January 11, 2007

Will My Love for Complex Sentences Be Contagious?

I've spent the last week teaching my students about clauses and sentences structures. Not so riveting, aye? It's one of my favorite things to teach. No. Seriously. It's exciting to me.

Years ago I came to terms with how I should teach these concepts in a logical manner, which isn't how the text presents it. In fact, the way I like to teach clauses and sentences doesn't match the the district's benchmarks, either. I have to teach punctuation in the 1st quarter, but sentence types don't come along until the second quarter. There are several rules, particularly with commas, that specifically relate to clauses. Is it any shock that in the first quarter there were some punctuation rules that the students didn't fully understand? Frustrating.

Knowing that this is a problem, shouldn't I just teach these clause and sentence concepts while I'm teaching punctuation? If I weren't under serious time constraints all the time, and if the students weren't tested on the benchmarks at the district level each quarter, it would be easier for me to do it MY WAY!

I've spent years perfecting MY WAY, by the way.

I tell my students that we learn these concepts so that we might be able to write more sophisticated sentences. Trust me, it works: my students want to sound smart, and they are college-bound. Furthermore, learning about clauses and their functions in sentences can help us figure out where to place punctuation within our sentences. Placing commas "where we take a breath" is not the best rule to use, but for some it's the only idea they have about where to place commas. And semicolons? What the heck are we suppose to do with those?

I'm honest with my students, and I try to make this boring topic relevant to them. I voice my frustrations with our language in front of them, and I help them come to terms with how they can manipulate our crazy English rules to work to their advantages. My students totally benefit from the experiences and errors of other students who've come before. I KNOW what will make them cry and gnash their teeth, so I warn them of the pitfalls.

I wish I could say that my students love learning about clauses and sentences as much as I enjoy teaching about them, but that's really too much to ask. They will love being able to fix their own punctuation errors--and be able to tell me why those errors need fixed. It will take time, but they'll also embrace their new-found abilities to break free from the simple sentence cycle. That's something I'll certainly embrace, too!

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