21st April 2016: To teach grammar, or not to teach grammar: the question of the day.
Since creating this blog, and the business of course, I have been trawling through websites to find what the man on the street, so to speak, has to say about the teaching of grammar. I find it intriguing that many authors are against the teaching of grammar, as if somehow learning different parts of speech and the associated terminology are draining the creativity out of our budding writers. Michael Rosen, for instance, frequently, and sometimes daily, posts his outrage on twitter and on his blog about how the learning of grammar is meaningless. Why do we need to know what an adverbial phrase is? Why indeed.
The acquisition of language primarily comes from those around us as we hear people talking, gesturing and reading. But what if in your background, reading is not important? What if most of what you hear is commands, or one word sentences? We know from the ever-growing number of surveys about poor backgrounds in the UK that this happens in the homes of far too many of the children we teach.
Surely then grammar is important. Most of us do not pick up grammar by osmosis. In fact, when we are taught a second or third language at school, grammar lessons are the building blocks needed to understand how sentences are constructed correctly. Did I find this method of teaching inspiring? Not really. But mostly it was due to my fear and embarrassment of saying something correctly. A French accent did not come easily to my Scottish twangs. But even now, as the language fades from my memory, I remember how to construct basic sentences. With a dictionary by my side, I could write a paragraph or two. I mean, it won’t be literature, but it would be accurate.
I do think that creativity is extremely important. I am currently writing a play, which I am sure I will never find the time to actually finish never mind make a great work of art. Why are we pretending that rejigging old stories constitutes any kind of creativity anyway? I have heard children just repeat all of the phrases that their teachers have said to them, and while I don’t argue the importance of this, it is hardly their own ingenuity.
Ultimately I am drawn to what is more important. And that is to make a child literate. I know how to write grammatically correct sentences. I am someone who tells children not to start a sentence with and (more as a general rule) and here I have done it in my own writing. It serves a purpose. And so does grammar teaching. It gives those of us with little imagination a way to convey ideas, to make sense of the texts that we are exposed to.
Creativity is finding new ways to teach the same features of grammar throughout a child’s education, so that they are not bored, nor stifled. It is about teaching children that playing with words is fun and empowering. It is understanding nuances, shades of meaning.
And frankly, shouting about how grammar teaching is pointless in itself is a pointless task. We don’t all have university professors and broadcasters to teach us the things we should know.