Section 3: Knowing What vs. Knowing How

Analyzing Grammar in Context will provide you with tools and strategies for analyzing texts, recognizing grammatical patterns (and patterns of error) in written texts, crafting effective grammatical arguments, and making sound grammatical choices based on rhetorical principles for your writing.

While developing tools and strategies includes an ability to define a term or concept, the more important consideration is an ability to apply this understanding in a variety of contexts. In other words, knowing WHAT something is can be good; knowing HOW something works in context or HOW to analyze something for effective use can be much, much better.

If you’re good at writing, maybe your friends or family members have asked you to look over their writing and offer suggestions. If you see a sentence like this one, you may know something is wrong, and even have an idea of how to fix it, but how can you explain the problem?

Before making a career change, all aspects of the decision should be considered carefully.

If you can diagnose the problem as a dangling modifier, you’ll be able to edit more effectively, and just as important, you’ll be able to explain and justify your change. Our focus on learning in context will help make these concepts meaningful to you, so that you can use them in different contexts: the workplace, the classroom, or even helping out family and friends.

Along this same line of thinking, knowing the definition of a "nominal infinitive phrase" (on a flashcard, for example) is good, but not nearly enough. You should not only know what it is, but you should also be able to recognize HOW it functions in a sentence, analyze if it is functioning effectively (or correctly), and develop strategies for applying nominal infinitive phrases appropriately in your own writing. More importantly, you should be able to offer an argument for WHY your use of a nominal infinitive phrase in a particular rhetorical context is the best choice.

Ultimately, for us, a focus on "knowing what" minimizes your learning because it can simply be achieved through the rote memorization of few facts, figures, and definitions. We want to lead you away from this static view of grammatical concepts. Analyzing Grammar in Context helps you articulate why or how a particular grammatical concept works (or does not work). Again, "what" the correct answer is is much less important (and much less interesting) than "why" you believe that it is the correct answer. For the "correct" answer is simply a product situated only in a particular moment. It is, on the whole, irrelevant, because there are almost always exceptions to a "correct" answer. On the other hand, if you can explain WHY that answer is correct, or reflect on HOW you came to understand a particular grammatical concept, then you will be able to determine "answers" outside of the classroom and for the rest of your lives. You'll have a new set of tools for your learning toolbox. 

We take this same approach with the practice exercises. We want to emphasize that the practice exercises are to help you learn the concepts. They are meant as practice of initial applications of the concepts, as well as fodder for discussion that will help you gain a deeper understanding.

For us, it’s much more important that you understand the concepts and how to analyze the text effectively in context. So you don’t need to complete all of the practice exercises; instead, we trust you to do as many or as much as you need to understand, and that you will take the time to actually THINK about the material.

Don't be afraid of getting things "wrong" initially or starting down false trails. You sometimes need to fail a bit in order to succeed. But be sure that you talk about your understanding of the exercises with somebody: teacher, colleague, peer, group, SOMEONE. Learning should not be done in isolation. Each of you need to find what will help you learn best. And you can only discover this through participation and engagement.

We want you to incorporate the concepts in Analyzing Grammar in Context as another part of your own lifelong learning practices. These concepts are not something separate, but, instead, a part of all of the work and all of the learning that you do every day. Putting you in a position to "learn" at one point in your development is much, much more important than telling you a bunch of things to "know."