Grammar myths

Posted by Garry Collins, ETAQ Immediate Past President on 12 September 2017

An edited version of the letter below was published in The Australian of Thursday 24 August 2017. It was written in response to a letter which had taken one of the paper's journalists to task for splitting an infinitive. Underlined sections were deleted and bracketed ones inserted. The paper's heading was "Split on grammar".

Split infinitives and other grammatical nonsense

Steven Adams (Letters, 23/8) refers negatively to a split infinitive in the Inquirer article "Teaching the teachers" (22/8). While no doubt well-intentioned, his comment is inappropriate.

When descriptions of the grammar of English were first written, Latin had a privileged position in universities, the church and the law. Efforts were therefore made to apply the grammatical structures of Latin to English. Some worked OK, others not so much.

In Latin, as in many modern languages like French and German, the infinitive form of the verb is a single word so it cannot be "split". Often, to get the desired shade of meaning in English, an adverb needs to be deployed immediately before the main verb.

There are another two (other) of the so-called rules of traditional grammar which are also nonsense. These are the prohibitions against beginning sentences with conjunctions or ending them with prepositions.

The Inquirer piece did contain a grammatical error, or more generously a typo, but it did not relate to the use of the infinitive.

Garry Collins
Former president, Australian Association for the Teaching of English

Posted in: General news   0 Comments

Impact on learning

Posted by Garry Collins, ETAQ Immediate Past President on 12 September 2017

The following letter was submitted to The Australian for possible inclusion in th edition of Saturday 2 September 2017 but it was not selected for publication.

Proving positive impact on learning

You report that in future prospective teachers will need to prove the effectiveness of their teaching skills before being allowed to graduate from university teacher preparation courses ("Prove teaching skills in classroom or fail course", Aug 31).

This seems commendable but a little leadership by example would not go astray. Minister Birmingham along with the chair and chief executive of AITSL (the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership) should prove rather than just claim that their efforts are producing a significant positive impact on the classroom learning experiences of Australian school students. I look forward to reading the hard evidence.

Garry Collins

Posted in: Teacher education   0 Comments

Deconstructing literary texts

Posted by Garry Collins, ETAQ Immediate Past President on 23 February 2017

The following letter was submitted in response to an editorial in The Australian for possible publication on Thursday 23 February 2017 but it failed to make it into print. The editorial had been prompted by changes to Years 11 and 12 syllabuses in NSW.

Deconstructing literary texts

Your editorial urged that, in senior secondary English classes, students should be taught to enjoy, appreciate and study literary texts (or pieces of literature if the word "texts" is upsetting) rather than to deconstruct them ("Tackling school reform from first principles", Feb 22).

It is certainly to be hoped that enjoyment and appreciation are routine aspects of the process in English classrooms. However, if "deconstruct" is a synonym for "analyse", it is difficult to see how novels, plays and poems can be properly studied, or indeed fully appreciated, without an element of deconstruction being involved.

Apart from that, the paper is to be commended for not lazily resorting to the tired cliché of "back to basics" in this leader.

Posted in: Curriculum matters   28 Comments

Digital texts in English

Posted by Garry Collins, ETAQ Immediate Past President on 19 February 2017

The following letter was submitted for possible publication in The Sunday Mail of 12 February 2017 but it did not make it into print. It was in response to an opinion piece in the previous week's edition by the education reporter for The Courier-Mail and The Sunday Mail.

Digital texts in high school English

Lauren Martyn-Jones is certainly correct in stating that great literature has the capacity to be life changing ("Students are being short-changed in world of SMS keystrokes", Feb 5). She is, however, a little confused about some other aspects of high school English teaching and the NAPLAN tests.

ACARA's NAPLAN tests are intended to assess literacy and numeracy. While the subject areas of English and maths might reasonably be expected to take a leading role, these two capabilities are meant to be developed across the curriculum. And literacy does not just relate to major works of literature.

High school English should have students improve their powers of literacy across a range of text types. Just because a Shakespearean play like Romeo and Juliet and some SMS messages might both be touched on in the same course does not mean that they are ascribed equal worth in the big scheme of things.

I agree with Martyn-Jones that Tolstoy's Anna Karenina is a great novel, but if she were seeking directions to assemble a flat-pack furniture item, she would find it no help at all.

Posted in: Curriculum matters   0 Comments

Texts taught in English

Posted by Garry Collins, ETAQ Immediate Past President on 3 February 2017

An edited version of the letter below was published in The Courier-Mail of Thursday 2 February 2017. Underlined words were deleted and the bracketed ones inserted. The paper's heading for two letters on school education was "Education not all textbook choices".

School English teaching

Kevin Donnelly points out (Kevin Donnelly's opinion piece pointed out) that in the OECD's 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment  (PISA) a number of countries including Canada and Finland outperformed Australia ("Classic text beats dumb txt", Feb 1).

Donnelly regularly argues strongly in favour of school choice and the alleged superiority of private schools.

It should be noted that neither of these two countries has a significant private school sector and school choice is pretty much a non-issue.

(And) Neither has a standardised testing system like NAPLAN either.

My 35 years of teaching high school English (about twice as long as Donnelly managed) tells me that he (Donnelly) misrepresents the range of texts currently taught in schools. Donnelly (He) argues for "complex, challenging and enriching literary texts". Certainly there should be such texts, but they need to be carefully selected to suit particular groups of students. Interestingly, the novel foremost in the image accompanying the article is D.H. Lawrence's "Lady Chatterley's Lover" which I think was still banned in this country when I went to high school. Is Donnelly or this paper suggesting this book should be studied in schools?

Dr Donnelly is identified as a senior research fellow at the Australian Catholic University. It would be interesting to know what original research he had done in recent years, the sort that qualifies for publication in scholarly, peer-reviewed journals. I doubt there is any.

Garry Collins

Posted in: Curriculum matters   1 Comments
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