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How Does Teaching Grammar Impact On The Quality Of Primary Students’ Writing? Recommendations For Th

After much blood, sweat and tears, I completed my dissertation in November 2021. Given the lack of accessible research around grammar, I felt it was important to give teachers and easy to read set of recommendations that can help steer their teaching and leadership of grammar, as an integral part of the learning journey. I hope you find the research and recommendations useful when beginning or continuing your grammar education

Ian

ABSTRACT

Aims: The aim of this study is to understand the current research into the teaching of grammar in mainstream primary schools in Anglophone countries, to develop recommendations to improve standards of writing.

Method: Online databases were searched using key phrases and included or excluded depending on set criteria. These were then coded into categories using a thematic analysis and synthesised into recommendations that developed from the themes which emerged.

Results: Five recommendations were developed, which can be used by schools to design and deliver a grammar curriculum that could potentially improve standards in writing. However, the amount of research on the teaching grammar was limited and so further research is needed to strengthen the warranting of the recommendations.

Conclusions: In most cases, research shows that the explicit teaching of grammar has a positive impact on standards, particularly when taught in context and with a purpose. However, teachers are often ill-equipped to teach pupils and do not have the subject or pedagogical knowledge required by their country’s curriculum.

Implications: As schools design their curriculum around the Curriculum for Wales, investment in an understanding of an effective grammar curriculum should be given to ensure that students are given the tools that they need to become effective writers. This includes ensuring that grammar is taught in a context and with a clear purpose. Additional grammar training in Initial Teacher Training and in schools is also needed to narrow the knowledge and skills gap that is evident with teachers in many settings.

Key words: Grammar, Literacy, Teaching, Learning, Primary School, Writing, Curriculum, Wales.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

ABSTRACT………………………………………………………………………………………………. ii

DECLARATION………………………………………………………………………………………… iii

TABLE OF CONTENTS………………………………………………………………………………iv

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS…………………………………………………………………………….v

INTRODUCTION………………………………………………………………………………………..1

Previous research in the field……………………………………………………………..3

METHODOLOGY……………………………………………………………………………………….5

Ethical considerations…………………………………………………………………….. 11

Intended outcomes…………………………………………………………………………..12

FINDINGS………………………………………………………………………………………………..14

Curriculum and pedagogy…………………………………………………………………17

Impact of teaching grammar on overall writing…………………………………….18

Teaching grammar in context…………………………………………………………….20

Impact of testing and assessment on the teaching of grammar………………22

Teacher Training and Prior Knowledge……………………………………………….24

DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION……………………………………………………………..25

Curriculum and pedagogy…………………………………………………………………26

Impact of teaching grammar on overall writing…………………………………….27

Teaching grammar in context……………………………………………………………28

Impact of testing and assessment on the teaching of grammar……………..30

Teacher Training and Prior Knowledge………………………………………………30

Implications for Practice……………………………………………………………………32

Limitations………………………………………………………………………………………33

REFERENCES…………………………………………………………………………………………34

APPENDIX……………………………………………………………………………………………….38

Appendix 1: Articles eliminated upon reading of full article…………………….. 39

Appendix 2: Articles coded to each category…………………………………………40

Appendix 3: Dissemination………………………………………………………………….43

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

First of all, I would like to thank Dr. David Schönthal for giving me the courage to enroll onto my Master’s degree and for his support during the early days of my studies, when it felt like reaching this point was going to be an insurmountable climb. I would also like to thank him for inspiring my passion for grammar, which continues to positively impact on myself, the teachers and students in my school, and teachers and students beyond.

Thank you to Sarah Jones, my Head Teacher, for giving me the opportunity, time and support I needed to complete the work I needed to in school. Without your trust, I could not have taken the risks with our curriculum and trialled strategies which have had such positive impacts on student attainment and wellbeing.

Thank you to the staff of the University of South Wales, particularly Matthew Hutt and Amanda Kelland, who have provided guidance and direction during each stage of the final year of my Master’s degree.

Finally, I would thank my mum, my dad, my sisters Karen and Rachel and my best friends Marc and Davy, who have always been there for me during what has been an incredibly challenging year in my personal life. You have all been an invaluable source of strength and support and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

INTRODUCTION

Throughout the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the importance of the teaching of grammar has been a contentious issue, but has recently received an increase in attention due to work by researchers such as Debra Myhill, an increased focus on grammar in the English Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar tests, and the success of teacher support sites such as Grammarsaurus and Twinkl.

Many students of the 1970s and 1980s were not explicitly taught grammar, due to research in the 1970s, which indicated that teaching grammar had no impact on the standards of writing, thus reducing the amount of grammar taught in British schools (Myhill et al., 2016, p.X). Hudson and Walmsley’s (2005) review of the history of grammar in the UK theorises that the decline in the teaching of grammar in the 1970s to 1980s was due to the lack of research into grammar in universities, which led to a lack of understanding of the importance of grammar when teaching writing. This lack of research into grammar has continued into the twenty-first century, with Jiang, Logan and Jia (2018, p.912) stating that we understand the trajectory of grammar development less than vocabulary development.

During my teacher training, no focus was given to the teaching of grammar, and it was only when I began to teach literacy that it became apparent that my Knowledge About Grammar (KAG) was insufficient to teach the level of grammar that is expected to be taught to students from the Welsh National Curriculum. Despite having significant amounts of literacy training over my teaching career, none focussed on grammar; the convention of grammar not even mentioned in any training I have ever received. However, recent research indicates that a reimagining of the approach to teaching grammar, away from the disconnected and often isolated method of teaching grammar in the 1960s, could have benefits to students who are learning to write (Myhill, 2021).

