In second grade I spent far too much time talking to other children in my pod of four desks. My teacher moved me to sit across from a quiet boy–Bernie Mo. It didn’t matter. I talked to him too. I don’t know how I remember his name because I don’t remember my teacher’s name or any of the subjects she tried to teach me. When I got my report card my dismal grade in spelling reflected my level of (rather lack of) learning.
Looking at the grade, I finally decided to take my education seriously, though spelling and grammar never became strong subjects for me. In HS, after twice acing an advanced creative writing class, my teacher suggested I take a basic class in grammar. Sigh.
Actually people call it grammar when they include syntax. A basic difference (how I help my students differentiate) is grammar includes the correct use of words (Lori and I plan to go skiing. vs. Me ‘n Lori plan to go skiing.) (“Why is Lori so mean?” my mom would ask.) Syntax is more the construction of sentences. I’m actually very good at dissecting sentence, but my Idaho roots still haunt my grammar.
My enjoyment with syntax is contagious. At a training last summer several teachers expressed that their students hated to diagram sentences. I tried not to gasp. I’d never encountered that problem. In fact, a mother of one of my students that I tutor in language and math recently told me about a form her 13-year-old son filled out. (This young man is athletic, responsible, a handsome charmer, ambitious and makes friends easily.) One of the questions asked him what his favorite school subjects were. He wrote, “guitar and diagramming sentences.” See, contagious.
Just yesterday I had a room of students diagramming the simple structure of subject / linking verb / predicate adjective: “The eight skinny boys were belching.” They clambered to have turns at the board.
Side note: a fellow teacher once told me that Steve Jobs said (I haven’t been able to find the quote, but I keep passing it on) that he wished more students learned to diagram sentences because it taught analytical thinking and problem solving. Whether he said so or not, he should have. It’s so true.
Still, these many years later, my 2nd grade scores squash my confidence. I have studied spelling rules to aid what doesn’t come instinctively. You know those people that have always been great spellers? (Let’s have a moment where we all stick our tongues out at them.) They are usually strong visual learners. The rest of us have to learn rules and etymologies. Just this last summer I finally learned to spell diligence without spell check correcting it. Because it comes from a Greek word, there is only one L. Oh.
For those of you who enjoy grammar and syntax, here’s a quiz posted by The Pioneer Woman. Take it and see how you do. (There are no rules, and I admit there was one question I had to look up–I wasn’t sure about the different types of pronouns.) Unfortunately the contest is over, but the good part is, the answers are now available. Although I didn’t win a prize, I was glad to see I’ve come a long way since 2nd grade. I was one of the 403 out of 10,061. I’ll take that. (Just don’t ask me to figure what percent that is.)