The uses of grammar

8th October 2004 at 01:00
Your article focuses attention on a debate that has been going on for over a hundred years: whether the teaching of grammar is effective in helping young people to write ("Belief in grammar is misplaced", TES, September 24).

The conclusion of our review of the research - the largest yet undertaken - supported the findings of previous reviews: there is no high-quality evidence to counter the belief that the teaching of word order or syntax has no influence on writing quality or accuracy.

This does not mean to say that the teaching of such aspects of grammar is not interesting or useful in its own right; nor does it rule out the possibility that certain knowledge about how language works can help writing quality.

However, in a pressured curriculum, where the development of literacy is a high priority, there will be better ways of teaching writing than coupling it with the overt teaching of narrow conceptions of grammar.

We are completing a second review to complement the first. This focuses on the effectiveness (or not) of the teaching of sentence-combining on 5 to 16-year-olds' writing. Initial indications suggest that this may be one of the more effective approaches.

We do not pretend to have covered all aspects of the grammar debate.

However, we hope our research will provide a firmer foundation for practice, policy and more research.

Our findings will be published on the Research Evidence in Education Library; in summaries for teachers, governors and others; and in an article we intend to submit to an international journal.

Richard Andrews, Carole Torgerson and Sue Beverton on behalf of the English Review Group, University of York See: for summaries and full reports

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