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Primary Education News
News Preparing for the new grammar, punctuation and spelling test
In the run up to the new grammar, punctuation and spelling test in May, primary teacher Louise Moore argues why learning the structure of writing is as important as the creative elements
Julies Hair Design, Discount Shoe's, Off License and even Toys R us. Sadly, our children are exposed to the incorrect use of grammar and punctuation on a daily basis.
Over recent years, understanding of grammar and punctuation has not been helped by texting language and abbreviations used in social media. We have to consider what children are seeing and learning from this.
In a bid to address this decline in written English, the new English, grammar, punctuation and spelling test will be sat by all 11 year olds from May 2013, bringing a major change to schools.
However, this change has not been welcomed by all.
Those who are against the new tests believe that grammar and punctuation are overrated, irrelevant and stifle the creativity that the current curriculum was designed to encourage. Dr Simon Gibbons, chairman of The National Association for the Teaching of English (NATE) says: "Most English teachers try to teach grammar in context, rather than through formal exercises. ThBad punctuationere's very little evidence relating to the benefits of teaching grammar in that way."
However, there are those, like me, who feel that the refocus is long overdue. Whether in your curriculum vitae letter of application or a leaflet to promote your new business, recipients will judge you and consider your services less competent if your proficiency in grammar and punctuation is lacking. These vital skills, therefore, could affect (not effect!) your opportunities in life, so it is important that they are brought in as a core part of the curriculum.
Over the past few years, influenced by SATs, teachers have put a greater emphasis on creativity and the structural side of writing rather than developing students' ability to understand the syntax and flow. Looking at training courses that have been available recently for teachers, few have been focused on grammar, vocabulary and punctuation – probably because these have not, until now, been in SATs. Like the swing of a pendulum, we need to go back to having an emphasis on developing a greater understanding of the fundamental rules of grammar and punctuation.
I believe that one problem with our education system today lies in the fact that we have many young teachers who have come through the English education system at a time when grammar and punctuation were not taught to a high enough standard, so we have a significant skills gap in our teaching profession. Commonly, teachers make basic mistakes including not using apostrophes correctly. I was in a school recently where I had to explain to a newly qualified teacher the correct use of your and you're.
It is clear that some teachers need professional development to help them meet the demands of the new test. We are already starting to hear whispers of boycotting the test, but I believe that, as a profession, we need to consider what is in the best interest of the pupils in our care – pupils we are preparing for adult life. We have to approach this new test with an open mind and a desire to improve our own knowledge as much as that of our students'. To achieve this, many teachers need training.
While working on creating the online Essential CPD course on grammar, punctuation and spelling I have spent time reading up on this aspect of written English. It is only through training and reading that I am able to have discussions with the students on fronted adverbials, relative clauses, and when to use perfect and imperfect verb forms. However, many teachers don't have the background to tackle these areas confidently. Some teachers will need to immerse themselves in grammar, punctuation and spelling so they are absolutely sure that they know more than they need to teach.
I have always included a level of grammar and punctuation teaching in my classes, but it has been interesting to note the students' response to a more intense focus. I have year 5 students telling me about fronted adverbials, identifying clauses and explaining clearly where to use an apostrophe. As with all learning at this age, they have absorbed it so quickly and appear to love the challenge.
One really useful learning activity that I do each morning is take the book that we are reading together and pick the first two sentence at the top of any page. The first task I give the children is to write these sentences in neat handwriting. Once this is done, we read the sentences together and discuss them, analysing their structure. Ideally, I pick one simple and one complex sentence structure. We discuss what makes the sentence effective, or not, as the case may be. I then ask the children to write another two sentences in the same style to ensure they have understood the grammatical structure.
Once teachers understand the key basic rules of grammar and punctuation, there will be small but significant changes required in everyday teaching.
Working with the publisher Rising Stars and the Guardian Teacher Network, I have written an interactive online course, 'Essential CPD' that takes just four hours to complete and will provide teachers with all they need to know in order to meet the new requirements. The course can be stopped and re-started at any point to fit in with the time they have available.
Once the course is completed, teachers will have all the knowledge they need, along with plenty of related classroom activities, to incorporate grammar, punctuate and vocabulary work effectively into their teaching. Not only will teachers be able to ensure students achieve their potential in the new test but, more importantly, children will develop an appreciation for English grammar and punctuation.
Louise Moore is a senior teacher at Buxworth Primary School in Derbyshire, and the author of the Rising Stars and Guardian Teacher Network's new online Essential CPD course in Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling.