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Playing with Grammar: Developing Writing

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1 Playing with Grammar: Developing Writing
Debra Myhill © University of Exeter

2 Introducing the Research
© University of Exeter

3 Different Views of Grammar
Learning grammar rules; Correcting grammar errors; De-contextualised exercises; A focus on error and accuracy. OR Developing knowledge about language; Using metalanguage to talk about language; Making connections between grammar and writing; A focus on meaning and effects © University of Exeter

4 The Exeter Project Grammar meant: Grammar did not mean:
Developing knowledge about language; Using metalanguage to talk about language; Making connections between grammar and writing. Learning grammar rules; Correcting grammar errors; De-contextualised exercises. © University of Exeter

5 Pre and post tests compared to
The research design A randomised control trial Writing outcomes Observations 16 Intervention classes were taught 3 schemes of work supporting contextualised grammar knowledge Pre and post tests compared to 16 comparison classes Student interviews Teacher interviews Embedded in a qualitative study © University of Exeter

6 The Intervention Designed 3 schemes work (1 per term) focusing on a different written genre: Narrative Fiction; Argument; Poetry Each unit had the same core set of learning objectives Grammar features which were relevant to the writing being taught were embedded into the teaching units Intervention group had detailed teaching materials for each lesson Comparison group addressed same learning objectives, same resources and produced same written outcomes, but had no lesson plans © University of Exeter

7 Did it work? Statistically significant positive effect for intervention group Intervention group improved their writing scores by 20% over the year compared with 11% in the comparison group. The grammar teaching had greatest impact on able writers Able writers in the comparison group barely improved over the year [A later study shows the approach is effective for weaker writers] Teachers’ subject knowledge of grammar was an influencing factor © University of Exeter

8 Contextualised grammar teaching
A rhetorical view of grammar – exploring how language works Investigating how language choices construct meanings in different contexts The teaching focus is on writing, not on grammar per se The teaching focus is on effects and constructing meanings, not on the feature or terminology itself The teaching goal is to open up a repertoire of infinite possibilities, not to teach about ‘correct’ ways of writing © University of Exeter

9 Understanding the Pedagogy
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10 Key Teaching Principles
The Big Three! 1. Links are always made between the grammar being introduced and how it might enhance the writing being tackled: 2. Grammatical metalanguage is used, but it is explained through examples; 3. Discussion is fundamental in encouraging critical conversations about language and effects: © University of Exeter

11 Key Teaching Principles
And four more! The use of ‘creative imitation’ offers model patterns for students to play with and then use in their own writing; The use of authentic examples from authentic texts links writers to the broader community of writers; Activities support students in making choices and being designers of writing; Language play, experimentation, risk-taking and games are actively encouraged. © University of Exeter

12 Making Connections Links are always made between the feature introduced and how it might enhance the writing being tackled The goal in embedding attention to grammar within a writing curriculum is to support writing development, not to learn grammar; Understanding ‘effects’ is part of beginning to understand the writer’s craft and the possibilities open to a writer; Considering how grammatical structures create meaning in specific contexts reinforces the importance of context Making meaningful connections between writing and grammar avoids redundant learning, such as complex sentences are good sentences © University of Exeter

13 A Classroom Example Context: Writing fairy tales
Learning Focus: the simplicity of noun phrases in fairy tales Connections between grammar and writing: Fairy tales draw on oral narratives and written versions retain many of the patterns of oral language. These helped listeners to follow and remember the story. Nouns and adjectives are often used very simply. Repetition of adjectives Eg a dark, dark wood. Short noun phrases with just one adjective Eg wicked stepmother; enchanted forest; handsome prince; golden apple Predictable ‘stock’ of nouns and adjectives eg beautiful; evil; castle; king; forest; princess; © University of Exeter

14 Using Grammatical Metalanguage
Grammatical metalanguage is used, but it is explained through examples Hearing the terminology used in relevant contexts may support learning; Being able to use the terminology allows for more succinct talk about writing but the terminology may be a barrier for some students; Providing examples allows students to access the structure and discuss its effect even if they don’t remember the grammatical name. Seeing examples is more concrete learning compared with the abstract learning needed with terminology © University of Exeter

15 A Classroom Example Context: writing a persuasive speech
Learning Focus: how modal verbs can express different levels of assertiveness or possibility in persuasion Resource with modal verbs listed: can; could; may; might; must; shall; should; will; ought to TASK: Imagine that you are Roy Hodgson talking to the England team before the penalty shoot-out in the Euro 2012 match against Spain. Write a short ‘pep talk,’ arguing that it’s still possible to win, using some of these modal verbs to predict what might / can / will happen in the shoot out. You could start: ‘We can win a penalty shoot-out.’ © University of Exeter