In my current role, I am responsible for overall school improvement and the development of the grammar teaching and learning. Being aware of my own poor knowledge of grammar, I have sought sources of support. However, despite speaking to colleagues, advisors and consulting the Welsh Government website, I have been unable to find any support for myself or my school in developing our subject or pedagogical knowledge of grammar. Thus, there seems to be a worrying lack of support materials available to teachers at a government and regional level in Wales, raising the question of whether this support is deliberate, an oversight or an indication of the lack of importance of teaching grammar

With the introduction of the Curriculum for Wales in 2022, schools are required to design their own curriculum, using the Progression Steps statements (Welsh Government, 2020). This has the potential to create a flexible and creative education system, where student and teacher voices are at the centre of a purposeful curriculum. However, it also has the potential for schools to design curricula based on their own experience, rather than validated research and evidence.

With the introduction of the Curriculum for Wales, I had hoped that teachers would be more supported in their teaching of grammar and in developing an understanding of how this could impact on overall writing standards. However, my initial enquiries have identified that there is no specific guidance from the Welsh Government on the teaching of grammar. This is particularly concerning as schools are required to design their own curriculum using broad statements (Welsh Government, 2020) and my own experience indicates that there is a gap between expectations from the Welsh Government and the skills and knowledge of teachers. This study initially attempted to ascertain whether this knowledge gap is seen across Wales and other Anglophone countries that have introduced new curricula.

Hence, the aim of this study is to explore the current research into the teaching of grammar and synthesise the information in order to develop a set of recommendations that will support schools in designing their approach to grammar, and ultimately improve standards of writing.

Previous research in the field

Initial searches attempted to locate research on the impact of new curricula on the standards of grammar or literacy from a large number of Anglophone countries. Guest, Bunce and Johnson (2006, p.78) state that examining a minimum of 6 articles might be “sufficient to enable development of meaningful themes and useful interpretations”. However, little to no research from any Anglophone countries was found on this topic. As a result, the research questions had to be redeveloped, which steered my research towards an investigation into the importance, effectiveness and attitudes towards the teaching of grammar.

Initial research was carried out to identify studies that provide a modern viewpoint on whether explicit teaching of grammar impacted on the standards of writing. A study by Daffern et al. (2017) found that not only could grammar be used as a predictor for the quality of overall writing composition, but data analysis of the Australian National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) indicated that students who scored higher on grammar tests also scored higher on writing assessments; the authors acknowledge that the reasons for this are not clear. Therefore, a large part of this research explored whether this relationship was corroborated by other studies. Many grammar textbooks such as Paramour and Paramour (2020) stress the importance of teaching grammar, but as these books are being sold based on the importance of grammar, they are naturally biased towards its importance. For this reason, evidence for the relationship of grammar to overall writing standards was obtained from peer reviewed journal articles and government studies, rather than textbooks.

An interesting issue that emerged from initial research is the disparity between teachers’ perception of their language skills and measures of their actual skills. A study in Australia by Love, Macken-Horarik and Horarik (2015) identified that teachers were confident in their own Linguistic Subject Knowledge (LSK) but the data showed discrepancies between this confidence and what the teachers actually understood by LSK. This issue is potentially compounded by Cushing (2019) who found that teachers in England had little understanding of effective pedagogy when teaching grammar and justifies the need for recommendations for schools that will support the teaching of grammar.

METHODOLOGY

This study takes the form of a literature review, the aim of which was to produce recommendations for school leaders and teachers in Wales on how best to approach the teaching of grammar in Primary Schools. A literature review was selected, due to restrictions put in place by COVID, which would not allow for a thorough primary study of grammar taught across a wide variety of settings, and as research on the teaching of grammar has already been conducted in various anglophone countries.

Guidance from Gall et al. (2006, as cited in Hart, 2018, pp.112-113) and Onwuegbuzie and Frels (2016) was used to develop the following structure for the stages of the study.

  1. Conduct prototype searches to identify feasibility of search engines and search terms.

  2. Design, develop and potentially discount initial research questions

  3. Using the research questions as a guide, collate and organise a range of sources including journals, education textbooks and government guidance, using coding criteria.

  4. Organise information into categories, using coding and a summary table

  5. Analyse and synthesise information in order to produce a conclusion and ultimately, recommendations for school leaders and teachers.

During the initial stages of the study, preliminary research questions were designed to initiate exploration of the available research and literature. This early enquiry of the literature was carried out using an emerging process, which evolved the research questions based on the information available. This adaptive process allowed a deeper delve into the research and eliminate lines of inquiry, where there would not be enough research to carry out a rigorous enough analysis. This resulted in the development of the following research question:

How does explicit teaching of grammar affect overall standards of writing?

To locate relevant sources of information, key words were assigned tothe research question. Combinations of the words were prototyped to ensure that they yielded results in the pertinent fields. These words were then used in the relevant search engines, in different combinations, to locate relevant sources:

  1. primary, grammar, writing, teaching, learning, literacy, English, impact, explicit, implicit

The terms Australia, England and Wales were included, as pilot searches indicated that the former two countries have resulted in the most relevant research, and the latter is important for the context of the study. Although other Anglophone countries were included in prototype searches, they did not result in significant or relevant results.

The following inclusion criteria was used:

  1. Published in peer-reviewed academic journals;

  2. Primary research papers;

  3. Data collection and research carried out in Anglophone countries[1];

  4. Research published between 2011 and 2021;

To improve the reliability of this literature review, only peer reviewed journals were utilised. When evaluating the sources of data in these journals, it was important to distinguish whether the data collected was Primary or Secondary. Sources where the data collection was secondary and the analysis was primary were used as they can still provide important viewpoints and still have a degree of validity (Onwuegbuzie and Frels, 2016, p.41). Sources that collated primary analyses into a secondary study, on the other hand, were used to explore the range of materials available, but as they did not necessarily present the viewpoint of the original researchers (Cresswell and Gutterman, 2019, p.83), they were not used directly in the analysis or synthesis. During the data collection, there was a possibility that some of the secondary research articles found were based on the same evidence. Wager and Wiffen (2011, p.131) state that this ‘double counting’ can skew results. For this reason, all sources were cross referenced to ensure that they used separate studies.

