Thursday, January 6, 2011

What is Literacy?

Before I left for my grammar PLC yesterday afternoon, my friend advised me to cheer up. "At least you'll have something to write about," she said.

"Don't worry about me," I told her, because I wasn't worried at all. I was attending as a teacher who had assigned out of context grammar worksheets and given a quiz on pronoun agreement in the last couple of days. Surely I would be embraced by the group.

That's not quite how it went down, though. Just as we were getting started, one of the other members entered the room breathlessly. "I have a question about grammar!" she announced. "How do you teach transitive and intransitive verbs?" she paused dramatically. "You see the text book," and here she opened it with a flourish, "only mentions action and linking verbs. What do we do about that?"

I happen to know the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs (hint: it has something to do with a direct object), but the discussion that followed was about whether it is reasonable to expect the same from sixth grade students, and what our objective might be for such an expectation. Will it make them more fluent writers? Will it make them better communicators? Is it worth not only the instructional time but also the engagement credibility you would be forced to spend on such an endeavor?

"I just think they should know basic grammar," the original teacher declared. "At some point it becomes a matter of cultural literacy."

Others posited that perhaps that was specialized knowledge that might not be a top priority for sixth grade. "Do you know the sixth grade science curriculum?" I asked her. She admitted that she did not. "You're a functional, productive citizen," I told her, "even without a sixth grade science education. It seems like you're doing okay."

She allowed that she was, and the conversation moved on.

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