Part of 4th grade’s curriculum at my school are grammar packets, or some sort of grammar lesson every week to ensure that students know the difference between verbs, nouns, adjectives and so forth. The idea of wrapping the lesson in a packet format meant less time needed to teach; all I had to do was introduce the various exercises and then assign the homework. Students would get a week to finish and then we moved on to the next topic. At the end of the year, after several eye rolls and disheartened moans from students when they realized it was time for grammar, lightning struck. Of course they hate grammar packets – I do too.
You see, packets can be fine when we need something to grade. However, if I am looking for a true learning experience, I cannot just assign something and then leave the students to their own devices. Learning must be shared, not handed out with a deadline. One student actually loved the packet; it was manageable, she knew that if she spelled everything correctly she would receive a good grade and most of the stuff she remembered from years prior. Some students saw them as a dreaded chore that they lumbered through and were happy with the grade they got. And then there were the kids that really needed to learn the grammar. Those kids lost the packet, would not realize they had lost it until the night before and would therefore hand in a half-finished product sometimes with pages missing, usually with the wrong answers because they had not understood the directions and had had no one to turn to for help. Those kids, the ones that really needed to learn, were not being given any favors by me or the packet.
Another aspect of the packet was the sheer number of points that I assigned to them; after all if a students was going to slave away over 5 pages of work then the points needed to be a reflection of that. Again, great for the students who had no problems with the topic or had help at home. Detrimental for the not so fortunate students. We don’t give a separate grammar grade in 4th grade, we lump it under writing. And yes, understanding and using correct grammar is a vital step to being an accomplished writer, but the point value was so high that the packets counted toward a bigger piece of their grade than their actual writing. One student who was a very creative writer and used verbs and nouns correctly, could not identify them in a packet, even with help. But his ears told him how a sentence should sound so how do you grade that?
So under the constraints of having to teach grammar, I started to ponder, then how? We have a grammar book available which is kind of like the packet, except in a book form. So I knew that the book would not be my solution. The book does offer one thing though which is what the topics are that need to be taught, so that’s a help. A solution came form an article I read, which I regretfully did not bookmark, in which the teacher described handing digital cameras to her students and having them search for nouns, verbs etc throughout the school. Now that is hands-on-learning. While not every grammar topic lends itself to the digital image – difference between an action verb and a helping verb as an example- this represents a start for me. A new idea where students are assigned a quest and they have to represent their answer somehow to their fellow students. I set up the learning, we discuss it and then with scaffolding, off they go. I only have my own digital camera but I am hoping to write grants for more or to come up with other methods for teaching the fundamentals of writing. Using Wordia and Voki keeps popping into my thoughts as well. Anyone out there with other thoughts or ideas? I refuse to believe I am the only one trying to escape packets.