As the grammar of each language is unique, only data collection based in Anglophone countries was used, regardless of the language the source is presented in. In pilot searches, little research has been found for most Anglophone countries and so this study focussed on research from Australia and England; although research from other Anglophone countries was not excluded.

The following exclusion criteria was used:

  1. Grammar studies, textbooks or articles that are not based on primary research;

  2. Research that specifically focusses on students with English as an Additional Language (EAL) or English as a Foreign Language (EFL).

  3. Research in Special Schools or similar settings.

As this study focussed on developing overarching recommendations to approaches to teaching grammar rather than granular advice on how to teach specific lessons and concepts, grammar textbooks were not used a primary avenue of research.

Although a possibility for future research, this study did not use research that specifically commented on students who have English as an Additional Language (EAL) or English as a Foreign Language (EFL). Despite there being a significant amount of research available for these areas, the scope of this study did not allow for a full investigation of whether the research on EAL and EFL students is applicable to the learning of students learning English as their first language. For this reason, such research was excluded from this study.

The following databases were selected as they allow searches across broad databases and are specific to the education sector:

  1. FindIT

  2. Google Scholar

  3. EBSCO

  4. ERIC (Via ProQuest)

To ensure that searching was methodical and organised, an audit trail of any search terms and search engines used was maintained. This, in conjunction with a systematic and incremental approach (Onwuegbuzie and Frels, 2016, p.109) produced documentation of where the data was found and that findings are supported by the available evidence. (Onwuegbuzie and Frels, 2016, p.112).

A thematic analysis was selected as the research analysis approach, as it allowed reduction of the data into meaningful groupings (Grbich, 2013, p.62) and facilitated the emergence of patterns or meanings, that related to the research question (Bell and Waters, 2018, p 315). The purpose of this approach was to capture information from the data and find meaning amongst the pattern of responses (Braun and Clarke, 2006, as cited in Bell and Waters, 2018, p.38).

To organise the initial data, matrices were used that brought ‘coherence to seemingly individual pieces of research and argument’ (Hart, 2018, p.238). After an initial reading of the abstracts of all of the intended data, broad category labels were developed and the information was broken down and collated into an initial matrix. As close examination of the data was desirable, a segmentation process was used, where key extracts were grouped into columns and categorised with labels, that emerged from initial reading. (Grbich, 2013, p.65). As labels emerged from the process itself, this resulted in the movement, generation and merging of columns, throughout the data collection process. This reorganisation of the data allowed patterns and contradictions to be highlighted, which allowed for synthesis of the findings into recommendations.

When writing the recommendations, guidance from Hart (2018) was used to structure the argument simply and to include the following knowledge:

  1. A summary of previous work on the topic;

  2. How definitions were developed and operationalised in order to find solutions;

  3. Matters that other researchers have found important.

To ensure that the argument is effective, Hart (2018) also recommends that the argument comprises the following:

  1. Identification or what I found wrong in previous research;

  2. Which actions I propose, as a result of my research;

  3. How enacting on these actions is beneficial;

  4. Refutation of possible objections to these actions.

To strengthen the recommendations, the conclusion needed to contain sufficient warranting. This warranting allows progression of the conclusion and recommendations from a simple opinion to a convincing argument (Wallace and Wray, 2016, p.36). To evaluate whether my own claims are warranted, examples and guidance from Wallace and Wray (2016, pp.40-50) were used to outline how to use critical questions to evaluate the strength of arguments. These were used to test my conclusion and identify areas where more evidence or a modification in the conclusion was necessary.

Ethical Considerations

Onwuegbuzie and Frels (2016, pp.349-350) identify what they perceive to be the five most common ethical issues in literature reviews: falsification, fabrication, nepotism, copyright and plagiarism. While all must be avoided, the first three are identified as being deliberate, whereas the latter two are often occurring unintentionally. To avoid inadvertent copyright violations, it will be essential to check all permissions and always acknowledge all sources. To ensure accidental plagiarism does not occur, the authors recommend writing summaries without using the source directly and checking the original article for accuracy, rather than trying to reword the article whilst reading it. In all stages of the study, notes will be taken to form an audit trail and a checklist created by Onwuegbuzie and Frels (2016, p.350) will be used to spot any potential plagiarism and adjust as necessary.

Another potential issue raised in literature reviews is misleading the reader. Galvan and Galvan (2017, p.6) recommend reading all articles in their entirety, rather than just abstracts, to minimise misinterpretation of the facts, resulting in a misleading literature review. Although only article abstracts were read in the initial searches, full articles were read and analysed during the data collection process. Also, Wager and Wiffen (2001, p.134) recommend declaring “any interests that a ‘reasonable observer’ might wonder about.”. Therefore, it is essential that any supporting or competing interests to my own ideas, which may arise as a result of the study, are identified.

Intended outcomes

This study aimed to produce a conclusion that summarised the modern view of grammar teaching, its importance, and how it can impact on the teaching of writing. As part of this conclusion, a set of recommendations has been produced that can be used by schools to raise standards in writing. Recommendations for school leaders will focus on Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and policy, while recommendations for teachers will focus on teaching and learning.

As part of my leadership role, I am currently developing our approach to teaching writing and am in the process of designing a grammar curriculum. Researching this area will improve my own understanding of the teaching of grammar, allowing me to lead my own school more effectively and directly impact the direction of our grammar curriculum, determining our pedagogical approaches.

My initial research has identified that the teaching of grammar is a complex and contested issue, and it is naive to assume that there will be a simple answer. As there is little to no evidence of grammar research in Welsh schools, herein lies an opportunity to add to the discussion of grammar from a Welsh perspective. Studies that could follow proceeding this study may look at the impact of the Curriculum for Wales on literacy teaching, the knowledge of Welsh teachers in relation to the expectations in the Curriculum for Wales, or the effectiveness of different approaches to teaching grammar. With such a wide field of potential research, Wales has an opportunity to be an integral part of the debate on this important area of education.

