Academic journal article Research & Teaching in Developmental Education

Breaking the Rules: Liberating Writers through Innovative Grammar Instruction

Academic journal article Research & Teaching in Developmental Education

Breaking the Rules: Liberating Writers through Innovative Grammar Instruction

Article excerpt

Breaking the Rules: Liberating Writers Through Innovative Grammar Instruction Shuster, E. H. (2003). Breaking the Rules: Liberating Writers Through Innovative Grammar Instruction. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Edgar H. Schuster begins his book with this quote by Frank McCourt: If you're teaching and you're not learning then you're not teaching. The more one reads Schuster's product of nearly 50 years in education, the more these words ring true. Schuster is obviously a master teacher and master learner, and those of us teaching writing to developmental students can learn much from him.

A schism has long existed among English teachers: those maintaining students must master grammar before they can write well vs. those encouraging students' creative expression, despite the grammatical imperfections. Schuster's book makes one wonder why we can't all just get along. Surely students would be better served, as the author so convincingly documents.

Although his book doesn't focus solely on teaching basic writing, teachers of developmental students will quickly recognize their students within Schuster's pages. he has obviously faced many of them in his career as a high school and college teacher. he captures their expressions with a well-tuned ear, but instead of judging the students harshly, points out how much English know-how they exhibit. He demonstrates the depth of grammatical expertise our students bring with them on the first day of their first college writing classes - knowledge learned through growing up with the language, rather than in "traditional school grammar" lessons.

Schuster takes aim at many of the rules of grammar, style, and punctuation that English teachers hold dear. he exposes one after another as "mythrules" and "betes noire" that are, in actual practice, not followed and nearly impossible to explain. Take the rules defining the parts of speech, for example. A good smattering of students in any writing class is able to produce the elementary definition (a verb is an action word). Beyond that, they can use verbs correctly in understandable English sentences. Yet, these same students would likely fail a test that asks them to identify the verb in a sentence such as: " Dad made an angry reply" (p. …

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