Simple Sentence or not

I know I have lamented on this before, but really we need to bring back grammar instruction.  I usually have the students write their answers in complete sentences for assignments and tests.  They usually complain and of course, a few of them forget to write a complete sentence.  Or at least in the past, I gave them the benefit of the doubt and assumed that they were forgetting. Now, however, I am not so sure. The other day one of my students tried to argue with me. This student kept insisting that all that was necessary to make a group of words a sentence was if there was a capital letter and a period.  (Notice that they didn’t say punctuation, just that it needed a period).  Now today the same thing happened with a few more of my students. At this point, I am seriously considering starting next year with a back to basics unit.  Taking a couple of weeks to review a sentence, parts of speech, how to write a paragraph, and whatever else I decide that they still don’t know how to do even though it was taught at a much younger age.

So how about you?  Do your students have problems with carry over and remembering how to do the basics?


Two Part Summer

For years now, I have always mentally divided my summer into two parts.

Part 1: This started the day school ended for the summer and lasts until the last day of the county fair.  Here I think I have lots of free time, except I am pushing a child to get her 4-H projects done, including the write ups.  This is a never ending struggle that always last up to the very last minute.  This year she finally finished everything around 11:30 pm the day before conference judging, had to be there at 7:00 am. Every year I beg her to begin working on her projects sometime in October, but like a typical teenager, she believes that she needs to sit around the house and not accomplish much of anything.

Part 2: This begins the day after the county fair ends.  All of the sudden, my brain switches into school mode.  I will wake up in the middle of the night with an idea or two or three or…. I then need to get up and write these down or I will forget them.  I start making lists of things that I need to get done in my classroom so that I am ready for the first day.  I start going into school to work, so that I can access the copier before there is a crowd of people and it breaks down again.  So this year the fair was a week and a half/two weeks early.  I was really hoping that my mind would give me a break for a couple of weeks.  Sadly that didn’t happen.  Yes, I was already thinking up new ideas for this year, and today my brain wanted to sit down at my computer and lesson plan book and plan out an entire semester for one class and start to gather things for my other classes.  I even tried to concentrate on planning for the state fair this year.  My daughter has to be there early on a Friday and early on the Sunday, since it is a 3 hour drive, have decided that it would be better to go out and stay for 4 days.  But that didn’t help.  Even as I was researching and planning for the fair, my mind was thinking school in the background.

It won’t be long now.

Slow Down

Hard to believe that the county fair is only two weeks away.  Usually that signifies the end of the summer to me as I start back in my classroom right after.  This year the fair is a week early but still, I have so much to accomplish and feel like I am running out of time.  Haven’t met one goal yet this summer, yet I have been working on a few of them.

The End is near

The end of the school year is so near I can almost reach out and touch it.  Just one more day after today with students and then one day to work in our rooms and attend meetings.  Even without looking at the calendars one could tell that it is the end of the year.  So many students coming in, wanting to know what they can get done, is there any extra credit that they can do to get a passing grade or a better grade?  Even better, the laptops are getting turned in so some of the  students do not have the ability to get partial assignments and complete them.

I look forward to the year that students all turn their work in on time and care about their grades the entire year instead of the last two days.

Give me that Old Time

The words “Give me that Old Time Religion that is good enough for me” could be changed to “Give me that Old Time Grammar, that is good enough for me”. I kind of miss the day of drill and practice. Yes, it was boring, but it was also easy and I learned the concept.  Now, it seems like more and more students are struggling with their writing and also grammar.  We need to find a way to fix it.  I get it, we don’t want to teach grammar outside of context anymore as that is boring and not engaging to the student but are we doing a better job of teaching grammar now?  I think in some cases they know the rules, but they aren’t applying them to their everyday writing or outside of English class.  Somehow, we need to get students to see the need to apply the rules all of the time.

At the beginning of the school year, I inform, remind, tell, attempt to pound it into my students that using certain words incorrectly will cost them points.  My favorite set of incorrectly used words are there, their, and they’re.  When I give the students practice or check to see if they know the difference, yes they are almost 100% accurate at all times.  But then when I want them to apply this knowledge to the real world and their writing, I hear things like, “I know the difference, but it is just easier to always use there, ”  and “I don’t how it matters  which one I use, they are basically the same word.”  For me, this is like running fingernails down the old chalkboard.  Oh, how I hated that sound.

When writing research papers or other more formal papers and I remind my students that they can’t use personal pronouns and that they need to keep it formal, they look at me like I have just sprouted two more heads.  What are personal pronouns they ask?  As I try explaining a personal pronoun to them, I realize that the problem is deeper than I thought, they actually don’t know pronouns and many seem to have never heard of the word.  What, how did you get out of early elementary school without knowing the parts of speech, I wonder and shake my head in sadness.

What are some of your grammar pet peeves?  Do you have a better solution for teaching grammar? If so, please share as I am open to any new ideas I can garner.  Thanks

Diagramming Sentences

One of the reasons I chose the blog name “Musings of an old English Teacher” is because I consider myself to be a bit old fashioned when it comes to teaching.  There are several methods, concepts, etc. that have gone away and are no longer taught, but I believe that they actually were a good thing and we are missing out on them.  One of those is diagramming sentences.


