LINGUIST List 8.936

Fri Jun 27 1997

Disc: Grammar in UK Schools

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <annlinguistlist.org>


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  1. Peter Chew, Disc: Grammar in UK Schools

Message 1: Disc: Grammar in UK Schools

Date: Mon, 16 Jun 1997 10:30:38 +0100 (BST)
From: Peter Chew <pchewjesus.ox.ac.uk>
Subject: Disc: Grammar in UK Schools

Forwarded message
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I have recently received, by a rather roundabout route, just a few of
the contributions to this discussion. I don't, therefore, know
everything that has been said.

I teach Advanced Level English Language (as well as a separate course
in English Literature) at a sixth form college - i.e. to students aged
16+. They come to us from 80+ different schools, so have a wide range
of previous educational experience. Far from arriving having been
taught to avoid splitting infinitives and ending sentences with
prepositions, most arrive having never been taught what infinitives
and prepositions are. They lack the `reasonably precise vocabulary
for analysis' referred to by Larry Rosenwald in his contribution of 5
June. I can teach them the terminology from scratch, but find that it
does not `bed down' as it would have done if they had been familiar
with basic grammatical concepts from a much earlier age.

A few days ago, I spent a whole lesson teaching my students to
distinguish between active and passive verbs (something which I myself
could have done easily at the age of 12, thanks to the `old-fashioned'
grammar teaching which I received) because I wanted them to try an old
exam question where the knowledge would have helped them to see which
of two texts would have been harder for young children to read. I
ended up nursing them through the.exercise, doing much of the work for
them. In the next lesson, I gave them another old exam question with
extracts from `Animal Farm' to analyse in the light of Orwell's own
suggestion (amongst others) that one should prefer the active to the
passive. Many of the students took so long to decide which verbs were
active and which passive that they had no time to write an analysis.

A recurring problem on the course is that students struggle with
higher-order analysis because they lack lower-order skills. Teachers
in the past at least had the grace to teach children how to recognise
infinitives and prepositions: they described before they prescribed or
proscribed. Now, however, most teachers seem so anxious to avoid
prescription and proscription that they avoid even description. Like
Larry Rosenwald, I think that the prescriptivist/descriptivist
dichotomy has been taken too far.

Jennifer Chew
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