Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

Rethinking Grammar in Language Arts: Insights from an Australian Survey of Teachers' Subject Knowledge

Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

Rethinking Grammar in Language Arts: Insights from an Australian Survey of Teachers' Subject Knowledge

Article excerpt

Introduction

Grammar has had a problematic history in school English, but perhaps never more so than in contemporary curricular environments, with their expanded demands on teachers' subject knowledge. Across several Anglophone countries, there is renewed focus on knowledge about language in school curricula and a widened scope for grammatical instruction in particular. In the United Kingdom, the most recent National Curriculum (Department for Education, 2013) outlines a year-by-year scope and sequence for grammatical knowledge, accompanied by a national test of grammar, spelling, and punctuation. This policy-level initiative follows the nonstatutory National Literacy Strategy (Department for Education, 1998, 2013), where contextualized teaching of grammar is encouraged in teacher professional resources (e.g., Grammar for Writing [Department for Education and Employment, 2000]). Both the National Curriculum and the National Literacy Strategy assume that grammatically informed pedagogy is crucial to improved literacy learning. However, UK research suggests that explicit ongoing professional input is required for meaningful integration of grammar into teaching before such outcomes can be achieved (Alderson & Hudson, 2013; Cajkler & Hislam, 2002; Myhill & Watson, 2014).

In the United States, while there is no mandated national curriculum, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS; National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010) have been adopted in a majority of states. Whereas language arts has historically been concerned with accuracy and correctness of form, the expectation behind the language standard of the CCSS is that teachers will contextualize language more in their reading, writing, speaking, and listening curriculum. This represents a paradigm shiftin language arts practice, requiring teachers to teach content alongside language constructs such as "discourse, complex text, explanation, argumentation, purpose, typical structure of text, sentence structures, and vocabulary practices" (TESOL International Association, 2013, p. 4). There have also been encouraging developments in the direction of more meaningful contextual approaches to grammatical instruction in the case of English language learners. For instance, Stanford University's Understanding Language Project (http://ell.stanford.edu/teaching_resources/ela) offers practical guidance on language resources salient in particular text types. This supports the CCSS strategy to improve the academic performance of diverse learners, showing how to make connections between form and function in texts. It underscores research into the impact of functional linguistics on ELL students' academic language development (Brisk & Zhang-Wu, 2017; Moore & Schleppegrell, 2014; Schleppegrell, 2012). However, positive developments like these in ELL classrooms are not matched by results in studies of grammar teaching in mainstream English classrooms (Hancock, 2009; Hudson & Walmsley, 2005; Kolln & Hancock, 2005).

In the United Kingdom, evidence of the positive effects of contextualized grammar teaching on students' writing offers a promising picture of the potential of such approaches (Jones, Myhill, & Bailey, 2013; Myhill, Jones, Lines, & Watson, 2012). Even so, contextualized approaches to grammatical instruction require further theorization, especially given the expanding scope of grammatical instruction. In working with written persuasion, for example, teachers need to be able to identify grammatical constituents like verbs, to describe their function in wordings, and to reason about their wider rhetorical role in texts. This takes teachers beyond "define and identify" approaches to grammar, to explore what grammar "does" (Fearn & Farnan, 2007, p. 67). In textual study, it involves explaining how grammatical choices and arrangements contribute to larger patterns of meaning (see Myhill & Watson, 2014). …

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