Some people might view grammar as a set of confusing and complicated rules that must be followed. Others — including Montana State University education professor Ann Ellsworth — believe grammar is an exciting and powerful tool that can open the door to new possibilities. Moreover, Ellsworth said, teaching grammar is a blend of art and science.
For her efforts doing just that, Ellsworth has received the 2019 Grammar Teacher of the Year Award, a coveted national award presented by the Assembly for the Teaching of English Grammar and GrammarFlip. The assembly is a branch of the National Council of Teachers of English, and GrammarFlip is an interactive grammar and writing program designed to individualize student learning while saving time for English teachers.
“I’m incredibly humbled,” Ellsworth said. “There are so many amazing teachers who have committed their life work to advancing students’ understanding of how our English language works. I’ve always believed that knowledge is power. … Once you understand how something works, you’re able to use it as a tool.”
Ellsworth, who began teaching at MSU in 1990, is a professor of English language arts in the MSU College of Education. She is known as a caring, encouraging teacher who has high expectations for herself and who makes it her goal to present difficult grammar concepts in ways that are accessible but also fun, according to a student letter written in support of the award.
Her innovative course on teaching English grammar — informally dubbed “Grammarland” — seeks to transform a subject that many people might consider dull into energizing and inspiring lessons.
Ellsworth began her career as a public school teacher in her home state of Wisconsin. As she worked with kids at a bilingual school, she began to truly learn the importance of language, she said.
“I taught the curriculum in Spanish and English,” she said. “It helped me learn the importance of language and become more groomed in my own skills so I could better help a child understand why a word is pronounced the way it is.”
After eight years as a public school teacher in Wisconsin, Ellsworth earned a doctorate in curriculum and instruction at the University of Wisconsin. She then came to Bozeman and MSU.
Colleagues say Ellsworth’s recognition as Grammar Teacher of the Year is well deserved.
“This award could not be going to a more deserving member of the teacher education profession,” said Nicholas Lux, associate professor in the MSU Department of Education.
Because Ellsworth — who is also regarded as an expert on childhood literacy and reading — believes that teaching is far more than merely transmitting knowledge, her goal for her students in each class centers on transformation.
“Change occurs when students critically engage with the material and are invested in the activity,” she said. “Students enter class expecting the unexpected. They are invited to discover, and I am rewarded as their familiarity with grammar evolves, graced by growing confidence and credibility.”