Research-inspired grammar teaching in British schools
Innovative research on teaching grammar from the University of Exeter’s Centre for Research in Writing has transformed understandings of the role of grammar in the teaching of writing. Leaving a positive and lasting impact on teaching practice in the UK and internationally.
This research, a cumulative set of studies conducted over more than 15 years, has shown that when grammar is linked meaningfully to the writing being taught, children’s attainment in writing can improve at double the rate of children not taught in that way.
This original teaching approach, which favours grammar as a creative tool to writers, contrasts with traditional methods in which students are taught how to identify grammar but not how to apply it to their writing. “The key,” says Professor Debra Myhill, “is using grammar to open children’s eyes to the infinite repertoire of choices which are available to them as writers. Used in this way, grammar helps children understand how language works and how to express themselves with greater craft and creativity.”
When Pearson Education, a leading educational publisher, wanted their resources to become more research-informed, they approached Professor Debra Myhill, Director of the Centre for Research in Writing. They adopted the research-evidenced approach as the basis for the publication of their Skills for Writing series in 2013, and for new KS3 and KS4 writing materials which have been well-received in schools.
As a result of the positive impact of the research, Professor Debra Myhill won the Outstanding Impact in Society award at the ESRC Celebrating Impact Prize 2014. Ruth Emm, Product Manager in Secondary English, Humanities and Drama at Pearson said: “Working with Debra has not only changed how we think about literacy, but also our entire strategy for how we can best help learners progress. Pearson are fully committed to creating evidence-based teaching materials and to demonstrating the impact of our resources and services on learner outcomes, and the way in which we talk about our services and the methods we use to gather evidence has been greatly influenced by input from Debra’s Exeter team”.
Since 2014, the Exeter team has run over 120 training workshops for teachers and teacher educators across the country, reaching approximately 5,000 participants in total, and changing both classroom practice and teachers’ grammatical understanding. The research has also changed pedagogical practice beyond the UK. Debra has worked with teachers and the Department of Education in Adelaide, Australia, offering guidance on how language study fits into the curriculum. The Department for Education in Victoria have also featured videos delivered by Debra on their teachers’ Literacy Toolkit website. In 2017, Debra visited Linnaeus University, Sweden, for a week to develop materials with teacher educators there, and to run a training session for teachers.
Pearson has a sustained working relationship with Exeter, and together they continue to see the growing impact of their work, as more and more schools and educators turn to the Grammar as Choice framework to inform teacher training and training materials.