Txtrs R liter8 + gmmr shd B in contx, sez DfE

Janet Downs's picture
Does texting result in weaker writing skills? No, say researchers from the Department for Education (DfE). Using text abbreviations (textisms) has a positive effect on writing. Ability to use textisms is a sign that the user knows how English language works – texters had higher writing skills than non-texters.

But the DfE researchers did more than look at texting – they reviewed evidence about children and writing.

For example, the evidence showed that certain preschool factors were associated with writing competence. These included maternal education, family size and the amount of writing happening in the home.

Good practice for teaching writing included teaching pupils to become fluent in handwriting, spelling, constructing sentences, typing/word processing, setting specific writing goals for different purposes, developing inquiry skills and employing drafting and writing frames effectively.

Teaching grammar in context was more effective than teaching grammar out of context. The latter was one of the factors associated with underperformance in writing. The report identified contextualised grammar as follows:

(i) introducing grammatical constructions and terminology when relevant;

(ii) putting the emphasis on effects and constructing meanings rather than the feature or terminology itself;

(iii) opening up a ‘repertoire of possibilities’ and not just teaching ‘correct ways of writing’.

The DfE report into writing came out after the proposed Programmes of Study (PoS) for English. These require teachers to “Ensure that grammar is taught explicitly: pupils should be taught the terminology and concepts set out in Appendix 2”. The word “context” is only used in relation to information retrieval and the use of the subjunctive. “Contextualised” doesn’t appear at all. Neither is there any reference in the English PoS to word processing, IT or ITC. “Computer” only appears in an example sentence which demonstrates, among other things, adverbial clauses and root words.

The DfE’s own report stresses the importance of contextualised grammar teaching and how typing and word processing support writing. The DfE’s own report supports the introduction of grammatical terminology when relevant and not when laid down by diktat.

I expect this little-publicised report will be shelved like the June 2012 DfE report into the City Challenge which found that this initiative was more successful than the academy programme.

Michael Gove says he wants his policies to be evidence based. But he’s very successful in ignoring evidence that doesn’t support his policies even when the evidence comes from his own Department.

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