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17 Jan 2006 - 20:19
....speaking of books coming in the mail, my copy of Don Killgallon's Sentence Composing for Middle School arrived today. (Killgallon's website) I don't exactly know what sentence combining is, but I have a Bayesian conviction it's going to be the answer to my Writing-Instruction problems at the sentence level, thanks to this fellow:
Grammar teaching and writing skills: the research evidence Richard Hudson (email@example.com) Dept of Phonetics and Linguistics, UCL, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT Does a training in 'formal grammar' improve a child's ability to write? At one time it was taken for granted that the answer was yes, so children were taught grammatical analysis as part of the effort to improve their writing. However when educational researchers sought evidence for the expected effects, the results were negative; for example, one of the classic experiments concluded: "It seems safe to infer that the study of English grammar had a negligible or even harmful effect upon the correctness of children's writing in the early part of the five secondary schools." (Harris 1962) A number of studies in the 60s and 70s have since been accepted as 'classic' support for the view that grammar teaching does nothing for children's writing. By the late 60s the dominant view in both the UK and the USA, and possibly throughout the English-speaking world, was that "most children cannot learn grammar and ... even to those who can it is of little value." (Thompson 1969) No doubt this view fitted the spirit of the times both in English teaching (where grammar was seen as a shackle on children's imagination) and in linguistics (where Chomsky was arguing that grammatical competence develops 'naturally' according to an innate programme, so teaching is simply irrelevant). Since then much has changed in both the UK and the USA, and the pendulum seems to be on the return swing. It would be naive to think that the pendulum is driven by academic research - indeed, there has been very little research on grammar and writing since the flurry in the 60s and 70s; rather it reflects very general attitude changes in education and more generally throughout society. However the result is that there is now much more enthusiasm in some educational circles for the idea that conscious grammar (resulting from formal teaching) could have the useful benefit of improving writing..... What, then, does the published research really say about the effects of grammar teaching? [snip] Grammar teaching could be surreptitious, as it were, with a clear underlying theory of grammar but minimal use of grammatical terminology. This is in fact how a lot of grammar teaching has been done; and in particular there is a well-recognised activity called 'sentence combining' which seems to be widely used in the USA. There is some evidence, apparently good, that this kind of activity benefits children's writing (Abrahamson 1977; Barton 1997; Hillocks 1986; Mellon 1969; O'Hare 1973), and in some studies it turned out that this kind of grammar teaching produced better results than more traditional teaching of grammatical analysis. For example, " Hillocks surveys the many studies of the effects of sentence combining, and finds them overwhelmingly POSITIVE at all levels (grade 2 to adult). 60% show significant gains in syntactic maturity; 30% non-significant gains; 10% no gains." (Weaver 1996, reporting Hillocks (1986)). Why should these exercises be so much more successful than traditional analysis? It seems reasonable to assume that it is at least in part because they are exercises in the production of language, and specifically in the production of written language, so they feed much more directly into the child's growing repertoire of productive skills than exercises in grammatical analysis do. In short, they are more closely integrated into the teaching of writing, so the skills acquired in isolation are more likely to transfer directly into a usable skill. However this conclusion does not necessarily rule out the possibility of transfer from grammatical analysis under the right conditions.
This makes sense to me, so I'm going with it. 5 reasons:
We need a Bayesian Rating Scale That way, we could assign numerical values to the question of, Just how strongly do I think I guessed right? Here's a possibility: On a scale of 1 to 7, 1 being 'no clue' and 7 being 'death and taxes, how certain do I feel that sentence-combining will make Christopher a better writer? 6 or 6.5 I'm not feeling a lot of doubt here.
I love this back to Hudson:
In conclusion, the idea that grammar teaching improves children's writing skills is much better supported by the available research than is commonly supposed. However there is no denying the need for more research in this area, so we finish with quotations (from Walmsley 1984) by two of the twentieth century's most distinguished psychologists who have taken an interest in this question. Robert Thouless (1969:211):
I went on a Sentence-Combining treasure hunt on Amazon, and came up with Don Kilgallon as the likeliest prospect. Just glancing through the middle school book, it seems like exactly what I want. From the back of the book:
With the first edition of his book, Don Killgallon changed the way thousands of high school English teachers and their students look at language, literature, and writing by focusing on the sentence. In this revised edition, Killgallon presents the same proven methodology but offers all-new writing exercises designed specifically for the middle school student. Unlike traditional grammar books that emphasize the parsing of sentences, this worktext asks students to imitate the sentence styles of professional writers, making the sentence composition process an enjoyable and challenging one. Killgallon teaches subliminally, nontechnically--the ways real writers compose their sentences, the ways students subsequently intuit within their own writing. Designed to produce sentence maturity and variety, the worktext offers extensive practice in four sentence-manipulating techniques: sentence unscrambling, sentence imitating, sentence combining, and sentence expanding. All of the activities are based on model sentences written by widely respected authors. They are designed to teach students structures they should but seldom use. The rationale is that imitation and practice are as valuable in gaining competence and confidence in written language production as they are in oral language production. Since the practices have proven successful for the great majority of students who have used them in all kinds of schools, it's demonstrably true that Sentence Composing can work anywhere--in any school, with any student.
I believe it. Kilgallon has written books for all grade levels.
Bayesian statistics & false positives
Bayes & the human mind
Bayesian reasoning, intuition, & the cognitive unconscious
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ECONOMIST explanation Bayesian statistics
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Smartest Tractor on Killgallon & 5 ways to combine sentences
-- CatherineJohnson - 17 Jan 2006 Back to main page.
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I dunno. To me, this "sentence combining" sounds analogous to "Let's just look at some math problems without rigorously learning the basic algorithms." -- GoogleMaster - 18 Jan 2006
In my experience, that's exactly the way that most professional writers will tell you they learned to write well. I know it's what I would suggest (and have suggested here). Why? I suspect that this is because English grammar is both quite complex, leading to difficulty in learning, and not deterministic. So you learn all these rules, then you have to learn all the special cases and exceptions and idioms. The effort to outcome ratio is very poor, and kids see this. Also, good writing is more analogous to elegant proofs than to adequate proofs (for example). You can't teach elegance by rule. That said, it's pretty hard to achieve elegance without a grounding in basics, but anyone who can speak reasonably well already has the basics of grammar. If you want to learn beautiful programming, or beautiful writing, or beautiful painting, the efficient method is to study lots of beautiful [n]. -- DougSundseth - 18 Jan 2006
One good way is to read lots of good books that are beautifully written. -- KDeRosa - 18 Jan 2006
that's exactly the way that most professional writers will tell you they learned to write well. I know it's what I would suggest (and have suggested here Definitely true for me. I learned to write by writing (and reading, obviously). -- CatherineJohnson - 18 Jan 2006
One good way is to read lots of good books that are beautifully written. oh gosh, Killgallon's book is incredible when it comes to that. All of his examples are drawn from Real Literature, and many of them are sentences you'd never read, left to your own devices. Many of them are exquisite. -- CatherineJohnson - 18 Jan 2006
I think Hudson probably has it right: What's going on with 'sentence combining' is that the student is engaging in production rather than analysis. -- CatherineJohnson - 18 Jan 2006
Analysis of grammar & language may be terrific; I have no idea. But production is, I think, essential. Writing is the same thing as math; you have to do it. -- CatherineJohnson - 18 Jan 2006
One more thing: a book like this strikes me as an ingenious way to get kids writing very advanced and interesting sentences long before they might have done so on their own. In other words, you're giving them excellent material to work with; you're not just trying to get them to spontaneously come up with such sentences in their own little essays. -- CatherineJohnson - 18 Jan 2006