Cozy English Courses

"Why grammar?  It stifles creativity!"

Over the years that question has been hurled at me many times - sometimes gently, but more often vehemently. My answer has always been the same, "Because grammar is the technique of English."

During the late 1960s and the early 1970s, education, influenced by the social changes of the '60s, went through a period where the teaching of grammar was thought to be stifling to creativity. Often I was made to feel like a dinosaur for teaching grammar. Oddly enough, much of the criticism came from colleagues who held master's degrees. I remember saying on more than one occasion, "It is easy for you to say but you already have grammar skills or you wouldn't have been able to write a master's thesis. Now, you want to deny these same skills to present and future students. I am not against progress in education but, in the heat of the excitement of making changes, we must be very sure that what we consider to be progression is not regression, or even suppression, in disguise." 

I never wavered; I continued to teach grammar. In 1991 I was vindicated. In the fall of that year, I decided that it was time to learn to use a computer. The instructor suggested that I would learn more quickly if I worked on a continuous project. I thought of my grammar course which was hand- written in a tattered, old duo-tang. This became my computer project. I spent every opportunity available to me in the computer room: early mornings, lunch times, after school, and in the evenings. It was during the lunch time periods, particularly, that I noticed a pattern emerging. The younger teachers on staff, one by one, would creep into the computer room and peer over my shoulder. At first they were bemused by this 'old dog learning a new trick;' but, then they became interested in my grammar project. Without exception each would whisper into my ear, "When you are finished, may I have a copy? I was never taught grammar and I am terrified to teach it." I promised to give them a copy and when they left I shook my head and thought to myself, "Another product of the '70s, and the '80s, and the '90s, and....."

Learning is a slow process. In this world of 'instant everything' the art of discipline is easily eroded. With the flick of a switch, the push of a button, the turn of a dial, or the click of a mouse, we can be immediately distracted. Mastering a technique is not instant. It needs the discipline to focus, to organize, and to practice. It also needs the encouragement of parents and teachers. I learned the art of discipline at a young age when I started my music training. At the beginning I would practice the piano half an hour a day. Gradually, over the years, my practice time increased to four hours a day. I could focus so intently that the time seemed to fly by. I remember one particularly long practice session. I had been playing with such intensity and passion that when I finished the seat of my slacks was stuck to the piano bench. When I stood up, my slacks ripped and I had a well-ventilated rear end. Learning the art of discipline has been the greatest lesson of my life. When I took university courses, I had no problems; when I studied millinery and flower making, it was a breeze; when I learned the computer, I improved daily; and, when I started to compose, the music flowed. Mastering any technique is easier when you have learned the art of discipline. Life is easier when you are disciplined.

It is time to stop giving grammar a bad name and look at it for what it is: a technique. It is a tool that can enhance creativity - not stifle it. It is not only a valuable tool for creative writing but also a wonderful aid for teaching. When I was guiding students in creative writing classes, it was so helpful, from a teaching point of view, to be able to say, "Here you used an adjective where you should have used an adverb;" or, "at this point you used a principal verb without an auxiliary verb;" or, "if you place the subject at the end of this sentence it will improve the flow of your story." This is a much more satisfying learning situation than saying, "You have made some mistakes so I have inserted the corrections in red ink."

I was motivated to participate in the production of The Basic Cozy Grammar Course for two reasons. First, I am aware of the public's concerns and impressions, whether rightly or wrongly, about the lack of language skills demonstrated by students today. This course will enable students, teachers, parents, and homeschoolers to learn the basics of grammar. Second, I wanted to get out of the classroom - to present grammar in an everyday setting. The coziness of a home, the familiarity of a garden, the fascination of a beach, and the ever changing moods of the Pacific Coast weather combined to make a stimulating, but non-threatening, setting for teaching a potentially dry and boring subject.

 Finally, let me emphasize again; this grammar course is a basic course. It is an introduction to grammar. If you desire to explore the mysterious world of infinitives, gerunds, participles, tenses, moods, etc., there are many comprehensive grammar books available in bookstores and on the internet. The Basic Cozy Grammar Course Workbook is meant to be used in conjunction with the two companion videos. It contains lesson notes, exercises, sample tests, and an answer key. I suggest that you study each lesson as follows:

1) watch the video lesson until you feel comfortable with the information.

2) do the exercises in the workbook

3) mark your exercises using the answer key.

In many of the exercises the instructions begin with "Copy the sentences...." With the wonderful invention of the copier machine the skill of hand copying is becoming a lost art. Hand copying develops eye/hand co-ordination: the ability to look at something and reproduce it correctly, such as making a note of a telephone number. I encourage you to develop your eye/hand co-ordination by hand copying the sentences in the exercises.

Good luck!

Marie Rackham

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