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Question for PAUSD High School Parents re Grammar Sentence Diagramming?

Original post made by Grammar?, Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Sep 16, 2012

For parents whose children have gone all the way from elementary school through high school in the Palo Alto Unified School District, were your children ever taught sentence diagramming in their language arts or English classes? How much formal grammar instruction do you recall your children receiving?

I am the parent of an elementary student and I can't see the evidence of a whole lot of grammar instruction from looking over my student's work, with the exception, perhaps, of learning the parts of speech. (Although, when I queried my child the other day, my child couldn't tell me what a preposition is.)

As I recall, the SAT has a fair number of grammatically related questions. How are kids preparing for SAT grammar in high school? Do PAUSD language arts and English classes prepare them well enough, or are high school parents having to play catch up with kids to get them ready for the SAT?





Comments (21)

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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 16, 2012 at 9:45 am

I have a Paly graduate and a junior. Neither have diagrammed sentences or received much grammar (or writing for that matter) instruction.


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Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Sep 16, 2012 at 10:22 am

Maybe they still do that some places, but I don't recall my kids ever doing it here (or back east). Didn't seem to hurt them on the SAT.

I found the writing instruction was a function of teachers. Particularly at the high school level some did good close review/editing of papers. The papers weren't long or complicated, but the students did learn to express thoughts and make arguments in coherent sentences and paragraphs. Prior to high school I didn't see much thoughtful written work, though they did do a few short papers with multiple drafts to teach them a writing process.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 16, 2012 at 3:10 pm

I don't think my kids have learned much grammar. However, I don't think they have done very much reading of literature with well composed English.

Some of the reading material they study is written in some type of pidgin English, with poor sentence structure, poor grammar and poor spelling.

This tends to teach them that it doesn't matter how it is written if the work is original thought. Monkey says, monkey do, or in this case monkey read, monkey write.

The best way to improve English grammar, is to teach a foreign language starting at elementary level, particularly latin and latin based languages. I found that it was only when I was learning foreign grammar that I understood its importance in my own language.

Diagramming sentences is a useful exercise, but it doesn't teach the importance of grammar to the average student apart from its simplest form. The practice of reading good literature and prose, particularly reading out loud, really does help. When your student has finished an essay or paper, having them read it out loud as if they were on a stage, gets them to "hear" whether it makes good sense or not.


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Posted by here's an idea
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 16, 2012 at 9:08 pm

if you don't think your child is receiving this instruction, teach it at home. You know... be a parent.


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Posted by Midtowner
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 16, 2012 at 9:15 pm

They do not diagram. They learn very little grammar. It actually hurts them not just in English, but subsequently also when learning foreign languages that require more grammar knowledge. I tutor Paly students in a foreign language and can tell you that they don't know what the different kinds of words / sentence elements are. Unfortunately. It would so much help their study of foreign languages if they did. Never mind their English.


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Posted by Perspective
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Sep 17, 2012 at 6:23 am

Nope. No diagramming, little sentence structure, little grammar. Taught this at home.


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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 17, 2012 at 9:20 am

Did Shakespeare diagram his sentences?


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Posted by Paly Alum
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 17, 2012 at 1:36 pm

Sentence diagramming is overrated and is not necessary for success on the SAT.

Back in the day, PAUSD had excellent English teachers in the 70s-80s, but those days are gone. All the Paly alums of my years have fantastic writing skills. However, due to the teachers actually teaching us how to write, assigned papers, and corrected and returned our papers back to us with corrections.

Teachers nowadays have students exchange papers for peer corrections. How can another student in the same grade level correct another's paper?

Other teachers return papers with very few corrections or NO CORRECTIONS at all.

Sure, there are some dedicated teachers who spend time correcting, but very few, and a lot less corrections are noted than back in my day.

Computers were invented and everyone is busier nowadays. However, I think it is an obligation for English teachers to spend time correcting papers because it is part of their job.

How can our children learn to write? We must help them or enroll them in extra classes.

We learned about gerunds, prepositions, etc. but does it really matter? Writing practice/teacher corrections will teach students to write properly.

If you really want to be shocked, look at some of the postings online from the rest of the nation. Scary.


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Posted by Kate
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 17, 2012 at 11:20 pm

I suggest that some of those posting comments go back to school and learn correct sentence structure!


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Posted by Grammar?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 18, 2012 at 6:01 pm

QUOTE: "if you don't think your child is receiving this instruction, teach it at home. You know... be a parent."

I posted my question in order to help me determine if I need to do this. I am already tutoring my child after school to make up for the Everyday Math curriculum. Now, I guess that I will have to teach my child grammar and writing, as well.

For the record, I don't think that sentence diagramming is the be-all and end-all of grammar instruction. However, it does provide students with insight into the structure of sentences. I would like my child to learn how to write complex, interesting and grammatically correct sentences. Sentence diagramming is one too toward that end.


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Posted by Grammar?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 18, 2012 at 6:04 pm

One "tool" toward that end. I guess I didn't press the "l" hard enough.


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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 18, 2012 at 6:28 pm

I remember vividly my '71 Cubberley English teacher railing over the decline of students' general knowledge and language skills in particular. Taking four years of German sure helped me understand the technical intricacies of grammar and sentence construction. In response to the original question, I've found that standardized tests are best approached as if they are a competitive sport. Focused coaching and practice practice practice can really improve a score, but only when the interest and desire are present.