FINDINGS

The data in this study draws directly from the articles that met all the above criteria. The search process identified above initially resulted in 63 article titles that met the search criteria. Of these, 36 were eliminated as the information in the abstract identified that the article did not meet the set criteria. These included reasons such as research being based on languages other than English, and work based on Secondary research. Of the 27 articles that remained, 8 articles (identified in Appendix 1), were eliminated in the proceeding stage, for the following reasons:

Fig 1.

Fig. 2 provides an overview of the number of extracts that were coded against each category. It should be noted that the verbal processes category, initially identified in the preliminary research, was merged with the talk-based learning category, due to the significant overlap in the content of the articles used. Although not initially identified as a category, a significant number of articles discussed the impact of testing, particularly in Australia, and so this was added as an additional category later in the process. Similarly, a significant amount of research was found on the grammatical knowledge of newly qualified teachers and so this was added as a category. Subsequently, articles that had already been coded, were re-analysed and extracts were added as appropriate.

Fig. 2

The articles which contain extracts that were coded into each category can be found in Appendix 2.

Upon completion of the initial research, the issue of quantity of research presented itself. There was significantly less research on grammar than was expected, as many eliminated papers draw conclusions from the same research or upon full reading did not meet the inclusion criteria and so could not be used. Also, many articles identified in the preliminary research, did not have additional research to back up the claims and so the issue of validity is present. It was decided that recommendations would still be developed, however, they would be accompanied by a conclusion outlining the limited nature of research in certain areas, particularly, the development of a grammar curriculum, which would not have a recommendation, due to the limited research available, but which is an avenue for potential future research.

During data collection, several articles were eliminated as although they discussed writing, they did not specifically discuss the teaching of grammar. Clark et al (2013) found that students using whole texts in their language curriculum can improve their reading and writing and prepare them for writing more complex texts. However, the article does not specifically mention grammar, focussing more on the structure of the whole text. Similar findings were identified by Strachan (2014) who found that texts in classrooms were often limited to narrative texts, and that by expanding the range of text types students were more prepared for texts that they would encounter in ‘real’ life and that their motivation would be raised. Again, there was no specific mention of grammar. It is interesting that both articles do not mention grammar, as an author’s grammatical choices can have a significant impact on the effect of the reader and can capture for the reader, different parts of their writing Healey and Gardner (2021).

The following findings are based on the articles used, although as mentioned earlier, these are preliminary findings as some areas are based on limited quantities of research.

Curriculum and Pedagogy

Although initially organised as two separate categories, almost all data collected for this area was placed in both areas, suggesting an intrinsic link between curriculum and pedagogy. For this reason, the categories were merged. Re-coding of earlier articles was not conducted, as all data collected before this decision was allocated into both categories already.

Out of the 4 articles containing extracts which were coded into this category, only one specifically mentioned curriculum design. Jeurissen, (2012) identified that teachers in England were more inclined to use their own experience of being taught grammar to approach their literacy teaching, as curriculum guidelines were not present. This, despite Dockrell et al (2016) identifying that teachers would benefit from a framework outlining the writing process. Grammar was also taught for a shorter time than either word or sentence level, which Dockrell at al (2016) suggest is due to a government focus on spelling and phonics. In Australia, Ryan and Barton identified that curricula was planned to focus mainly on narrative writing as that is the genre generally seen in the NAPLAN tests, suggesting a narrowing of the curriculum. When designing a curriculum, Ryan and Barton (2014) conclude that although students in this type of curriculum produce pieces of work which contain the ‘correct’ spelling, grammar and content, the overall composition does not engage with the reader, due to a lack of reflection and opportunities to develop their own writing identities.

Although these raise interesting points, each theme that arose from the Curriculum Design code was not reinforced by other articles with similar research aims. As a result, there is a limitation on the validity of these points. They instead form the beginning of a discussion over curriculum design and an opportunity for further research.

No other articles discussed curriculum, or curriculum design, but focussed on specifics of pedagogical approaches. These formed the basis for the subsequent categories.

Impact of teaching grammar on overall writing

Although initially separate, the ‘Implicit and Explicit Teaching’ code was merged into the ‘Impact of teaching grammar’ code, due to the significant overlap in the content and conclusions of the articles.

Six articles were identified to discuss the impact of teaching grammar on the overall standards of writing. Daffern et al (2017) analysed NAPLAN results, using a regression analysis, to identify trends between the quality of students’ spelling, punctuation and grammar, and their overall writing. They concluded that students with higher scores in the grammar tests also achieved overall higher writing scores. However, they decline to speculate on the reasons for this. The authors justify the use of the NAPLAN tests as a measure of grammar proficiency, despite the issue of grammar being a flexible entity that cannot be tested in its entirety (Lobeck and Denham, 2013, p4). However, the need to measure grammar, even in an acknowledged limiting way, is an understandable need in many education system, due to the need for accountability. This article also focusses on trends and solely uses the data from the NAPLAN tests, and so does not identify whether the students are explicitly or implicitly taught grammar.

In contrast, Graham et al (2012) analysed writing interventions in order to determine the impact of explicit grammar teaching on the quality of writing. Their initial conclusions determined that teaching grammar had no statistical impact on the quality of overall writing. However, the authors recognise that grammar was used as a control group and this may have skewed the results. Moreover, they acknowledge that the methods used were limited and themselves suggest that more work is needed to ascertain the impact of grammatical teaching.

