Friday, September 24, 2010

Stop complaining, start teaching

Something's been percolating in my head for several years now, and things came to a boil this summer: Journalism and mass communication college students need to improve their writing, and J-school college professors have to step in to help make it happen.

Middle and high school language arts classes are in the rear-view mirror. A job search looms. English academics say one thing; professionals in the media biz say something else about how to get students to make their subjects and verbs agree.

Sexy stuff, huh? Well it's been that kind of summer for me., culminating with the journalism/mass comm's academic association's convention. There's a lot of excellent sharing of successes and challenges and ideas that goes on there--I always come away with ideas percolating, and then try really hard not to forget it all by the third week of fall semester.
There's a lot of support for what we're going at Columbia College Chicago; go here if you'd like to hear more about it, check out this column I wrote for AOL's Money College site.

On the more academic side, here's an article I wrote on the topic for a journal of the aforementioned group, the Association of Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, Grammar Challenge: New Concerns, a New Approach.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Grammar killer

I teach grammar every day. I have two-year-old twins stumbling their way into the English language, and a dyslexic Montanan husband who swears that in the West, that's just how people talk: "had went" is as good as "had gone."

I'm also an editor and a journalism professor, and I spend a fair bit of time trying to puzzle out how to teach college students to write. The question that devils my teaching colleagues and me is this: If you don't know grammar by the time you're 18, can you ever learn it well enough to be a professional writer? Beats the heck out of me.

At my college, students are required to take a remedial grammar course--that's a lousy word, remedial, but it's the truest I can come up with--and for many, it's a painful experience. In the worst cases, students don't want to take the class in the first place, they have grammar stage fright once they're in class and they come out of the class having memorized just enough to pass some quizzes and a final. End of grammar acquisition.

Gerald Grow, one of the leaders in journalism/mass communications higher ed, wrote the best academic piece I've come across, where he wades into sensitive issues, regarding the intersections of language, race, culture and personal motivation. Here's a link to the article:

And while we're on the topic of unsatisfied college students, here's my favorite RateMyProfessor review:

I couldnt stand this woman. She thinks way too highly of herself, and she was not funny! I didnt learn anything new i didnt know from 3rd grade phonix class. I would not reccommend her. (grammar student, 2005)