Author Archives: Pádraig de Búrca

Mrs. Hay’s Keys: Grammar Is Important

I’m an old fogey when it comes to writing. I spend many hours each term teaching grammar. We work on this formally twice-weekly, and incidentally when an interesting situation arises.

One such situation was brought to my attention during the week. A sixth class pupil wanted advice. She wasn’t sure if the sentence she had written was correct, so I took a look. “Mrs. Hayes’ keys had been left in the car ignition.” Is this correct? I asked her to explain the apostrophe. She was able to say that the apostrophe comes after the “s” because the word finished with the letter “s” and the keys belonged to Mrs. Hayes. I confirmed that she was right, and I affirmed her accurate recall of a grammar rule. I was about to return to my reading lesson with younger pupils, but the confident girl lingered. She actually adopted a tactic of mine (I was intrigued to notice!) as she looked directly at me with a slightly puzzled look. She looked at me and then back to the text, alternating twice. In effect, she was asking me to comment and I obliged her with a quizzical “You’ve just noticed something, haven’t you?” In the twinkling of an eye, she mentioned that maybe the lady’s name was Mrs. Hay, and quickly again she said that if her name was Mrs. Hay the apostrophe should come before the “s”…. “Mrs. Hay’s keys had been left in the ignition”. Perfect teacher moment!

Have I lost you? The task she was working through involved figuring out the correct use on an apostrophe. This advanced pupil had completed the easier sentences and came to the above example. She displayed good understanding of a topic taught on many occasions by me over the past year. Yes, the same topic was taught repeatedly, simply because grammar is not a very interesting topic and as such needs regular revision in order to ensure it sticks in the mind. She was in a position to help younger pupils (she is 12, in a class of 8 to 12 year olds) but what intrigued me was that she had adopted a thinking process that went beyond the lesson being taught. She explained also that there was a second example that could be interpreted differently. “The lion’s den was littered with the carcasses of dead animals.” denotes one lion, whereas The lions’ den was littered with the carcasses of dead animals.” means more than one lion.

In 1973 the Department of Education & Skills here in Ireland introduced a New Primary School Curriculum. I started teaching shortly after this, and soon became aware that many teachers viewed this new syllabus with derision. It will lead to a sharp drop in standards in English and maths, they said. In effect, teachers were being asked to be jack-of-all-trades in order to broaden the education of pupils, and to incorporate the concept of pupil-centred teaching. English and maths standards did drop, and have continued to drop. Pupils have very definitely benefited from a broader education, and this has been a very positive development, but the price paid has been too high. Too many schools failed to revolt against a curriculum imposed by so-called experts. I would even go so far as to say that some younger teachers’ english and maths standards fell below what is required to teach effectively.

I profess to being ultra-modern when it comes to many initiatives in education. Certainly, my passion for integration of ICT (Information and Communication Technology) had brought many miracles to my class. My recent post here is, in some small way, a testament to this. However, when it comes to English grammar I am a bit of an old fogey. Boring rules need to be taught over and over again. I call this teacher-centred education. Teacher knows best. The interesting factor here, is that constant repetition of a simple (but boring) concept does bring its rewards when the penny drops. Pupil satisfaction following patient perseverance is more lasting than many child-centred activities that in essence mean nothing. The child, being the most important education partner, is not entitled to hog the agenda.

There was a further new updated curriculum in 1998. Years passed, and finally, the penny dropped with the education gurus on the top steps. The PISA Report compared standards of performance of Irish pupils between 2000 and 2009. The Irish education system, once lauded as perhaps the best in the world, was rocked. Now, thankfully, there is a returning emphasis to literacy and numeracy. There is very little funding attached to this major policy shift. There is an implied recommendation that any teacher who decides to downgrade the time devoted to other curriculum areas might be actually doing kids a big favour!

English is about communicating, both verbally and in written form. Recent texting experience (textese?) has given us a generation of poor spellers, inadequate communicators and something far worse, I think: a generation that seems to not bother whether it’s right or wrong.

All comments welcome. Feel free to disagree and open up some debate.