The risk of explicitly teaching grammar is also discussed by Ryan and Barton (2014) who found that some students perceived writing as putting together words and sentences to meet the teacher’s objectives, rather than considering the reader and the overall piece of writing. However, the explicit teaching of grammar is supported by Collins and Norris (2017) who corroborated an earlier study by Fearn and Farnan (2007) who found that explicit teaching of grammar could achieve significant results in a short period. They do add a caveat, that these results were not seen when workbook exercises were used. The technique used, Embedded Grammar Instruction (EGI), used discussion, minimal resources and visual aids to introduce and develop the students’ understanding of grammatical concepts, such as word classes, rather than written exercises, although written exercises did follow the EGI. The method used for more complex grammatical concepts, such as clauses, is not discussed.

French (2012) used recordings of lessons to identify the impact of direct teaching upon standards of grammar. They found that students significantly improved when receiving direct teaching of grammar, citing examples such as their improvements in the use of speech marks. However, as there was no control group, it is unclear whether similar results would have been evident through implicit or indirect teaching of grammar.

Teaching grammar in context

This category was added as a relatively large number of articles found purported gains in the quality of grammar through teaching in context. All articles supported pedagogical approach of teaching grammar in a meaningful context. When determining recommendations, this code was used in conjunction with the previous code ‘Impact of Teaching of Grammar’ to develop conclusions.

To further code the information, sub codes were used:

  1. Providing a purpose to writing

  2. Engaging with the reader

  3. Formulaic approaches

  4. Impact of teaching grammar in context

  5. Using authentic texts

Ryan and Barton (2014), through case studies on two Australian schools, determined that students need a purpose to their writing, rather than to score on a test, to become invested in writing. They suggest that this occurs through the writer engaging with and manipulating the reader. This is supported by Peterson and Rajendram (2019) who found that 3–7-year-olds were more likely to become engaged in a task if they co-constructed a text with a teacher in a flexible and co-constructive, low risk setting, rather than the teacher following a pre-prepared lesson that led to an inevitable outcome on a lesson plan.

Ryan and Barton (2014, p324) recommend that teaching should aim to develop a relationship between the writer, the context and the piece of writing in order to provide a meaningful purpose for writing and ultimately raise standards in writing.

Cushing and Helks (2021, p.248) found that although teachers reported pedagogical approaches where grammar was taught in context, their own students reported non-contextualised teaching, based around word and clause level work, rather than focussing on purpose. The authors determine that the reason for the discrepancy is unclear, but that it may be down to the students’ distorted perception of their grammar teaching, caused by grammar testing. However, Ryan and Barton (2014, p325), suggest that decontextualised grammar teaching is prevalent ibn education systems where state grammar teaching is present, supporting the students’ views.

A study by Collins and Norris (p.25, 2017) contained quantitative data on the impact of teaching grammar in context, rather than through abstract or ‘textbook’ exercises. They found that when taught in context, those taught using Embedded Grammar Instruction (EDI), made more progress in their use of grammar, as opposed to the Direct Grammar Instruction (DGI) group. The EDI approach promotes the use of talk to discuss the purpose of the grammar, and how the author is using the grammar to communicate with the reader. The DGI approach uses the traditional worksheet methodology, where the focus on form of the grammar such as the position of commas, rather than what the author is trying to convey with their choices.

Collins and Norris (p27. 2017) recommend as part of their findings, that meaningful texts are used as opposed to the artificial and often abstract texts found in traditional grammar textbooks. This is supported by Peterson and Rajendram (p.36, 2019), who found that if the texts had more meaning to the child, the quality of their talk improved, particularly higher order skills such as discussing meaning.

Impact of testing and assessment on the teaching of grammar

5 articles contained information that was coded in the Impact of testing and assessment category. From these, 14 extracts were identified. Arising from these extracts was four themes:

  1. Teaching to the test

  2. Narrowing of the writing curriculum

  3. Quantity of scaffolding of scaffolding

  4. Change in standards

Ryan and Barton (2014, p.311) and Ryan et al (2021, p.428) conclude that the schools in their studies in Australia are teaching to the NAPLAN test, rather than to improve the students’ overall writing. This results in less risk taking, delivery of activities out of context and a perception that improved test scores mean improved writing; an outcome that the authors claim is not the case.

All articles in this category identified a narrowing of the curriculum in Australia or England, because of testing. Ryan and Barton (2014, p.312) found that Australian schools were more likely to teach a piece of persuasive writing, as it was more likely to arise in NAPLAN testing than other genres. Myhill et al. (2020) conclude that as a direct result of the prescriptive content in the English National Curriculum, writing is often formulaic (p.6) and that teachers miss opportunities for deeper discussions (p.14). Cushing and Helks (2021, pp.247-248) found that students’ perceptions of grammar was very limited, due to the units of work that were expected by government publications. This is corroborated by Thompson and Harbaugh (2013, p.310) who found that higher order thinking skills and talking were less prevalent, due to teachers’ responses to the NAPLAN test. This has resulted in negligible gains in writing levels, despite scores improving on the NAPLAN tests. A questionnaire given to teachers in Australia, identified that particularly in low socioeconomic areas, the attainment gap is widening, due to the reduction in learning experiences because of teachers’ perceptions of the importance of the NAPLAN tests. This was also identified by Ryan et al (2021, p.428) who added that preparation for the NAPLAN tests has resulted in activities that are designed to improve scores, lack an authentic audience, and a disjointed journey where students do not move through a full writing process of planning, writing and revising. In no articles was there a positive correlation made between Government mandated testing and assessment, and an improvement in standards of overall writing.

Teacher Training and Prior Knowledge

7 articles, comprising 21 extracts, discussed either teacher training or their prior knowledge being used in the classroom. Three main themes emerged from the extracts:

  1. Gaps between teachers’ Knowledge About Grammar (KAG) and government expectations

  2. Training available to teachers

  3. Teaching struggling writers.

Four articles identified a gap between teachers’ KAG and the expectations from Government. Myhill and Newman, (2016) found that because of a lack of subject knowledge, teachers avoid higher order activities, such as discussion, when teaching grammar, which results in a lack of progress for the students.

