Let me preface by saying, yes, grammar is important. While students and even adults might find grammar dry or difficult to study, it serves to make communication as clear as possible to the audience. A lack of good grammar skills can make the speaker or writer seem less educated or less intelligent. Without these skills, the intended message might become unclear or misunderstood, and no one wants to be misunderstood by his or her audience.
However, good grammar does not necessarily guarantee good communication. Other important factors, such as clarity, accuracy, and creativity are essential elements of good writing. Educators who can recognize the different elements that comprise written and spoken communication and adjust their instruction strategies to fit the needs of individual students will see greater improvement from students.
Here are four reasons why writers should not be constrained by grammar:
- Ideas first, structure later
The most precise grammar in the world isn’t enough to cover up underdeveloped messages. Students who have trouble writing often have trouble with many of the processes of writing, not just grammar. The act of creating your own response to a stimulus and then putting your thoughts down on paper in a way that is clear and well-received is tricky! I often hear in my high school classrooms, “I know what I want to say, but I don’t know how to write it.” Someone struggling to find the words to clearly express themselves won’t benefit from worrying about commas and apostrophes, too. Instead of stressing perfect grammar, curriculum writers would do better to teach students to first develop solid answers to stimuli before correcting grammar choices.
- Grammar rules aren’t set in stone.
While there are some grammar rules that have been constant for ages, many others have evolved over time, and some are even in stages of change at the writing of this post. Even the period at the end of a sentence could become obsolete or develop a different meaning within the next years according to several recent articles (check one article out here), despite its being considered a staple of punctuation. This is a great opportunity for educators to help students explore the complexity and evolution of grammar rules; instead of requiring perfect grammar from the start, let’s allow students to understand why some of these changes have occurred, and what it means to write with clarity in the 21st century.
- Perfect grammar isn’t always appropriate.
Yes, you read that right. Sometimes perfect grammar isn’t the best choice. Students need to learn the nuances of communicating with different audiences, including informal writing or speech. Sticking too closely to grammar rules can make communication feel clunky, disingenuous, or pretentious. Take, for example, the sentence “Who do you think you’re talking to?” Ending a sentence with a preposition is usually a grammar faux pas, but using the corrected “To whom do you think you’re talking?” just doesn’t have the same effect. Of course, some people are sticklers for good grammar in every situation, and that’s just part of their personal communication style. Instructional designers and educators should address word choice, tone, style, and grammar mastery, including how to write in appealing and appropriate ways for different audiences. Curriculum writers should encourage students to consider the expectations of their audience, and use those expectations to guide their communications while also developing their unique voice and style.
- Rules are made to be broken.
Going against grammar rules can be a striking way to emphasize a point. When writers have a solid knowledge of the basic rules of grammar, they should be able to explore. Some of the best writers of the English language broke grammar rules all the time—Shakespeare, William Faulkner, e e cummings, Emily Dickinson, and Jane Austen all went against conventional grammar rules to hone their personal writing styles. Grammar is just a tool to help someone express themselves. Let’s not hinder students from using these tools in creative or innovative ways.
What are some other reasons students should not feel constrained by grammar?
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