Harrisburg teachers create business out of grammar approach

After realizing that students were struggling to use grammar in everyday writing, three teachers at Harrisburg North Middle School decided to create another way of teaching the subject.

Together, Kelly Andrews, Brad Hartzler and Amanda Olinger founded Gravana 605.

“We were all constantly seeking to improve our classrooms, and that’s actually how Gravana came to be,” Andrews said. “We were frustrated trying to get students to implement grammar in their writing — so we knew something had to change.”

Now in its fourth year, Gravana 605 has gone from a summer tutoring program to a licensed classroom curriculum in the Harrisburg School District. Soon, it also will become an online portal intended to give educators anywhere access to the curriculum.

“We want to get Gravana in as many hands as possible,” Andrews said.

Building the online interface is one of many areas the team has been focusing on as part of the Zeal Growth Accelerator.

The Gravana curriculum is designed to have students practice grammar skills at each stage in the learning process. This way, students not only can remember and understand, but also can apply it.

“Our process is you practice first,” Hartzler said. “You have to learn and then prove you understand the skill through the traditional quiz, and then what we do … is you apply it in your writing, such as ‘use one coordinating conjunction and then highlight it blue.’ ”

Hartzler points out that this idea is not new; however, unlike a lot of traditional grammar programs that rely on memorization and worksheets, Gravana gives students a chance to put their skills into action right away.

The teachers arrived at this pathway of instruction after spending hours identifying which skills are needed to understand certain components of grammar, and “that’s how we came up with our vertical alignment,” Olinger said.

To get the curriculum up and running online, the team enlisted the help of Derek Hackett, an employee at Great Western Bank, to be the software developer.

“I always say our curriculum is in year four of developing and finalizing, and our portal is in year one,” Hartzler said. “Taking our online portal to iteration two and iteration three as fast and as quickly as we can is the name of the game for us.”

The Gravana portal will allow students to access the program from any computer to complete lessons, take quizzes and submit writing prompts. The benefits for digitalizing the curriculum include automatic grading and instant feedback on student progress.

“It also allows us to go outside of our own classrooms,” Hartzler said.

With the mission of creating clear and confident communicators, “it’s my favorite thing in the world now when I see students and they’re using direct address and complex compound sentences and they know it,” Andrews said.

Hartzler believes the team’s greatest strength as a Zeal participant is that as a group of educators, the three are all lifelong learners – “and that’s exactly what we’ve been doing through this whole process.”

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UpdatesBrienne Maner