You Are a Proper Noun

Have you seen it? It’s there: The savvy font sitting at the bottom of your television flaunting lowercase letters at the beginning of names and places. The loosening of grammar in emails, dropping to texting standards. The lowercase letter atop a Doc announcing the name of your student. Think about it. Everywhere we look we can see shifts in the conventions of the English language. And while teachers continue to push students into using appropriate mechanics, the digital domain, along with mainstream and social media, is pulling students into a world full of grammar gaffes.

Of course, whether this is cause for alarm or celebration is a matter of perspective. For a closer look at the debatable future of the English language, I boarded the Google express and hopped across the pond to The Telegraph where I was struck by an article from August 2013. Perhaps vexed by popular culture’s assault on its language, England’s government was tightening its grip on the teaching of linguistic rules and requiring all eleven-year-olds to take an exam in spelling, punctuation, and grammar. In stark contrast, Sugata Mitra, professor of education at Newcastle University and renown TED-talker, was calling for the end of teaching students proper grammar in favor of letting them learn from their own context. He poses, “If there is a generation who believe that SMS language is a better way of expressing emotion than our way, then are we absolutely sure that they are making a mistake and we are not?” Trailing the article titled “Lessons in spelling ‘have no place in 21st century schools’” (notice the apropo title style) were 449 comments, the bulk of which were discordant. The citizens of England had spoken; they wanted their language intact!

“This emphasis on grammar and spelling, I find it a bit unnecessary because they are skills that were very essential maybe a hundred years ago but they are not right now.”  

– Professor Sugata Mitra, Times Educational Supplement

Where do you stand? As a teacher of tweeners, I constantly find myself reminding students that they are proper nouns. At the hand of a keyboard their writing often defaults to a flood of words floating along a stream of lowercase letters. Absent is the structure they spent the last five years lovingly learning: the rules of grammar that make it possible for you to navigate in my stream of words right now. Though it appears that something is getting lost in the translation from pencil to pixel, the digital realm can also be seen as a defender of good grammar.

Enter No Red Ink. The site, devoted to making grammar fun, engages students by welcoming pop culture references. Teachers set up a class and choose which standards-based skills to diagnose. Students sign in through their Google accounts, join a class, and select interests ranging from the world of books, shows, history, and sports to the custom names of their pets and friends. As a result, students evaluate high-interest sentences targeting specific grammar skills while teachers track and manage their progress. The individualized program is self-paced and covers skills in grades K-12, making it the perfect tool for learning in school or at home. Check it out!

Needless to say, learning proper usage is just one part of the puzzle. While there are increasing degrees of language formality, young writers should be able to traverse these levels based on an understanding of audience and purpose. This may be the lesson of a lifetime. From college applications, to resumes, and even dating sites, poor grammar can mark the exception to one’s acceptance.

By: Stephanie Doty
 Technology Integration Coordinator
 Hopkins School
 @HopkinsTechLib / @BlendedTeaching

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