Working with grammar as a tool for making meaning
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A focus on sentence-level grammar in student writing has often been associated with a top-down prescriptiveness in which ‘peremptory commands’ about correct usage are linked with a negative evaluation of a person’s speech or writing’ (Cameron 2007). Yet, grammar is frequently a concern that pre-occupies both students and the academics assessing their writing.\ud This chapter explores some more transformative ways in which this concern could be addressed by enabling students to investigate the relationship between grammar, their identities and the complex power relationships within the university. It focuses on a small-scale project in which a number of Education Studies students were referred to a writing specialist in order to improve their ‘poor grammar’. Closer examination of the student assignments revealed a complex range of grammatical ‘mistakes’, ranging from grammatical forms frequently considered correct in non-British varieties of English, such as Indian or Nigerian English (Kirkpatrick 2007); non-standard forms of grammar used by students from the local communities in London (Preece 2009) ; and errors which could be attributed to the inter-language of non-native speakers of English (usually international students) still acquiring British standard English (Selinker 1972). Many of the students who were referred felt heavily stigmatised, and in order to redress this, a series of classroom activities were devised. These aimed to foster reflection on different varieties of English and student identities, and provide contrastive analysis and improved strategies for ‘noticing’ of varied grammatical forms and their appropriacy in different contexts.\ud The chapter concludes by suggesting that more dialogic feedback from academic staff regarding grammar will enable students to conceptualise grammar as a tool for making meaning in different contexts.
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