Teaching English Grammar in Schools
The Sydney Morning Herald published an article about the reintroduction of English grammar into Australia’s school curriculum. The gist of the article is that most teachers, whose generation wasn’t taught grammar during school, may struggle to teach it in the short term. It goes on to say that schools are drawing on teachers that are near retirement for their grammar expertise.
This decades-long gap in grammar teaching reflects changing ideas about how students best learn. I’m not Australian, but I too was rarely exposed to English grammar in school. I learned more about grammar while studying foreign languages.
I can relate to the Australian teachers who may be worried about having to teach a subject without a firm grasp on it. When I started teaching ESL to adults, I didn’t know enough. Being asked questions that you can’t answer is a great motivator for a teacher, it turns out. I persistently tried to increase my understanding of the mechanics of the English language. Still, it was slow going as I had to dedicate time to other lesson preparation, all while teaching a heavy schedule.
It would have been good to know English grammar better given the job I ended up doing. However, I’m not sure it’s the best way to improve the communication and comprehension skills of children. Learning it to a degree is probably helpful. Students can benefit from knowing the parts of speech, how to identify and understand common errors, and knowing how to restate sentences to vary meaning. Learning an abstract system is time consuming though, and it could be off-putting to some students.
However, ESL teachers shouldn’t avoid studying English grammar. I’m rarely stumped by a student’s question these days, but there are definitely still holes in my knowledge. Here are the ways I continue to improve my understanding:
- Read about grammar that I don’t know well (books are usually better than the internet)
- Predict possible questions about grammar before teaching it - and think about answers
- Encourage questions from students - and follow up with research when I don’t know answers sufficiently
- Study structure with sentence diagrams
- Talk about grammar with colleagues (or anyone that is interested!)