I spend a lot of time in various corporate environments working with people from my generation who just weren’t taught basic grammar. I also work with young adults schooled throughout the 80s and 90s who are equally at sea when it comes to understanding active and passive voice, subject/verb agreement or what on earth Word is talking about when it gives the error message “fragment consider revising”. My sense of accomplishment comes from teaching them at least those basics – it’s enough to make a massive difference to how they write for work.
If you went to school in Australia between about 1965 and 1995 you probably weren’t taught formal grammar. Unless, of course, you were lucky and just happened to have one of those teachers who loved it, wanted to teach it and knew it inside out! For some reason, or probably many reasons, the teaching of formal grammar dropped out of the school curriculum across various Australian States for decades but made its way back in sometime in the 90s.
My daughter, for example, started primary school in NSW in 1999 and was most certainly taught grammar. She was not, however, taught grammar at high school. I, on the other hand, went to school throughout the 60s and 70s and was never taught formal grammar in primary or high school.
Most of my peers had the same experience.
So do we need to learn formal grammar?
Dr Peter Knapp, the former head of Educational Assessment Australia at UNSW developed a national writing test assessing kids across a common scale from Year 3 to Year 12. In research conducted in 2009, he found that NSW Year 3 students scored 13 points above the national average in literacy tests but in Year 9 their scores were on a par with the rest of the nation.
He suggests that what teachers are teaching in the primary school years (formal grammar) is reflected in the writing ability of their students, but “this edge disappears by their third year of secondary school”.
So, in effect, kids who are taught grammar in primary school in NSW out-perform their peers in national literacy tests, but that advantage is lost once formal teaching of grammar ceases in the high school years. Dr Knapp suggests the increased complexities of writing in high school, university and corporate environments equally requires formal teaching and understanding of the deeper complexities of grammar.
Dr Knapp went on to say, “If students were to receive formal instruction in grammar at high school, then university lecturers would not need to teach their first-year students how to construct effective complex sentences or a coherent argument.”
Meanwhile, if you need a grammar refresher that’s useful for your work environment, especially for your graduates, give us a call. We can help by tailoring a short or long program to your needs.