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Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 18, 2012 at 6:32 pm

I used to have to diagram sentences when I was in school as a kid.

I think it is a real shame this is not taught in school, if it is indeed not taught in school.

Grammar is a very important subject, not just for English sentences, but in a mathematical and scientific sense. Understanding how to deconstruct meaning encoded in symbols, be they verbal, written or computer programs is a skill that everyone on the planet needs and learning sentence diagramming in that context can be helpful for that.

I imagine this might just be above the teaching ability or the learning ability of most California students these days. Schools do seem to be turning into day care centers.

I try to think of all the things that are just not even bothered with these days. I thought of Civics, i.e.. citizenship, when I heard some of the speeches at the recent DNC. We should be getting better in the amount and quality of skills we teach kids these days ... it seems like the opposite. Then we pile idiotic and useless subjects on them that do not help or prepare them for life. Why?


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Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 18, 2012 at 6:40 pm

> Writing practice/teacher corrections will teach students to write properly.

Well while I am at it I have to say this ain't so! ;-)

In fact a friend of mine with English being their "third" language was taking a history class a t the college level. She was taking an American history class for her degree. She was asking me for some help understanding her history textbook on the Civil War.

I read some of the text. To me it seemed intelligible, but when I started to realize how many American idioms this book had in it it seemed like a time bomb for any non-English speaker, or even an English speaker without an understanding of sayings and idioms. Putting myself in her position of trying to get through school that was so biased in the texts and methods used to teach student I realized just how instititions can be used to keep people out to discriminate against people just because they might no understand cultural or speech phraseology that in my opinion has no business being in a history book that non-expert English speakers might not understand.


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Posted by Here's another idea
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Sep 18, 2012 at 7:38 pm

@Grammar? Don't let "here's an idea's" rude, nasty post bother you. This board is full of trolls and a lot of people post just to be jerks, and others just come to rubberneck the car crash. Here's another idea: why don't we have mandatory registration on this board so that people have to reveal their identity to the moderator at least. That should cut down on mean, nasty, critical, flaming, trolls like "idea" who just wanted to make Grammar feel bad for no good reason. What is the point of "you know...be a parent" if it is not to embarrass, shame, humiliate, and bully the original poster and why why why does the Weekly which is otherwise a pretty good paper maintain this anonymous board which fosters this kind of incivility and meanness. What about that was necessary? Why is the comment still posted? You know...be a moderator.


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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 19, 2012 at 8:18 am

Posted by Anon., a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, 13 hours ago

> > Writing practice/teacher corrections will teach students to write properly.

> Well while I am at it I have to say this ain't so! ;-)

In my experience the best way to learn to write well is to be taught by someone, usually a schoolteacher, who writes well. As an aside, I was taught how to diagram sentences somewhere in there-- fifth grade I think. A fad at the time, and, in my opinion, then and now, a waste of time. I agree with most everyone that having students correct each other's English papers is problematic.


>In fact a friend of mine with English being their "third" language >was taking a history class a t the college level. She was taking an >American history class for her degree. She was asking me for some >help understanding her history textbook on the Civil War.

>I read some of the text. To me it seemed intelligible, but when I >started to realize how many American idioms this book had in it it >seemed like a time bomb for any non-English speaker, or even an >English speaker without an understanding of sayings and idioms. >Putting myself in her position of trying to get through school that >was so biased in the texts and methods used to teach student I >realized just how institutions can be used to keep people out to >discriminate against people just because they might no understand >cultural or speech phraseology that in my opinion has no business >being in a history book that non-expert English speakers might not >understand.

I disagree. College texts, especially in the humanities, should be expected to be written at an advanced level. Every language is full of idioms. Do you think, for example, that French is easier? I don't fault your friend for trying, but, she clearly had some serious English gaps that she needed to fill.


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Posted by Mom
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Sep 19, 2012 at 9:29 pm

What is a good program to supplement grammar and writing?


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Posted by Beth
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 20, 2012 at 2:43 pm

None of my children learned grammar in the Palo Alto school system.
The first time my daughters had any formal grammar training was at Castilleja. When my youngest child was at Duveneck I commented to the school principal about the lack of grammar instruction. "You can't teach grammar in a public school," was his response. I attended public schools in White Plains, NY in the 1950s-1960s and had language arts instruction starting in secound grade.

I believe that PAUSD does not value grammar instruction.


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Posted by True
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Sep 20, 2012 at 3:05 pm

I agree, PAUSD generally doesn't value grammar instruction as far as I can see. I'm not sure I do either. I had some as a kid and later got some while learning Latin and French in high school. I have never seen the value, and most of the niceties I learned (pluperfect this and subjunctive that) don't do much for me.

Also, learning formal grammar has little or no relationship to learning to write or speak well, which is much more related to learning to think straight and express your thoughts clearly. I agree that practice, close editing, and feedback are key to that process.


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Posted by Depends on the teacher
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 21, 2012 at 12:14 am

My third grade child is learning sentence diagramming now and my other children learned it also. I agree that teacher feedback on writing is key to learning to write and sentence diagramming is not essential. As with all of academics, all learning depends on the teacher. Win some, lose some.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 24, 2012 at 5:42 pm

In what elementary school is your child learning sentence diagramming?


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