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  • Pam Koutrakos

MAKERspace-Styled Tinkering with Grammar and Conventions

Language is art. Grammar is meant to be playful and empowering. These are my core beliefs but once upon a time, I believed—and taught!—that there was an absolute right and wrong, and I bet I even wielded a red pen to “correct” mistakes on students’ papers. I figured that only published authors get to break the rules because they “earn that right.”

But, over the years, I began to have doubts about this stance. As I read more and more children’s and young adult literature, I began to see authors’ inventive, inspired approach to language as a gift for choosing to put words together in a unique way. In other words, it wasn’t that they were bucking convention but that this facility and even irreverence with language is part of their gift—and their craft. When I read Jacqueline Woodson, I am not thinking about rules she is or is not following, but instead I am captivated and lost in the beauty of each decision made on every page; each playful, highly intentional choice. That’s what grammar is really all about. And notice I italicized gift and craft because I want all of us educators to see that we can awaken these talents and strengths in the students we teach.

My revised beliefs about language reflect the desire to have writers view grammar as interesting, accessible, and relevant. I invite writers to play with language. When we teach into the language standards in meaningful and authentic ways, learners feel empowered to make choices that incorporate these processes and their voice. Writers of all ages learn to tinker with words, sentences and punctuation in a variety of conventional and purposeful ways. By doing so, writers enjoy the Makerspace feel of language, revising and refining initial drafts to create a just-right mood, revelation of character, or reaction.

For those teachers who worry that choice and experimentation results in blurry, vague instruction, I assure you that nothing could be further from the truth! Playfulness is rooted in knowledge. Consider the popularity of Lin-Manuel Miranda. Our senses are wired to respond to this kind of language and storytelling.

If you feel dispirited about students’ engagement with writing and conventions, then it’s time to give a different approach a try. The irony is that in putting away the worksheets and scripted lessons, you actually gain time each day to invite a greater focus on grammar. Students spend the minutes discovering, learning, and practicing grammatical conventions leaning on their own work and mentor texts, both of which are immediately relevant to their lives. It is through this carefully developed understanding that writers become equipped and confident in experimenting. Have fun playing! Let’s motivate each other by posting photos of the discovery happening in classrooms near and far. Don't forget to tag @PamKou and @drgravitygllc!

NOTE: I previously shared a bit about the journey I took, rethinking how I could teach the language standards with greater consistency and intention. You can find those previously posted blogs here and here. This year, I am continuing this series with blogs that share specific advice for HOW TO roll out these shifts yourself. Get ready for ideas, tools, and advice for making this seemingly complex task more teacher and student friendly. I hope you follow along and share your own insights and experiences. In the next blog in this series, I will share how to create a year-long plan for meaningful and targeted language instruction.

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