Session 333: Teaching grammar effectively

Thursday 15th December 2016

Teaching grammar effectively – How are we making sure that grammar is being taught to impact on writing? was the topic for this UKEdChat session, after the Twitter poll decided to focus on this aspect of literacy.

The questions, released during the session, were:

  1. What do we actually mean by grammar?
  2. What is the core purpose for teaching grammar?
  3. How can we be sure that all adults working with children have good subject-knowledge?
  4. What is the role of reading in the teaching of grammar?
  5. How is grammar being taught to improve writing?
  6. How can the teaching of grammar be purposefully embedded in teaching sequences?

Summary

Well, this has got to be one of the most difficult #UKEdChat summaries ever to be written. Firstly, the audience mainly consists of educators; secondly, as the subject was focused on grammar, any error in construction will be unforgiving. I’ll have to regularly check on the ‘comments’ at the foot of this summary, and act upon any errors spotted!!! 😰

With the help of Ros Ferrara, providing the questions for the session, the chat commenced by exploring what we actually mean by grammar. Emma Bryson kicked off with her considerations, “the components of language which enable us to communicate with clarity, purpose and effect”, but MrV declared, “I will admit I cheated and looked it up. It’s a fascinating definition – includes morphology & semantics. Language is so powerful!”

Clear communication is a life skill, Ros pointed out, and the monotony of teaching and learning grammar skills was challenged by Literacy 4 Pleasure, arguing that, “All grammar is creative – if taught in a functional way instead of formal.” That’s a challenge within itself, but having a teaching profession who are proficient in their use of grammar is also important to ensure inconsistencies are not evident through different subjects.

Literacy 4 Pleasure shared the following text, including Fearn & Farnan’s 2007 suggestion for teaching grammar:

 

Fearn & Farnan’s comments (above) resonated with many contributions to the chat, who noted the purpose and audience required for students, when writing, with proofing, reading-back, and peer-assessments all playing an important role when creating a piece of writing. Paul Tyler concluded, “Purpose is everything with grammar – kids will learn it if they see the point and relevance”.

Again, Literacy 4 Pleasure shared a Grammar Table created with a colleague, that made a massive difference to knowledge & pedagogy:

Click image to see full version, downloadable as a PDF

Ros advocated that, “It is essential to have great knowledge. Too many misconceptions being taught!”, conceding that, “Latin A Level gave me my knowledge!” Should we be teaching Latin in primary schools, to embed grammatical skills early on?

The conversation progressed onto the important relationship between grammar and reading. MrV considered, “When you read for pleasure, you immerse, and then you automatically model that in your own writing IMHO. So promote ANY reading”, but also the importance of reading back on writing undertaken in class, to ensure it makes sense and is logical. Literacy 4 Pleasure shared a Year 5/6 Checklist used in class, that really helps pupils focus on important grammatical aspects of their writing (see image), and Ros Ferrara encouraged participants to, “develop your own bespoke checklists and a zero tolerance towards low level inaccuracies.”

Mareike Hachemer considered, “Reading is crucial to learning about grammar: Hear grammar forms, read grammar forms, bathe in them, find rules, then apply.” Suzanna C agreed, “The more that children read, the more they will be able to recognise the rules of grammar.”

Jack Wardle considered that writing should be taken as a mastery approach, as with maths. “I’ve used this prepositional phrase as it helps the reader to…”, but much attention was given to Literacy 4 Pleasure’s idea of the writing process to include a “vomit draft” (click image below to see the display within the classroom), including revise, edit & then then publish over 6 weeks.

Celebrating good writing with students was seen as an important classroom activity, with Zeba Clarke encouraging constant reinforcement and celebration of lovely writing, and confidence of the grammatical skills acquired should then have pupils justifying their writing decisions and learn to vocally say “I’m using _______ because it will achieve ______” (via Jack Wardle).

Paul Tyler noted that, “‘Real writers’ redraft and redraft over and over but ideas/imagination come first – spoke to an author last week – 36 redrafts!”, which resonated nicely with another nicely crafted comment from Literacy 4 Pleasure who added, “Revising is the bridge between composition and transcription.” Finally, Literacy 4 Pleasure also shared a Revision Tips Sheet (see image), commenting “We find this works effectively to show grammar features but give enough freedom of thought”, which is essential for writers, at all stages in their work.

There are plenty of ideas and resources to help you develop the grammar skills with your students, and thank you to all participants for sharing.

What works for you? How does your school focus on grammar skills within their writing? Continue the conversation by adding your comments to the bottom of this page.

 

Reference:

  • Fearn, L., & Farnan, N. (2007). When is a verb using functional grammar to teach writing. Journal of Basic Writing, 26(1) 1-26. (Click here to read PDF article).


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