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Grammar Matters

Posted in Teaching Matters

Explicit teaching of grammar with rules and gap-fill exercises out of context is an old tradition in Europe, although masses of research has tried to make it obsolete:

Research over a period of nearly 90 years has consistently shown that the teaching of school grammar has little or no effect on students. (Hillocks & Smith, 1991)

The reason is simple:

You tend to teach the way you were taught.

Today’s teachers teach the way they were taught by teachers who taught the way they were taught by… Ad infinitum.

It takes awareness, conscious study and practise to change fossilised methods. The first person, who made me aware of this approach to grammar, was Stephen Krashen with his Natural Approach:

Language is best taught when it is being used to transmit messages, not when it is explicitly taught for conscious learning.

The Swedish Curriculum for English is based on the same view:

Students learn a language most efficiently by expressing their thoughts and trying to communicate, not by studying separate building blocks of the language. (My translation)

Grammar still matters, especially in writing.

There are many ways students can learn language correctness more efficiently than with grammar books and grammar exercises. One of the basic principles of teaching grammar is mentioned in the revised commentary to the Swedish Curriculum for English:

Linguistic elements like grammatical structures and spelling should be presented only when there is a functional purpose, in order to clarify and enrich the communication. (My translation)

Grammar should be taught when it is needed, not in case it is needed.

If there is interest among my followers, I could plan a web-based course with this and other principles and practices of learning language correctness to help you start on this track. Let me know.



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