Teachers at Work

A column about teaching

The Problem with Punctuation: Some Classroom Findings

In a previous column, "The Problem with Punctuation," I told you I'd report back my findings on teaching grammar and punctuation a little differently. Now I have some findings and thoughts I can share.

First, the key to flipping the grammar classroom is student engagement. My more active learners, described best as those who care and don't miss doing assignments, reported that they really liked doing the online work. They reported that they learned and found the interactive quizzes and explanations helpful. My middle of the road students, best described as those who don't necessarily want to do homework but will do it begrudgingly, were more hit or miss. Sometimes they worked. Sometimes they didn't, and when I came around to check their printouts, they didn't have anything to show me. My bottom tier students, best described as those for whom homework is not an option, never did the work at all.

During class discussions, I mixed up the kids and had them discuss what they missed. If students didn't do the work, they could look over on a partner's paper. Then, the groups asked me the questions on which they either couldn't reach consensus or on which they wanted further explanation. What I often did following this was to then give them an additional handout of about 10 questions over the given grammar topic. They would each do the handout individually, and then they would compare answers and discuss who was right and who was wrong. After this, then I would go over the correct answers and the reasons those answers were correct. This appeared very effective as it made learning grammar like a game. We would also practice writing sample sentences.

The second semester I had my students use on online website called Study Island (my school pays for this). They did 40-question assessment. Improvement was seen in the area of parallelism and comparisons, but more work was needed in clarity. However, clarity was an area we did not specifically focus on during the previous online sessions.

Anecdotal feedback from my students showed that they felt that the flipped lessons helped them improve. Next, we applied their learning to the ACT test by taking a real ACT test from ACT's "Preparing for the ACT" booklet. Overall from the pretest, my students showed about a three-point gain between their first score and their second score. Approximately 38 percent thought they improved on the English test, and those who didn't wrote in their feedback "I was tired" or "I didn't really try because I just took the real ACT in February." So I have higher hopes for the actual "it can be sent to colleges" ACT my school is giving all juniors in April.

So, what have I learned from all this and how can you apply it to your classroom? First, you need to have student interest. If your students do not have access to the Internet, they will need to have alternative ways to get the work done. You also need to have some sort of consequence for not having the work done and some way to track it. Just having a quiz each day isn't enough—those who think they know it already are just going to wing it and not do the prep work. Second, you need to find a way for students to quickly see results in either their writing or on quizzes. My students who saw this told others, and this in turn motivated others. After all, at the junior level, it has to be cool to do grammar. I also suggest bringing in fun things, like find grammar mistakes that are made in the real world. Jay Leno used to do headlines, and we'd look at some of these. Collect the mistakes you see in print, etc. and share these.

Finally, one thing I'd do differently is send out reminders. I gave out three weeks of assignments and due dates at a time so that kids could pace themselves, but often they'd get sidetracked and forget. So if you use a program like Schoology, send out reminders. Yes, they should remember—after all, that's like college—but they are still high school kids who let life get in the way.

So, in essence, I do plan on continuing this project next year. However, I will refine it and tweak it—all while trying to make it relevant, fun, and meaningful.

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Michele Dunaway is an award-winning English and journalism teacher who, in addition to teaching English III, advises the student newspaper, yearbook and news website at Francis Howell High School in St. Charles, MO. In 2009, the Journalism Education Association awarded Michele with its Medal of Merit. She has received recognition as a Distinguished Yearbook Adviser in the H.L. Hall Yearbook Adviser of the Year competition and was named a Special Recognition Newspaper Adviser by the Dow Jones News Fund. She also practices what she teaches by authoring professional journal articles and writing novels. Click here to read more articles by Michele Dunaway.