By and large, the research is pretty clear: putting grammar worksheets in front of students and diagramming sentences simply does not improve student writing or correct grammar.
I have officially lost your interest. After all, what subject is less interesting than grammar?
But bear with me for a moment while I ask the underlying question: why are we still doing it this way? Why are we still diagramming sentences in classrooms and why are children still drilled in grammar worksheets and correctness? Even though reading and discussing stories and writing essays of personal interest yields far more correct knowledge than grammar worksheets, worksheets thrive.
My answer: sloth.
There is a point up to which shrugging and saying, “follow procedure” may be okay, but when we see a procedure failing over and over and over, and we refuse to change it, we become complicit in its failure. Schools do not exist for grammar worksheets, they exist for students; holding to a failing procedure no longer serves the students, but serves the procedure.
Now, I don’t want you to think I’m picking on teachers, because this is all of us. I doubt there’s any occupation or activity that doesn’t have “grammar worksheets” of its own. There are ineffective ways of living and working that we all slump into despite a lurking, hidden self-knowledge we constantly push away. Unconsciously, we convince ourselves that it is easier to continue pursuing stale, ineffective routes than to tear them down and build something new.
Sloth is not a sin we talk about very often in church these days. Perhaps that’s because we live in such an anxious, fast-paced environment that it doesn’t feel like this stressful life allows any time for sloth. But, I wonder if adopting useless procedures is a caffeinated culture’s way of being slothful by refusing to take the time or expend the energy to choose an effective, virtuous method.
(If you’re interested in a good overview of research on teaching grammar, see Constance Weaver’s Teaching Grammar in Context.)