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With American schools focused on raising reading and math scores to meet accountability requirements, writing often takes a backseat. The class of 2012 posted the lowest average writing score on the SAT this year since writing became part of the exam in 2006.

But with 45 states adopting Common Core standards that include writing and specifically grammar, some educators are examining new ways to bring grammar back into the classroom.

teaching grammar
Roberta Stathis

“I think increasingly there’s an understanding that while we don’t ever want to go back to the drill and kill approach, from research and educators, we know that [explicit grammar instruction] is a critical component in education,” said Roberta Stathis, executive director of The Teacher Writing Center, which runs the Grammar Gallery, an online resource for writing and reading instruction.

Day three of NBC’s Education Nation summit featured the winner of the $75,000 Citi Innovation Challenge, a website called NoRedInk! that helps students improve grammar and writing skills. The website incorporates popular culture into student lessons and allows teachers to track progress on individual writing concepts, with lessons aligned to the Common Core standards.

Currently, emphasis on grammar in curriculum varies from state to state. The Teacher Writing Center has seen an increase in districts using its online writing program, with about 50 currently participating. But Patrice Gotsch, associate director at the Center, says there are some teachers and administrators who don’t embrace explicit grammar instruction.

While grammar was one of the most-emphasized subjects during the 1950s, schools have shifted away from it since then, according to one study. “There’s plenty of research that traditional grammar instruction and diagramming sentences does not work,” said Sandra Wilde, a professor at Hunter College in New York City.

When the Common Core standards are rolled out in 45 states in 2014, teachers will be expected to explicitly teach concepts like participles and infinitives, and students will be expected to explain usage of such terms.

Wilde says she expects that the revival of grammar will prompt companies to develop new products and textbooks. She added that developers should ensure that online sites aren’t replicating the old grammar workbooks in a high-tech package. “To be good,” she said, “the developers would be well-served by really working with some literacy people who are up to date in the field and have some innovative ways of thinking about it.”

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