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Grammar, Grammars, and the Teaching of Grammar

Publication: College English
Date: 1985

Summary: This article offers a historic recap of understandings of the concept of grammar: what it is and when, why, and how it matters. The author, alluding to the relationship between grammar and power, suggests that we should consider how to support students in communicating strategically.


As a result, though I will look briefly at the tradition of experimental research, my primary goal in this essay is to articulate the grammar issue in different and, I would hope, more productive terms. Specifically, I want to ask four questions:

  1. Why is the grammar issue so important? Why has it been the dominant focus of composition research for the last seventy-five years?
  2. What definitions of the word grammar are needed to articulate the grammar issue intelligibly?
  3. What do findings in cognate disciplines suggest about the value of formal grammar instruction?
  4. What is our theory of language, and what does it predict about the value of formal grammar instruction? (This question-'what does our theory of language predict?"-seems a much more powerful question than "what does educational research tell us?')"

About the Author

PATRICK HARTWELL was a Professor of English at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Copyright © 1985 by the National Council of Teachers of English. Used with permission.

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