kitchen table math, the sequel: teens in "top private schools" - UK

Monday, March 19, 2007

teens in "top private schools" - UK

Another interesting article on the Basic Writing Skills site: Spelling it out for them:

A lot of teachers were astonished when, a few weeks after arriving as headmaster of Brighton college, a top private school, I decided to bring in compulsory spelling, grammar and punctuation classes for all 13-year-olds.

Why did I take such a radical step? Well, unusually for a head, I still teach every day so I regularly had the opportunity to inspect the written work of our youngest pupils. What I saw startled me.

In the school's year 9 classes some children had clearly never been taught how to punctuate properly, paragraph or spell. Bright children, particularly some of those who had joined our college from state primary schools, were making worrying howlers.

What sort of howlers? I am a history teacher so the howler that leapt out at me when I inspected year 9 books was children's tendency to add a totally unnecessary apostrophe to dates — as in the “1920's”. Then there was the almost daily confusion between “their” and “there”, an apparent inability to understand the difference between the colon and the semi-colon and passages that suggested that the writer had no clue what the subjunctive does.

I also noticed an endearing but baffling tendency to start a new paragraph almost at random. Some of the younger teenagers tended to start paragraphs every nine lines, presumably when they thought it was time for a break, instead of to introduce a new idea or theme.

When I asked my head of English to note errors from a set of marking he came up with (among other offerings): “I got sent out of class for yorning”; “potatoe's” and “this is the man which I saw”.

Around one in three 13-year-olds made mistakes — although I should make it clear that children who attended our prep school were not among them. Rather, it is some children from the state sector who have been let down and this is in spite of the government's much-vaunted literacy strategy.



Latin

Thirty years ago people understood how English grammar worked but we have lost this knowledge since the demise of Latin in schools.

Is this true?

Is it easier to learn English grammar taking Latin than to learn English grammar studying the English language?


lexical nullity and syntactical bankruptcy

In universities writing fellows are now having to give one-to-one tuition to students who struggle to compose extended sentences, never mind essays. As one of the fellows — who was quoted in an article in this paper last week — put it, these students suffer from “lexical nullity and syntactical bankruptcy”.

There is a lost generation who have never been taught grammar, punctuation or spelling. Even some of the teachers around have not been taught these skills and so they do not spot pupils' errors — something I noticed in one of my early jobs when I spotted incorrect apostrophes on report records. You cannot teach children if you don't have the skills yourself.

source:
Education investment fails poorest UK pupils


That's my problem.

I was never taught grammar and, as a direct result, I can't teach grammar to my child.

I'm looking forward to learning grammar, but I'm not seeing when, where, or how that's going to happen given everything else that's going on.

13 comments:

rightwingprof said...

"Is it easier to learn English grammar taking Latin than to learn English grammar studying the English language?"

No, though the point is that back when I was in school and we took Latin, we studied it using a grammar-translation model (not the best way to learn fluency in a living language, but a great way to learn how to READ in a foreign language), so in studying Latin, we learned grammatical concepts.

If one were going to study a foreign language whose grammar was closer to English (in order to learn grammatical concepts), German would make more sense than Latin, and any of the Scandinavian languages would make more sense than German (though there are other, better reasons for studying Latin, I might point out).

English is a Germanic language, not a Romance language. English grammar bears little resemblance to Latin grammar.

But why not just teach grammar?

This is a complex topic with which (I am somewhat sorry to say) I am well familiar. Teaching grammar is a great idea, though the one thing that would aid literacy more than anything else is getting kids to read.

Anonymous said...

When people say "English grammar" they really mean grammar in general. What's a noun? What tense is this verb in?

One can become quite skilled at this by learning a heavily inflected language such as Latin.

Like prof says, the particular rules of English are not based on Latin. Fluency in standard English is not attained by studying Latin any more than studying Greek makes one proficient in Spanish.

Steven Pinker has a great book called "The Language Instinct" in which he discusses the Grammar Wars...the book is not really about that per se; it's a sort of a light fun Ling 101 class with popular myths about language debunked.

numbersmom said...

