Comma Quandary

This week, we began, like we usually do, with a handout, some review, and some notes on a certain little piece of punctuation, the comma.   A couple, of kids, overuse, them, because, they, don’t, want, to bother, learning the rules.  A few students write and read at a much faster pace so they prefer to avoid using commas for they fear the comma will slow them down and they would lose the race to complete a paragraph before the other students.

I remember a young lady, Eva, who struggled with using commas correctly.  At first Eva would never use a comma.  As we progressed through the comma rules, she began to use them to separate any two adjectives like “white, tennis shoes.”  Technically and grammatically speaking, tennis is an adjective describing the type of shoes.  They are not running, walking, or soccer shoes.  So, it looks like a comma should go between “white” and “tennis.”  However, our “rules” say tennis shoes are considered one noun or thing.  How do I explain this to the non-tennis playing student?  Do I say “tennis shoes” are special?  Who invented these rules?  I use to think it was Miss Kindleberger, my freshman English teacher.  She had to have been 105 years old when I sat in her class, and she taught for about twenty more years after I graduated.

Now there is a blog by someone who says English teachers lie to students.  I take umbrage to this blog.  As if we made up the crazy rules like never end a sentence with a preposition.  Winston Churchhill responded to this rule with, “That is something I will not up with put.”  The reason for the rule is based on Latin rules.  Well, the spoken language died, so why don’t we let the rule expire also?

The truth is language changes.  Forsooth, tis true.  Wherefore wouldst thou thinkst it doth not?

Now, I am left to explain to Eva and her classmates that a comma goes here but not there.  I get to tell her every grammar rule is not absolute.  There are always exceptions.

How do I deal with this problem?  I allow the students to use their resources on quizzes, tests, and writing assignments.  Everything is open notes and open book.  After the millionth time looking up a rule, they will finally memorize it.   Or, they will learn to avoid that type of sentence construction when writing.  In addition, the tests are no longer an inhospitable and troublesome trepidation.  Instead, they become a way to show how well what has been learned can be applied.

The majority of workers have resources to help them do their jobs.  I do not work without resources.  Why should we handicap the students?

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Filed under 21st century skills, Education, Lessons from students, Measuring Student Success

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