Hartwell's "Grammar, Grammars, and the Teaching of Grammar"

Hartwell, Patrick. "Grammar, Grammars, and the Teaching of Grammar." The Norton Book of Composition Studies. Ed. Susan Miller. New York: Norton, 2009. 563-583. Print.


Hartwell seems weary of the grammar issue.  He notes throughout his essay that educational research finds that "the formal study of grammar" does not improve "writing quality nor control over surface correctness" (564). 

Hartwell writes about five varied definitions of grammar and how the differences create confusion (566-567).  He refers to "Grammar 1" as "The Grammar in Our Heads": our unconscious knowledge of how to use our native language, which we help develop through literacy development (568-570).  "Grammar 2" describes how "Grammar 1" works: rules, models, and explanations; however, research has failed to demonstrate its practicality (571-573). Hartwell suggest that rather than trying to use the "Grammar 2" rules as a basis for student improvement in composition, educators might better focus their time on helping students develop "metalinguistic awareness" (577).  Hartwell argues that such awareness results from students' active engagement with language, using it like "clay" to play with while exploring social contexts--not just exploring grammar rules themselves (578-579).

Finally, Hartwell invites his peers to "move on to more interesting areas of inquiry," as he feels that the grammar question has been discussed exhaustively (381).



Patrick Hartwell does not want to teach rules. I think he wants to play with words and marvel at the power of language, and how we know our language more deeply than we can consciously understand, let alone study or describe.

I want to do that too. It's fun to play with language. Why? Rhythm and rhyme grant a wonderful time. Why?

Maybe some people don't like it--don't like rhyming or writing--maybe those were the people who got marked down for starting a sentence with "Because" and leaving a a dependent clause hanging. Like we do. When we talk.

How many people hate English (the academic subject) because they don't like spelling? Someone told me once that he hated English because it's not fair to fail an assignment because of the rules about the margins.

I think we all understand at this point why MLA guidelines are important, but it is a shame that there are probably thousands of people who never really learned what English studies is all about, because they got turned off by the inconvenience of margins. Marginalienation.

Imagine if we had different words for "grammar" or if "Grammar 1" and "Grammar 2" were commonly understood distinctions. Or if we had different terms, commonly understood, for the English we speak around town and the English of English departments. It's sort of ironic, isn't it, that we don't have enough words for this. Or do we?

But I actually have another question--I'm interested in hearing the class's experience with grammar instruction. Do you remember learning rules in the classroom? Through lecture? Exercises? Worksheets? Corrections in red on written assignments? And through reading? And how else?

I always like this question--how do we know what we know, and that which we don't know?

I like that there are facts beyond understanding, like what role language plays in our understanding of being human. (which Hartwell calls "not accessible knowledge," p. 568).