Myhill et al (2020) echoed these results where teachers were found to avoid higher order discussion, such as the author’s purpose in using forms of grammar, due to limitations in their own KAG. The issue of teachers’ poor KAG was also identified in South Africa by Scull (2013), who found that over two thirds of teachers did not feel equipped to teach grammar effectively. A study in New Zealand (Jeurissen, 2012) found that trainee teachers’ grammar was poor and that their own perception of what constituted effective grammar teaching stemmed from their own or lack of being grammar teaching in their own school education. In these respective countries, Scull (2013) and Ryan et al (2021) found that teachers wanted more training in grammar, but do not determine whether this is due to a lack of uptake on training, a lack of available training or other possible factors.

Dockrell (2016), Parr and Jesson (2016) found that teachers particularly expressed difficulties in teaching grammar to struggling writers. The Primary reason identified by Dockrell (2016) is the lack of available resources to support teaching. Similarly, a survey carried out by Ryan et al (2021) found that teachers want more training in order to develop their KAG, pedagogy and confidence in teaching grammar. Parr and Jesson (2016) identify the key reason as a lack of preparation in their Initial Teacher Training programme.

DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION

This study aimed to synthesis the current research into the teaching of grammar into a set of recommendations for Primary School leaders and Primary School teachers. During the research process, the number of results in some categories were far lower than expected, resulting in a limited number of articles for certain areas of the coding process. This corroborates the view of Jiang, Logan and Jia (2018, p.912) who state that we understand other areas of language development more than grammar acquisition and development. Although 63 articles were initially identified to be relevant using their titles, interrogation of their abstracts eliminated 36 of them. This resulted in an unexpectedly low number of articles to code. Upon full reading of the articles, a further 8 articles were eliminated because of their content not meeting the search criteria. It was decided that the study would continue and recommendations would be developed, with the caveat that further research is needed in most areas in order to ensure that they are based on multiple sources of research.

Curriculum and Pedagogy

The initial findings in this category found that guidelines for teaching grammar were not being used in schools and that grammar is taught for a shorter time than word or sentence level work (Dockrell et al, 2016). The reasons behind this are not clear and are not identified in the article, but it is suggested that this could be due to a UK Government focus on testing. The impact of testing on the curricula is also identified by Ryan and Barton (2014), who found that writing in Australian schools does not engage with the reader.

As the research in this category mainly has resulted in themes based on the impact of testing, rather than curriculum and pedagogy itself, it is not feasible to generate a recommendation in this area. Although there are numerous textbooks that give their own recommendations for the development of a grammar curriculum, these are commercial in nature and a decision was made not to include them due to their biased design, which aspires to sell copies. However, this does not mean that their contributions are not valid, but that more research is needed to validate their claims and to cross reference the various assertions. This is not feasible in the scope of this study. With the implementation of the Curriculum for Wales in Primary Schools from September 2022, further research is needed to establish how effective curricula can be designed and used to develop students’ grammar.

Impact of teaching grammar on overall writing

In this category, most articles support the explicit teaching of grammar (Ryan and Barton, 2014; Collins and Norris, 2017; Fearn and Farnan, 2007), due to the explicit teaching of grammar raising standards in grammar and/or overall writing. Conversely, Graham et al (2012) found that a writing intervention programme did not improve standards in grammar, however, their research design skewed results, leading to unreliable results. These articles have allowed the development of a recommendation that the explicit teaching of grammar should be taught but have also identified potential pitfalls in this approach. Collins and Norris (2017) found that workbook exercises did not achieve the same results as other methods such as Embedded Grammar Instruction (Fearn and Farnan, 2007) and so teacher professional development would be needed to ensure that they did not rely upon pre-prepared schemes that have been found not to impact on learning or standards. This will be further discussed in the next section.

In most of these articles, the complexity of grammar being taught is not discussed and so it is not clear whether researchers have found that explicit teaching impact on the standards of all areas of grammar, or specific portions, such as clauses or word classes. Further research is needed to determine how explicit and implicit teaching impacts on the teaching of different types of grammar and the effectiveness of specific approaches.

Recommendation 1: Teach grammar explicitly to raise standards in grammar and overall writing.

Teaching grammar in context

Leading on from the recommendation that grammar should be taught explicitly, extracts were analysed to determine whether grammar should be taught in context or in an isolated approach, as was delivered in the 1960s and 70s (Myhill et al., 2016, p.X). All articles with extracts in this category supported the approach to teaching grammar in context, which allows the formation of a clear recommendation, that elaborates on recommendation 1. This expounds the findings in the previous category, which found that workbook exercises were not effective (Collins and Norris, 2017; Ryan and Barton, 2014).

Cushin and Helks’ (2021) found that student and teacher views of how grammar was being taught differed, and so school leaders will need to carefully monitor teachers’ understanding of what teaching in context means, as this dissonance in perception may be because of teachers misunderstanding of what the concept of teaching grammar in context looks like.

Almost all researchers found that giving a purpose to the learning was effective in raising standards leading to a clear recommendation about purposeful activities. This appears to be a significant change to many education systems, where decontextualised grammar teaching is present in countries that teach grammar explicitly (Ryan and Barton, 2014).

A potential approach to teaching in context could be Embedded Grammar Instruction (EGI), where discussion of purpose is fundamental to the approach (Collins and Norris, 2017). A similar approach is recommended by Peterson and Rajendram (2019), where the activities provide a purpose that improves engagement and investment in their writing. Wales would benefit from studies to identify how EGI impacts on standard of grammar and writing overall, in the context of The Curriculum for Wales.

Recommendation 2: Teach grammar in meaningful contexts where the writing has a clear purpose.

Impact of testing and assessment on the teaching of grammar

It is interesting to note that most articles used in this study were based in Australia and England, both of which have mandatory National grammar testing. Research in these countries has identified that teaching to the test narrows the curriculum (Ryan and Barton, 2014; Thompson and Harbaugh, 2013; Ryan et al, 2021; Cushing and Helks, 2021). The findings in these articles also show that this narrowing of the writing curriculum results in negligible gains in writing levels.

