Grammar as it is treated in coursebooks in Hong Kong

Grammar is an area which is dealt with rather poorly in coursebooks in Hong Kong. This directly affects the teaching and learning of grammar in schools.

Take ‘should’.

In a P4 coursebook, it is presented as:

‘We use ‘should’ to talk about the correct things to do. We do not change the verb after ‘should’.
(example sentence)
shouldn’t = should not’

In an S1 coursebook, it is presented as:
‘We use the modal ‘should’ to talk about things that are necessary or right to do. We use the same form of a verb after the modal ‘should’.
(example sentences)
We make negative statements with ‘should’ like this’:
(example sentence)

You will notice that:
(a) the depth of treatment is almost the same despite a grade level difference of 3 years;
(b) the approach to presenting grammar is equally ineffective in both examples: absence of a rich context; reliance on abstract explanation; and a focus mainly on language form, with scant attention to meaning and use.

The results:
(i) Boring – students not motivated to learn grammar;
(ii) Students see grammar as a set of tedious rules, rather than as a means for communicating ideas accurately;
(iii) As the grammar presentation is often simplistic, students fail to gain a sophisticated understanding of the form, meaning, and use of a grammar structure.

There is now a huge literature on grammar pedagogy. Yet these coursebooks fall back on the most uninspiring and ineffective method – abstract and over-simplified explanation. If we teachers rely on these coursebooks, we really can’t blame our students for not learning their grammar properly.


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