The political hot-potato in terms of writing at the moment is independent writing. We have decided the tackle this subject head on by producing a mini-series of blog posts about how we have managed to create a writing community within our classroom which allows children to write independently every day.
We will cover all sorts of strategies we use to allow children to write high-quality assessed pieces independently. Some of them we have already discussed and you can find them here:
Before we start, it is important to point out that Functional grammar makes up only a small part of our Real-World Literacy approach. To find out more please click here. Alternatively, you can receive email updates from our blog by clicking the follow button in the top right hand corner of this page.
What Does Functional Grammar Actually Mean?
Functional grammar is about shifting your understanding of grammar and punctuation away from ‘rules to be followed’ to one that looks at its function – why is it there and what is it doing? 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 texts written by professional authors and if they can be given the opportunity to use these ‘writing tricks’ in their 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 own 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 simply told you the rules of a piece of grammar. They often didn’t tell children (or indeed adults) why they might want to use it and the effect it can have on their writing. We were also fed up with the concept of ‘grammar deficit’. This is the practice of continually passing judgement on errors children make in grammar-exercises as opposed to talking critically about what value grammar can have for their writing or the effect its absence has on the effectiveness of their piece. This realisation has transformed our practice and got us the academic results we were looking for. We explain how we now approach grammar teaching below:
“We must not delay! Upon the speedy provision of elementary education depends our industrial prosperity. It is of no use trying to give technical teaching to our artizans without elementary education….If we leave our workfolk any longer unskilled, notwithstanding their strong sinews and determined energy, they will become over-matched in the competition of the world. If we are to hold our position among men of our own race or among the nations of the world we must make up the smallness of our numbers by increasing the intellectual force of the individual.”
In 1870, an Education Act was passed which paved the way for the achievement by the end of the century of compulsory free state education for children between the ages of five and thirteen. The driving force behind the Act was clearly articulated above by W.E. Forster in his speech to the House in February of that year. The education of the masses came also to be seen as a possible and desirable solution to problems of social unrest and rising crime, and to carry the important function of socialization, to be achieved through the inculcation of such moral values as piety, honesty, industry and, significantly, obedience. These principles are surely held good in schools today, though promoted in a different vocabulary.
The following article by Donald Graves (written in 1985), considered by many to be the “father” of the process approach to writing, is a classic piece on the need for a change in the way writing has typically been taught in schools. This article helped spark the movement now known as ‘The Writer’s Workshop’ or ‘Process Writing’ approach and has influenced our modern interpretation called ‘Real-World Literacy‘.
This article is excellent because Graves discusses the challenges and needs of students, clearly lays out how teachers can establish a community of writers and the writing process, and provides examples of teachers and students working together.
This article is based on the work of Graham & Perin (2007), The DfE (2012) and other influential research (Beard, 2000, Gadd, 2014, Education Endowment Fund, 2017). There is now a core of consistency to be found across a variety of studies in several different countries on what makes for good writing lessons. We also now know what causes poor writing outcomes – see here. In the case of Graham & Perin (2007), their meta-analysis comes from the largest collection of writing research ever pooled. It analysed all contemporary research into the teaching of writing and looked for significant patterning. You can find a more formal summary of how their and the DfE’s findings marry together to create these 13 strategies at the bottom of this article. This is what research analysis concluded:
This half term we focused on the teaching of advocacy journalism. Advocacy journalism is when you advocate for something. It means you champion it, support it and try and stand up for it.
In our first week, we discussed this genre using our genre-booklets. To make the writing truly purposeful, the school contributed a charity grant fund worth £150 to a JustGiving page and invited the community to top this up, which in the end raised well over £300.
So, over half term, we asked the children to talk with their families and choose a local charity, organisation or cause that was worthwhile or important to them. They then had to research details of the charity and bring their information into school. They even had to phone up their charity on the phone to try and get a quote – some of them did remarkably well with this.
What the The Standards & Testing Agency do say is that you can tell a child, through marking, that there are spelling errors in certain paragraphs that they’ve written. I actually think this is quite sensible if we wish to develop children as independent spellers.