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Back to School

By 12th September 2016Blog

Back to school

The new year has started, teachers and students alike, have gone back to school. Although it has only been a week, I’m sure to both staff and pupils the summer holidays feel a long time ago. This week is when the routines get started in earnest as the new expectations have been laid out: expectations in behaviour, expectations in presentation, expectations in learning. What about expectations in grammar, spelling and punctuation?

Children like rules

Back to school rules

 

They may say that they don’t, but they do.

Boundaries and absolutes make students feel secure and safe. They need to know that they are fair and apply to everyone equally. Rules teach students self-control. Rules mean that the students know who is in charge, making them feel more secure and able to learn in the classroom. Good routines, rules and expectations make it clear what is expected from the student and provides an environment in which they can learn.

John Hattie in his book, Visible Learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement, points to the fact that classroom environment, peer influences and the lack of disruptive students in the classroom lead to the greatest success. This is not new and something that every teacher intrinsically knows.

Children understand rules

Students’ lives are governed by rules throughout the day and not just at school. They know that the rule is that when you are crossing the road you have to look both ways and check there is no traffic coming. They understand that when they play football, there are several (and quite complex) rules which make the game more enjoyable.

grammar rules football rules

Grammar, spelling and punctuation is just another set of rules.

Correct spelling, grammar and punctuation should be made part of the expectations and rules of the classroom.

It is not acceptable to graffiti a book, or bully a peer, so why is it acceptable to not use full stops and capital letters correctly?

Students know the rules of grammar, spelling and punctuation, but we as teachers do not enforce them rigorously certainly not as rigorously as uniform.

Whether you think grammar should be descriptive or prescriptive, one way of looking at grammar is as a set of rules, e.g. www.dictionary.com defines grammar as “a set of rules accounting for these constructions”. Yes, they are complex. Yes, they can apply differently in different situations. Yes, the rules of grammar produce different interpretations. However, rules are complex for most things, which is why in sport we use referees, or in law we use lawyers. It doesn’t mean that the rules shouldn’t be learned or can’t be learned.

Grammar is a set of rules that we as humans use to understand what is meant.

Focus-on-grammar

Grammar, knowing about grammar and learning about grammar is not about having a linguistic straight jacket. It is how creativity manifests itself in language. It’s how we organize language to communicate with others and to express ourselves.

Not only do we need to teach grammar to fulfil the National Curriculum, but we need to teach grammar to enable students to be creative and open up possibilities. If students are left to use what they intuitively know about language, they will write how they speak (or even worse how they text). If the only language resource that students have is what they hear in their everyday lives, then the gap between those who come from a language-rich household and those who don’t widens ever further.

Teaching grammar can also have an impact on reading according to Timothy Shanahan. He states that as students learn to employ more complex sentences in their spoken and written language, their ability to make sense of what they read increases. This has also been seen in a case-study conducted by SkillsMastery where not only did students who used SkillsMastery outperform their peers in grammar by 66%, but also outperformed their peers in reading by 40%.

What is the best way to teach grammar?

Based on a ten-year programme, Professor Debra Myhill has demonstrated that embedding grammar in the teaching of writing has a positive impact on children’s written work. However, in order for this type of teaching to be used, the students need to understand the grammar in the first place and know what the rules are. If not it is like expecting students to compete in an Olympic Diving competition without teaching them the basics of standing on a board and jumping in the water, let alone how to do a somersault.

The best way to teach grammar is through exemplary literature. Grammar exercises and drills by themselves do not show the beauty of the English Language or unleash students’ creativity. We need an approach which uses both to ensure that students can be creative. By using an approach which melds instruction with exemplification, students understand the rules and how the rules of grammar can be used and played with to express a writer’s intentions.

Rules need to be enforced?

Correct spelling, grammar and punctuation should be made part of the expectations and rules of the classroom.

It is not acceptable to graffiti a book, or bully a peer, so why is it acceptable to not use full stops and capital letters correctly?

Students know the rules of grammar, spelling and punctuation, but we as teachers do not enforce them rigorously enough or often enough.  We need to show sloppy writing the red card. We can teach grammar in whichever way we choose, but if we as teachers do not ensure that those rules are followed then it is almost pointless.

Showing poor grammar the red card.

 

SkillsMastery uses research-tested methods to teach the rules of grammar, the uses of grammar and uses exemplary literature to show how the grammar is used. The rules of grammar are also enforced, because if the exercise is not completed using correct spelling, grammar or punctuation then it is marked wrong and the student has to repeat the exercise. SkillsMastery allows students to master the basics in order to unleash their creativity.

If you would like to find out more please click here.