16 Writing Conversations
Discussion is fundamental in encouraging critical conversations about language and effects Constructive exploratory talk enables learning to develop; Teacher input is important in initiating learning but understanding cannot be transmitted from teacher to student; Talk fosters discussion about choices, possibilities and effects; Talk may be the key to moving students from superficial learning about grammar (eg add adjectives to create description) to deep learning (eg some adjectives are redundant because the noun is descriptive); Talk gives ownership to writers in making writerly decisions. © University of Exeter

17 A Classroom Example Context: Writing Fictional Narrative
Learning Focus: how short sentences can create tension in narrative TASK: In pairs, read the extract from Michel Morpurgo’s Arthur, High King of Britain and find the three shortest sentences he uses. Discuss why he might have chosen to make these three sentences so short? What part do they play in the narrative structure of this incident? What effect might they have on the reader? © University of Exeter

18 Creative imitation The use of ‘creative imitation’ offers model patterns for students to play with and then use in their own writing Imitation is a scaffold which allows students to try out new structures or new ways of expressing something; As a scaffold it fosters both success and experimentation; Imitation may help to embed new structures cognitively within the student’s writing repertoire; Creative imitation is a first step in generating original combinations. © University of Exeter

19 A Classroom Example Context: Argument Writing Learning Focus: how using an imperative opening sentence followed by an emotive narrative can act as an effective hook for a persuasive argument which follows. TASK: Picture the scene. There are dogs running wild around a courtyard littered with muck and machinery. There are dogs rammed in cages, noses pressed against the bars. There are dogs whose fur is hanging in great clumps, with bare skin and running sores. The noise of barking and yelping is deafening, but in one cage a golden labrador lies silent, head on its paws, looking at the yard with melancholy eyes. © University of Exeter

20 Authentic Texts The use of authentic examples from authentic texts links writers to the broader community of writers Writers need to explore what real writers do and the choices they make; Using authentic texts makes meaningful links between being a reader and being a writer; Using authentic texts allows teachers to choose texts which will motivate and engage their students; Using authentic texts avoids the pitfalls of examples artificially created to exemplify a grammar point which have no resonance of truth. © University of Exeter

21 A Classroom Example Context: Writing Poetry Learning Focus: how noun phrases can evoke vivid images Activity: Using a Roethke’s poem, Boy on Top of a Greenhouse, students analyse how the poem is entirely comprised of a series of expanded noun phrases with no finite verb. The noun phrases build a detailed picture of the scene and the absence of a finite verb creates a sense of a frozen moment in time. Students use this as a model for writing their own poem. © University of Exeter

22 Making Design Choices Activities support students in making choices and being designers of writing Making choices gives more autonomy to the writer and less to the teacher; Choice-making fosters ownership and authorial responsibility; Making choices more visible opens up the writing process, making real the idea that writing is a complex act of decision-making Encouraging writers to see that choices are available to them avoids formulaic writing or checklist approaches; Awareness of the importance of choices makes writers more aware of a repertoire of infinite possibilities. © University of Exeter

23 A Classroom Example Context: Writing Argument Focus: How sentence length and sentence structure can be used to create rhetorical effect in the closing of a persuasive argument. TASK: Students are given the sentences from the final paragraph of a persuasive speech, each sentence on a separate strip of paper. They are given two sets of the same sentences. In pairs, they create two version of the ending of the argument and discuss the different ways the two versions work. Finally they choose and justify the choice of their preferred version. © University of Exeter

24 Playful Experimentation
Language play, experimentation, risk-taking and games are actively encouraged Playfulness helps writers to see the elasticity of language, the possibilities it affords; Experimentation and taking risks are at the heart of creativity; Writers need opportunities for constructive ‘failure’; Able writers often play safe and avoid trying out new ways of writing; Playfulness is engaging. © University of Exeter

25 A Classroom Example Context: Writing Poetry
Focus: how varying sentence structure and sentence length can create different emphases in poetry. TASK: Using an exploded version of Sylvia Plath’s Mirror presented alphabetically as a word grid, students are asked to generate pairs of sentence, experimenting with the possibilities outlined below: Beginning with a non-finite verb, adverb or prepositional phrase Using a short verbless sentence Using a one word sentence Using repetition of a single word or short phrase. © University of Exeter

26 Grammar in the New Curriculum
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27 Grammar Annex: NC2013 The grammar of our first language is learnt naturally and implicitly through interactions with other speakers and from reading. Explicit knowledge of grammar is, however, very important, as it gives us more conscious control and choice in our language. Building this knowledge is best achieved through a focus on grammar within the teaching of reading, writing and speaking. © University of Exeter

28 Grammar Annex NC2013 Once pupils are familiar with a grammatical concept [for example ‘modal verb’], they should be encouraged to apply and explore this concept in the grammar of their own speech and writing and to note where it is used by others. Young pupils, in particular, use more complex language in speech than in writing, and teachers should build on this, aiming for a smooth transition to sophisticated writing. © University of Exeter

