Using grammar to edit text for content and meaning

This post summarizes my notes and thoughts from reading Part 3, Teaching Grammar to Enhance Writing: Focus on Editing, of Constance Weaver’s Grammar to Enrich & Enhance Writing (Heinemann, 1996).

If I was disappointed in Part 2 compared to Part 1, I’m even more disillusioned by Part 3. Again, this is a technical editor reading a teacher textbook, so it is a criticism of my own intent or purpose in reading this book. However, Part 3 had only 3 chapters, all written by guest authors, and all of whom spoke of their own experiences in teaching grammar. The Part claimed to have a focus on editing, but I clearly disagree with the titling of this Part. (The editor of this book did not do Weaver any favors with these parts or the titles of the parts.)

Chapter 13 is a very short chapter that focuses on examining one example piece of student writing and the rubric used to score or evaluate writing, as per standard school testing. In the middle of this chapter, Moerman (guest author for Weaver) presents two quotes from an article by Rosen titled “Developing Correctness in Student Writing: Alternatives to the Error Hunt.” I might just go read that article, as it is the only thing that I highlighted from this chapter. I will copy and cite this quote here:

“Research has never been able to show that circling all the errors — the error hunt approach to marking — makes a significant difference in writing quality; instead, it discourages the student whose paper is full of mistakes and focuses students on errors instead of ideas. Students are more likely to grow as writers when the teacher’s primary purpose in reading student papers is to respond to content.” (Rosen, p. 149)

I think this echoes my own soapbox and view that a strict focus on grammar and line editing without a focus on the content is detrimental to technical editors and the technical editing field. It can’t be all about the grammar and absolute correctness per a grammar book or style guide.

In Chapter 14, Wheeler, another guest author, talks to teaching “standard” English in African-American classrooms. Yes, standard is in quotation marks, because she believes it is a “misnomer, implying that only one standard exists.” Her main point is “Language is structured, and its structure varies by circumstance” (p. 240). Teachers must understand sociolinguistics and other grammatical patterns so as to bridge the gap to present other contexts, other circumstances. The key concept here is “code-switching,” which she describes this way: “students learn to choose the language style to fit the context — to fit the time, place, audience, and communicative purpose” (p. 242). In giving examples of this in her classroom, Wheeler says: “Language is not ‘correct or incorrect,’ ‘right or wrong,’ but instead works or doesn’t work in a setting” (p. 250).

Editing is seen as a code-switching exercise, where students work to transform their writing to use grammatical patterns that are in line with “standard” English, the more formal language expected.

In Chapter 15, again written by guest authors, Roche and Gonzales, they talk of transforming the classroom to teach grammar differently. They talk through the various stages of the writing process, including editing. They suggest that “the goal of editing must be to ensure that our intended audience understands the message….editing is not a tedious, superfluous task required by the teacher as punishment, but a vital part of the process that helps the writer convey the intended message” (p. 275). Lastly, they state that it is not important for writers be able to name the grammatical concepts and terms; “it is more important that students are able to do it than to name it” (p. 275).

The book just ended there, with no final chapter by Weaver herself, with no parting words to wrap up her thesis and start of the book. I really had hoped this final part, these final chapters, would do more.

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