Monday, April 28, 2008

Writing courses

Time4Learning has been my main focus for awhile. It's this nifty automated educational system. After repeated requests, we have created another service, some online writing courses for kids. We've called it Time4Writing.

But, while there are less software issues, there are more other types of issues. What type of style guide do we rely on for the more technical questions of writing rules (such as a comma before the "and in a list)? Also, how do we manage the teachers? Do they get to spend as much time as they want per student.

The courses have been fun to pull together but this has created issues. For instance:

For a review middle school course, we help the students write different kinds of sentences: declarative, interrogatory, exclamatory, and imperative. One of our teachers says that some imperative sentences could be said with force and punctuated with an exclamation point.

The other teacher was shocked. She quickly pointed out the need for consistency and that in fact, by definition, once there is an exclamation point, the sentence becomes by definition exclamatory. And they disagreed. Other teachers have long experience, quoted some experts, and was entrenched in their position.

Initially, I was not that involved. I thought: Who cares? (Is that an interrogatory sentence even if it's said as an exclamation?). The point is that we are teaching kids to be educated. They should understand something, not memorize rules. If the rules are unclear or vague, explain that. Tell them that experts disagree. That way they understand the principles and are prepared to deal with whatever future teachers want to insist on.

But that is a little counter to how the educational system works. We have both principles and rules. One teacher wrote me:

According to NCTE and all other "experts" that I have consulted over the last 48 hours, an exclamatory sentence is the ONLY type of sentence that ends with an exclamation point. That said, there are a very few sentences that can be both interpreted as exclamatory or imperative. BUT! an imperative sentence will only end with a period and never an exclamation point. If it has an exclamation point, it is an exclamatory sentence. A short sentence such as Duck! or Watch out! would be considered exclamatory because it implies impending danger. By the way, I spoke with a former English Department Chair and a college professor as well because I wanted to triple-check.

We can mention these certain exceptions to the middle school students, but it should be mentioned as a "by the way." Those students taking this course are remedial and you want to do as little as possible to confuse them, though the English language is confusing at best and ridiculous at worst! (That is an exclamation.) :-)

I am also speaking from experience with all of this as I taught this particular thing for many years over and over as it was a skill that students had to master in order to pass the Florida 8th Grade Assessment Test all through the 80's and into the 90's before the dreaded FCAT.


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