We need to talk

24th October 2003 at 01:00
Is everyone using the same grammar terms with pupils at KS2 and 3? Heather Rendall sounds an alert for mfl and English departments

When is a nominative not a nominative? When it's an adjective! To err is human, so we should expect that anything made by human agency is likely not to be perfect. However, there are times when we count on precisely that: accurate, reliable information in legal documents, encyclopedias - and teaching aids. Just as important are new materials prepared for teacher in-service as part of Government initiatives. Qui informe, s'informe.

The literacy strategy has meant that teachers in both primary and secondary sectors have had to acquaint themselves with the taxonomy of language and grammar. For some teachers this has been easy, as they received a good grammatical grounding during their own education. For others it has been a lesson a priori. So they must have been relieved to find that the original documentation (1998) contained an extensive glossary.

Which brings us back to "nominative". All Latin and German teachers will feel instantly at home with this term, as it forms an essential part of their formal grammar. However, they would have been shocked to see it applied to an adjective in the original National Literacy Strategy glossary.

"Adjectives have different degrees of intensity: nominative names the quality (tall)

comparative describes degrees of quality: more or less + adjective, or adjective + er (more tall


superlative describes limit of quality: most least + adjective or adjective + est (most tall


National Literacy Strategy documents: glossary

I am assured by English colleagues that this is a simple error:

"nominative" by analogy to "comparative" and "superlative" instead of the more usual descriptor "nominal". But would most primary teachers know this? If you are new to a topic, you cannot see errors: you take it for granted that everything given to you to learn is accurate and reliable. How many pupils have been taught that adjectives are "nominative"!

Before you throw up your hands in horror, when the literacy strategy evolved into the Key Stage 3 Strategy (2001), the glossary was revised.

Adjectives in the new glossary are no longer nominative. The origin of the apostrophe no longer lies in a missing word "his". But remember even revisions are made by humans. So now English has only two tenses, rather than the three previously given. An accent "refers to pronunciation only" and appears to have no connection with diacritic marks. A singular noun can be followed by a singular or a plural verb (previously only a singular was acceptable). The confusion between auxiliary verbs and modal verbs remains.

So rather than have a consistent glossary of terms, what we have had is a seemingly invisible revision. Were the revisions publicised loudly enough to schools? Were all primary teachers made aware by literacy advisers that their glossary had been superseded? Have co-ordinators between primaries and secondaries checked which glossaries pupils have been taught from? Have Year 7 pupils been thrown into confusion by sudden and unan-ticipated change of definition?

Before all English and foreign teachers rush to check, please bear in mind that a third glossary is now available. The MFL Framework (2003) has extended the glossary to include definitions needed for foreign language study - including accents. It would be a salutory exercise if all English and mfl departments were to sit round a table and compare the glossaries they are using. If possible, invite your primary feeder schools at the same time. And make sure your newly qualified teachers are there, because the PGCE literacy glossary is different yet again!

It could be very interesting - and is sure to throw up some surprises, if not horrors. It may take time, but we owe it to our pupils to be consistent.

Details of Heather Rendall's in-service training for Cornwall College Hand in Hand: The National Literacy Strategy and MFL can be found on www.ccnt.co.uk Tel: 08707 555 660 Course reference SS635

Heather Rendall is a freelance educational trainer and consultant with specialisms in ICT and grammar Email: heatherrendall@compuserve.com


The latest glossary is with the mfl documents listed at www.standards.dfes.gov.ukkeystage3publications

The revised glossary for primary and secondary literacy is separately available at www.standards.dfes.gov.ukliteracypublications and the PGCE literacy glossary is available atwww.tta.gov.uktrainingskillstestsliteracyglossary.htm

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