Monday, 19 September 2011

Global Writing Outcomes

Over at Balloon Juice, Freddie deBoer writes a lengthy post about pedagogy.  Apparently the research shows that teaching grammar does not help people, uh, learn it.  As unlikely as that seems (certainly the smidgen of French and Latin grammar I picked up has been useful to me), I'm not going to question the veracity of said research; presumably they scienced their way to some kind of empirical truth.

Let me just point this gem out, though:  

Grammar instruction does not lead to better reading outcomes

This is the worst kind of jargon, especially egregious in a post about improving reading and writing skills.  Where does that word 'outcomes' come from? Whom does it serve? What is the difference between improved 'reading outcomes' and regular 'improved reading'?

Freddie's question isn't terrible - what should a teacher do to help kids with serious grammatical problems when the evidence suggests that direct teaching of grammar is useless? Teaching people is often impossible for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the student's own willingness to learn, and I think that anybody who makes teaching their job is brave (though perhaps a little quixotic). Still, if we want students to improve their, uh, local and global syntactical outcomes, we should probably stick to understandable English ourselves.


  1. While I don't want to dispute the research, I will say that it seems that back when we were all actually taught grammar, most people understood it and used it correctly. "Research" is sometimes like statistics.

    By the way, I love the Philboyd Studge moniker. In keeping with that Saki theme I've decided that I'll now be Cousin Teresa.

  2. Yeah, it's often tempting to contradict research that seems intuitively wrong. My advice? Keep paying attention. Sooner or later the research will be overturned (as all research eventually is) and you can enjoy all those good I-told-you-so feelings.

    As a sidenote, I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that I was introduced to Saki through Kurt Vonnegut - hence the 'phil', not 'fil'.