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An experimental inquiry into the functions and value of formal grammar in the teaching of English with special reference to the teaching of correct written English to children aged 12 to 14

Harris, R. J. (1962) An experimental inquiry into the functions and value of formal grammar in the teaching of English with special reference to the teaching of correct written English to children aged 12 to 14. PhD thesis, Institute of Education, University of London.

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In this work, the value of the traditional English grammar lesson in helping ci-ildren to write correctly was tested. The grammar lesson was found to be certainly not superior, and in most instances was inferior, to direct practice in writing skills. The progress of five forms having no grammar lesson was measured on eleven counts against that of five similar forms following the same English course but taking one lesson a week of English grammar. At the end of two academic years, of the fifty-five resultant scores, twenty-five proved highly reliable. Ten of these showed a significant advantage (where t= more than 3) to the non-grammar forms, none to the grammar. Of a further twenty fairly reliable measures, one significantly favoured the non-grammar course, and none the grammar. Where t equalled or exceeded 1.5 in calculating the significance of a difference between the mean scores of the grammar and the non-grammar scores, that is, in thirty-four scores, thirty went to the nongrammar forms, as against onlir four to the grammar - none of these four reaching a level of significance in which t=3. Significant gains were made by the non-grammar forms in the following measures: the number of words ner common error (three forms out of five); the variety of sentence patterns used (two forms); the number of complex sentences correctly used (four forms); the number of correct sentences (one form); and the total number of words written (one form). After a pilot experiment of three months, a hair of forms from each of five secondary schools tools Hart for the first two years of their secondary course. There were 119 pupils in the grammar forms, and 109 in the non-grammar. Two of the schools were boys' Grammar schools, two were Technical branches of Comprehensive schools, and the only girls were from a Secondary Modern school. All schools were in London; two to the east, two to the west, and one central. Each child attempted a formal grammar test at the beginning and end. of the course, and each wrote at an interval of two years an essay on the same subject. The grammar forms wrote a total of 70,930 words, and the non-grammar forms 62,913. From the analysis of these essays the eleven counts were taken by the following measurements: a). average length of the correct simple sentence b). Instanc es of the omission of the full stop c). number of words ner common error d). number of different sentence patterns e). number of non-simple sentences minus the number of simple, correct and incorrect include d. f). number of subordinate clauses g). total n umber of words h). number of correct complex sentences i). number of correct simple sentences containing two or more modifying phrases j). number of correct sentences exceeding the number of incorrect. k). number of adjectival clauses and phrases. 5. Four of the pairs of forms were each instructed by one teacher; the neriod of instruction, time allowed for the essays, and the content of the grammar and the non-grammar courses were as far as possible the same for each child. The validity of the eleven measuring instruments was established by their abstraction from a comrarison of the written work of ten-year-old and of fifteen-year-old children. The measures were tested for reliability by being used on a pair of essays written at a week's interval by twentyr-seven children aged twelve to thirteen. The measuring instruments have two virtues: they test available skill and not mere recognition; and they are to some extent measures of maturation and not simply of error. Methods of assessing the importance of common errors are discussed, as is the lack of correlation between relatively successful grammatical study and improvement in writing-skill. The work includes various appendices, among them one commenting on the use of the Error Quotient recommended by Storm'and and others for relating errors in importance, another making suggestions for a course in language in the secondary school and intended to replace the traditional grammar course, and a third giving a summary of the grammatical contents of a number of text-books published since 191+-1+. Despite various questionings of the value of formal grammar in teaching English, there has been little fundamental change in the teacher's approach to the subject in Great Britain. This conservatism may be due to the unconvincingly short period of experiments previously undertaken. The Dresent work covering a period of two academic years is an attempt to overcome this objection.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Depositing User: IOE Repository Editor (10)
Date Deposited: 29 Aug 2014 10:53
Last Modified: 17 Jul 2015 09:09
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