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Unformatted text preview: Council of Writing Program Administrators WPA-CompPile Research Bibliographies Zak Lancaster and Andrea R. Olinger Teaching Grammar-in-Context in College Writing Instruction: An Update on the Research Literature (WPA-CompPile Research Bibliographies, No. 24) April 2014 Does grammar instruction help to improve students’ writing? Should writing instructors focus on grammar in first-year composition or other university-level writing courses? These questions persist among writing professionals despite a long tradition of research-based conclusions that explicit grammar instruction has no effect or even a harmful effect on students’ writing development (e.g., Braddock, Lloyd-Jones, and Schoer, 1963; Harris, 1962; Hillocks, 1986; McQuade, 1980; Wyse, 2001). These conclusions, of course, have had considerable influence on writing scholars’ views of grammar instruction. Some writing scholars, furthermore, have found theoretical backing for the case against grammar instruction in the linguist Stephen Krashen’s argument (e.g., 1987) that subconscious acquisition of language-in-practice is more effective to bring about language development than explicit instruction (e.g., Freedman, 1993; Hartwell, 1985; Rose, 1983). For critiques of the methodologies and implicit definitions of grammar that guided the early studies reported on by Braddock et al. and Hillcocks, see, e.g., Brown, 2008, 2009a; Kolln, 1981; Kolln & Hancock, 2005; Weaver, 1996. Nevertheless, the questions posed above still persist. An important reason for this persistence— in addition, perhaps, to many instructors’ sense that their students do benefit from instruction that heightens their awareness of the ways the details of language work in texts—is that many discussions of grammar and grammar teaching do not actually define what these terms mean, for example by articulating the range of language components and teaching strategies that would count as “teaching grammar.” As Brown (2009a, p. 220) asks, “If … a teacher explores usage with students by exploiting their knowledge as English speakers, is she or he teaching grammar or not?” Brown goes on to clarify that for those who believe that explicit grammar instruction has a negligible or harmful effect, such as Braddock, Lloyd-Jones, and Schoer (1963), explicit discussion about language in context “is not grammar instruction because grammar instruction is equated with textbook-based skill-and-drill teaching strategies” (p. 220). Brown’s clarification is important to bear in mind when discussing and evaluating the effects of “grammar instruction” on students’ development as writers. What counts as “grammar”? What counts as “teaching grammar”? What counts as “writing development”? To begin answering these slippery questions, categories of types of grammar may be helpful. Martin and Rothery (1993) usefully distinguish between (in their terms) traditional grammar, *Cite as: Lancaster, Zak; Andrea R. Olinger. (April 2014). Teaching Grammar-in-Context in College Writing Instruction: An Update on the Research Literature, WPA-CompPile Research Bibliographies, No. 24. WPACompPile Research Bibliographies. . Date of access. page 2 formal grammar, and functional grammar. The first category, traditional grammar, refers roughly to “school grammar” and overlaps with a prescriptive orientation to language instruction focused on “correctness” rather than on meanings and choices. Formal grammar, in contrast, refers to the 20th-century scientific study of the structural principles that govern humans’ language competence, as seen most famously in the work of Noam Chomsky. As a descriptive science, formal grammar is not interested in questions of “correctness” or pedagogy but rather in principles of grammatical “acceptability.” Functional grammar refers to an alternative development in modern linguistics that seeks to understand grammatical constructions in terms of their meaning-making functions in social contexts. (The authors refer to the grammatical theory of M.A.K. Halliday and others in systemic functional linguistics [SFL], though there are other traditions of functional grammar.) In addition to Martin and Rothery’s distinctions, two further classifications that are important to note are rhetorical grammar and discourse grammar. Rhetorical grammar (see, e.g., Kolln & Gray, 2012; Micciche, 2004; Rossen-Knill & Bakhmetyeva, 2011) aligns with functional grammar in its focus on meanings, purposes, and contexts, as well as in its basic view of language as semiotic resources for making rhetorical choices rather than as rules. Also overlapping with functional grammar and rhetorical grammar is the notion of discourse grammar, which explores how the details of language (words, phrases, and clauses) operate across sentences and utterances to create texture and cohesion, in addition to other meanings like negotiation of attitudes. To be clear, functional, rhetorical, and discourse grammar all describe approaches to language study focused on language use in discourse and on the interrelations between form and meaning. Such functional grammars (broadly understood) are especially useful, then, in the context of student writing instruction, as noted by Martin and Rothery. (There are, of course, other grammar classifications that can be made, e.g., Construction Grammar, Transformational Grammar, and more. We have sketched out the categories here which we view as most relevant for writing instruction.) Functional grammars participate in post-Chomsky and post-Krashen developments in linguistics (see, for example, Biber, Johansson, Leech, Conrad, and Finegan, 1999; Celce-Murcia & LarsenFreeman, 1999; Kolln & Gray, 2009; Halliday, 1994; Odlin, 1994; Quirk, Greenbaum, Leech, & Svartvik, 1985; and Swan, 2005). Functional grammars suggest that an explicit focus on language can facilitate advanced language development (see, for example, Ellis, 1994; Nassaji & Fotos, 2004; Williams & Colomb, 1993; and emergentist views of language learning such as Ellis & Larsen-Freeman, 2006).That is, explicit knowledge of grammar may assist learners to notice consciously how linguistic resources build meanings in contexts. For writing scholars, this kind of explicit or “meta-linguistic” knowledge of language use is related to the current literature on meta-reflection or meta-cognition in writing and how these processes facilitate students’ transfer of writing knowledge (see also Rossen-Knill, 2006). The Grammar-in-Context Bibliography In this bibliography, we use the term “grammar-in-context” to denote pedagogy that connects some kind of functionally oriented grammar instruction to students’ writing and/or reading. The studies we annotate thus answer the following questions: Is it beneficial in the context of writing courses to draw students’ attention to the specific details of language use, at the levels of WPA-CompPile Research Bibliographies No. 24 page 3 word/phrase and clause? If so, what are the benefits? And is a specific analytic terminology or grammatical “metalanguage” useful for faculty and students? Overview of Studies. The studies come from a variety of research traditions and conversations because, to date, few exist that are based in a functionally oriented understanding of grammar. Indeed, Myhill, Jones, Lines, and Watson (2012) assert that their study “represents the first largescale study in any country of the benefits or otherwise of teaching grammar within a purposeful context in writing” (p. 161). For ease of reference, we have grouped these studies by their purported effects on students’ learning. Our groupings are the following: (1) effects on students’ discourse-based metalinguistic awareness; (2) effects on students’ sociolinguistics-based metalinguistic awareness; (3) effects on writing quality in general; (4) effects on writing quality via sentence-combining (a specialized subset); and (5) effects from corrective written feedback on students’ drafts. Several studies claim effects on both textual quality and metalinguistic awareness or fit into multiple categories, and we note those studies below. We also explain our reasons for including studies in these categories. Study Populations. Most of the studies involve postsecondary students or adults, but we include studies of secondary students when they seemed especially relevant (Brown, 2008; Godley & Minnici, 2008; Kanellas et al., 1998; Keen, 2004; Myhill et al., 2012; Spycher, 2007). We include studies of grammar instruction in both first language (L1) and second-language (L2) contexts for a couple of reasons. One is simply that there are more studies of grammar instruction focused on L2 writers, a situation that is underscored by Myhill et al.’s (2012) point that their study with L1 writers is the first of its kind. A second reason we include both is that metalinguistic awareness instruction appears to benefit all writers, especially writers at advanced levels of literacy. Although we do not mean to flatten distinctions between L1 and L2 students or deny the complexity of second language acquisition, there are clear associations to be made between L1 and L2 students’ processes of developing academic literacies in the context of college writing instruction. In general, the student populations that are studied in the papers reviewed below include EFL students (Sengupta, 1999), ESL students (Bitchener & Koch, 2010; Cheng, 2008; Sheen, 2007; Spycher, 2007), Black English speakers (Taylor, 1989), classes consisting of “native-speakers” (Cortes, 2006; Cheng & Steffensen, 1996), and classes with a mix of students for whom English is a first or additional language (Myhill et al., 2012; Keen, 2004; Kanellas, Carifio, & Dagostino, 1998; Wolfe, Britt, & Poe, 2011). Study Selection and Findings. Some of these studies show that grammar-in-context instruction improves the quality of writing, variously operationalized (Cheng & Steffensen, 1996; Keen, 2004; Lee, 2002; Myhill et al., 