Grammatical Literacy
6 May 2017

“Although some may argue that a sound knowledge of English grammar has little bearing on a student’s ability to write well, the assumption here [document entitled Minimum Requirements in English Grammar] is that such a knowledge will greatly facilitate the teaching and learning of the act of composition. The most obvious way in which grammatical terms and definitions will prove useful in the teaching of writing lies in establishing a common grammatical vocabulary between teacher and student to facilitate discussion of their sentences when correcting or going over themes with students. Because the writing of good sentences lies at the heart of learning to write well, one can appreciate the need for a clear and efficient system for discussing syntactical matters. A further assumption, however, is that whether or not grammatical knowledge bears on one’s ability to write well, it is an important subject in its own right: all ‘educated’ people should have a working knowledge of the structure and laws of their own language.”

John A. Myers, Jr.
Chair, English Department
Belmont Hill School



Our method is not about mechanical, rote memorization of grammar rules, but rather based upon the skills that are predicated upon and informed by an understanding of the conventions, structure, and laws that govern the use of the English language. Thus, the method aims at the use and application of literacy based upon certain kinds of knowledge––of form and function, of grammatical relationships. For example, syntax is that part of grammar that deals with the way in which words are put together to form phrases, clauses, and sentences. Knowledge of form and structure, of what underlies grammatical relationships, allows for a recognition of why certain sentences may be unclear, fragmentary, inaccurate, illogical, or poorly constructed, the first step towards correcting faults of this kind, and the basis for the use of language that is concise, precise, and logical.

Students who may be masters of discrete grammatical details may not understand how to synthesize and use effectively what they know. This method aims to address that need.

Furthermore, knowing “English” involves a variety of intellectual skills––reading, writing, speaking, listening, and thinking. “Mastery” takes time, requires exercise, and evolves with experience.
 Our integrated approach aims to provide students with the most effective means to that end. By integration, we mean, for example, the confluence of a knowledge of the structural uses of, say, active verbs, with their prevalent use by a published poet in a given poem––along with a student’s use of active verbs in his prose response to that poem. Thus, an understanding of grammatical form and function becomes reinforced in several other ways. Integrated, mutually reinforced learning of this kind underlies all aspects of this curriculum.


Dr. Jeffrey Fast

Dr. Jeffrey Fast has been a teacher and administrator in America’s leading independent schools for almost 40 years. After graduating from Oberlin College, he served in the Peace Corps in the Philippines teaching English at both secondary and collegiate levels. He received his MA in English Literature fromYork University in Toronto, then moved on to receive his PhD from the Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham, England. Upon his return to America, he took on both teaching and administrative positions at The Webb Schools in California, serving for 15 years as English department head, Dean of Students, Director of Curriculum, and Director of the Summer Studies Program. He also taught English to Japanese students at The Toin Gakuen School outside Yokohama in one of his sabbaticals. After Webb, Dr. Fast moved to Boston, and took on teaching and administrative positions at Belmont Hill School, serving as English department head, Director of Curriculum, and Form Head for the past 22 years. He currently teaches sections of 9th grade English, as well as several advanced English electives — Shakespeare, Faulkner and the Southern Tradition, Search For Faith, Literature of Social Reflection.

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