Why are people so against children being taught how our language works?’
This was a question I was asked when I shared a meme on Face Book against teaching 10 & 11 year-olds about Fronted Adverbials.
It is a good question and I really had to think about it, drawing on my experience of developing creative writing programmes in schools in one of the most deprived areas of England.
Even as an author, I had no idea what a fronted adverbial was until my teacher daughter explained it to me. Apparently, fronted adverbials are simply words or phrases which are placed at the start of a sentence, before the verb. So, I use them all the time without being able to name then. Before breakfast, I could use a dozen and not even know it. Once Upon a Time, is a fronted adverbial well used by writers since stories began. (By the way, a fronted adverbial is always followed by a comma.)
A lot of my work in schools aims to encourage children to express their natural creativity by using their imagination, asking a lot of questions, making connections, solving problems and most importantly, learning the resilience they will need to try something new, stick at it and thus improve their life chances.
Because these are the skills which our next generation need if they are to innovate, create and play an active part in a fast-changing world.
My work involves giving the children permission to just write! I am currently developing A Month of Writing Adventure for KS2 which is about transforming writing from a chore to a joy and developing a creative writing habit which will support children’s learning across the whole curriculum.**
Some of the children I work with have patchy levels of spoken English and do not read very much, if at all. Experience tells us that the best readers understand how language works in practice and can replicate it without needing to know the theory of how it works at the age of 10. That will come later. I agree that basic grammar is essential and needs to be taught (I am a bit of a grammar Nazi with grown-ups!) but learning grammar works best in practice; so, for example, I might ask a child to read out to me something they have written and ask them how punctuation would make it easier to read.
Children who are conversed with by adults in their early life and given an opportunity to express their thoughts and ideas, as well as children who read a lot, understand the cadence, the flow and the gist of how the English Language works far better than by taking it apart and then being worried about getting it wrong and breaking the rules when they are asked to write – especially creative writing. In deprived areas, this is one of the biggest barriers to progress.
In summary, I am not against lifting the lid on our language and teaching children the nuts and bolts beneath. But I believe that teaching fronted adverbials to children too early, adds another barrier to their desire to write anything at all. I am FOR developing children who will try things and not be afraid of getting it wrong; who are curious and will ask questions; who can express thoughts and ideas freely and who will enjoy writing. Fronted Adverbials can wait their turn until children are excited about using language to express themselves effectively.
The fear of getting it wrong is prevalent amongst children in many of the schools I work in. It stifles creativity, curiosity and engagement. And disengaged children don’t learn very much at all.