Teach Grammar Within the Context of Written Products Taught: How & Why

Title: Re-thinking Grammar: The Impact of Embedded Grammar Teaching on Students’ Writing and Students’ Metalinguistic Understanding
Authors: Myhill, D.A.; Jones, S.M.; Lines, H; Watson, A.
Source: Research Papers in Education Vol. 27, No. 2, April 2012, 139–166
Link: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232902487_Rethinking_grammar_The_impact_of_embedded_grammar_teaching_on_students’_writing_and_students’_metalinguistic_understanding

Abstract: The purpose of this study was to determine whether contextualized grammar teaching (linked to the teaching of writing) would improve student writing and metalinguistic understanding. A debate exists between linguists and educationalists about the teaching of grammar: Linguists consider phonetics, pragmatics, evolutionary linguistics, language acquisition, neurolinguistics, and sociocultural applications in grammar, i.e. its effect or function within a particular written product, while educators focus strictly on grammar (the structure of the language and language acquisition) and often teach grammar separately of essay writing instruction.  Metalinguistic knowledge refers to one’s own knowledge or thinking about one’s own writing and includes strategic thinking of everything from planning, to writing according to the plan, to editing.

The statistical results of the study showed a significant positive result for the grammar-teaching intervention on student writing, but it also indicated that this helped in the improvement of the more able writers in each group, as opposed to the less skilled writers. Meanwhile, the qualitative data proved the significance of teacher LSK knowledge on how the intervention was delivered and on students’ metalinguistic learning. Overall, the statistical analysis proved a positive impact of the use of contextualized grammar teaching on student writing.

Participants/Studies Included: The study involved 744 students in 31 schools in the Southwest and Midlands of England.

Research Design: Mixed-Method Randomized Controlled Trial. Classes were randomly assigned to either a comparison or intervention group, after being matched for LSK (teachers’ linguistic subject knowledge). Randomization was done at the level of the group, not at the individual level. Only one class from each school was used in order to avoid any crossover effects among groups. The study consisted of 32 eighth grade mixed ability classes in schools with anywhere from 24 to 30 students per class.

Methods: This study included text analysis, student and teacher interviews. and lesson observations. The intervention group was provided with detailed pedagogical support materials and were trained to use them, while the comparison group received only an outline of the work with no pedagogical support. For both the intervention and comparison groups, the learning focus, period of study, learning objectives, and assessed written outcomes were the same.

Intervention: The detailed teaching programs were designed to teach grammatical constructions and terminology at a point in the teaching sequence relevant to the genre being studied; “for example, exploring how the use of first or third person can position the narrator differently or looking at how expanded noun phrases can build description in poetry.”

Below is the intervention instructional plan used:

Instruction linked grammar to its function within the context of the written product taught and did so in the following ways:

  • The grammatical metalanguage is used but it is always explained through examples and patterns.

  • Links are always made between the feature introduced and how it might enhance the writing being tackled.

  • The use of ‘imitation’: offering model patterns for students to play with and then use in their own writing.

  • The inclusion of activities which encourage talking about language and effects.

  • The use of authentic examples from authentic texts.

  • The use of activities which support students in making choices and being designers of writing.

  • The encouragement of language play, experimentation and games.

Results:  A pre- and post-test sample of writing was used to determine the outcome of the study; both writing samples were a first person narrative, drawing on personal experience and written under controlled conditions.

The outcome variable in the study was the difference between the post- and pre-test percentages for each of the 744 participants. According to the results, both the intervention and comparison groups improved during the study, with 9.24% as the overall mean value of the outcome variable. However, the mean outcome of the intervention group (which consisted of 412 students) was 11.52%, while that of the comparison group (which consisted of 332 students) was 6.41%. Students from the intervention group improved their writing score in the post-test writing test more than students from the comparison group. The study showed that the intervention had a more positive effect on able writers, but able writers in the comparison group made less progress than less able writers, while able writers in the intervention group made more progress.

Implications: The results found that the relationship between grammar and writing may be especially useful in improving students’ writing and learning. Further research should be done to test whether addressing different aspects of writing (those more related to less able writers’ needs) would be more successful, as this study might have pitched too much towards able writers who had more base skills upon which to build.

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