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Reid on writing: TESL guest lecturer

Special to Kalamalama by Steven W. Carruthers

Oct. 28, at Warmer Auditorium, Dr. Joy Reid, instructor of composition and linguistics at the University of Wyoming, presented a thought-provoking lecture to interested HPU faculty and students. While “Grammar in the Composition Classroom” might not appeal immediately to those outside the field, the substance of her comments can be applied by teachers, writers, and second language learners of English.

 

“Fluency—on the outside—is not as important as accuracy,” Reid said. Often, grammar errors which do not obscure meaning are temporarily ignored by TESOL instructors; whereas, the same mistakes in punctuation or article use are considered grievous outside the English as a Second Language classroom.

Reid espoused the position that before teachers launch into extensive grammar instruction, they should examine the cost-benefit ratio. Through a prioritization of errors, teachers can avoid expending class time for learner difficulties best resolved individually over a period of months or even years. Reid’s advice: “Nongrievous errors should not contaminate the content.”

Meanwhile, instructors still need to prepare students for what is expected in academic discourse as well as what is demanded beyond the academic setting. Reid advised: “Get students comfortable with the kinds of writing tasks they are going to use.” In order for them to become better writers, Reid has had her own students study the requirements of a targeted genre or discipline, not perform the more traditional literary analysis of famous works.

Ultimately, the responsibility of becoming a better writer of English lies with the student. Reid recommended that instructors aid in the identification of individuals’ difficulties and suggest avenues for improvement. For example, Reid advised teachers to have students use grammar Web sites for drills in article or preposition use instead of using valuable class time.

Much of what Reid shared came as no surprise to the audience. Teachers of composition continually strive to balance the students’ needs for fluency and grammatical accuracy. And most, as Reid emphasized, “Teach what they need.”

 

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