Statement of Problem
Most students in the third grade are struggling to learn and use punctuation effectively in their writing, which is evident by their below-standard conventions grades on the writing section of the DAPS and other measures of learning.
A number of solutions have been gleaned from the literature. Most teachers agree that isolated grammar drills are ineffective in the classroom, but to be an effective writer, the student needs to know grammatical conventions (Petruzzella, 1996). Teachers should view the teaching of grammar as providing students the tools they can use to produce or understand texts that are relevant to them and help students to see that grammar is a useful tool (Asselin, 2002).
The strategies of process writing, literature studies, and research projects provide meaningful frameworks for students to learn grammar. Another effective strategy would be to use meaningful language as contexts for instruction so that instruction is informal, needs-based, and significant to students (Asselin, 2002). Teachers also should design research projects for students that focus on grammar in their world, in their personal lives, classroom, communities, and the texts they read. They should also try to use these projects to support students’ critical thinking about grammar (Asselin, 2002). Effective instructors should teach students to focus on what punctuation does for a writer's text in informing the reader. Children should reflect upon how the punctuation marks they make offer cues to the reader (Hall, 1998).
A grammar delivery strategy that has had some success is based on the following premises: Students learn best when they teach knowledge or skills to someone else; it takes multiple exposures of a concept to reinforce learning; students will listen to another student more easily than they will listen to a teacher lecture; and learning takes place when students are active learners (Breznak & Scott, 2003). The teacher assigns students to a group with the task of teaching one of the lessons, consisting of 10 practice sentences, to the class. Students in the group are considered the “experts” for this lesson. The entire class must do the daily assignment prior to each group’s presentation. As the group presents, students correct their papers and ask questions (Breznak & Scott, 2003). This method supports the research that suggests studying formal grammar is less helpful to writers than simply discussing grammatical constructions and usage in the context of writing (Harris, 1962).
Another helpful strategy is to be sure that writing assignments have real purpose. To give students effective writing instruction, teachers need to teach two types of writing. Teachers should teach how to write for standardized-exams, as well as how to write for a real audience outside of the classroom. Once students write for real people and real life situations, the convention “rules” are determined not by the teacher but by the actual forum (Lindblom, 2004).
A single approach will be implemented for the purpose of improving the third grade students’ writing conventions. To improve students’ writing conventions scores, 24 students in a third grade class will receive instruction from the Fresh Approach to Teaching Punctuation curriculum, which incorporates the study of punctuation with studies in literature to build deeper understanding.