Every year in February at my daughter's elementary school, the student are given a paper. Written at the top of the the paper is, "If I Was President" and the students are required to finish this sentence

These essays are proudly displayed in the hallway.

Apparently, no teacher has ever corrected the opening sentence.

Tracy said...

Everything I learnt about grammar at school I learnt in Latin class.

This wasn't actually due to complete failure to teach grammar in English classes. One of my primary school teachers did try to teach us English grammar. (None of the high school English teachers did though). The problem for me was that I didn't realise that a language could have a different grammatical structure. I thought foreign languages were merely a matter of different words. I had been taught Maori just as different words (songs, numbers, etc). Therefore I thought learning the names of different parts of speech quite pointless. Latin got me past that, by seeing how grammar could vary from one language to another I could understand grammar.

Anonymous said...

When people say "English grammar" they really mean grammar in general. What's a noun? What tense is this verb in?

Usually. Maybe. I'll note that different languages don't even agree on what the tenses are. As an example, Middle Egyptian (think hieroglyphics) doesn't have a dedicated present tense. The Sdm-f (pronounced sedge-em-eff) verb form can stand in for present or past or future.

Languages don't even agree on what the parts of speech are! American Sign Language doesn't have prepositions ... it has "classifiers". I don't know ASL well enough to elaborate on how they are different.

So ... sometimes people actually mean *English* grammar :-)

-Mark Roulo

SusanS said...

One can become quite skilled at this by learning a heavily inflected language such as Latin.

The way grammar is taught in grade schools is to basically pick examples out of sentences, or as my son's many sheets had, balloons and clouds. That was it.

Latin forces the application of grammar. You can't translate if you aren't clear on what everything is. It helps to sear in the way words are used since one can't rely on word order.

SusanS said...

Soooo, in other words, if one writes:

Nauta puellam amat.

Puellam amat nauta.

Amat Nauta Puellam. Or

Amat Puellam Nauta.

They all mean "the sailor loves the girl" and not the other way around due to the fact that the "-am" at the end of puella (girl) is the ending for the direct object. Nauta is the subjective ending. Wherever the words are placed makes no difference, unlike English.

Catherine,

Get that Steps to Good Grammar back out. A sheet a day. Very qick and easy. The diagramming is in there, too.

rightwingprof said...

"If I Was President"

AIEEEEEE!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Soooo, in other words, if one writes:

Nauta puellam amat.

Puellam amat nauta.

Amat Nauta Puellam. Or

Amat Puellam Nauta.

They all mean "the sailor loves the girl"


Yes, but the word order moves the emphasis around. I like to think of it as having a formal way to provide what we sometimes do in English with italics.

The "standard" form would be:
Nauta puellam amat.

To emphasize that that it was the *girl* that the sailor loved (and not the Christmas tree or puppy or whatever) one would move the puellam to the front:
Puellam amat nauta.

To emphasize that the sailor *loved* the girl (rather than was simply fond or her) the amat would be moved to the front.

So ... the word order doesn't change the grammatical meaning of the sentence, but where the words are placed *does* make a difference :-)

-Regards,
Mark Roulo

SusanS said...

Yeah, yeah, Mark, I know that, believe it or not. It changes the emphasis. You're blowing my point here.:)

Do you have a Centurion around there somewhere?

Anonymous said...

You're blowing my point here.:)

Sorry!

:-)

-Mark R.

Christopher said...

Many years ago I fell into teaching by accident whilst I was living in Vietnam. Early 1970's.
I found I had no knowledge of English grammatical terms and had to refer to my old Latin primer.Why was I still carrying it with me? My English though was perfect, a result of Prep School.
Now I have been living in France for thirty years and my spelling has suffered. When I have a problem I have to write out a sentence in longhand and let natural instinct take over.
I do use an apostrophe with 1970's. I have also reached a stage at which what I do is correct. However like maths where if one doesn't know one's tables one has no foundation, without a solid base of correct English as a child one cannot learn to make the correct mistakes and stand by them.
Regards
www.vnrozier.net
http://rozier-orleans-diary.blogspot.com

Sean Price said...

Hey, if we all had latin grammer we would be able to describe the difference between a gerund and a gerundive.

Cheers
Sean