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Christine J. Gordon

Calgary, Braun and Braun Educational Enterprises, c1983.
Distributed by Braun and Braun Educational Enterprises, 1245 Varsity Estates Rd. N. W., Calgary, AB,T3B 2W3.
80pp, paper, $8.95.
ISBN 0-9690605-3-X.


Reviewed by Robert W. Bruinsma.

Volume 12 Number 6
1984 November

Language arts teachers who have been paying any attention at all to developments in their field will recognize this publication as dealing with a hot topic. "Story grammar" is a grammar designed to specify relations among episodes in a story and to formulate rules for generating other stories. Thus, a story grammar is designed for organizing information at the selection level rather than just the sentence and paragraph levels.

The purpose of this manual (which represents an extension of Gordon's doctoral research) is to provide intermediate grade (4-6) teachers with detailed plans and procedures for teaching story grammars to their students using a number of fables as the text vehicles. The manual is excellently designed to lead a teacher thro ugh twenty-five lessons with pupils. Everything the teacher needs is provided in the form of a rationale, teaching instructions, and detailed appendices of story grammar charts, which may be freely reproduced for classroom use. All the transitions from theory to practice are provided by the author.

The overall intent of the lessons is to help students acquire metacognitive frameworks for stories, that is,

     ...that children develop a sense of
     story structure by knowing explicitly
     what structures are used and how they
     are used. The assumption is that, if the
     reader or writer is consciously aware
     of the structure of narratives, his read-
     ing comprehension and writing skills will
     be facilitated.

Some evidence for the above assumption is provided in the manual, and more is indicated as forthcoming in a publication by Gordon and Braun in press. I would recommend that teachers have a good look at this resource and use it for personal study to raise their own meta-cognitive awareness of story structure. Some may want to try out the lessons with their class, but a caution is in order. The evidence has long been in that the teaching of sentence grammar does little to improve children's writing of sentences, since parsing is a deconstructive process and writing is a constructive one. The perennial problem of transfer rears its ugly head time and time again. Will learning to parse discourse at the story level help students write better stories? Gordon offers some interesting insights and tantalizing evidence to illuminate this question, but I think we require more before deciding to teach story structure quite as explicitly and exhaustively as this program recommends.

The evidence that a story grammar approach will aid reading comprehension is logically and empirically stronger. Parsing a story will help a student focus on main ideas and subsidiary and supporting ones. Good teachers have always helped students do that, and Gordon's specific techniques will provide a particularly helpful heuristic for analyzing the idea and episode structure of fables. Creative teachers will be able to extend the technique to other genres.

Robert W. Bruinsma, King's College, Edmonton, AB.
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