The Changing Sentence Structure of Children (1934)

LaBrant, L.L. (1934, March). The changing sentence structure of children. The Elementary English Review, 11(3),  59-65, 86

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LaBrant addresses first her concerns about research: the “gap” between that research and classroom practices as well as research focusing on student errors instead of “what children can do” (p. 59). She discusses her own research on language use by students in 4th-12th grades to emphasize the importance of research on literacy as that informs practice. LaBrant challenges “a large gap between natural expression and the stilted performance which passes as school composition” (p. 62). The piece concludes by identifying the connection between the structure of student writing and their engagement as well as understanding of their topics.

Quoting LaBrant:

It is a common complaint, almost too common to mention, that in education we constantly conduct research and content ourselves with reducing our findings to tables and sentence conclusions; that there is an increasing gap between laboratory research and school-room practice….Amazingly frequent have been the studies of the errors made by children in their writing and speaking, with almost no studies of what children can do. (p. 59)

There is frequently a large gap between natural expression and the stilted performance which passes as school composition. Constant attention to form and punctuation often causes the child to omit ideas when he is some- what uncertain as to the accuracy of his expression. (p. 62)

If language structure is the outgrowth or expression of experience, artificial stimulation of basic structure is fruitless, or almost fruitless at best….

The suggestion is offered that, although pupils wrote rapidly and had no opportunity even to re-read, expression was complete because the child was writing only of comprehended experience. Conversely, we may consider the possibility that sentence fragments (unless of course, written for effect) are the result of incomplete thinking caused by artificial stimulation rather than by complete experience. (p. 64)

Certain outstanding advantages of teaching language thus from the inside out, instead of from the outside in, are in harmony with the findings of the study at first reported. (p. 65)


About plthomasedd

P. L. Thomas, Associate Professor of Education (Furman University, Greenville SC), taught high school English in rural South Carolina before moving to teacher education. He is a column editor for English Journal (National Council of Teachers of English) and series editor for Critical Literacy Teaching Series: Challenging Authors and Genres (Sense Publishers), in which he authored the first volume—Challenging Genres: Comics and Graphic Novels (2010). He has served on major committees with NCTE, and has been named Council Historian (2013-2015), and formerly served as co-editor for The South Carolina English Teacher for SCCTE. Recent books include Ignoring Poverty in the U.S.: The Corporate Takeover of Public Education (Information Age Publishing, 2012) and Parental Choice?: A Critical Reconsideration of Choice and the Debate about Choice (Information Age Publishing, 2010).He has also published books on Barbara Kingsolver, Kurt Vonnegut, Margaret Atwood, and Ralph Ellison. His scholarly work includes dozens of works in major journals—English Journal, English Education, Souls, Notes on American Literature, Journal of Educational Controversy, Journal of Teaching Writing, and others. His commentaries have been included in Room for Debate (The New York Times), The Answer Sheet (Washington Post), The Guardian (UK), truthout, Education Week, The Daily Censored, OpEdNews, The State (Columbia, SC), The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, NC), The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC) and The Greenville News (Greenville, SC). His work can be followed at the becoming radical ( and @plthomasEdD on twitter. View all posts by plthomasedd

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