Battle on the adverbials front: grammar advisers raise worries about Sats tests and teaching.

The Guardian reports that the panel of four who advised Michael Gove on the primary spelling and grammar test now have reservations.

This morning, more than half a million primary children will take a test that may ask them to identify the grammatical label for the two-word phrase at the start of this paragraph. Could you do it? If you are unable to recognise this as a “fronted adverbial” then you will have fallen short on knowledge expected of 10- and 11-year-olds in the controversial spelling, punctuation and grammar (Spag) tests.

Now Richard Hudson, the academic who says he bears most responsibility for introducing the fronted adverbial, has said the process through which the national curriculum was changed under Michael Gove, the former education secretary, was “chaotic”. He admits it was not based on good research evidence and says he feels many teachers are not equipped to teach it.

The government’s key curriculum adviser, Tim Oates, has already warned that the Spag tests, introduced last May, “need a rethink” as there was a “genuine problem about undue complexity of demand” in terms of the “language about language” that children were expected to know.

David Crystal, one of Britain’s foremost English language academics, has argued that the Spag test, and the view of language lying behind it, “turns the clock back half a century”

Debra Myhill, director of the centre for research in writing at the University of Exeter has published research that finds grammar teaching can help pupils’ writing, but only if taught in a way that links meaningfully to how they write. She fears the tests are pushing children in the wrong direction. “There is no evidence that simply being able to name and identify linguistic terminology has any effect on your use of language,” she says.

The emphasis on grammatical terminology has also been criticised by academics as not based on good research that it helps children’s writing. Asked whether there was any evidence at the time that a greater emphasis on traditional grammar was developmentally appropriate for children, Hudson says: “No, there was no evidence, and we were guessing. But I think we were right.”

Hudson says his main concern is not the tests’ content, but that the DfE was expecting an increased emphasis on traditional grammar without seeking to improve teachers’ own grammatical understanding, which he says is often substandard.

Read the full article Battle on the adverbials front: grammar advisers raise worries about Sats tests and teaching.

Is the curriculum suffering from “terminology-itis” ? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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