When I am not attending to Kidz-Fiz-Biz I teach English to adults (ESL). As such, I come across all manner of grammatical errors. When students reach a point of wanting to take public exams like the Cambridge series or the IELTS they are at a high level. They write essays that are pretty good but invariably they use tautology, they repeat themselves further down the essay or they simply say things that don’t make sense or are contradictory. Something has gone wrong along the way in the learning process. And so it is with children when they are learning to write the English language (or most languages for that matter where the grammar can be somewhat complicated).
Of course the old adage holds true – practice makes perfect – but if you don’t have a good grasp of what you’re supposed to be doing in the first place, you just practice the mistakes, thus reinforcing them. I’m a great believer in the K.I.S.S. principle – Keep It Simple Sunshine! It’s a great rule for children as well as adults. What are you trying to say? Well, say it. When it is convoluted we don’t understand what we’re reading. And I’m sure the author has got lost too. We don’t want to put children off writing by constantly harping on their mistakes, but rather encourage the creative and communicative process and the exercise of writing regularly. On the other hand, if mistakes are glossed over in the desire to encourage the process of writing, at what point do we draw the line and recognize that it is also important to get the grammar right?
For teachers, it is vital that the modelling be correct. Some teachers are dyslexic. That is not a failing but a minor impediment. If you suffer with this then get someone else to check what you’re sending to parents or planning on putting on the board. How often do we see journalists writing articles that make no sense, use incorrect grammar, spelling mistakes or incomplete sentences? I tell my students never to read the papers because the modelling is so appalling. Isn’t that telling us something?
For pre-literate children, simple sequencing in their drawings can be a wonderful exercise. Write down for them what they say is happening in each picture. Also, when they are familiar with a story, get them to tell the story using the illustrations as a prompt. (How many toddlers get cross with impatient parents who want to skip to the end of the book by deleting some text? They need to hear every word, they need the rhythm of the language and above all, they need the repetition – not to mention precious one-on-one time with the parent.)
The best start for young children (babies included) is reading books. They cannot have too many books read to them – so stimulating to the imagination, they’re entertaining, but above all, books stimulate the desire in children to write their own stories. Encourage them to write well. Please!