I loved diagramming sentences and looked forward to any day that we were able to do this in class.  No this wasn’t hard, in fact, I found it more like a puzzle or a logic puzzle. As long as you knew the parts of speech and a sentence you would have no problem putting this together.  I do believe that diagramming a sentence was a visual activity for those students that needed a picture instead of just reading it.  This helped you to see what words were what part and to put everything together.  When you learned to diagram sentences your sentences made sense.

Now instead we complain that people can’t write a coherent sentence. Maybe if we spent more time in the upper elementary and middle school years diagramming sentences we wouldn’t have this problem.

Does anyone else miss this as much as I do?  If there is something that you miss from the previous time periods what is it?  Why do you miss it?

A Lazy Catholic

One of my goals with this blog is to write about my life as an English/Language Arts teacher. Today I want to share about something that I found to be kind of funny.  The other day during class something was said and one of my students that had gone to the catholic elementary school in town chimed in with do you know what we call Lutherans?  Of course, since I am LCMS, I had to say no, what?  She then told me that they call us lazy catholics.  Of course I wondered about this and asked her why.  She said it is because we don’t kneel as much as the catholics.  Without even thinking I responded with and my knees are thankful for that.

Now I know that we can get into a big debate about religion and the differences and that is not what I want for my little corner of the web. I want this taken strictly as it was meant, a student sharing some humor with her Language Arts 10 teacher. The concept has come up a couple of times since, with a shared smile and or small laugh between us.

I think it is important for students to know that as teachers we care about them outside of the constraints of our subject matter and how well they do in class. They need to see us as adults that care about them.  For some of my students, the teachers at school may be some of the only adults that the student sees during the day or that the student knows cares about them.  Seeing us as a caring concerned adult helps the students to learn appropriate ways of working with and dealing with a person in charge.  A skill that most of them will be needing in the not so distant future as they head off into the work world.

Thanks to my student M for providing me with this topic for my first classroom funny on my blog.

Normal life

The musical has ended, so we now return you to your normal life.

My daughter Kristen was in this year’s musical Cinderella.  The cast and crew started off nicely organized in December including a calendar for every day of January.  I loved this and was impressed.  However, that is when it ended.  Due to problems with the teacher/director, there wasn’t a calendar for the rest of the time, matter of fact there wasn’t much practice at all until about 3 weeks before opening night and then they took a week off for spring break.  Needless to say, this lead to a week of very late nights.  They would begin practice right after school ended (2:45) and wouldn’t be released until 8 or 8:30.  Then came Thursday -Sunday when the production and after activities would last until around 11:00.

Yesterday, it was so nice to have everyone home at a decent hour of the evening.  She is already trying to figure out how to play volleyball in the fall and be in the fall play.

The end or just the beginning

One of the things that bothers me at church is how people view confirmation, as a graduation or ending so to speak instead of a beginning.  Some people also look at graduation (high school, college, etc.) in the same way.  They are now done learning, but as we know you should never stop learning.

The same thing could be said for this blog, I did it, I made it to the end of the month and didn’t miss a day.  I have graduated  and will come back next March to repeat.  I didn’t want to just end my daily blogging, so when I read on someone else’s slice (I don’t remember who) about an A-Z April blog challenge, I decided to try and continue with my blogging using this challenge. So starting tomorrow, through the month of April, my goal is to blog alphabetically about books.  I went through my goodreads account and was able to come up with books that I have read and enjoyed at some point in my life for every letter of the alphabet except X and Z.  If you have any recommendations of a book whose title begins with either X or Z, please let me know so that I can try and read the book before we get to the end of the month.

I hope you will stay with me through this next blogging journey.

Two Teachers

A few of my students today were wondering why I make them use the AEA search sites instead of allowing them to just google things.  I was telling them that it was so that when they went to college, they would know how to use the scholarly search engines and not be at a loss.  One of them asked me why this was so important to me.  I quickly told her about my English 11 and British Literature teacher and how her goal was that none of her students would go to college unprepared.  I struggled somewhat in her classes, but discovered when I went to college that I was much more prepared for the rigor of college than many of my classmates.  Classes they struggled with, I found fairly easy.  She pushed us beyond our limits and I remember struggling to do well in her class and really wanting a good grade from her.  While she had high expectations, she would also encourage us and tell us not to give up.  Sometimes I would get so confused in her class, but thanks to her encouragement and belief in me, I never gave up and ended up doing well in college. We gave her a nickname, the Hulk, but it wasn’t out of disrespect, but out of respect that we called her this.  Thanks Carla Hultgren.

This then brought to mind my English 10 teacher, Mr. Morrison.  We not so respectfully called him Mr. Moose.  He spoke in a monotone voice and still used the bell curve to grade.  His policy was to give 2 A’s per class, 3 B’s, a bunch of C’s and then 3 D’s and 2 F’s.  It didn’t matter what your percentage was, this was how it would be played out.  I remember him calling me to his desk towards the end of  a grading period to let me know that I would be getting a B.  He told me that in a regular class this would be an A, but he only gave 2 A’s.  I tried so hard to get out of his class, but not only would the office not allow me to switch, he called my parents and ended up talking to my dad, who of course then punished me for causing problems and not be a good student in class.  Mr. Moose was also the person responsible for my only trip to the office and 3 day in school suspension. Thankfully the assistant principal at the time, told me that he wouldn’t give me the suspension, but I had to spend the rest of the class period in the office. All of this for leaving my textbook at home.  His outer office was right next to the side door that staff came in and out of the building for.  I was never so embarrassed as to have people see me sitting in his office.

Two teachers that both left a lasting impression on me.