Grammar teaching in Spain
Camps, Anna & Xavier Fontich. 2019. Teachers’ concepts on the teaching of grammar in relation to the teaching of writing in Spain: A case study. L1 Educational Studies in Language and Literature 19. 1–36. doi:10.17239/L1ESLL-2019.19.02.02.
- This article presents the results of a study conducted in Spain concerning a secondary school teacher’s conceptualizations of grammar teaching and its relation to writing. Concepts are considered of the utmost importance when confronting any educational change. In dealing with the controversial issue of the role played by grammar in learning to write, the authors defend their positioning of the debate around the concept of metalinguistic activity as a source of grammar learning rather than the notion of an implicit/explicit grammar dichotomy. A number of studies have deemed the former as a promising avenue for research. Some preliminary results concerning Carla’s concepts show that she combines ideas of implicit grammar and explicit grammar with an incipient awareness of the importance and possibilities of promoting metalinguistic activity. This implies that while awareness of metalinguistic activity can anchor the re-orienting of classroom practices towards reflection within planned activities designed by the teacher and intended to promote students’ autonomy and awareness, it is a much-needed process of structuring by means of which teachers enhance this perspective.
- Fontich, X. and García-Folgado, M.-J. (2018). Grammar instruction in the Hispanic area: The case of Spain with attention to empirical studies on metalinguistic activity. L1-Educational Studies in Language and Literature 18, 1-39. https://ddd.uab.cat/record/183597
- Grammar instruction is an unresolved issue in the Hispanic area, having long been approached from within the disjunction between rhetoric (teaching how to use language, especially writing) and grammar (teaching the grammar content). Over time grammar instruction has generated an intense debate around two positions: direct instruction on grammar content, versus instruction devoted to prompting reflection on grammar and language use. There has been an insistent and recurring tendency towards the former, a situation that still prevails. More recently, however, certain research trends in Spain, albeit a minority, have crystallized in a research trajectory on metalinguistic activity, opening up new possibili-ties for rethinking instruction based on grammar reflection to support writing. Within such a trajectory, innovative ways to promote grammar reflection within language use are explored, and metalinguistic activity becomes the focus of research and pedagogy. Crucially, some of the empirical studies developed within this trajectory suggest that grammar knowledge may not be a condition for reflection about language but its consequence, leading to a consideration of metalinguistic activity as a promising avenue for rethinking the debate on the role of grammar instruction.
- [Joe Hilferty in 1997]
- [Do schools teach the classification of words, the identification of grammatical functions and diagramming of sentence structure?] Yes, in Spain. In Catalonia all three are done in both Catalan and Spanish classes. However, it is my impression that syntactic analyses using tree diagrams are especially prevalent in Spanish class. I should add that the parsing exercises (and tests) are pretty demanding, and they cover all sentence types. The approach is more structuralist than generative (in fact, they draw their trees below the sentence rather than above!).
- At what age does it start? They start diagramming constituent structure at twelve years of age, in the sixth grade.
- This stands in stark contrast to the US. I remember that our grammatical analyses consisted of identifying basic word classes and grammatical functions (we started in the seventh grade). It was very elementary stuff compared to what they do in Spain. (To tell you the truth, I never saw a tree diagram until I started working on my Spanish degree at San Francisco State!)
- How successful is it? My personal view is that such a heavy focus on grammatical analysis in Spain is detrimental to students’ writing skills. Kids spend all their time diagramming sentences, but they really do not know how to communicate effectively when they write. This is a problem at the university level also. I also feel that students are unable to translate their previous grammatical training into anything special when they study English syntax or generative grammar. So, on the whole, I think that students take sentence analysis as an exercise in empty-symbol manipulation.
- [Margaret Nelson] In Madrid, all students study ‘Lengua Castellana’. The compulsory parts of the Spanish national curriculum include ‘syntaxis’ which is a bit like sentence parsing, where they learn word types and functions within sentences and as part of their official accreditation for this class they have to do things like give examples of word classes and then, given example sentences have to label components like objeto, sujeto, complemento directo, etc. – see the official documentation (in Spanish).
- In a little research project in 2010, students in Zaragoza University performed much better in a grammar test in English and applied to an English sentence than any students in English universities!
- See the GREAL (Grup de Recerca sobre l’Ensenyament i Aprenentatge de Llengües) project in Barcelona.
- For an excellent account in English of their ideas and research, see: Ribas,Teresa; Fontich,Xavier; Guasch,Oriol (2014) Grammar at School. Research on Metalinguistic Activity in Language Education (Peter Lang)