Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hammered by grammar

A recent piece of research from Dr Ewa Dabrowska of Northumbria University seems to suggest that many adults have difficulty with some areas of English grammar. The research - reported here - points to the passive voice as one particularly tricky area, with some respondents who'd left school at 16 finding it tricky to understand the construction. As Dabrowska points out in the report, many instructions and written forms of information use the passive voice, so the implications in government information and education campaigns might be significant.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Teaching children to make mistakes

This article in today's Guardian gives some food for thought about how we teach young people. Academics in France are running a "festival of errors", designed to encourage students to think for themselves and not to become too hung up on getting the "right" answer. One point made by Girolamo Ramunni, one of those involved in the enterprise, is that "Once they've accepted that getting things wrong is not the end of the world, yes, they may come up with some crazy ideas, but they will have some good ones too".

Perhaps this has some relevance to how grammar is taught in this country too. One approach might be to place more of an emphasis on encouraging problem solving approaches to language as these French academics are applying to science. Instead of a dry naming of parts, grammar learning can be about looking at possibilities, testing out hypotheses and defending those positions - argumentation, in other words - something that has often been lost in the mix as teachers have tried to address the needs of the National Curriculum.

Just to finish, in their book on teaching English using corpora, From Corpus to Classroom, O'Keefe, McCarthy and Carter talk about the difficulties inherent in helping learners move "from awareness of structures as right or wrong, to choices from along a gradient of possibilities, to an assessment of what is probable in one context rather than another". What we are setting out to do - and this article about French attempts to do something similar in a scientific context back the point up - is not only to give teachers and students confidence about their knowledge, but also to show them that living with uncertainty is part of living with our language.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Teaching the parts of speech

Here's a link to an article on the excellent Visual Thesaurus site about teaching word classes to college students in the USA.

Recent presentations

We have presented seminars, workshops and/or talks at the following events recently:
  • "From ICE to VLE" at BAAL/CUP in June 2010
  • "From ICE to VLE: developing a web-based grammar teaching platform" at Teaching English Grammar in Winchester, June 2010
  • "Goodbye to the cat on the mat" at NATE conference July 2010

The glamour of grammar

Thanks to everyone who came to our Glamour of Grammar day last week. We thought it was a good start to our work with teachers and it has given us plenty of ideas for what to cover in future events.

In the first session Bas Aarts introduced the day and kicked off with some discussion about the place of grammar in secondary English teaching. He looked at how grammar was sidelined in the late 1960s, with more of an emphasis on students' own personal responses to language and literature coming to the fore, before undergoing something of a revival with the National Strategies in the last decade. Grammar is worthy of study in its own right, he argued, but even more interesting when looked at as part of a wider problem-solving strategy which encourages young people to think for themselves, develop argumentation skills and relate what they understand to the language they see around them.

The second session, presented by Dan Clayton, took a look at three different resources that introduced grammar to different age groups. In the first resource he looked at how a made up language could be used to explore concepts in English grammar such as morphology, tense and syntax with Key Stage 3-4 students. Using spoken language as a  starting point for the second resource, he then looked at how to relate grammar to context, considering factors such as the time between presentation and representation in texts such as sports commentaries and match reports. In a third and final resource, Dan looked at how ideas about form and function might be explored using the ICE-GB corpus and a search for tag questions in male and female language.

Barbara Bleiman from the English and Media Centre ran the third session and used extracts from their new spoken language resource to talk about approaches to the structure and form of spoken language with special reference to the new spoken language study at GCSE.

In the final session, delegates got the chance to test out the ICECUP tool to search the corpus and find out a bit more about how to use a corpus in investigating language. Sean Wallis explained some of the capabilities of the software and the potential uses of the corpus in the classroom while Bas Aarts gave an overview of the types of texts in teh corpus and how to carry out basic searches.