What are the conversations we need to have in our schools about teaching grammar?


English K–10 :: Organisation of content syllabus.bostes.nsw.edu.au


The final session of the epic ‘Grammar and Teaching’ PETAA course with Joanne Rossbridge was tonight. When we first began this course I would have defined grammar as being a set of rules for structuring language. This is the way I was taught, the traditional way. After playing with grammar over the last few months of this course and reflecting on the way our language works my definition of grammar is much deeper and broader. Naming and using the parts of speech correctly is part of what grammar is, but only a very small part.

If as Beverly Derewianka says, ‘grammar is a way of describing how a language works to make meaning in a particular context’ (p.1 A Grammar Companion, Derewianka, B., PETAA 1998) then, looking at the diagram above from the NSW K-10 English Syllabus, functional grammar appears to be at the heart of all the content. The knowledge of grammar and the ability to use it and understand the extent of its use, is a critical skill set for communicating, thinking critically and creatively, expressing ideas and reflecting on learning.

The conversation about this in depth can be found here in essay 5 of the Project 40 series (2014) whereDr Beverly Derewianka, author and Professor of Language Education, joined Dr Sally Humphrey to explore the growth and development of teaching knowledge about language in schools.

Closer to home is the question that Joanne Rossbridge left us with tonight – “What are you going to do with what you have learnt? How can you make the conversations about the importance of empowering our students with this skill set happen in your schools?”

If grammar is about ‘making meaning’ our children must be given the tools to speak, read and write confidently. They need the metalanguage … A language for talking about language images, texts and meaning-making interactions (The New London Group, 2000, p. 24) Without this metalanguage, (the language for talking about language), our children do not have the wherewithal to acquire and demonstrate their knowledge and understandings with regard to literacy across all Key Learning Areas.

The empowerment given through learning grammar is at the heart of not just the English syllabus but of all learning, for our entire lives.


4 thoughts on “What are the conversations we need to have in our schools about teaching grammar?

  1. That’s a succinct summing up of your learning Anne. I agree that metalanguage is very important. It is impossible discuss, and therefore extend, our understanding of anything without the language to do so.


    1. I could have waxed lyrical about the revision game we played outside to consolidate our learning and review the reading presentation that took place but sometimes it’s better to say less. Thanks for reading Norah. It’s been lovely getting to know you through the process.
      The best part of this course has been sharing the learning with colleagues at school and seeing them take it on board as well because they understand its importance. The journey will continue as we use our improved teaching toolkits and see our students build language toolkits of their own.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think the sharing is an important part of learning. When you have that shared metalanguage to discuss what you are doing with others who are doing similar things, a certain understanding and synchronicity happens that boosts everyone’s effectiveness and enjoyment. I look forward to hearing more about the implementation.

        Liked by 1 person

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