2012; Spycher, 2007; Wolfe et al., 2012). Many also showed gains in students’ metalinguistic awareness—sometimes in tandem with improved writing quality (Cheng & Steffenson, 1996; Lee, 2002; Myhill et al., 2012; Spycher, 2007) and sometimes by itself (Cortes, 2006; Cheng, 2008; Sengupta, 1999). Some research on undergraduate and graduate students’ academic writing suggests that students who command a specific “metalanguage” for talking and thinking about texts are better able to engage in reflection on their own rhetorical choices, for example on their use of metadiscourse markers (Cheng & Steffensen, 1996) and rhetorical moves (Cheng, 2008). In contrast to internalized or tacit knowledge of language and discourse, it may be, as Myhill (2010) explains, that explicit knowledge of the ways specific textual features work and interrelate with socially valued WPA-CompPile Research Bibliographies No. 24 page 4 meanings is “more cognitively accessible for reflection and decision-making, and may therefore be a powerful enabling tool for writers tackling the cognitively complex task of writing” (p. 141). In line with the studies on the value of a grammatical metalanguage, we include a few recent studies of the effects of grammar correction with metalinguistic information on ESL/EFL adult or postsecondary students’ written accuracy in English. The studies we annotate (Bitchener & Koch, 2010; Sheen, 2007), which focus on definite and indefinite articles, show that students who receive grammar feedback with metalinguistic commentary, as opposed to without the commentary, make fewer errors on delayed posttests. These studies are clearly much more narrowly focused, and their assumptions about correctness and the stability and “masterability” of languages are problematic (see, e.g., Horner, Lu, Royster, & Trimbur, 2011; see also Blommaert, 2010). However, we included these studies as evidence that some metalinguistic information can help students exercise greater control over one or more aspects of their language use. Although accuracy in article use is certainly different from heightened awareness of, say, ways to shift the emphasis of a sentence, we invite future researchers to explore the link between different kinds of metalinguistic awareness. For those interested in learning more about written corrective feedback, we recommend Bitchener and Ferris (2012) and Ferris’ (2014) student handbook. We also felt we would be remiss to exclude studies of sentence-combining, although usually they require little to no explicit knowledge of grammatical terminology and are based in Chomskyan understandings of grammar. Such studies have been conducted since the 1960s (Hillocks, 1986), and even recent reviews of adolescent writing research have found sentence-combining more effective than “traditional grammar” in improving the quality and accuracy of students’ writing (Andrews et al., 2006; Graham & Perin, 2007; see Connors, 2000 for a discussion of the decline of sentence-based pedagogies in composition and rhetoric). During its heyday, sentencecombining instruction was found to increase college students’ “syntactic maturity” or “complexity” (e.g., Daiker, Kerek, & Morenberg, 1978; Olson, 1981; Smith & Combs, 1980) and even overall writing quality (e.g., Hake & Williams, 1979; Morenberg, Daiker, & Kerek, 1978). Teachers and researchers felt that having students combine “kernel” sentences into longer sentences, whether any way they wanted (“open exercises”) or whether directed to use a particular syntactic structure (“cued exercises”), increased the range of options they had when composing their own sentences. It should be noted that “Syntactic maturity” or “complexity” does not necessarily entail writing of higher quality; rather, it is based on research by Hunt (e.g., 1965, 1970) that links T-unit length with developmental level, using Atlantic and Harper’s articles as the peak of “mature.” (A T-unit is a clause with all of its accompanying modifiers.) “Maturity” or “complexity” has been measured by a range of factors, including words per clause, words per T-unit, and clauses per T-unit (for critiques, see Faigley, 1980, and Williams, 1979.) Most of these studies do not align with our understanding of grammar-in-context. In them, students do not use sentence-combining to revise their own writing, and the content of the tasks is unrelated to what they are reading or writing about. Essentially, this close attention to language is not tied to any authentic rhetorical context. Also, measures of “syntactic maturity” or “complexity” relying on research by Hunt (1965, 1970) have been shown to be problematic (see, e.g., Faigley, 1980; O’Donnell, 1976). WPA-CompPile Research Bibliographies No. 24 page 5 The three sentence-combining studies we annotate below, however, escape these limitations. Keen’s (2004) intervention has students apply the sentence-combining techniques to a portion of their own writing, to try several different versions, and then discuss which one is the