Word-Painting: The Colouring of Grammar

Article excerpt

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THE ART OF GRAMMAR

One of the most enduring and fascinating aspects of the English language is its ability to create new words. With some literary licence, I have created the word 'grammart' (grammar/art) as it encapsulates an 'artfulness' perspective for teaching grammar. The term 'artfulness' is derived from The Shape of the Australian Curriculum: English (2009, p. 16) and, for the purposes of this article, represents a perspective for the teaching of grammar in the early years. This article examines the teaching of grammar from an 'artfulness' perspective.

Snyder (2008) implies a relationship between grammar and art by contending 'a standard, commonsense definition has endured the centuries: grammar is the art of speaking and writing correctly and the art of speaking and writing well' (p. 14). Snyder (2008) may have been thinking of grammar and art in a figurative rather than literal sense, nevertheless, this view suggested a possible analogy between grammar and art.

It seems that references to art-like terms and techniques are becoming more evident in books and articles on teaching English.

Embedded in this view are some of the key points discussed in this article:

* To consider teaching grammar from an 'artfulness' perspective;

* The need to lay the building blocks for future learning in grammar;

* The intertwining of the teaching of language and literature;

* And a recognition of the creative processes inherent to writing.

This article was written in response to my attendance at the 2009 ASFLA (Australian Systemic Functional Linguistics Association) Pre-conference institute for teachers. This interactive and informative conference focussed primarily on teaching grammar in the classroom and was organised by ASFLA, ALEA, QUT (Queensland University of Technology) and ETAQ (English Teachers Association of Queensland).

The art of teaching grammar

Grammar and art seem discrete from each other, however, they may converge when exploring the teaching grammar from a creative perspective. The teaching of grammar to young children requires some finesse as Derewianka (1998) suggests:

   The study of grammar need not be onerous or dry. There is room for
   playfulness and creativity, for experimentation and discovery, for
   enjoyment and wonder. Children have an instinctive fascination with
   language. (p. 8)

This suggestion may resonate with teachers in the early years as 'creativity', 'experimentation' and 'discovery' currently permeate teaching in other key learning areas. From a practical as well as a general perspective, there is an art to the teaching of grammar.

Seemingly, a young child's journey of formally, and often informally, learning about grammar begins in the early years. These learning experiences become the building blocks for future more sophisticated learning about grammar, hence, the need to begin to develop a shared language for the child's immediate and future learning. The challenge for teachers of young children is achieving this in an effective and appropriate means for children at their stage of development (Snyder, 2008). The analogy between art and grammar suggests a framework for the teaching of grammar as the children are transitioning from the concrete to abstract stage of their development (Snyder, 2008).

The Shape of the Australian Curriculum: English (2009) outlines a blueprint for the teaching and learning of English that appears to support a functional approach for teaching grammar. Williams (2009) suggests that functional grammar 'has the potential to be a powerful, concrete tool for helping students read more closely, reflectively and critically' (p. 20). Fundamentally, functional grammar is about describing language and how it works to create meaning. Derewianka (1998) identifies several purposes for learning grammar, but most relevant to this article is, 'examine patterns of language and word choices to critically analyse texts' (p. …