Updated: Feb 15
“How the HECK am I supposed to fit grammar into the curriculum on top of everything else!?!??!?!?!?!” is a question often asked by every single English teacher on the face of the planet.
Personally, I’ve tried to tackle this problem head on in myriad ways:
1. Completely ignore grammar and go on merrily with my life.
2. Grudgingly read about grammar games and activities, at the
behest of my department chair….and then still avoid all
grammar in all shapes and forms.
3. Take online grammar classes through the community college
This last one was actually helpful to me. Turns out I was avoiding grammar because I DID NOT UNDERSTAND IT, and therefore, DID NOT KNOW HOW TO TEACH IT! Mind bottling. (Joke. Please watch Talladega Nights.)
My online classes were rote and systematic, but since I am a logical person, I was down with this. I thought I should probably attempt something like it in my classroom. I knew that, ideally, my grammar instruction would blend in with my writing instruction, but when I did this, the lessons were few and far in-between. Ultimately, I just decided to start class with a 5-7 minute grammar warm up. It’s long enough to cover a skill, and short enough that it’s over before the kids can start complaining. I figured that it wasn’t ideal, but it was better than nothing. Since then, I’ve started most classes with a small grammar lesson or paper-based practice.
This year, though, my district bought a subscription to NoRedInk, and so far I am enjoying it. During our preservice week, two consultants from the company came in and ran some training sessions. The sessions were three hours long, but the training was useful and the trainer was friendly and knowledgeable. He answered everyone’s questions patiently, even the ones that barely made sense or had been answered five minutes beforehand. I was a little distracted, in general, during the training, as I was stressing about how the school year in general, but even half distracted, I still got enough out of the session to attempt to use it during the school year.
As with all new technology, I just expect my first attempts to be a hot mess; I give the kids fair warning and we go from there.
My first attempts with NoRedInk were a little hairy. I knew that NoRedInk could be a good tool for differentiation, so I went HAM. I gave all my students a diagnostic with all the skills that I wanted to cover over the course of the year and then I was immediately overwhelmed and I determined I would never use NoRedInk again.
A few coffees later, I realized I should probably have just started small. I picked the very first skill I wanted to cover and went from there.
For my AP Language and Composition students, there is a state writing test in March, so I wanted to cover all the grammar skills on that test no matter what. I decided to continue with my normal grammar routine: I would briefly present the skill and students would practice. Instead of having students practice on paper, though, I used NoRedInk.
I like NoRedInk because of the immediate feedback it gives me. In the past, I would teach my mini lesson, give students a handout, and then experiment with ways in which to get immediate feedback. Sometimes I just walked around and hovered over students as they completed the practice; sometimes I gave students the answer key and asked them to X the ones the got wrong so that I knew what to go over. Sometimes I gave students the answer key and asked them to X the ones they got wrong and submit on a Google Form….and this was all sort of fine. Definitely better than nothing, BUT the major flaw is that my system for collecting data relied on kids self-reporting mistakes, and a fair amount of kids do not like to admit they’ve made a mistake.
I am still learning about NoRedInk, but so far my favorite feature is that I can monitor student progress on my computer. I can also walk around the room and look for purple computer screens that signal that a student is stuck on something; I can just walk right over and get them unstuck without a lot of fanfare.