Nancie Atwell, a chief proponent of the process approach to teaching writing for middle school students, recommends occasional 10-minute mini-lessons in grammar primarily for the purpose of fixing some usage error. (Her reasoning is that the indispensable, if not sole, means to becoming a better writer is to do personally meaningful writingas opposed to learning grammar as a means.)
Although my program would provide ideal subject matter for 10-minute mini-lessons, the primary instruction would have to be in the fundamentals of grammar (not in rules of usage); it would have to be virtually daily, not occasional, in occurrence; and it would have to be accompanied by extensive practice. It would have to include incrementally developed lessons on how sentences and their parts work and interact and would address usage errors only as sufficient background to understand and consistently apply them have been absorbed.
The philosophy of the proponents of the process approach to writing is that improvement in the mechanics of writing will take place with students’ heightened desire to make sure that their message is read and acted upon and without formal instruction in grammar. (There remains the troubling question as to whether such experiences can lead to the remedying of most, let alone all or the most serious, mistakes. Then there is the question of permanency of the error-free writing.) Is it not reasonable to believe, too, that any lasting improvement in the mechanics of writing might occur just for the brightest of students or for those immersed in correct usage of English in their homes?
My philosophy regarding mastery of writing on the part of middle school studentsin fact, all studentsis entirely different. My philosophy is that immersion in grammarthat is, an experiencing of the roles of the key parts of the sentence by means of hands-on strategies, strategies that initially involve the rearrangement of sentence partsis a prior and, for many (if not most) students, an indispensable means to self-confidence and competence in writing.
It is in light of this that I recommend that my grammar programin accompaniment with on-going composition workbe the initial component of any foundational writing program (and, therefore, of any middle school program). My teaching suggestions in the next section offer some insights.