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Social Sciences

Grammar for Writing? The impact of contextualised grammar teaching on pupils' writing and pupils' metalinguistic understanding.

1 January 2008 - 31 July 2011

PI/s in Exeter: Professor Debra Myhill

CI/s in Exeter: Dr Susan Jones

Research partners:

Funding awarded: £ 249,956

Sponsor(s): Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)

About the research

Previous studies of the value of grammar teaching have focused principally upon the impact of de-contextualised grammar teaching, but no study to date has systematically investigated whether making connections between particular linguistic structures and particular writing tasks supports the development of pupils' writing.  Equally, despite concerns that teachers' knowledge of linguistics is not sufficient, no study has considered the impact of this subject knowledge upon pedagogical strategies.  This study represents a significant contribution to theoretical knowledge in the domains of both metalinguistic theory and instructional theories of writing.  It is also be of immediate value and relevance to policy-makers and practitioners, given national and international concerns about writing standards.

The aim of this study was to investigate whether explicit teaching of grammar in the context of writing impacts upon the quality of pupils' writing.

The specific objectives of the study were:

  • to explore the impact of teacher linguistic subject knowledge on the teaching of grammar
  • to explore the impact of pedagogical support materials on the teaching of grammar
  • to determine the impact of grammar teaching on pupils' writing
  • to determine the impact of grammar teaching on pupils' metalinguistic understanding
  • to explore teachers' pedagogical beliefs about teaching grammar in the context of writing

A concurrent objective of the study was to draw on a mixed methods methodology, set within a multi-disciplinary conceptual framework, which acknowledges the complexity of writing and the importance of contextual variables in classroom-focused research.   In this respect, and in its focus upon classroom practices which connect grammar teaching with writing, the study is both unique and internationally significant.

Key Findings:

The headline findings from the statistical data are:

  • a significant positive effect on writing attainment for the intervention group
  • the intervention benefited able writers more than less able writers
  • teachers' linguistic subject knowledge was a mediating factor

The qualitative data indicates:

  • the significance of teacher subject knowledge of grammar on the effect of the teaching
  • the beneficial effect of the explicitness of the teaching schemes
  • the beneficial effect of opportunities for discussion and experimentation with effect
  • the development of metalinguistic awareness in the intervention group

For more detailed information about the findings, please read the Full Project Report.  You might also like to look at the Powerpoint presentations and Research summaries.  There are many overlaps in these as they draw on the same empirical and theoretical data so you may not need to read each one.  Please contact the Research Office if you would like a copy of any of the below.