Helks, Marie (2019) What, Why and How: The Policy, Purpose and Practice of Grammatical Terminology - An exploratory study of grammatical terminology through the perspectives and practices of Year 5 & Year 6 pupils and their teachers. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

In 2013, the introduction of a new Primary National Curriculum for English (DfE 2013a) and the Key Stage 2 ‘Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling’ Test (DfE 2013b) re-ignited debates around the teaching of grammar and its associated terminology. This study explores grammatical terminology in the primary curriculum through the perspectives and practices of Year 5 and Year 6 pupils and their teachers in two primary schools in the North of England. Its aim is to contribute to a meaning-oriented theorisation of grammatical terminology that might inform others (e.g. policy makers, teachers, student teachers and pupils) about what form effective pedagogical practice might take.

The study situates these explorations within the debates: debates in policy, the ‘What’; debates in purpose, the ‘Why’ and debates in practice, the ‘How’. It draws methodologically upon the multiple case study work of Stake (2006), utilising a range of data gathering methods to explore the complex phenomenon of grammatical terminology in a bounded, real-life context. In total, three Year 5 classes (9-10-year-olds) and one Year 6 class (10-11-year-olds) took part. In addition, a pilot study was undertaken with a mixed Year 5/6 class. Data gathering extended over a 12-month period by which time the schools had had 12-24 months’ experience of working within the new curriculum and assessment expectations. Therefore, the findings reflect a point in curriculum and assessment change. Research methods included: (i) lesson observations, (ii) questionnaires, (iii) interviews and (iv) writing conferences. Pupil interviews were at the centre of the data gathered, intended to elicit “insider knowledge” of the complex phenomenon of grammatical terminology. ‘Probe-based interviewing’ (Stake 2006:31) was used to stimulate and support the pupils’ metacognitive reflections, their confidence and interest and, ultimately, the verbalisation of their thinking and ideas. The different mediational tools used in these interviews included video-supported reflection and practical grammar activities and games. Guided by the research questions, findings were analysed inductively and a process of template analysis was applied.

Theoretically, the multicase findings were examined through a social constructivist lens and, principally, through the theoretical ideas of Vygotsky (1896-1934), around the nature and significance of word meanings. This study also makes use of the work of Halliday (2002) who perceives grammar as a meaning-making resource and as a tool with which to think. The study argues that grammatical terms are the epitome of ‘scientific concepts’ (Vygotsky 1987:167), essential both for the development of abstract thinking and for language learning. The ‘assertions’ (Stake 2006:50) are developed into two models for the teaching and learning of grammatical terminology. These are: (i) a conceptual model which develops Bloom’s Taxonomy of Cognitive Processes (revised Anderson and Krathwohl 2001) and (ii) a pedagogical model which develops Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (1978:84). These models are proposed as contributions to new knowledge. They are linked by the overarching theme of semiotic mediation in the support and development of pupils’ conceptual understanding.

This study has implications for the ways in which teachers might approach the planning, teaching and assessment of grammatical terminology, alongside implications for their own professional development. Furthermore, in the absence of extensive research into pupils’ perspectives on the teaching and learning of grammatical terminology, this study sees pupils at the heart of the debates and their learning at the centre of the two models which are proposed.

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