Monday, May 21, 2012

When does constructivism not work?

A special education teacher came to me today excited about a lesson his students had just been through in English class -- diagraming sentences.  He brought samples of their work, showing the original draft in their writer's notebooks filled with run-ons and fragments and then their current drafts, with corrections and improvements to their grammar.  It got me thinking -- is there worth to lessons like this?  A true constructivist would have to say no, and the constructivist in me agrees:  the sentences might have been correct, but it made for a terrrible reading of short, choppy chunks of writing that make me stumble through the piece as a reader.  On the other hand, is it worse if they have a page full of run-ons? 

Maybe a bit of both is needed.  There are times when students need to learn grammar rules, but not to be simply memorized and rotely spit back into neat little subjects and predicates.  When one reads essays in magazines or slice-of-life writing in the Sunday newspaper or paperback novels, run-ons and fragments are everywhere!  Students need to understand why authors punctuate.  They need to understand that intimacy between a writer and her readers that is formed because of those punctuation marks.  Those short, choppy sentences that add sarcasm to Craig Wilson's slice of life pieces.  The repeated sentences that stab your heart when you read Sandra Cisneros.  The long, flowing descriptions that seem to go on for a page when you read JK Rowling. 

It's not the rules students need to study, it's the punctuation marks and their uses.  It's when to use a fragment and a run-on.  When to create a compound sentence using a comma and conjunction.  Those punctuation marks are like the tiny stitches that hold the words in the writing together and give them meaning. 

Sounds like the constructivist in me wins again!

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