PEDAGOGICAL PRACTICES IN THE TEACHING OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE IN SECONDARY PUBLIC SCHOOLS IN PARKER COUNTY
Wilson, Peggy Lynn
McCaleb, Joseph L.
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State and local learning standards consistently call for student proficiency in standard English usage and grammar. NCTE standards for secondary teachers (grades 7-12) include expectations for English language knowledge, including English grammar. High stakes tests, as well, both for teacher candidates and secondary students, include assessments of grammatical knowledge and proficiency. However, there have been few studies of ELA teachers' attitudes toward or practices in grammar instruction over the past 30 to 40 years (see Godley  and Smagorinsky ), an absence not surprising given NCTE perspectives and research (e.g., Braddock, Lloyd-Jones, and Schoer , Hillocks , and Weaver ) that question the efficacy of teaching grammar as a means for improving writing ability. After the close of the first quarter of the 2008-2009 school year, I surveyed 369 English/language arts teachers from a large, highly-diverse, semi-urban mid-Atlantic public school system to determine their attitudes toward and practices in the teaching of grammar. Results based on 91 completed surveys from teachers in grades 7-12 indicate that nearly 85% of Parker County English/language arts teachers who responded include grammar and language study -- and about half are regularly doing so. Just over half include it one or two days per week, and half give it less than one-quarter of their (average) 81-minute period. Common practices include selected-response grammar exercises, sentence combining and transformation, and use of students' own writing as material for review or editing, all with an "emphasis on standard American English." Nearly 72% believe students who are proficient in standard English will have greater opportunity for success in higher education or the workplace, but only 36% welcome all students' dialects/language as valid in the classroom -- and only 15% would like students to acknowledge and respect language diversity. Although the findings indicate little direct association between teachers' attitudes and practices regarding grammar instruction, they nonetheless raise serious questions about attitudes toward students' personal dialect and language and the decisions teachers make regarding grammar instruction in their classrooms.