, how did Jeff present the opportunity to learn grammar?

H suggested we should be models of correctness: show good examples (or mentor sentences as we called them in the workshop), model it, admit mistakes, and then allow or encourage the students to follow in the footsteps of that mentor and model.

There were many takeaways from Jeff's presentation, but I implemented two the very next day--always the sign of a good presentation when one can do that (I've been able to do this before as well. See Room Re-Decorated).

  1. I showcased a very good sentence, a mentor, from Alice Walker's "Everyday Use" which reads, "In real life I am a large, big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands." Then, I gave all of one minute for students to mention things they noticed. Just that question, nothing else. What do you notice in this sentence? Right away, I was getting it all: capital letter to start the sentence, commas to separate the adjectives, hyphens (initially called dashes by most students, but that's easily corrected) to combine words, even that there were five adjectives in a thirteen-word sentence. That's--well--a lot. Then the magic came in the second question. What do those noticings DO for the sentence? And, again, I got what I wanted: it adds detail, it clearly communicates the sentence, it tells us how we should read the sentence silently and out loud. But there was one unexpected comment from a student. He said, "Well, the adjectives actually give us back story." In eleven years of teaching and many years of studying, I've never considered it that way. I always saw adjectives as just detail to a noun--you know, the rad flames on my beat-up car. So, in this sentence, I learned, from a student, that the adjectives show us the history of a woman who has worked hard. After that, I asked the students to watch me write a sentence using much of the same structure. Immediately after that, I asked the students to do the same. In no time, students were writing sentences in the vein of Alice Walker. Not bad.
  2. Then, the addition of Sentence of the Week in my classroom. Celebration of language is simple and important. (Besides, the sentence does not only have good structure; it is also timely in its topic.)

Over the rest of the week, though, I noticed something about Jeff's work. It wasn't just about grammar for me. It was a great reminder of how I use classroom management. I'm fortunate that I don't have issues in my classroom. Because of the administration I have, the parents I have, the students I have, and--yes--probably the personality I have, I just don't have issues. But every couple years, there is a big issue: a student--or students--significantly distracts the class from learning. Before seeing Jeff, I was going through this whole mind game where I allow one or three students shake me. I allowed them to question if I should be a yeller and a screamer, a person who demands students be in their seats at all times and things of that nature, all of which are foreign to me and are not naturally in my being.

But, no, not according to Jeff. I was reminded that my classroom management should, in fact, mirror Jeff's grammar instruction: SHOW students the behavior you expect, ALLOW them opportunities for practice, and CELEBRATE the many students who are following through with it.

Toward the end of Jeff's time with us teachers, he reminded us that, at the very least--the very minimum--nothing can be wrong about spending time with a good sentence. He suggested that we teachers just spent too much time looking at bad sentences.

The same can be said in my classroom. At the very least--the very minimum--nothing can be wrong when students see good behavior from their teacher.