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Grammar still matters – but teachers struggle to teach it

Do you know what a suffix is ​​or how to distinguish it? adjectives from adverbs? If you have a six or seven-year-old, chances are they are. Or at least, the UK government now says they should – to be specific – by the end of Year 2.

In 3rd grade, elementary school students turn their attention to prefixes and conjunctions. When students start middle school, they are expected to know what determiners and adverbs are. They should be able to recognize a relative clause as a special type of clause. And it should showcase creative writing, modal verbs, and active and passive voice.

Obviously, for all this to happen, teachers need to be comfortable with these terms and the concepts they cover. And if you went to school before 1960, you probably are. However, between 1960 and 1988, English – in England and Wales – was taught almost independently of grammar.

A page from the diary of a primary school student with a written story and an illustration
From year 1, children are now taught grammatical concepts and how to use them in their own writing.
Veryan dale / Alamy Stock Photo

While grammar dates back to 1988 with the introduction of the national curriculum, many teachers today feel unprepared to teach it. This is because, as I and other linguists do pointed, they were never taught much grammar. And appropriate teaching support and materials are lacking.

Of course, grammar at school is usually political issueWhile liberals deny more conservative insist on the so-called correct grammar. But my point of view as a Dutch linguist is that learning grammar is not about speaking properly. It is about a broader understanding of one’s own language and how to use it creatively. It is also a useful tool for learning other languages.

Grammar-free teaching

Before 1960, the way British schools taught English grammar was based on Latin. Categories developed for Latin grammar were imposed on English. This often didn’t make much sense, as English is such a different language.

From the 1920s, this Latin approach, much criticizedand the argument against English grammar in schools gained strength in the 1940s and 1950s. Studies Scotland and England He claimed that in the mid-20th century the subject was essentially too difficult for children.

Studies have shown that the disappearance of grammar from the English school curriculum in 1960 was also a factor. increased emphasis on English literature. The idea was that children would more or less learn the necessary grammar as they progressed.

A boy and girl in 1950s school uniforms sit at their desks holding pencils and smiling
Before the 1960s, a Latin approach was taken to teaching English grammar.
Allan Cash Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photograph

The 1970s were a turning point. The government has published several critical reports, especially with reference to the high levels of illiteracy in England and Wales. This led to a U-turn in politics, with grammar gradually returning to the classroom from 1988 onwards.

Research in later years showed however, pre-service teachers did not have the knowledge they needed to teach it. their authors a 1995 study 99 prospective teachers and subsequent researchers in Newcastle agreed – that teachers will be challenged without significant input during training.

Why is grammar important?

Teachers’ knowledge of grammar remains problematic. A 2016 case study He analyzed data on what teachers know, collected over ten months from June 2014 to March 2015, from a primary school in the northwest of England (rated “good” by Ofsted).

when asked about specified conditions In the national curriculum, which included adjectives, conjunctions and adjectives, teachers got only half of the questions correct. The teaching-support staff was even worse.

Why should we care if our teachers are well equipped to teach grammar? In the first place, we have to because they have to. It is very important that teachers have the knowledge and confidence to support students. legal issues, at least in non-pandemic times officially tested.

A growing body of evidence also shows that teaching grammar can improve students’ skills. writing development. This is because knowledge of concepts such as active and passive voice can allow for more precise and productive conversations between teachers and students about textual effects and possibilities. And it can enable students to shape their prose more consciously.

It can also help them learn new languages. If learners already have a conscious awareness of linguistic features such as tenses, this helps them to recognize and discuss what is the same or different. another language. And yet more research is neededSome scholars even believe that grammar teaching improve general thinking skills.

Many publishers stepped into the vacuum left by the government, and (student) teachers grammatical terms specifies the curriculum. However, publishers operate in a free market without the oversight of the Ministry of Education. Also, the materials generally did not receive any input from academic grammar experts. As a result, they often contain errors.

These are not just typos. For example, a teacher’s book analyzes the verb “have” as a modal verb, which it does not, and suggests that modal verbs form tenses, but do not. Another grammar book “don’t touch!” categorizes it. As an exclamation point, it’s actually a simple command example. Such errors are not unlike the proposition that seven times seven is 48. all year 4s of course it is taught that it is actually 49.

It is also well known that teachers experiencing more work stress than other professionals. In this context, it may be unreasonable to expect them to independently source and work with professional development materials on such an important issue.

Our main argument is that the curriculum is in place when it comes to recognizing the importance of grammar. However, the government should equip their teachers to teach it. He needs to research the exact nature of the gaps in his knowledge. And it should have academic grammar experts on appropriate support materials and instructional development.

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