A Functional Grammar Table: CPD Subject Knowledge With A Difference

Before we start, it is important to point out that Functional Grammar makes up only a small part of LiteracyForPleasure’s writing approach, to read more about this approach we are calling Real-Word Literacy please go here. Alternatively, you can receive email updates from our blog by clicking the follow button in the top right hand corner of this page.

Functional Grammar?

It would do children and teachers the world of good if they shifted their understanding of grammar and punctuation away from ‘rules to be followed’ to one that looked at its function. What can grammar and punctuation do for us as writers and what does it already do for the texts our favourite authors write?

If children can spot grammar and punctuation in real texts written by real authors and if they can be given opportunity to use these ‘writing secrets’ in their real writing, they will not only produce better texts but they will be skilled in the exercise of name-and-identify which is so popular (for some reason) in grammar tests.

It is possible to create pupils who can be their own critics and also be interested and motivated in trying to make their writing as clear and creative as possible for their readers.

We made the Functional-Grammar-Table below because we were fed up with texts which told you the rules of a piece of grammar but didn’t tell children (or indeed adults) why and where you might want to use it and the effect grammar can have on your writing. We were also fed up with the concept of ‘grammar deficit’. This is the teaching practice of continually passing judgement on rule errors in grammar-exercises as opposed to talking critically about what value grammar can have on writing or the effect of its absence has on the effectiveness of a piece. This realisation has transformed our practice. We explain how we now approach grammar teaching below:

Teaching Grammar Through Daily ‘Writing Tricks’ Minilessons

What lessons will have a practical, lasting, positive influence on student writing? – Nancie Atwell

In many classes, minilessons precede daily writing lessons. Whether you’re teaching a grammar, writing-craft or genre study-point,  it is useful to follow Tompkins’ (2011, p.53) stages:

  1. Introduce the topic and its functional purpose ->
  2. Share examples ->
  3. Provide information ->
  4. Guided practice ->
  5. Assess learning.

Introduce the topic and functional purpose This can be anything from a writing strategy or skill, grammar function or a literary genre concept. Always share the purpose and the function with the class, before moving on to formalities or rules.

  • Share examples Look at examples from children’s or author’s real writing.
  • Provide information Provide information about the topic and how it can be used in ‘real’ writing. Clarify misconceptions and contrast a good and a poor example to see how the writing is affected.
  • Guided practice Children work individually or in pairs to practice what they are learning. Ideally this will be in the context of an authentic piece of writing a child is currently working on (See our Real-Word-Literacy approach for more details on how to do this).
  • Assess learning Teachers ask children to consider how they can use this information as they write. They can also reflect on their authentic use of it by leaving a comment in their book.

The Importance Of Giving ‘Writing Tricks’

Whatever you choose to do in these minilessons you should ensure that you teach in context and in a way that will empower children’s writing intentions. Calkins (1998, p.198) suggests that to successfully apply this attitude is to perceive minilessons as ‘quick tip’ giving before Process Writing begins. This changes your perception of these lessons, stops them turning into exercises and instead creates a climate where children feel instructed in and taught something valuable.

So What Actually Is A ‘Functional’ Grammar Lesson And Why Teach In That Way?

These mini-sessions are essential for showing children the hows of writing. The main premise is that the use of punctuation and grammar is a skill to be developed, not content to be taught.

Graham & Perin’s (2007) highly reliable meta-analysis into effective teaching of writing makes it clear that the formal teaching of grammar has always negatively impacted on children’s writing. Functional grammar teaching, on the other hand, shows children how understanding what words and structures ‘do’ – helps them achieve their meaning and intentions in their real writing.

Fearn & Farnan (2007, p.77) suggest teaching grammar in this order:

  • Teach the purpose of the grammar and share its meaning potential with your writers.
  • Follow this up by allowing them to apply it in their real writing.
  • Finally, ensure that children can formally ‘define-and-identify’ it out of context.

Fearn & Farnan (2007) make clear that this is not only the key to good writing, but teaching in this way results in a deeper understanding of grammar for formal testing. This approach is also fully supported by the DfE (2012) in their own research on effective teaching of grammar.

