last updated 26 Feb 2002
A session during the conference of the Linguistics Association of Great Britain, 10 April 2002, Edge Hill College
Organised by the LAGB Education Committee
Chair: Sue Barry
"Linguistics and assessment in primary literacy"
Linguistics and assessment in primary literacy - Why should primary aged children and their teachers have to learn about grammar and what do they need to know?
One of the most compelling reasons to teach grammar in the primary school is in order to ensure the quality of ongoing teaching and assessment of reading and writing in the classroom. Pressure is currently on primary schools to reinstate assessment into the assessment -> planning -> teaching cycle and one of the tools being promoted to achieve this is the use of curriculum targets. Since the model for the teaching and assessment of writing provided by the DfES/ QCA is a very ‘grammar-centric’ one with a heavy emphasis on control of language, targets for reading and writing are often couched in terms of grammatical awareness and control. In this context, it is axiomatic that teachers should understand enough about how to use grammar effectively in writing to teach the children. In order that children understand their targets and learn to develop control in their writing, a shared metalanguage which teachers and pupils can use to discuss errors or alternative, more effective sentence structures is both a pragmatic necessity and an invaluable tool.
An examination of some samples of writing by 8/9 year old children will be the basis for a brief consideration as to what kind of grammar is most productive in the primary classroom and how children and teachers can use it for both formative and summative assessment.
"What, why and how?"
"Language and assessment for writing development"
What I'd like to do at the session is outline the language course that's included in our PGCE English course, then give a couple of examples of how this understanding feeds into trainees' ability to formatively assess pupils' writing at Key Stage 3. The language course is very basic becuase of time pressure, but the relevant parts include very fundamental phonology (essentially identifying how many phonemes there are in an utterance; more advanced trainees may learn to transcribe too), simple morphology - derivations and compounds, with some awareness of the messinesses that happen at morpheme boundaries. These points relate mainly to spelling. For grammar, we focus on clause connections, coordination and subordination, rather than word classes, which trainees can pick up from Crystal or one of the many grammar websites. We also look at how meanings are generated by interaction and discourse. We then give students opportunities to identify strengths in examples of pupils' writing - some provided by us, some by the trainees'
pupils -and to say how they would use that information to plan follow-up lessons. The hard bit is weaning trainees off just spotting the pupils' mistakes, but instead getting them to build on strengths and achievements. This is a matter of mindset as well as knowledge of language, but I think an objective study of language can generate a positive attitudes
to other people's use of language, as well as providing tools for the kind of detailed analysis of pupils' writing that's needed if we're to get beyond the rather mechanistic and top-down approach of the NLS (apologies to NLS fans - I know there are many good things in it too).
Here's an example. This is the opening of a story by a Year 7 pupil (spellings preserved) as part of a scheme of work on Arthurian legends; even my very able trainees didn't recognise it as a strong opening, partly I think because at the start of the course they operate a "descriptive" and literacy-based paradigm of good writing rather than keeping an open mind about the effective use of language. The objective of the language course and its follow-up is to enable trainees to respond sensitively and accurately to just such pieces of writing.
"I used to be aboy who washed armer and sords and axes but the queen was aknight down in a dule. so she asked me to fight with The eaval man who killed my uncle Lancelot."
In keeping with the positive approach, I'll bring examples of where trainees did identify strengths rather than where they didn't.