Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Learning the Grammatics of Quoted Speech: Benefits for Punctuation and Expressive Reading

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Learning the Grammatics of Quoted Speech: Benefits for Punctuation and Expressive Reading

Article excerpt


One of the challenges set for teachers by The Australian Curriculum: English is for teaching programs to 'balance and integrate the three strands' of Language, Literature and Literacy (ACARA, 2012). This will include the integration of knowledge about grammar ('grammatics', following Halliday, 2002, p. 386) throughout the English Curriculum and should, ideally, see the end of the discrete, unconnected and often discredited grammar program of times past. However the benefits of an integrated approach to the teaching of grammatics 'in context' remain under-researched in comparison with research conducted when traditional, discrete teaching methods were the norm (Myhill, 2005). Furthermore, research has historically focussed on the potential benefits of grammar for improving writing and seldom have other dimensions of the English curriculum been considered to be within the purview of possible applications of grammatical knowledge.

This paper aims to extend the body of research into grammar teaching by investigating whether learning grammatics, specifically the grammatics of quoted (or 'direct' speech), offers any benefit for children's punctuation of quoted speech or their oral reading expression. Both punctuation and oral reading, but especially the latter, have been largely overlooked in the historical research on learning grammar. Yet they remain important aspects of success in school literacy. Specifically, the paper addresses the following questions:

Can a knowledge of the grammar of verbal Processes contribute to

* better punctuation of quoted speech?, and to

* improved expression in oral reading?

These questions will be addressed using data from a research project which explored teaching and learning about grammar with young children. The grammatical descriptions taught to the children were based on Halliday's systemic functional grammar (Halliday & Matthiessen, 2004), although terminology followed the NSW syllabus guidelines under which the project was conducted (Board of Studies NSW, 2006 (1st edition 1998)).

Review of literature

The research literature has very little to say on the first of the specific questions posed above, and almost none on the second.

Punctuation of speech and grammatics

Research on the general subject of learning punctuation is not extensive. According to one of its few and foremost researchers, punctuation is '[o]ne of the less-studied aspects of written language development' (Hall, 2009, p. 271) and furthermore, '[i]f children's understanding of punctuation is as a whole under-researched, then research on their understanding of speech is close to nonexistent' (Hall, 2009, p. 279).

In response to this identified need, Hall led a project which studied primary school children's grasp of punctuation and asked them about the challenges they met in learning to punctuate, including in learning to punctuate speech (Hall, 2002, 2009). He found that the punctuation of speech can be complex and difficult for children in several respects, from apparently minor matters like the directionality of quotation marks to more substantial problems of working out what is quoted speech and what is straight prose. He also found it was not unusual for children to use intuition rather than reasoning to punctuate speech, even at eleven years of age, and rarely did any children use metalanguage to explain their thinking about how to punctuate, including any grammatical terms (Hall, 2002, pp. 6,7; 2009, p. 281). Hall's conclusion is that learning to punctuate speech is often less straightforward than curriculum documents (in the UK) seem to assume.

A further perspective on the question of a relationship between speech punctuation and grammatics can be gleaned from the grammar teaching research. The most recent systematic review of research into the effectiveness of teaching syntactic grammar for improving writing (Andrews et al. …

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