Useful links worth following include:

The Grammar Blog Thanks, Tom! @tomdotquitter

Funny Grammatical Errors

Funny Grammar Mistakes

15 Grammar Mistakes That Can Make You Look Silly

Surely, some reader may find some grammar mistake(s) here, or perhaps some spelling errors. I shall take this as a compliment in that they have read the article carefully!

Commander Chris Hadfield In My Classroom

Two weeks ago I came upon a wonderful idea at Pedagoo. Very simple, as many wonderful ideas usually are. I resolved to bring a specific teaching strategy to my classroom. I wrote about it here a little while back, In fact, it was my first post on this new Irish blog from Dungarvan, in County Waterford, Ireland. To summarise: rather than ask a question for pupils to answer, I turn the tables and provide the answer. The pupils’ task is to research in order to find a suitable question for the particular answer.

I certainly am delighted with the results. Yesterday’s answer was “Commander Chris Hadfield”. Immediately, to my shock and amazement, one of my pupils stood up, stretched herself tall and raised her hand. When asked for her question she replied “Yes, who was the first Canadian to walk on the moon?” (This was news to me!) The following morning several of the girls had similar questions. Currently, Commander Hadfield is orbiting the earth on the International Space Station. I know this because I’ve tweeted him twice recently. He’s got multi-thousand followers, so I really don’t expect a reply. However, the power and the reach of blogging will likely mean that this blog post will arrive on his laptop screen pretty soon now…fingers crossed here in Stradbally. The world is a small place.

The answer, and several subsequent questions opened up a wonderful lesson and a very lively discussion, including speed of orbit, general onboard tasks, lots of “I wonder how do they ….?” type questions. But the one that really was the icing on the cake concerned a tweet about an annual overhaul of the urine hoses.  “Space Plumber – annual overhaul of the urine hoses, valves and sensors. After I was done, it worked.” Here’s a link to the tweet. Shrieks of “O my God” and such like, further questions about the mechanics of body waste in space, and much smirking and inventive querying (I don’t know all the ins-and-outs of the matter, pardon the pun) brought this unplanned lesson to a wonderful conclusion. Thank you Chris Hadfield.

It was a good, unplanned geography / science lesson, one that I will not forget in a hurry. Sometimes the best lessons are unplanned. Well, unplanned in the sense that I certainly had not anticipated the outcomes. I had planned the ANSWER. And I want to thank Pedagoo and the #PedagooResolutions Document for inspiring my new teaching strategy.

Time now methinks for my morning exercise. Walk to town, and my weekly opportunity to undo it with hot chocolate. My chance to read the weekend Irish Times. Who knows, there may be more answers?

Resolutions for My Class: There Is No Box

It’s January, and it’s resolutions-time.

I’ve been taking a little look every now and then at the Pedagoo Resolutions Document.  and I’ve added an idea myself hoping to bring together several heads around the notion of class blogging. I will be keen to follow those who are on that particular subsection, and I will be looking to explore ideas with a view to selecting software that will allow individual blogging. So roll on January 7th. I rarely have difficulty motivating myself to return in January, and this year I am more excited than ever. It’s going to be busy! Perhaps that’s the attraction.

I’ve had another little look back to that interesting document and my attention is caught by a really simple idea. This idea is for the teacher to focus in on a specific teaching tactic – that of providing the answer in order to spark interest and creativity of pupils in order to find the question! I am grateful to Iain @maximusparsons who submitted this idea. I’ve added myself to the list and will follow with interest. As a small means of continuing the process I’ve added my first answer. Take a little look, and feel free to comment or add your question. Better still, add yourself to the Find the Question list, and expand the collaboration, or you may prefer to take a little look through the bigger picture.

I will be implementing this in my class during January, and I will provide feedback here on Pedagoo. Watch this Irish space!

This is my first addition to Pedagoo, and I’ve added it also to my blog. My blog is not education-related, but I think it’s an indication of my optimism in relation to the potential of Pedagoo that I decided to publish there also. That sounds like a mouthful! But I know what I mean. That’s the answer. What is the question?