The 15 minute forum tonight was led by our Head of English, Kate Bloomfield. Kate started the forum by reminding us of the unfortunate labels that are often used to describe people who get cross about the use of poor grammar (I hope there’s none in this article!?) e.g.
- Grammar Fascists!
- Grammar Police!
- Grammar Nazis!
We were then treated to this by Mitchell & Webb:
Now whilst this may be seen (by some) as an extreme reaction, it’s important that we don’t ‘dumb down’ the importance of grammar. We need it in order to communicate effectively – and so o our students. For the same reason, we need to use ‘Standard English’ i.e. using standard English words to communicate. This was illustrated using the following task. We were asked to look at the picture below and then describe to a partner, how to ride a bike, without using the words in red:
Not surprisingly, this was quite difficult – because we didn’t have the vocabulary to explain ourselves. In the same way, students will struggle to articulate their ideas effectively, if they are not able to use formal language appropriately. So we need to be more explicit about this in our teaching – use formal, academic, subject specific language as the norm in lessons. This reminded me of this great poster from Chris Moyse:
At a recent conference, Kate heard a lead HMI for literacy, Patricia Meetham, talking about good practice in schools.
“Pupils should be able to develop and share ideas, information and feelings confidently and clearly in a style suited to the occasion.”
This is an important point. When students are first expressing their ideas, verbally, they should be free to do so in a way that they feel comfortable with – so as to not stifle their thinking. As they develop their ideas and begin to write them down, highlight the difference and encourage them to use more formal language.
“Who is responsible for teaching and modelling the skills?
All teachers in all subjects!
Pupils who do not learn to speak, read and write fluently and confidently are disenfranchised.”
So as teachers we need to model this on a daily basis. If not we’ll see more of the following:
And we may end up with a thank you note from our students, like this:
So, why is it important?
It’s unfortunate that Standard English and SPaG are often seen as relics from a bygone age – they should be seen as essential tools.
Consider how punctuation changes the meaning of the following sentences:
Woman without her man is nothing.
Woman, without her man, is nothing.
Woman: without her, man is nothing.
private no swimming allowed
Private! No swimming allowed.
Private? No! Swimming allowed.
john sat down on the television there was a herd of elephants in his bedroom his father was tidying up
John sat down. On the television there was a herd of elephants. In his bedroom, his father was tidying up.
John sat down on the television. There was a herd of elephants in his bedroom. His father was tidying up.
- Speaking comes first – allow time for students to articulate and discuss openly (do not insist on SE at first – but highlight the difference)
- Then encourage students to use ‘formal’ ‘standard’ English.
- Prompt them to do this by using phrases like “how could we phrase this in an exam answer?”
- Consciously model and reflect on your own language use – think out loud – rephrase out loud e.g. “I’m not sure if that’s the best word to describe X, maybe I should have used Y instead?”. We model writing, but do we model speech as much?
- Post a list of ‘banned’ words in your classroom.
- Post a list of ‘formal’, ‘technical’, ‘standard’ alternatives to the banned words.
- Avoid EVER using the word ‘posh’, when you actually mean ‘Standard English’ or ‘formal language’. It’s language that we should all use, not just ‘others’.
And then finally we watched this inspirational young person: