Impeccable syntax, punctuation, spelling, and grammar are certainly important elements of effective writing. But substantial research has shown that asking students to spend time on memorizing definitions and filling out worksheets on sentence fragments does not translate into improvements in student writing. Nonetheless, PWR is committed to offering students 30 minutes of classroom instruction each week devoted to issues of style and grammar.
To help students with grammar, consult PWR's Grammar Resources for Writers page. Then, consider the suggestions below, provided by veteran PWR instructors:
- Clearly define what you regard as the most serious “problems” in grammar, syntax, and punctuation, and make very clear what your expectations are for accurate and appropriate use of conventions for drafts and final submissions.
- After reading the first set of assignments, make a list of the top three or four common problems and ask students to discuss them briefly in small groups.
- Remember that the variety of linguistic and cultural backgrounds Stanford students bring with them affect how students define “good” writing. Before you draw conclusions about any student’s control of “standard” academic English, learn what you can about that student’s own understanding of correctness.
- Make notes on each student’s common grammatical errors as you read the first set of assignments, and return to these notes during your first conferences.
- Ask students to keep an error inventory of their own. Refer to these inventories in conferences, asking students to explain the particular pattern and identify it in their own writing.
- Schedule an editing workshop before mid-term, during which students bring their inventories to class and use them as the basis for editing each other’s writing.
- When responding to drafts and/or final versions, do not correct the errors yourself. Rather, use a system for indicating where an error exists (a check in the margin, for instance), along with a tip about where the student can look for help with that error (a section of your handbook, for example).
- Above all, be careful and diplomatic when addressing grammar issues. This is a sensitive area for many students, and over-emphasis on small-scale issues can draw students’ attention away from more global concerns in their writing.