The Lost Art of Diagramming – Good Riddance!


There are some things in life that have little to no value…things like stopping at a stop sign when you are the only one at the intersection or spending a whole year of your life diagramming sentences.

I spent the greater portion of fifth grade standing at the chalkboard drawing lines and hoping my words landed in the right place. I was embarrassed more than once.

We were told that this would help us to better understand the use and structure of grammar and the English language. I personally believed that it was a devious conspiracy to keep some of us in a perpetual state of perplexed puzzlement.  Beyond the simple sentence, I never did quite figure out how to complete the puzzle. I suppose I learned enough to pass the test, but soon forgot most of it and have never used it again.

While this may have served a student or two in their processing grammar, it was a welcomed relief for me when we no longer had to endure this cruel form of punishment.

Perhaps for some, this visual provided a clear picture of grammar usage and form. For those adept at memorizing, it was easy. For others it was a foreign language. Yet, the entire class was forced to participate in this exercise. We were tested on our ability to diagram correctly. Those test grades were averaged into our overall grade in English.

Something about this seems inherently wrong. It favors those who learn using that method but neglects to address those who learn differently and then punishes them in the form of a low grade.  I can hear some of you saying, “suck it up – it’s just part of the package” we all have to learn things we don’t like.  I respectfully disagree with that notion and here’s why.

Is the goal of learning to understand something better or to replicate a “one-way” process to arrive at an answer? 

For many learners that “one-way” process is a catch you scenario. It is equivalent to forcing a round peg into a square hole. It is painful and unnecessary. There are many ways in which to learn our glorious and confusing English language.

It is easier for a teacher to demonstrate the “one-way” method to a classroom of students rather than design smaller groups and even individual plans. It would take hours of planning and figuring out how to reach 25-30 or more students every day.  This continues to be one of the sad effects of school via economies of scale.

Envision if you will a small team of teachers/coaches (2-3) working with small groups of children (10-15) to discover exactly how they learn. Imagine teachers having a good portion of the day available for this kind of planning and strategizing.  Consider the results of such a design as this.  Sucking it up and dealing with content learning that is sometimes painful, now becomes a meaningful learning opportunity for every child.

I could go on and on about grading, grouping, class size, etc. but you’ll just have to read my book, Learning Unleashed to get the rest of the story.




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