Despite the importance given to syntax and to its core concept, the sentence, in the teaching of grammar, French-speaking Québec students make many syntax and punctuation errors in their written work.
And yet, little data is available on the teaching and learning of syntax, particularly at the elementary school level.
It is possible to teach syntax at all levels of elementary school.
The objective of our collaborative research project was to describe the evolution of 1) the teaching practices and conceptions of the sentence of elementary school teachers involved in an in-service training program on syntax using children’s literature; 2) their students’ relationships to writing, understanding of the sentence and syntactic writing skills, in relation to teaching practices.
The training program led to significant improvements in teachers’ conceptions of the sentence and allowed them to develop expertise in teaching about sentences through the use of children’s literature. Their students, both girls and boys, maintained a constant relationship to writing, gained a better understanding of the sentence and performed better when it came to using correct syntax in their written work. However, it was not possible to isolate the characteristics of specific teaching practices that led to the greatest student improvement.
This research indicates that, to have a real impact on teaching practices, a training program should be spread out over time and be developed through collaboration between the various stakeholders. It also shows that it is possible to teach syntax at all levels of elementary school, that syntax instruction based on real texts will better motivate students and improve their performance, and that it is the enhanced teaching expertise of teachers that leads to improvements in student performance, rather than any particular teaching practice.
Pascale Lefrançois, Université de Montréal
Deposit of the research report: March 2014