GUM: grammar, usage, and mechanics

I’ve been reading about grammar, usage, and mechanics today on the Writing Program Administrator listserv. Describing how and why we teach this sticky stuff takes up a lot of writing instructors’ time.

What a perfect metaphor, right? Some days, we really step in it! Others, it’s a pleasing distraction or something to snap and pop about sassily.

Anyway, here’s some of the conversation we take part in when we talk about GUM:

A Theory of Ethics for Writing Assessment by Norbert Elliot, New Jersey Institute of Technology

Abstract: This paper proposes a theory of ethics for writing assessment. Based on a definition of fairness as the identification of opportunity structures created through maximum construct representation under conditions of constraint–and the toleration of constraint only to the extent to which benefits are realized for the least advantaged–the theory is expressed in terms of its tradition, boundary, order, and foundation. To examine the force of the theory, a thought experiment demonstrating action based on the theory is offered so that its weaknesses and strengths are identified. Intended for the research specialization of writing assessment, the theory has generalization implications for the field of writing studies.

The Role Of Grammar In Improving Student’s Writing by Beverly Ann Chin, Professor Of English, University of Montana

Excerpt: “Grammar is the sound, structure, and meaning system of language. All languages have grammar, and each language has its own grammar. People who speak the same language are able to communicate because they intuitively know the grammar system of that language—that is, the rules of making meaning. Students who are native speakers of English already know English grammar. They recognize the sounds of English words, the meanings of those words, and the different ways of putting words together to make meaningful sentences. […]”

Irvin Peckham, Professor of Writing Studies, Louisiana State University/Retired

Conventions, Grammar, and Mechanics

Excerpt: “Conventions and Distraction

By conventions, we are referring to textual conventions readers expect writers to observe. These may range from documentation conventions to grammar and mechanics. Research has long established that when the expected discourse conventions are not observed, readers tend to lose their focus on content and may become extremely frustrated by the violations of conventions, creating ‘noise.’ As a consequence of the noise, the message may not be heard.

For professors concerned with students’ comprehension of ideas, this ‘noise’ can be extremely distracting. In addition, professors are conscious of their obligation to graduate students who can read, write, and think at a high level of literacy achievement. They do not want to graduate students who seem to specialize in violating written conventions. This accounts in part for the frustration of professors distracted by errors in student writing.

This document attempts to contextualize the problem of student error within research and scholarship on writing and communication, outlining what experts in communication have documented. […]”

Laura R. Micciche’s Making a Case for Rhetorical Grammar

Abstract: Rhetorical grammar analysis encourages students to view writing as a material social practice in which meaning is actively made, rather than passively relayed or effortlessly produced. The study of rhetorical grammar can demonstrate to students that language does purposeful, consequential work in the world—work that can be learned and

Grammar, Grammars, and the Teaching of Grammar Author(s): Patrick Hartwell Source: College English

Excerpt: “For me the grammar issue was settled at least twenty years ago with the conclusion offered by Richard Braddock, Richard Lloyd-Jones, and Lowell Schoer in 1963. In view of the widespread agreement of research studies based upon many types of students and teachers, the conclusion can be stated in strong and unqualified terms: the teaching of formal grammar has a negligible or, because it usually displaces some instruction and practice in composition, even a harmful effect on improvement in writing.1 Indeed, I would agree with Janet Emig that the grammar issue is a prime example of “magical thinking”: the assumption that students will learn only what we teach and only because we teach.2 But the grammar issue, as we will see, is a complicated one. And, perhaps surprisingly, it remains controversial, with the regular appearance of papers defending the teaching of formal grammar or attacking it.3  […]”

David Crystal’s “Why a Global Language?” chapter in English as a Global Language, 2003.

Crystal’s text explains how a language’s power depends not just on the number of its speakers, but the power its speakers wield.


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