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Peer Review

Guide to Grammar and Writing



Overall Numeric Rating:

5 stars
Content Quality: 5 stars
Effectiveness: 5 stars
Ease of Use: 5 stars
Reviewed: Jan 22, 2010 by English Editorial Board
Overview: This web site was begun in 1995 and posted to the web in 1996 by Professor Charles Darling at Capital Community College, Hartford, CT. The site was created by this instructor. He continued working on it, including answering questions, after his retirement in 2005 until his death in May 2009. This web site takes the advanced middle school and the high school through college student through basic grammar and writing skills. It is an extensive site that provides resources useful to teachers and students of composition. Interactive exercises assess and reinforce students’ understanding, and there are slide presentations that may be viewed online or downloaded for use in class. The “Notorious Confusables” section provides sentences and exercises to help with easily confused words, and there are two open textbooks (“Principles of Composition” and “Sentence Sense”).
Type of Material: There are tutorials which run the gamut from spelling to research papers. The site offers a tutorial, which often includes common misunderstandings or problems, and then a mastery quiz.
Recommended Uses: All English instructors have students with varied learning needs which cannot all be addressed during class time. This web site allows the students to work on their own at their own pace which then allows the teacher can make better use of in class instructional time.
Technical Requirements: A basic computer with any operating system will suffice. The site states that: "These pages were designed with Cascading Style Sheets and will work best with recent versions of Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator (6.0+). Navigator 4.7 may cause portions of the text to overlap on some pages." There are PowerPoint presentations found on this site so a copy of Microsoft, PowerPoint Reader is needed if the user does not have it on their computer. Some pages require audio capability; slide presentations require a slide program or viewer. Two clearly marked exercises use Java.
Identify Major Learning Goals: Students will learn how to analyze sentences and edit their papers to conform to the requirements of academic English. They will also receive useful advice on other aspects of composition.
Target Student Population: This site is very simple to access and use. It does not require the student to enroll which makes it even simpler to use. The vocabulary and examples are such that younger students, middle school (6-8)should be able to use this site with an instructor's guidance. By the time students reach high school they should have a better working vocabulary of grammar which will allow then to navigate the site.. There is great success in using the site for both returning adults as well as English Language Learners
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills: There are no particular prerequisite skills, since the more complicated explanations are hyperlinked to pages that provide necessary background. Users will locate materials more easily if they are at least somewhat familiar with terminology used in talking about usage.

Evaluation and Observation

Content Quality

Rating: 5 stars
Strengths: There are pages dealing with all the issues normally included in a handbook, and all the lessons seem to be supported by interactive exercises. Index pages allow multiple points of entry. Information is accurate and up to date, although traditional terminology is used. When there is debate about the best choice to make (e.g., whether to capitalize "Web"), the authors discuss the issue instead of pontificating. It does have the great advantage of being free and very easy to navigate. It even includes an index which allows students to find problems area solutions quickly. One of my favorite areas is the 239 word simple sentence. It helps students see that long sentence doesn't mean compound.
Concerns: The author died, and the Capital Community College Foundation has continued his work. The site has not really been updated and hasn't added any fancy bells, whistles, and graphics to the site; however, grammar is grammar and doesn't change much either.

Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool

Rating: 5 stars
Strengths: The material is very accessible for anyone who knows the necessary terminology. My students like the supporting interactive exercises, which provide immediate feedback and make effective lessons easy to design. Instructors who respond to papers in electronic form can provide students with hyperlinks to specific information. The author has used his sense of humor in his examples and in his lessons. The site can be used as a learning tool to take an individual writer through the entire writing process or just one module can be used. It is easy to use.
Concerns: Some of the examples are dated--- i.e. a comment about Cosby. The younger uses may not know who Bill Cosby is and thus will not understand his point.

Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty

Rating: 5 stars
Strengths: It is very easy to use as both a self paced learning tool or as an in class activity. Students particularly like the immediate feedback they receive from the interactive quizzes. The site’s design makes it easy to refer students to a particular section or to use particular pages in building a lesson.
Concerns: The definitions feature in the “Notorious Confusables” may not work unless security settings have been adjusted, and one occasionally encounters a page that has not been updated to match the site’s current URL pattern. Students using the site as a reference may have trouble locating the material they want if they don’t know what an error is called (e.g. “sentence fragment”). Given the state of the current video games, the younger user may not be as impressed with the graphics, motion, and lack of sound.

Other Issues and Comments: I have been using this site for many years, and my students are just as enthused today as they were 9-10 years ago.