Terminology and English

As part of our INSET at the beginning of term I was lucky enough to have a little subject knowledge booster about the terminology used in the English curriculum, particularly thinking about the SPaG tests. For me, it was interesting and enjoyable. I’ve always enjoyed writing, and language, and already knew lots of the stuff we were being told from an A-Level in English Language – it was more of a refresh. It did make me chuckle how many terms were being used throughout the syllabus, but I was more or less happy with them.

I imagine there were some people in the room that weren’t so happy. That’s not to say that I know more than them; just that English language was a focused study area of mine for two years. I’m sure the maths experts in the room would be 100% more confident when it’s their turn for an INSET… And I’d find it challenging.

In fact, I know there were some people in the room that found the sheer amount of terms mind-boggling. And I can understand why. Determiners, prepositions, conjunctions and connectives, adverbs, inverted commas, subordinate clauses and all the rest of it – it’s a potential minefield of terms. Terms that we’re supposed to be passing on to 10 year-olds in preparation for a test. Terms that, maybe, we’re not totally confident using as teachers. Terms that, maybe we’ve not heard before.

I honestly wonder how many people, since finishing their GSCEs (or other qualifications) have ever needed to tell someone that the two words they’ve used are actually alliterative. Or how many people have had someone ask them for an alternative onomatopoeic word to help with their imagery.

And the article by Kate Bohdanowicz in TES this week further supports this thought. She writes about her adult class, some of whom have decided to discontinue their work towards an English GCSE because they can’t get their head around the terminology. Not because they can’t use it; just because they can’t remember what a metaphor is. And that’s frustrating.

My mind immediately skips back to the 7 – 11 year-olds I teach. We’ve worked hard on being able to use the different features. They’re happy writing using figurative language, and we’ve used that term (and discussed what it means. Lots.) but I wonder how many of them would comfortably recall what the terms mean. And I wonder what’s the point? If they’re writing using the features and doing a good job with them then why do they have to know that subordinate clauses can also be embedded clauses, but aren’t always?

If we’re building an education system where the focus is on the future (paraphrased: on the economy of the future) then shouldn’t we be bearing in mind what children may need to know for potential jobs? Wouldn’t the time and energy be better spend on social learning? I imagine more jobs need you to be able to get along with people rather than find the past progressive form of the verb ‘play’.

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