While attending a district meeting intended to map out our curriculum, I expressed my concern over how few of my 9th grade English students understood simple grammar--the eight parts of speech, basic comma awareness, periods, and the rest of those boring to teach and boring to learn rules. I felt that with the increased focus on standardized tests, the WASL in our state, students should come into 9th grade having learned these skills. I believe an understanding of how to construct a sentence is necessary for correct writing. I am old school in my beliefs.
A colleague believed that the students were taught this material, but if they arrive in my class without the skill, I should teach them--as if I wasn't going to. She also questioned why students need to know what a noun is. That won't make them a better writer. I think we are going to simply disagree on this.
I don't advocate the rote memorization of grammar rules. Grammar, in my opinion, is a living being. Understanding grammar means understanding the relationship of the words we choose and the thoughts we want to express. This can be done without drilling students for weeks on end with circle the noun assignments.
But consider this, later in the day, as my colleague showed a wonderful powerpoint on improving the revision process in writing, she expressed that students should add apositives to their sentences. This struck me. In order for a student to add an apositive, they must know what a noun is. An apositive, a noun or noun phrase, explains another noun in a sentence. So yes, students must know what a noun is.
They also need to know how to use a comma and a period at the appropriate time. When writing a good sentence. (did you catch that?) But let's say they are simply writing a list. I believe that a comma should follow the first word or phrase, the second word or phrase, and before the word and. If they fail to do this, the meaning of the sentence changes.
Understanding grammar, basic sentence structure, creates better style. Knowing that the subject of a sentence, in this case Knowing that the subject of a sentence, does not have to be a one word noun, or even a word that looks like a noun, creates sentences that better express what the writer means.
Again, I don't advocate rote recitation. I advocate teaching the purpose of proper grammar--communication. Writing is communication. When we speak, people understand us based on our ability to properly pause at the right moment, to put together phrases, to create clauses. When we write, grammar allows us to accomplish those things.