Using grammar to make meaning

2021-01-19T11:21:19+00:00January 19th, 2021|English, writing|

As a writer I know that I must select studiously the nouns, pronouns, verbs, adverbs, etcetera, and by a careful syntactical arrangement make readers laugh, reflect or riot. Maya Angelou, Conversations with Maya Angelou Every human culture has developed a spoken language and, by inference, a system of grammar. No one ever sits us down and teaches us how to speak, we just soak it up from our environment. All children, regardless of their culture, seem to go through very predictable phases of language acquisition: first they learn nouns, then they start to pick up verbs and then start to combine [...]

What *does* improve children’s writing?

2019-12-08T14:39:13+00:00December 1st, 2017|writing|

In my last post I discussed evidence that suggests grammar teaching does not lead to an improvement in children's writing. Although it seems implausible that grammar teaching would not be positively correlated with writing outcomes, there's a lot of evidence that is strongly suggestive that what I prefer to believe may not in fact actually be true. I've written enough about cognitive bias to know that I am predisposed to look for evidence that supports my preferences and dismiss evidence that contradicts them. The point of evidence is that it forces us to confront the extent to which our intuitions map [...]

Can grammar teaching improve pupils’ writing?

2017-12-13T09:10:51+00:00November 29th, 2017|research, writing|

Let me begin with an anecdote. The first time I ever really encountered the meta language of grammar was after finishing my degree in English Literature and embarking on a six-week course to qualify to teach English as a foreign language (TEFL). I had to cram a whole host of previously unknown terminology in order to pass the course and it all seemed pretty pointless. Not knowing this stuff hadn't made a jot of difference to my ability to read and write as far as I could tell. After I got my certificate I bounced from place to place using my [...]

Why study grammar?

2017-11-30T08:44:52+00:00May 12th, 2016|writing|

Trying to express complex thoughts in simple English ... is demanding, challenging and takes time. Terry Leahy There's been a lot of fuss over the past week about whether it's appropriate to assess children's knowledge of grammar at the end of Key Stage 2. Various commentators even seem to take a perverse pride in their lack of knowledge boasting that ignorance hasn't held them back. But amidst all the confusion and vitriol, some people have been asking why, if grammatical knowledge is so important, most people seem to manage without it. This is a reasonable question, and one worth answering. First we need to [...]

If writing is magic, grammar is alchemy

2020-04-17T13:54:42+01:00November 9th, 2015|writing|

I really do not know that anything has ever been more exciting than diagramming sentences. I like the feeling the everlasting feeling of sentences as they diagram themselves. Gertrude Stein Writing is the technological innovation that has most changed the way we think and how we learn. It allows us the send our thoughts across time and space, and peer back in the past to see how people lived and thought thousands of years before we were born. We have access to all that has been recorded and preserved from all over the world. This is magic, but of a very prosaic [...]

The glamour of grammar: in context or not?

2015-11-09T14:55:47+00:00February 13th, 2014|English, literacy|

It's something of an understatement to say that glamour and grammar are not usually closely associated in many people's minds. One of the 100 words David Crystal uses to tell The Story of English is ‘grammar’. It turns out that grammar and glamour come from the same root. Grammar originally meant the study of everything written but, as reading must have seemed like an almost magical skill to your average medieval peasant, grammar became synonymous with supernatural or occult knowledge. ‘Grammary’ came to mean magical or necromantic learning. And this leads us to ‘glamour’ which first meant a magical spell or enchantment and has since [...]

Principled curriculum design: the English curriculum

2014-07-29T21:27:26+01:00December 16th, 2013|English, Featured|

The tragedy of life is that one can only understand life backwards, but one must live it forwards Søren Kierkegaard Back in March 2013, I wrote about the principles underlying my redesign of a Keys Stage 3 English curriculum. It received a mixed response. Since then Joe Kirby and Alex Quigley have published their ideas on redesigning this area of the curriculum and have, in different ways, influenced my thinking. Recently, I've presented my ideas on the English curriculum to over 100 English teachers and the consensus seems to be that there is no consensus. Having thought quite a bit about [...]

Redesigning a curriculum

2013-12-03T09:25:15+00:00March 25th, 2013|English, Featured, learning, planning|

Effective reform must start with the understanding that the curriculum is the central focus and the central business of schools. Effective curricula are the sina que non of the system that is capable of delivering a quality education to all kids. Siegfried Engelmann At the start of the year I foolishly asked what the good people of Twitter would like me to write about. The message came back, loud and clear, that you wanted to know my thoughts on the Key Stage 3 curriculum. Well, whadda you know? Through my usual process of bathing in ideas until good and clean, I [...]

The mathematics of writing

2013-09-18T12:59:04+01:00October 30th, 2012|English, literacy, writing|

A mathematician, like a painter or a poet, is a maker of patterns… The mathematician’s patterns, like the painter’s or the poet’s must be beautiful; the ideas like the colours or the words, must fit together in a harmonious way. Beauty is the first test. GH Hardy How are most children taught writing? Badly. Eight weeks ago I took over an AS English Language class in which none of the students had a clear understanding of the difference between a noun and a verb. How is that they have got so far through formal education with absolutely no explicit understanding of [...]

Creativity, analysis and comparison

2013-09-22T15:22:20+01:00February 11th, 2012|English, literacy, reading, writing|

English teachers have a tough gig. We need to constantly hone the hard-edged skill of analysis whilst simultaneously encouraging the fluffy stuff of creativity. There’s a lot said and written about creativity these days, much of it by Sir Ken Robinson. Basically, Ken's argument goes along these lines: schools should value the Arts more highly and find ways to foster creativity in those subjects where it doesn’t necessarily appear naturally. We should do this because creativity (the ability to have new ideas which have value) is increasingly important in a world where jobs that don’t require creativity have disappeared or outsourced to [...]

Does creativity need rules?

2013-11-01T17:09:03+00:00November 20th, 2011|English, learning, literacy, writing|

Grammar for toast? Last week's #ukedchat was titled, How can we build children’s imaginations so that they have more to choose from for their writing? and focussed on the dark art of creativity. My contribution to the discussion was to suggest that without clear knowledge of the forms and 'rules' of writing, creativity is inevitably stifled. Ideas become a kitchen-sink soup with everything chucked into the pot with little regard for structure, audience or purpose. I was a little disappointed to see that the archive reduces this thread of the debate to "There was a discussion around grammar and [...]

Is grammar glamorous?

2015-01-26T12:38:54+00:00November 16th, 2011|English, literacy|

Well, no it's not is it. Grammar's that dull stuff what kids got taught in the 60s. And then enlightened educationalists decided it was unfashionable for children to know how to parse sentences and wotnot. Which leaves me part of a lost generation who trundled through our schooling without learning a blessed thing about this arcane and mysterious subject. And that neatly segues into the fact that I've recently been enjoying my favourite linguistic professor and all round eccentric, David Crystal's lovely new book, The Story of English in 100 Words. One of his chosen 100 is 'grammar'. You see, it [...]

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