I have been going round in circles. I’ve been perplexed. The teaching of grammar has got my knickers in a twist. I am a teacher and leader well versed with the grammar and writing requirements of the new National Curriculum. I have a very good English Literature degree. I read a lot. I love words. When the new National Curriculum was published I realised very quickly that the grammar expectations were higher than before. Despite not all of the technical vocabulary having to be introduced, the concepts were still demanding. During my PGCE at a much rated teaching university, one assignment involved creating a bank of grammatical terms and showing understanding of these. I was concerned that the grammar requirements of the New National Curriculum in Key Stage 2 surpassed those I submitted within my postgraduate assignment. It also struck me that despite my degree success, I had received very little formal teaching of grammar of my own.
Nevertheless, as my job entails, I set about considering how this could all work out. I led inset for every single member of staff at my school to give them the ‘heads up’ about what was to come. I sought out additional training about grammar specifically for teachers. I checked that our existing literacy programme covered the fundamentals of what was needed grammar wise. I ensured that teachers had enough time in the day to fit everything in. We have been as prepared as we are able to be. But one question from teachers kept coming up; how exactly is our teaching of grammar helping our children develop their writing?
Teacher feedback sounded something like this:
- Some children are learning aspects of grammar through discrete teaching but find it difficult to use this learning within independent writing.
- Some children are learning aspects of grammar within a context but still find it difficult to use this knowledge within independent writing or to recognise the grammatical concepts within another context.
- Some children seem to be able to read a piece of writing and recognise what already ‘sounds good’ and what would make it ‘sound better’. These children do not tend to use technical terms to suggest improvements such as “I think a fronted adverbial would make this sentence flow far better” or “I need to add a cohesive device in there because it would sound good”. However, their almost subconscious learning of grammar is apparent in their writing.
So it has led me to think further about the children who are able to do the final point above. These children tend to be fluent and avid readers with a good grasp of the English language. They are able to read out loud confidently and with expression and are open to the ongoing editing and improvement of each sentence in both language and grammatical terms. After reading their work and making grammatical adjustments they are open to discussion about what they have done and sometimes, find that the technical language of grammar is of interest. However, they do not appear to find that the technical language of grammar is instrumental in their writing development.
Instead of bombarding children with grammatical terms I think it is far more beneficial to ensure that:
- Children read their own and other texts out loud regularly.
- They have opportunities to discuss how texts sound and why within an open environment.
- They experiment relentlessly with different sentence structures and styles of writing. Afterwards, they focus on the grammar used and how this has created different effects.
- Teachers use technical terms sparingly. If children truly understand the grammatical concept, the name for it will stick in their mind anyway.
- Children are read to as much as possible, throughout the primary years and beyond.
I am open to further suggestions. I am also determined that the teaching of grammar will benefit, rather than hinder the children’s writing. What a tragedy that would be.