Ethics in teaching grammar – surely not to pass tests?

I recalled a conversation I heard between Jerry Starratt and Hedley Beare recently on how metaphors can portray or even drive our thinking about curriculum when I read an article [featured in the daily newspapers in most capital cities] about the new National Curriculum. The articles were calling for a back to basics in writing by teaching students more grammar.

More back to basics! My fear is that academics or politicans are really calling for a recall to a curriculum that has prepackaged units of learning – in this case grammar – which all students learn – generally goes with a text book [perhaps I’m cynical]. Is this the 21st century learning that will hold students in good stead? No – I would hastily add.

Jerry and Hedley talked about people having an economic metaphor of curriculum: that its about the measurement of outcomes – test scores driving us forward. That the market will self correct and when test score are lower we will simply adjust the curriculum [read back to basics] to get us back on track. Assumption one is that grammatical structures students complete on a multiple choice test question are transferable to the structures they need to use in writing.

Rather than learning been seen as prepacked units [grammatical structures in textbooks] I would have thought that teaching grammatical structures – yes I agree that we do need to teach the skills and mechanics of writing, as well as the craft –  within the act of writing that is responding to issues or arguments was the skill of the 21st century.

Perhaps we need to support all teachers structure learning – be it grammar or other writing mechanics – within the context of the actual act – writing.

I think both Jerry and Hedley would argue from a moral and ethic perspective that we need to fight for a metaphor for schooling that better serves our youth in the 21st century – perhaps an eco system rather than an economic metaphor. Eco systems look at the interrelationship and sustainability of things – things are learnt or understanding constructed in a context – so it is with grammar or spelling. Why do I need to learn this is a question posed by students in every classroom every day. We learn writing mechanics not to pass tests but to better craft our understanding often expressed in writing about things. Yes eco systems seems to better fit!  

 Please lets hear the voice of reasoned educators working in classrooms!

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