Today’s guest blogger is Jeanne Bohannon (see end of post for bio).
A thread came across the WPA listserv last week that reminded me of a post I wrote a couple of years ago (Multimodal Mondays: No Fear Gramm(r) and Students' Top 5 Lists for Rhetorical Growth), which described a low stakes grammar assignment using Andrea's Writer's Help diagnostics and her Top 20 Student Grammar Mistakes. I have used Writer's Help to create individualized exercises for upper-division writing majors as well as to measure rhetorical growth with first-year writers. In my classes we call it “No Fear Gramm(r),” deciding to intentionally misspell/(re)spell the word in order to indicate the no fear aspect of the label. As students increasingly ask for prescriptive grammar help in their writing courses while simultaneously seeking assistance in applying those conventions across digital writing genres, I have found the below series of tasks beneficial for both generating conversation and demonstrating the transformative uses of digital grammar.
No Fear Gramm(r) is a low-stakes opportunity to use traditional diagnostic tools to create dialogic growth and community. In a class of eight professional writing majors, students not only take the diagnostic, but they then share their top five grammar issues with each other in a discussion forum, responding to coursemates and finding commonalities among everyone’s usage mistakes.
Students take a Grammar Diagnostic from Writer's Help 2.0 for Lunsford Handbooks. I don’t assign points to this assignment, but I talk with students on the first and second days of class about how we will use the results as departure points for the entire semester to grow specific qualities of our grammar usage. Although I don’t use the Gradebook option, Writer's Help does have one, so you can assign and grade the Diagnostic as well as the accompanying grammar exercises.
Measurable Learning Objectives
- Examine results of a grammar diagnostic for areas of improvement
- Compare diagnostic results to others’ in an open discussion forum
- Synthesize content-meaning through dialogic writing and shared semantics
Background Reading for Students and Instructors
Acts of reading and viewing visual texts are ongoing processes for attaining learning goals in dialogic, digital writing assignments. Below, I have listed a few foundational texts. You will no doubt have your own to enrich this list.
Writer's Help 2.0 for Lunsford Handbooks: “Diagnostics”
Before Class: Student and Instructor Preparation
My students and I run this writing assignment during the first week of the semester as a low-stakes icebreaker and departure point for semester-long evaluation. To prepare, I embed the Writer's Help link in our class LMS as a Newsfeed item; I also email students before the first day of class with the same link and an explanation of what we are going to do.
In Class and/or Out
Students begin by posting and discussing their perceived Top 5 grammar issues in our course LMS. They then join our Writer's Help course and take the Diagnostic Pre-test. You can either have students complete the diagnostic in-class if you teach in a writing lab or have them complete the assignment on their own. I have tried both and have found better results when students work on this assignment outside of class. Since this assignment is low-stakes, I really only care about their authentic participation, however I can elicit it.
After students receive their results (immediate), they write up a comparison of their top five grammar issues versus their perceived ones, then post them, along with a reflection, in our online discussion forum. They interact with classmates in the forum, seeking out connections and discussing why these issues exist. We re/group in our face-to-face class the next week and examine interesting conclusions together. Students keep their Top Fives at-hand as they work through informal and formal writing opportunities during the semester. They also take a post-test diagnostic at the end of the semester to measure their growth in their Top 5 errors.
This semester I have thirty students (two are non-native speakers), and the results showed many commonalities. The Top Five below represents elements of grammar reported by all students, in order of descending occurrence.
- Comma Usage
- Specific uses of Punctuation
- Sentence Structure/verbs
Interestingly, #3 (pronouns) was the #1 mistake in 2015, when I last measured these grammar elements for this blog. Comma usage shows up #1 this time, and was missing in 2015 altogether. Students still report issues with verbs, semicolons, and specific uses of punctuation.
Do Students Appreciate It as Much as I Do?
Every student I surveyed in an IRB-approved assessment of this assignment series reported that they learned more about their own specific grammar concerns by taking the diagnostic pre-test. Accordingly, all of them thought their syntax-level grammar improved on the post-tests because they knew their specific concerns up-front.
Students further narrated their thoughts regarding the grammar diagnostic:
"The Grammar Diagnostics helped me better understand where my grammatical problems lay. For the most part, everything made sense in understanding why a convention that I used was incorrect and what the better one was, but some of the questions in the diagnostic seemed a little questionable. The only other thing about the Diagnostic that I didn't like so much was that it was multiple choice driven, which does not reflect the actual grammatical process of writing a research paper or other scholarly activity."
"My only concern is that I wish it included a longer pool of observation in the questions. For instance, I don't think that three questions concerning comma usage is enough evidence to prove if I am skilled or not at using them. Also, there should be extensive explanation of 'why' I answered a question wrong and what would be the correct answer and 'why' that answer would be correct. I just wish it had deeper explanations attached to each wrong answer."
"I feel they help to identify errors I've made a habit of using/not using."
"I think the Grammar Diagnostics is a great tool and should be introduced earlier in a college course. There are so many grammar 'rules' you should have learned in high school, but never do."
For me, low-stakes writing means “no worry” opportunities, where students can write and discuss their rhetorical concerns openly, without fear of grading or making mistakes. This assignment is multimodal because students use real-time ed-tech to see a snapshot of their grammar issues and then participate in digital forums to connect with other students about the same concerns. “No Fear Gramm(r)” counts for me, in terms of multimodal composition, because it encourages students to reflect on their own writing practices and become active participants in community-driven, digital conversations about writing. Try the assignment and let me know what you think!
Do you have an idea for a Multimodal Mondays activity or post? Contact Leah Rang for a chance to be featured on Andrea's blog.
Jeanne Law Bohannon is an Assistant Professor of English in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Kennesaw State University. She believes in creating democratic learning spaces, where students become stakeholders in their own rhetorical growth though authentic engagement in class communities. Her research interests include evaluating digital literacies and critical engagement pedagogies; performing feminist rhetorical recoveries; and growing informed and empowered student scholars. Reach Jeanne at: firstname.lastname@example.org and www.rhetoricmatters.org