We read Professor Dominic Wyse’s article on the need to change the way we teach grammar with interest and surprise. He seems to have some very fixed ideas about the teaching of grammar to six and seven year olds, which are at odds with our experience.
This should not be a political argument about “correct” or “incorrect” English. As the White Paper published on 28 March highlights, we are all striving to provide a world-class education for every child, not a version that leaves out the difficult bits or more challenging concepts.
“All children are encouraged to use correct grammatical terminology; this is modelled daily by teachers.”
At Godolphin Prep, our philosophy is quite different. We aim to make the teaching of English truly creative; children frequently write for purpose, to publish or perform their work. We teach in an imaginative way and we link the teaching of English with the creative arts. Drama, dance and art are often linked to the texts girls study and interwoven into lessons.
The use of high-quality texts is at the heart of our teaching. For each unit of work teachers will carefully choose a text, the study of which may last several weeks, and will incorporate all aspects of English teaching and learning. This includes the teaching of grammar. Wherever possible, we embed the teaching of grammar within the text being taught. All children are encouraged to use correct grammatical terminology; this is modelled daily by teachers and becomes a seamless part of lessons.
“Accurate grammar enables pupils to express themselves clearly.”
From Year 1, the writing our pupils produce is enhanced by their knowledge and understanding of grammar and spelling. The crucial point is that grammar, like so many other aspects of the English Primary Curriculum must be taught in context and our creative curriculum lends itself to this approach. The teaching of grammar is an important part of the English curriculum. We aim to provide pupils with the tools to become fluent writers and speakers and to be confident, creative and articulate thinkers; accurate grammar enables pupils to express themselves clearly. The teaching of grammar, however, should not be through discrete grammar lessons but should be interwoven into the curriculum.
The following examples, from this term highlight our approach and our conviction that the teaching of grammar is fundamental to fostering excellent writing and speaking skills.
Years 1 and 2 read Look Up by Nathan Bryon and became fascinated by all things Space. Pupils created star gazing guides, which they presented to parents in assembly. Learning about imperative verbs and using them in their writing enabled the children to adopt the correct tone for instructional writing and to write informative guides. Pupils researched Mae Jemison, the first African American woman to become an astronaut and wrote biographies about her. Learning about time connectives enabled pupils to write accurately, in chronological order.
Year 3 (The Firework Maker’s DaughterT) made journey maps for Lila, they annotated their maps with expanded noun phrases, they then used these in an extended piece of creative writing. We use a multisensory approach and children often make their own resources. They made “conjunction key rings”, which they have to hand in class and use them frequently to aid their extended writing. Pupils learned about direct speech; they roll played dialogue between Lila and Lachland. They then Blu- Tacked macaroni to show where speech marks should go, separating the dialogue from the reporting clause. This was a collaborative activity, which involved plenty of discussion. Pupils then applied this knowledge to their own writing.
“There is no place for outdated teaching or old-fashioned grammar books.”
Year 4 found examples of time connectives in Aesop’s Fables. They collected examples, displayed the time connectives, discussed the impact of using time connectives (the narrative moves along quicker) and then used them in their own fables. This was one of several success criteria on the ‘marking ladder’ the class created before writing their fables. They used the ‘marking ladder’ for peer feedback.
Year 5 recently retold Alfred Noyes’ The Highwayman as a narrative. The shift in verb tense is key to the ending of the story and creates an eerie atmosphere as the Highwayman and Bess live on as ghosts. Before writing, pupils retold the story orally using annotated storyboards to help them. This enabled pupils to embed the structure of the narrative in their minds and to rehearse using the change in verb tense before writing their stories. We used the whiteboard in the library to create a fireside, giving the room an eerie atmosphere. When they came to write their narratives, the pupils used the shift in verb tense accurately and as a result created a haunting ending to the tale.
Grammar teaching should incorporated into the curriculum and linked to quality texts. There is no place for outdated teaching or old-fashioned grammar books. It should be incorporated into lessons from KS1 and crucially it should make sense to the pupils. If not, they are unlikely to remember it or have the confidence to apply it in future.