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The Writer and The Sentence: A Critical Grammar Pedagogy Valuing the Micro

Lisa Delpit points out that when process pedagogues ignore grammar in their teaching of writing, they further the achievement gap between students of a variety of backgrounds. She then argues for a grammar/skills based pedagogy rather than process pedagogy in order to bridge the language differences students bring to the classroom. On the other hand, progressive-minded educators deeply question if skills pedagogy could ever transform unjust social conditions and relationships. Grammar pedagogy may potentially empower an individual's chance at social mobility, but what about the need for social change and respecting language diversity? Both sides of this important debate assume that grammar is a skill and that to teach grammar to writers is skills-based teaching. I challenge these assumptions in my qualitative teacher inquiry, prompted by this question: What difference would it make if the way I practiced grammar became more in tune with my beliefs about critical literacy practice? My dissertation takes up this question by arguing for a curriculum that links grammar and critical thinking and reporting on a qualitative study of this curriculum in action in my Basic Writing classroom. For this curriculum, I consciously engage theoretical micro-perspectives informed by a social semiotic view of grammar and language, explained in my dissertation as Critical Grammar. Such theoretical ground builds on the pedagogical grammars of Martha Kolln and Laura Micciche as well as the critical classroom and research practices of Min-Zhan Lu and Roz Ivanic. I then research Critical Grammar, my theoretical term, through a case study approach to my classroom, specifically through inductive, comparative analysis of how writers discuss sentence-level options and drawn on arhetorical, rhetorical, and critical reasoning in sentence workshops. My case study methodology helps me discover the effects of such discussions on a writer's final draft. Each case traces the process of composing and revising the sentence from first to final draft of an essay, drawing from the writer's process reflections, feedback from me and peers, and class workshop discussions of the sentence. In this way, the mini-cases capture how writers authorized themselves and responded to each other in ethical and resourceful ways. These case studies challenge notions that a teacher's knowledge of grammar should be in service of identifying error patterns and teaching editing skills. In sentence workshops, writers take responsibility for their sentence-level choices and authorize themselves through their ideas, often resulting in dynamic class discussions that inform their writing in a range of ways, the least of which is error reduction. In discussing choices of wording or arrangement, for instance, they would link to issues of a writer's ethos, questions of who/what has the authority for setting language standards, and cultural beliefs. At the same time, based in this research, errors were found to be implicit in Critical Grammar, leading toward further consideration concerning the function of error in Critical Grammar pedagogy. Finally, Critical Grammar was determined to be most successful when it complemented the ideological aspects to an existing curricular perspective on language.
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