2nd May 2016: Shock horror- there is more than one way of teaching grammar.
What do you mean? That I don’t need to use worksheets?
When the teaching of grammar is under attack, it gives connotations that children will be sitting in single desks, in rows with a teacher pointing to the blackboard and dusting off chalk. I’m not going to lie- I have dressed up in a long black robe, given the children chalk boards and pretended to give them a caning, but all in the name of fun history teaching. * But I still feel confusion that some critics think we deliver an old-school approach as if it is a side attack of the knowledge based curriculum.
At some point, a deductive approach, where the focus is on learning rules, is used by all. We might present a ‘rule’, give an example and ask children to find more examples in a given text. It doesn’t take a genius though to point out that there are rarely concrete rules in our language, so the use of this approach is its own limiting factor. For me, this it is as close as teaching to the test as any of the approaches, something that we all succumb to even though it gnaws at our integrity. What I don’t understand is why we shouldn’t present a rule as a common way of constructing language; if it wasn’t common, then there would be no ‘rule’.
I prefer to take an inductive approach, where children try to work out the rule from given examples. This way we are encouraging children to think about a text, to analyse its structure, to use problem-solving skills. Obviously, there is a downside to this approach, and it comes in the form of a misguided monster that the children inevitably remember because they came up with the (wrong) hypothesis and no amount of corrective teaching seems to solve it. But that hands-on approach is memorable and means that the children are actively engaged rather than just passively taking in information.
A functional approach asks us to think about how aspects of grammar could be used in particular contexts, however, to me this is the most impractical and useless approach mainly because our use of language in different situations is moving so quickly that we threaten to leave our students behind. For example, we may look at the grammatical structure of an informal letter, but how many of these do the majority of people use? My wife regularly writes to her 93-year old gran, but she is the only person I know who does. I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t learn such things, but we need to be open minded about how the way we use language is changing.
And that’s why learning grammar in context is so important. Yes, it can be time-consuming to think about the aspects you will teach and it does require the teacher to have a reasonably good grasp of concepts, but the situation explains the meaning. My approach is to allow children to play with texts and language, to feel the joy when showing multiple meanings through carefully constructed sentences and not to feel bored because worksheets rarely come into play.
*N. B No children were harmed in the making of this blog.