Please see the bottom of this post for our Functional Grammar Table. This table is designed with teachers in mind. It differs from many other grammar tables in that its major purpose is to inform teachers of the function different grammatical items have in writing. It is written in a way that should make these functions easily understood and applied by children.

A useful technique we advocate for is discussion of a prepared text which does achieve its intentions as a result of good grammar use – or sometimes doesn’t. The act of reading requires understanding how writers use grammar to enhance meaning. Children will learn that if they ignore grammatical conventions, readers will not understand their text. Therefore, you should still encourage a culture of speculation about grammar use. This not only makes the sessions more interesting but also allows children to think more deeply and thus gain an authentic understanding of grammar. With all minilessons, whether it be grammar, writing or genre study, you should avoid using worksheets and instead have the children apply their newly acquired learning in their own authentic writing.

Wide reading has a strong impact on personal writing. Explore and promote high-quality children’s literature to understand the grammatical and stylistic choices other writers make.

This approach to minilessons is one part of a much larger approach being devised by ‘Literacyforpleasure’. For more information on our approach to teaching writing, please go here.

DOWNLOAD our Functional Grammar Table here.

functional grammar table

 

Children Learning To Read: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly!

Children Learning To Read: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly!

If children groan and grumble when having to read with you or anyone else you might want to reflect on these strategies and think about how you approach ‘reading time’.  

The best things you can do when helping a child learn to read.

  • Devote time to it. Make it a quality experience. Show your own interest and pleasure.
  • Talk about both your responses to text.
  • Respect the text as the teacher. You are a co-reader able to offer sensitive support.
  • Provide quality stories. Rhyme, rhythm, pattern good for beginning readers, and books that read aloud well, have a narrative flow and use natural language rhythms.
  • Allow children to choose the text.
  • Let children construct a narrative from the sequence of pictures.
  • Offer to read the whole text to the child.
  • Be prepared to share the reading (one page each!)
  • Read with (in unison) – drop out – rejoin when necessary.
  • Accept memorizing of the text.
  • Encourage all strategies. These include:
    • Predicting,
    • Self-monitoring,
    • Self-correcting
    • Reading on,
    • Reading back,
    • Re-runs.
  • Encourage children to use (‘orchestrate’) the following cueing systems:
    • Semantic (meaning & context),
    • Syntactic (knowledge of grammatical construction of language),
    • Grapho-phonic (sound-symbol relationships).

Some of these sound rather technical. But fear not! For more information on these strategies – what they are and what they mean please visit here and all shall be revealed in simple language.

  • Allow for some errors/miscues – and give time for child to self-correct.
  • Return to miscues later – at the end of a page or chapter. Make a contextual or a phonetic point. (to draw attention to context or phonics.)

The absolute worst things you can do when helping a child learn to read.

  • Rush the experience.
  • Ask children to read text they haven’t chosen for themselves.
  • Control the reading.
  • Focus only on the text!
  • Insist on 100% accuracy in word-reading.
  • Correct errors immediately – stopping the child’s ‘flow’ or enjoyment of the text.
  • Ask child to read a text ‘cold’, with no setting up of the story.
  • Leave no time for discussion of response.
  • Think in deficit terms.

Let me expand on what constitutes ‘thinking in deficit terms’. Here is a genuine comment made by a teacher in a child’s home/school book:

“A. still not looking at more than initial sound. Only using picture cues. Trouble with decoding. Struggled with text.”

Yet A was; using pictures to make sense of the story & creating a plausible text. Showed great pleasure and enthusiasm, appreciated humour, wanted to discuss the story, was happy to “re-think” and correct self. Behaving as a reader, but needed help to focus more on print.

Think about what is happening as well as what isn’t.

What are early readers doing which you might not have noticed?

  • Making meaning, constructing narrative from the pictures,
  • Responding; finding pleasure; beginning to be reflective,
  • Showing they know how a story goes (understanding narrative structure),
  • Understanding the function of ‘print’,
  • Using a range of the strategies mentioned above,
  • Wanting to talk to you about the text!
  • Developing a sense of self and personality as a reader.