best and why. And both Kanellas et al. (1996) and Wolfe et al. (2011) develope sentence-combining exercises based on content the students had to read and/or write—high school biology and engineering IMRaD reports, respectively. In fact, Wolfe et al. call their exercises “rhetorical sentence combining” and “rhetorical pattern practice” to emphasize the way the instructional materials connect “linguistic form to rhetorical meaning making” (p. 125). Finally, we included a few studies of innovative curricula that draw on a variety of approaches from applied linguistics and sociolinguistics to engage students in the study of dialects and registers, contrastive analysis of different varieties of English, discussion of language ideologies, and other topics (Brown, 2008; Godley & Minnici, 2008; Taylor, 1989). The researchers find that students left the courses or the units with increased metalinguistic awareness and a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between language and meaning. A caveat: Taylor’s (1989) “informal experiment” may be seen as “accomodationist” in that the author aims to reduce the number of Black English features in students’ writing. We included it nonetheless because of the author’s interest in promoting bidialectalism in addition to accuracy in standard written English, and because her research does show—like the ESL/EFL error correction studies mentioned above—that heightened awareness of language use through some kind of intervention can positively influence language performance (in these cases, accuracy in Standard Edited English). In sum, this diverse group of studies all examined the effects of explicit language instruction on students’ metalinguistic knowledge or written texts or both. Through this annotated bibliography, we hope to help WPAs and teachers envision and justify a place in their curriculum for grammarin-context instruction. We also hope to inspire researchers to further examine the nature of metalinguistic awareness in writing. A Brief Note on Pedagogy Some of the researchers whose studies we annotate have also written about their interventions in more detail: • • • In a 2013 article for the journal Literacy, Myhill, Jones, Watson, and Lines (2013) describe the rationale behind their intervention and also give some examples of different units. . Brown’s (2009b) textbook, In Other Words: Lessons on Grammar, Code-Switching, and Academic Writing, presents the curriculum he describes in his dissertation study. The rich IMRaD sentence-combining and pattern practice materials that Wolfe et al. developed are available online at . In addition to the website of NCTE’s Assembly for the Teaching of English Grammar (ATEG) ( ), a few new books on teaching grammar-in-context are the following: WPA-CompPile Research Bibliographies No. 24 page 6 • • • • The chapter on “Rhetorical Grammar” in Deborah F. Rossen-Knill and Tatyana Bakhmetyeva’s (2011) book, Including Students in Academic Conversations: Principles and Strategies of Theme-Based Writing Courses Across the Disciplines, contains lesson plans that integrate grammar and writing from teachers and researchers who have been working in this area for several decades, including Cornelia Paraskevas, Deborah RossenKnill, Craig Hancock, and Rei Noguchi. A new book by Vershawn Ashanti Young and colleagues (2013), Other people’s English: Code meshing, code switching, and African American literacy, argues for the value of code-meshing and provides lessons and activities. Nora Bacon’s (2013) The Well Crafted Sentence: A Writer’s Guide to Style links grammar and style. Paul Butler’s textbook on style, How So? The Writer's Style, will be published by Oxford University Press in 2015. Acknowledgements We thank Dylan Dryer and Rich Haswell, along with Anne Curzan, Deborah Rossen-Knill, and Mary Schleppegrell, for their helpful feedback on drafts. All remaining omissions and errors are ours. Works Referenced in this Introduction (and Not Included in the Annotated Bibliography) Andrews, R., Torgerson, C., Beverton, S., Freeman, A., Locke, T., Graham, L., Robinson, A., & Zhu, D. (2006). The effect of grammar teaching on writing development. British Educational Research Journal, 32(1), 39-55. Bacon, N. (2013). The well-crafted sentence: A writer’s guide to style (2nd ed). Bedford St. Martin’s. Biber, D., Johansson, S., Leech, G., Conrad, S., and Finegan, E. (1999). Longman grammar of spoken and written English. London: Longman. Bitchener, J., & Ferris, D. R. (2012). Written corrective feedback in second language acquisition and writing. New York: Routledge. Blommaert, J. (2010). The sociolinguistics of globalization. Cambridge, UK ; New York: Cambridge University Press. Braddock, R., Lloyd-Jones, R., & Schoer, L. (1963). Research in written composition. Champaign, IL: National Council of Teachers of English. Brown, D. W. (2008). Curricular approaches to linguistic diversity: Code-switching, registershifting and aca...
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