Kids are back to school. And as they settle into their language arts lessons, they will be made to learn grammar, spelling and punctuation as if these were as fixed as the stars in the sky.
Best Teaching Method?
Most of our children will be unaware that parents, teachers, policymakers, researchers and critics have been wrangling over what kind of grammar should be taught; when it should be taught; how students should be graded and, in particular, how they should be tested. Critics say that grammar "terminology" is too advanced for 11-year-olds. They also say that the teachers are unprepared themselves, since grammar teaching went out of fashion for decades in the English-speaking world. And the terminology they are expected to know has changed since the days when those who were lucky enough to study grammar did so in the mid- and late 20th century.
No one disputes that children need to be able to write. But do 11-year-olds need the skill of identifying—by name—a “relative clause” (eg, the house that I live in), “modal verb” (eg, can and must) and “determiner” (a term better known to linguists than schoolteachers, including a, the, each, everyand some)? Deliberate study never killed anyone. But does this help kids write? One large meta-study (which looks at a host of previous studies) concluded that, of the teaching strategies designed to get kids writing better, nearly all had a positive effect—except for this kind of rigid grammar teaching, which had a slightly negative one.
Importance of Reading
Good reading is probably more essential to good writing than any other activity; students can produce effective English only by consuming great quantities of it first, finding their rhythm, and absorbing the grammar of the written page by reading, much as they learn the spoken language when they are younger by listening. Of course, many elements of English, like the fact that it’s is not a possessive or that their, they’re and there are different, need to be explicitly taught. But that teaching will stick best with good, curious and frequent readers.
Read, Write, and Read Some More
Explicit and overly abstract grammar teaching before the age of 11 is a bit like throwing seeds, that one hopes will turn into healthy plants, onto thawing early-spring ground yet to be ploughed. At this young age, spelling and punctuation—which are necessary and straightforward—can be introduced. But to expect the teaching of the modal verb and the determiner to make good writers out of young students is not “raising standards”. It is making a category error: writing and explaining syntax are related but not identical. Young children should read, then they should write, write and read again. The formal terms can wait for a later age.
At FutureSoBrite we believe that every child deserves a bright future, and that education makes all things possible. We believe great education doesn't just happen in school, it also happens at home. We are educators and parents who believe lessons learned at home are the foundations for lessons learned in life. Because teachers teach the class, but parents teach the child.