29 Grammar Annex NC2013 The [annex] shows when concepts should be introduced first, not necessarily when they should be completely understood. It is very important, therefore, that the content in earlier years be revisited in subsequent years to consolidate knowledge and build on pupils’ understanding. © University of Exeter

30 Subject Knowledge Our research, including more recent studies, highlights the importance of teachers’ grammatical subject knowledge; Explanations of grammar observed in lessons were often incorrect; Teachers did not always realise that children were making mistakes in their grammatical understanding; Teachers found it hard to handle difficult questions from children; Teachers need much better understanding of grammar than children! © University of Exeter

31 Grammatical Subject Knowledge
letter capital letter word singular plural sentence punctuation full stop question mark exclamation mark noun noun phrase statement question exclamation command compound adjective verb suffix adverb tense (past /present) apostrophe comma adverb preposition conjunction word family prefix clause subordinate clause direct speech consonant consonant letter vowel vowel letter inverted commas (or ‘speech marks’) determiner pronoun possessive pronoun adverbial modal verb relative pronoun relative clause parenthesis bracket dash cohesion ambiguity subject object active passive synonym antonym ellipsis hyphen colon semi-colon bullet points © University of Exeter

32 To Consider Whole school policy:
Colour coding for word classes and syntactical structures which is consistent across the school; Visual reinforcement of previous learning; Visual support for current grammatical explanations Always having a ‘why’ statement when a grammar term is introduced eg understand how to choose nouns for precise description understand how prepositional phrases can establish setting in narrative © University of Exeter

33 Grammatical Explanations
A need to avoid definitions which confuse: A verb is a doing word; An adjective is a describing word; Concrete nouns are things you can touch or see. A need to avoid teaching misconceptions: Punctuation is about breathing; Complex sentences are better than simple sentences; You improve your writing by adding adjectives and adverbs. Ban all acronyms! (FANBOYS; AFOREST: PEE…) Acknowledge that we know very little about the best way to teach grammatical metalanguage © University of Exeter

34 I found him in the garage on a Sunday afternoon
I found him in the garage on a Sunday afternoon. It was the day after we moved into Falconer Road. The winter was ending. Mum had said we’d be moving just in time for the spring. Nobody else was there. Just me. The others were inside the house with Doctor Death, worrying about the baby. He was lying in there in the darkness behind the tea chests, in the dust and dirt. It was as if he’d been there forever. He was filthy and pale and dried out and I thought he was dead. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I’d soon begin to see the truth about him, that there’d never been another creature like him in the world. We called it the garage because that’s what the estate agent, Mr Stone, called it. It was more like a demolition site or a rubbish dump or one of those ancient warehouses they keep pulling down at the quay. Stone led us down the garden, tugged the door open and shone his little torch into the gloom. We shoved our heads in at the doorway with him. © University of Exeter

35 Plenary: Pulling it all together
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36 Grammatical Conversations
Developing grammatical thinking rather than grammar labelling; Using students’ questions and confusions over grammar as fertile resources for developing knowledge about language; Probing for why and how rather than what and where. Taking students’ responses as the starting point for discussion, rather than the finishing point; Making discussion about grammatical choices as embedded within teaching as discussion about literary devices, vocabulary choices and text structure; Developing the quality of all talk about texts: spotting metaphors is as educationally pointless as labelling clauses; Using grammatical metalanguage naturally as part of classroom discourse. © University of Exeter

37 Supporting Test Success
Embed the multiple choice accuracy tests throughout the school within the relevant teaching unit eg accuracy of capitalisation on Proper Nouns when teaching about the literary effects of Proper Noun choices Notice common accuracy errors in the writing of your own class and create quick multiple choice tests to address these Use the style and visual layout of the tests Build teacher modelling and student discussion around these ‘test’ moments, so they are teaching and learning opportunities © University of Exeter

38 Metalinguistic knowledge
Effective teachers in our study: always linked the linguistic feature to a specific context-relevant effect or purpose, thus making meaningful connections between the grammar under focus and the writing; responded to students’ own writing sensitively, asking questions which invited students to consider the writing choices they were making, or by drawing out explicitly effective choices in the writing; had sufficient metalinguistic knowledge to notice relevant aspects of reading texts to draw to learners’ attention. © University of Exeter

39 Understanding the Author’s Craft
Writing is fundamentally about making choices and decisions. These choices can be explicit or implicit choices: as we become more expert at writing, more and more choices become implicit and internalised, but equally other choices become the focus of explicit attention. Novice writers need support in understanding the choices that are available to them in terms of content and ideas, text structures, sentence and phrase structures and vocabulary. Focused engagement with reading texts can be converted in more ‘writerly’ engagement with written texts. To help students understand the author’s craft requires explicit teaching. The goal is to open up a repertoire of infinite possibilities, not to impose formulaic ways of writing. © University of Exeter

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