These are all things you can comment on in children’s reading records, to their parents and most importantly to the child. Make sure TA’s know that they can spot these things when they read with children too. For a guide on how to comment in children’s reading records click here.

The Four Week Reading Programme

The 4-Week Reading Programme

A project carried out several times in one primary school by two SENCOs. Hard work, but very rewarding!

Why did it come about? The two teachers felt they wanted to inform parents more about their children’s reading and to involve them more meaningfully beyond the customary comment in the home school reading record book.

They were also attracted by the idea of carrying out a small piece of action research and by the possibility of enriching the reading experience for both parents and children.

The Aims: To see if regular reading sessions at home with a parent (every night for 4 weeks, day off on Sunday) would have an impact on children’s motivation, attitudes and possibly, performance.

The Participants: 12 children of different ages took part in each programme – some who were finding reading difficult, and some who read well but were not turning to books as a source of pleasure.

What Was Done:

  • Publicity posters put up in school
  • Children & staff briefed
  • Parents invited to attend meeting (100% did)
  • Aims explained; “best way to read” discussed i.e maintain interest of story, encourage and allow time to use all strategies, give word if necessary to keep the ‘flow’. Learn when to join in, when to hold back
  • Short video shown of SENCOs reading with children.

The Materials

  • Small booklet for record-keeping spaces for date, title and parent/child comment, for each family.
  • Book-baskets with variety of texts to suit 12 children of different abilities and tastes. Children changed books as often as they wished. Contents changed every week.

Evaluation

At the end of week 4, parents and children wrote a final reflection on the experience. Comments were invariably positive; all parents spoke of shared enjoyment and many reported increased fluency.

It seems therefore, that there is something special for a child in being in the ‘spotlight’ for a limited time, and that this may raise the quality of the reading.

The parents involved were 100% enthusiastic and supportive throughout. The SENCOs wrote up the project and it attracted considerable local interest at the time.

And finally… other children queued up to join in!

To contact me about setting up The 4 Week Reading Programme for children in your school. You can contact me here.

What actually is reading for pleasure and why is it vital for all schools?

What is reading for pleasure and why is it vital for all schools?

Anything from poetry to instruction manuals, magazines, comics, biography, fiction, history, information – it’s a lifelong resource. You can do it any time, anywhere.

When I was working in a children’s bookshop, every lunchtime for a fortnight a boy of about nine years old from a nearby Traveller settlement  would come in, ask if there were any books about dogs, and would browse and sample all kinds of titles for half an hour, then leave. I wasn’t sure whether he could read or not, but I sensed his pleasure.

At home with a small child, I used to think of sharing books as a kind of playing, especially since my two year old would demand to “play books” on a daily basis.It was entirely pleasurable and satisfying for us both, and later on we used to act out scenes from stories at her request. I have the same feelings when I am involved in any “reading lesson” at school. I approach each one with a strong sense of optimism and anticipation, and it feels like a new experience each time. As a teacher, I see myself as a sympathetic co-reader, ready to help but also to set up the reading experience for the child by giving him or her the expectation of enjoyment. This applies to all children, regardless of age or reading ability. I like to read with anybody, sometimes for no reason other than the shared pleasure of discovering in the text something familiar or unfamiliar, humorous or thought-provoking. Every home or school book  -sharing encounter between an adult and a child can be a quality experience carrying a positive message about reading.

Putting It Simply

Cue – Something in the text or pictures which gives a child a clue to what a word might be.

Grapho-phonic – cues: The relationship between sound and symbol in a word.

Could it be that? If the first letter is ….. ?

N.B In psycholinguistic terms this one is the least useful strategy to encourage in the process of ‘informed guessing’.

Informed guessing – When a child makes a guess after using a combination of differing strategies and cues.

Semantic cues – Using information already available to predict what a word might be.

Would that make sense in the story?

Syntactic cues – Using what we ‘naturally’ know about grammar to check the meaning of a word in a sentence.

Do we actually say it like that? Does that sound right to you?