Wales does not currently have a testing programme for grammar and it appears that this approach will not negatively impact standards of grammar, as grammar testing does not improve standards and instead results in inauthentic experiences, which contradict the previous recommendation.

Recommendation 3: Design and deliver a grammar curriculum that aims to improve writing, rather than improve test results.

Teacher Training and Prior Knowledge

Interestingly, this category was not present at the outset of the study but was added as a significant number of articles and extracts referenced Initial Teacher Training (ITT) and teachers’ prior knowledge as directly impacting on standards of students’ grammar.

The three themes that emerged from this category present a clear issue with teachers’ KAG. As many teachers themselves were not explicitly taught grammar, or were taught grammar out of context, their KAG is lower than Government expectations of what should be taught to students. As Myhill and Newman (2016) clearly found, teachers avoid higher order activities, due to their lack of subject knowledge, limiting student learning.

As many trainee teachers’ grammar is poor (Jeurissen, 2012), they would benefit from additional grammar teaching and training from their respective schools and universities. For those who are already working in schools, the demand for training is high (Scull, 2013 and Ryan et al, 2021) and so school leaders should consider providing extra training for staff, particularly for how to support struggling writers (Dockrell, 2016; Parr and Jesson, 2016). The introduction of the Curriculum for Wales is an opportune time for school leaders in Wales to Engage in this training. This should be carefully introduced so that it does not rely on schemes and workbook exercises, which have previously been discussed as not raising standards. For this reason, an understanding of effective pedagogy will need to be developed alongside the KAG. However, it is acknowledged that grammar may not be a priority for some schools, giving the wide sweeping changes that the Curriculum for Wales is introducing.

Recommendation 4: Develop teachers’ knowledge of grammar through training and professional development.

Recommendation 5: Develop teachers’ understanding of effective pedagogy, when teaching grammar.

Implications for Practice

This study has resulted in the development of 5 clear recommendations:

1: Teach grammar explicitly to raise standards in grammar and overall writing.

2: Teach grammar in meaningful contexts where the writing has a clear purpose.

3: Design and deliver a grammar curriculum that aims to improve writing, rather than improve test results.

4: Develop teachers’ knowledge of grammar through training and professional development.

5: Develop teachers’ pedagogical understanding of effective teaching of grammar., alongside their grammatical knowledge.

These recommendations will allow schools to evaluate their own practice and, where appropriate, make changes to their curriculum, pedagogy and teaching of grammar. These recommendations have directed the design of a grammar curriculum in my own school; an initiative which is having a promising impact on the writing standards of most pupils. They have also impacted on my own teaching, where I have seen a significant improvement in the use and understanding of grammar amongst pupils, particularly when grammatical concepts are introduced in a meaningful context. The impact of these recommendations will continue to be monitored and analysed over the coming months and years, with a view of refining and developing them.

Limitations

Due to the limited number of articles that arose during the research process, it will be necessary to corroborate the recommendations with additional research. As none of the research took place in Wales, it is not possible to determine how these recommendations align with the Curriculum for Wales. This provides Wales with an opportunity to produce research that not only adds to the discussion of the way that grammar is taught to Welsh students, but to bring literacy teaching in the Curriculum for Wales to an international audience.

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APPENDIX

Appendix 1: Articles eliminated upon reading of full article

Research based in Secondary Schools

  1. Myhill, D. and Bailey, T. (2013) Grammar for writing? An investigation of the effects of contextualised grammar teaching on students’ writing. Reading & writing, 26(8), pp.1241–1263.

  2. Myhill, D., Jones, S. and Watson, A. (2013) Grammar matters: How teachers’ grammatical knowledge impacts on the teaching of writing. Teaching and teacher education, 36, pp.77–91.

  3. Smagorinsky, P. Wilson, A. and Moore, C. (2011) Teaching Grammar and Writing: A Beginning Teacher’s Dilemma. English education, 43(3), pp.262–292.

Secondary research

  1. Rowlands, K. (2016) Slay the Monster! Replacing Form-First Pedagogy with Effective Writing Instruction. English Journal, 105.6, pp52-58.

  2. VanPatten, B. (2016) Why Explicit Knowledge Cannot Become Implicit Knowledge. Foreign language annals, 49(4), pp.650–657.

  3. Wyse, D. and Torgerson, C. (2017) Experimental trials and ‘what works?’ in education: The case of grammar for writing. British educational research journal, 43(6), pp.1019–1047.

Unable to access article due to article removal

  1. Thomas, D.P. (2020) Rapid decline and gender disparities in the NAPLAN writing data. Australian Educational Researcher, 47(5), pp.777-796.

Duplicate research

  1. Dockrell, J.E., Marshall, C.R. and Wyse, D. (2016) Teachers’ reported practices for teaching writing in England. Reading & writing, 29(3), pp.409–434.

Appendix 2: Articles coded to each category

Curriculum and Pedagogy

  1. Dockrell, J.E., Marshall, C.R., and Wyse, D. (2016) Teachers’ Reported Practices for Teaching Writing in England. Reading & Writing, 29.3 pp.409-34.

  2. Jeurissen, M. (2012) ‘Perhaps I didn’t really have as good a knowledge as I thought I had.’ What do primary school teachers know and believe about grammar and grammar teaching? The Australian journal of language and literacy, 35(3), pp.301–316.

  3. Myhill, D., Newman, R. and Watson, A. (2020) Going meta: Dialogic talk in the writing classroom. The Australian journal of language and literacy, 43(1), pp.5–16.

  4. Ryan, M., Khosronejad, M., Barton, G., Kervin, L. and Myhill, D. (2021) A Reflexive Approach to Teaching Writing: Enablements and Constraints in Primary School Classrooms. Written Communication, 38.3, pp.417-46.

