Thursday 6 December 2018

Last summer's SPaG paper (2018) - what's wrong?

I've been looking at last summer's KS2 SPaG paper and the glossary which is meant to be the guide that teachers use in order to teach children how to do the 'grammar' part of SPaG.

The paper requires a knowledge of something very technical (ie to do with what they imagine are the nuts and bolts of how you put sentences together). However, this is a mechanical or mechanistic view of 'writing' because it has very little to do with:

a) why people use one expression rather than another
b) who uses one expression rather than another
c) what are the purposes for these ways of writing
d) indeed what they mean.

In other words, what's missing here are:

a) choice (why we choose to say/write one thing rather than another)
b) function (what are the social reasons for saying/writing one thing or another
c) meaning (what are we trying to 'mean' when we speak and write, what and how do people making meaning ('understand) what people are saying and writing.

Here are some more specific points about this year's SPaG paper and the 'Glossary'  (accepting for the time being, their own rationale - which I don't! ):

Do you use the ‘glossary’?
Here’s the opening sentence:

“The following glossary includes all the technical grammatical terms used in the programmes of study for English.”

Have you found that this to be true?

Here are some points on this question:

On this year’s SPaG test there were three questions about ‘formal’ English, but the only ref in to ‘formal’ English is under ‘Standard English’ with no real explanation as to what this expression actually means or entails.

There was a question (41) about ‘direct’ and ‘indirect’ speech - also not in the ‘glossary’.

There were 10 questions which used the words ‘correct’ or ‘correctly’ and two more which included ‘must’ or ‘must not’. We have to assume that this refers to ‘correct as for Standard English’...but where is the list that children might feasibly learn what is or is not ‘Standard’?

The definition of a ‘sentence’ in the glossary is in contradiction with the definition of ‘cohesion’ in the same glossary.

‘I wish I had...’ Is 'had' a subjunctive or past tense?
The glossary says it's a ‘past tense’ as used for an imaginary situation (?). Comb the internet and you'll find many sites which call it the 'subjunctive'. (These terms which the children have to learn are often much-disputed. This is one example.)

“Phrases can be made up of other phrases.” - What does this mean? How are people meant to unlock meaning from such sentences?! Ironically, it's been written by someone called a 'grammarian' who thinks that learning grammar enables people to write clearly!

In it says if a 'head word' of a phrase is a verb it's a clause. (I jest not.) Meanwhile, the Penguin Dictionary of Grammar refers to something called a 'verb phrase' and the example given is a phrase where the head word is a verb. And we're supposed to make sense of this world of conflicting and contradictory terms?!

[I have pointed out many times, the bigger game going on here is that:

the test is not there to 'teach grammar' but to 'test teachers'. This was stated explicitly in the Bew Report which is responsible for having brought in this stuff. The Bew Report was on Assessment and Accountability and not on language and grammar. It 'used' what they call 'grammar' as an example of a discipline that had 'right/wrong' answers  and so was suitable as a means of assessing whether children were being taught. (That is, taught something or anything. It's a means to an end: measure teacher 'input' by measuring pupil 'output'. It's another part of mechanical theory!)

In other words the kind of grammar that is being taught has to serve this 'accountability' purpose. That's why all the answers are 'right/wrong' even if they are not. A group of linguists took the King's Shilling and let their discipline be mashed up for this purpose.

I sympathise with teachers being forced to teach this stuff but I think it is theoretically misguided in its conception and misleading for those wanting to know how to write. For this age of child, I believe a limited version of it can be used as an adjunct or assistance to other kinds of work (and pleasure!) around texts. The problem with SPaG is that it's the mechanical and mechanistic tail wagging the language dog. ]