Friday, April 8, 2011

Research: Formal Grammar and Writing

Question: What evidence is there that a study of formal grammar does not contribute to improvements in writing?

Answer: The Elley Study [“The Role of Grammar in a Secondary School English Curriculum” WB Elley, IH Barham, H Lamb and M Wyllie. New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies 10 (May 1975), pp. 26-42] was supposed to put an end to discussions about the utility of studying formal grammar to improve writing. The authors began by admitting weaknesses in studies relating formal grammar to writing. The length of the studies was too short, the students did not learn enough grammar to transfer it to writing, and the attitudes of the teachers toward grammar contaminated the studies.

The final results of this study showed that the grammar group did not write better than the non-grammar group and this finding was claimed as proof that grammar study did not help improve writing.

In addition, in the present study, the grammar students expressed negative attitudes toward the study of grammar: “Here the TG [Traditional Grammar] groups showed predominantly negative attitudes, especially on such dimensions as ‘useless,’ ‘unimaginative,’ ‘repetitive,’ ‘passive,’ ‘complicated,’ and ‘unpleasant.’ ”

Comment: Further analysis of this study showed that the formal grammar teachers made no effort to connect the grammar they were teaching to writing. At the very least, students need to learn to write while studying grammar so that the teachers have the opportunities to show students how to apply the grammar they are learning to their writing. As to the purpose for applying grammar to writing it is to polish writing, to keep the reader reading from beginning to end without being distracted by problems in sentence structure, usage, punctuation or spelling. RayS.

Title: “The Role of Grammar in a Secondary School English Curriculum.” WB Elle, IH Barham, H Lamb and M Wyllie. Research in the Teaching of English (Spring 1976), 5-21.

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