  5. Ryan, M. and Barton, G. (2014) The Spatialized Practices of Teaching Writing in Australian Elementary Schools: Diverse Students Shaping Discoursal Selves. Research in the Teaching of English, 48.3. pp.303-29.

Impact of teaching grammar on overall writing standards

  1. Collins, G. and Norris, J, (2017) Written Language Performance Following Embedded Grammar Instruction. Reading horizons, 56(3), p.16.

  2. Daffern, T., Mackenzie, Noella, M. and Hemmings, B. (2017) Predictors of writing success: How important are spelling, grammar and punctuation?, The Australian Journal of Education, 61(1), pp.75–87.

  3. Graham, S., Mckeown, D., Kiuhara, S. and Harris, K. (2012) A meta-analysis of writing instruction for students in the elementary grades. Journal of educational psychology, 104(4), pp.879–896.

  4. Jeurissen, M. (2012) ‘Perhaps I didn’t really have as good a knowledge as I thought I had.’ What do primary school teachers know and believe about grammar and grammar teaching? The Australian journal of language and literacy, 35(3), pp.301–316.

  5. French, R. (2012) Learning the grammatics of quoted speech : benefits for punctuation and expressive reading. The Australian journal of language and literacy, 35(2), pp.206–222.

  6. Ryan, M. and Barton, G. (2014) The Spatialized Practices of Teaching Writing in Australian Elementary Schools: Diverse Students Shaping Discoursal Selves. Research in the Teaching of English, 48.3. pp.303-29.

Teaching grammar in context

  1. Collins, G. and Norris, J, (2017) Written Language Performance Following Embedded Grammar Instruction. Reading horizons, 56(3), p.16.

  2. Cushing, I. and Helks, M. (2021) Exploring primary and secondary students’ experiences of grammar teaching and testing in England. English in Education, 55(3), pp.239–250.

  3. Peterson, S.S., and Rajendram, S. (2019) Teacher-child and Peer Talk in Collaborative Writing and Writing-mediated Play: Primary Classrooms in Northern Canada. The Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 42.1, pp.28-39.

  4. Ryan, M. and Barton, G. (2014) The Spatialized Practices of Teaching Writing in Australian Elementary Schools: Diverse Students Shaping Discoursal Selves. Research in the Teaching of English, 48.3. pp.303-29.

Impact of testing and assessment

  1. Cushing, I. and Helks, M. (2021) Exploring primary and secondary students’ experiences of grammar teaching and testing in England. English in Education, 55(3), pp.239–250.

  2. Myhill, D., Newman, R. and Watson, A. (2020) Going meta: Dialogic talk in the writing classroom. The Australian journal of language and literacy, 43(1), pp.5–16.

  3. Ryan, M., Khosronejad, M., Barton, G., Kervin, L. and Myhill, D. (2021) A Reflexive Approach to Teaching Writing: Enablements and Constraints in Primary School Classrooms. Written Communication, 38.3, pp.417-46.

  4. Ryan, M. and Barton, G. (2014) The Spatialized Practices of Teaching Writing in Australian Elementary Schools: Diverse Students Shaping Discoursal Selves. Research in the Teaching of English, 48.3. pp.303-29.

  5. Thompson, G. and Harbaugh, A.G. (2013) A preliminary analysis of teacher perceptions of the effects of NAPLAN on pedagogy and curriculum. Australian educational researcher, 40(3), pp.299–314.

Teaching training and prior knowledge of teachers

  1. Dockrell, J.E., Marshall, C.R., and Wyse, D. (2016) Teachers’ Reported Practices for Teaching Writing in England. Reading & Writing, 29.3 pp.409-34.

  2. Parr, J.M., and Jesson, R. (2016) Mapping the Landscape of Writing Instruction in New Zealand Primary School Classrooms. Reading & Writing, 29.5, pp.981-1011.

  3. Ell, F., Hill, M., and Grudnoff, L. (2012) Finding out More about Teacher Candidates’ Prior Knowledge: Implications for Teacher Educators. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 40.1, pp.55-65.

  4. Jeurissen, M. (2012) ‘Perhaps I didn’t really have as good a knowledge as I thought I had.’ What do primary school teachers know and believe about grammar and grammar teaching? The Australian journal of language and literacy, 35(3), pp.301–316.

  5. Myhill, D., Newman, R. and Watson, A. (2020) Going meta: Dialogic talk in the writing classroom. The Australian journal of language and literacy, 43(1), pp.5–16.

  6. Watson, A.M., Newman, R.M.C. and Morgan S.D.(2021) Metatalk and Metalinguistic Knowledge: The Interplay of Procedural and Declarative Knowledge in the Classroom Discourse of First-Language Grammar Teaching. Language Awareness, 30:3, pp.257-275.

  7. Scull, J. (2013) Assessing language for literacy: A microanalysis of children’s vocabulary, syntax and narrative grammar. International education studies, 6(1), pp.142–152.

Appendix 3: Dissemination

The findings from this study will be shared with school leaders, Regional Consortia Advisors and Challenge Advisors. They will be shared through the Central South Consortia Website and made available to all schools in the South Wales region. The study will also be submitted to the other regional consortia and local authorities, to be considered for their own portals of good practice for school leaders and teachers to consider the recommendations.

On the 16th November 2021, these findings will be shared at the Central South Literacy Network Meeting in order to share how these recommendations could form the basis of an approach to grammar in the Curriculum for Wales. The author’s school, Cwmbach Community School, has developed an approach to grammar using these recommendations as a guide. During the network meeting, the approach to the curriculum will be shared, to demonstrate the recommendations in an authentic school context.

[1] No results were found for any studies of the teaching of grammar in Wales.

[2] Unable to access full text of Thomas (2020) on 3 separate dates: 25/8/21, 27/8/21 and 1/9/21 due to availability being removed since initial searches.

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