Thursday, November 3, 2011

I think I'll call this post "I Can Do Pronouns." Or maybe "Teaching Moments." You'll see why in a few paragraphs.

As a student, I found that the closer I got to the end of the semester, the more everything reminded me of the papers I was writing. If I were writing a paper on Underworld, say, every movie I watched, every conversation I had, every sermon I listened to reminded me of that paper. I could even tell you exactly how the subject of our conversation tied back to my paper. In my thesis, the main reason I quoted Aquinas was because when my Literary Theory class read Summa Theologica in the middle of my thesis-writing, Aquinas reminded me of the thesis.

A few days ago, this characteristic of mine popped right back up, this time from a teacher's perspective.

Intro to English class has been all about pronouns. Turns out, pronouns are one of the most confusing parts of speech to learn. Poor students. Asked to define these words, they suggest that a pronoun is 'a proper noun' or that an antecedent is, in fact, a word like 'he', 'she', or 'it.'

No, I said. An antecedent is a noun. A pronoun replaces that noun - a word like 'he', 'she', or 'it. Keep this straight. They mixed up the words anyway.

So, because this is my teaching philosophy, I took responsibility for my students' learning. They've never had English before, I told myself. Grammar is hard for the best of us to keep track of. So I reduced the terms to a simple form (sort of like finding the least common denominator, but for English) and in some cases I matched these definitions to songs. For pronouns, the song was called "I Can Do Pronouns" (yes, I know, creative name) and set to the tune of "Do Lord." That song gets stuck in my head. And after hours of helping students find pronouns and antecedents and correct pronoun errors, pronouns got stuck in my head too.

Pronouns, antecedents and "I Can Do Pronouns" were still stuck in my head when I went to Bible study; I hummed the song when I hopped in my car and drove off. I stopped humming (fortunately) when I picked up a couple students, whom I'll call Joy and Anne. Anne was enrolled in my Intro to English class and learning about pronouns and antecedents right along with me.

I didn't give pronouns or antecedents much thought during Bible study, or even on the way back from Bible study. I was deep in conversation with Joy, deep enough to pay little attention to whether my language met the guidelines laid out in The Little Seagull Handbook. And then I gaffed: I said "this people" - as in, many people (not a people group) but a singular pronoun (this). For you non-grammar folks, that error is like saying "this mountains" or "this books" or "this jokes". It's an error in pronoun number agreement, and it's wrong. Unless you're still learning English, you can hear it's wrong.

Immediately I thought of Anne, who was still learning about agreement in number among pronouns. Like the other students, she was also still confused. So I pointed out my error to her, named it as an error with agreement in number, and corrected it for her. I treated the three of us to a mini-lecture in pronouns, in the space between stoplights at 9:00 PM on a Wednesday night.

Oh, dear. I am becoming a teacher (Joy actually told me this, by the way, minutes after I'd lectured her about agreement in number for pronouns). Before you know it, I'll be telling everyone why Milton is relevant to 21st century Christianity.

Wait. I do that already.

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