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Grammar for writing Dick Hudson

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1 Grammar for writing Dick Hudson

2 What is grammar? A tool for expressing meaning. –knowledge –competence –E.g. She knows a lot of grammar. Patterning in written or spoken texts. –(product of) behaviour –performance –E.g. The grammar here is complex.

3 The main question Grammatical performance obviously develops with age. Presumably grammatical knowledge does too. How are these two developments related? Or: What grammar must a child know in order to write well?

4 The main conclusion Grammatical knowledge must grow. We cant leave this growth to Mother Nature. So schools must help childrens grammatical knowledge to grow: –By providing models –By teaching new grammatical patterns.

5 Performance: quantitative developments Data from QCA studies at –Exeter (published) –UCLES (unpublished) 4 ages: KS1-4 2 sexes 2 genres (narrative, non-narrative) Pre-graded for NC level/GCSE grade 1998 (KS4), (KS1-3)

6 Grammatical analysis Per 100 words: Sentences and finite verbs Coordinated and subordinated clauses Adjectives and adverbs Abstract and concrete nouns

7 Results More mature writing has: Longer sentences More adjectives and adverbs. Fewer coordinated clauses –But related to grade, not to age! More nouns

8 Nouns

9 Why? Does mature writing have more abstract nouns? No.

10 Abstract nouns grow very little

11 The broader picture Changes at school are part of a much bigger picture (Hudson 1994, Language). This involves other word classes as well: –Verbs –Pronouns The poles are: –Spontaneous speech by children –Informative writing by adults

12 From childs play to adult informative writing

13 + child interviews and imaginative writing

14 Is it mainly due to age? No. In casual conversation, children are very similar to adults.

15 Childs play to adult conversation

16 The triumph of the noun What is going on? Basically we dont know. But these changes involve literacy, not age.

17 So what? Schools cant, and shouldnt, teach quantitative change as such. Changes in performance may reflect: –A growing brain and working memory capacity. –Increasingly complex content. –A growing competence (linguistic knowledge). We need more research: –Empirical research on performance changes. –Theoretical research on mental growth.

18 Growing competence? What is grammatical knowledge like? Is it small and general? –A few very general rules? Or big and detailed as well as general? –Including a lot of very specific rules/patterns? If the latter, maybe children go on learning specific patterns.

19 Front-shifting and subject-delay. E.g. Here comes our bus. Place + verb + subject In speech, this is common, but very restricted: –Place = here/there –Verb = BE/COME/GO In writing its much less restricted –By the side of it we put a bus-stop, where stood two children. (Perera: girl aged12) Presumably children have to learn these patterns.

20 Other new constructions at KS3 Non-finite reported clauses –… what I guessed to be a hatch –… hoping the water to be pure –… he had assumed Bob dead Non-finite adverbial clauses –Thus refreshed, I decided … –Bob would pause for many minutes whilst describing his exploits … All examples from one script.

21 So … By school age, children do not already know the entire grammar of their language. –Contrary to received wisdom in linguistics. A graded list of patterns would be very helpful for –syllabus designers. –examiners. The grammar that children need is –specific –teachable.

22 Does grammar teaching work? Yes. –It works if its done well. Successful grammar teaching: has a specific target writing outcome –some specific grammatical pattern. leads directly into a writing activity –e.g. sentence combining. is pro-active and planned –not reactive.

23 Conclusion Performance follows regular statistical patterns as it matures. But knowledge of specific grammatical patterns also grows. Schools can support this growth by teaching specific patterns.

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