Teaching grammar in The Netherlands

  • Rijt, Jimmy van & Peter-Arno Coppen. 2017. Bridging the gap between linguistic theory and L1 grammar education – experts’ views on essential linguistic concepts. Language Awareness. Routledge 26(4). 360–380. https://doi.org/10.1080/09658416.2017.1410552.
    • A closer analysis of the methods and content of grammar education in the Netherlands (Hulshof, 1985) has revealed that it goes back to a school grammar from the late nineteenth century (Den Hertog, 1892), and that since then little has changed (Van Rijt, 2015, p. 203). This static nature of grammar pedagogy does not only hold for the Dutch situation, but instead is more universal (Fontich & Camps, 2014, p. 609). The fact that traditional school grammar makes no use of recent insights from linguistic theory is surprising for two reasons: first, modern linguistics is built upon the concepts from traditional grammar (cf. Allan, 2007), so connections should be feasible; and second, because linguistics has yielded a wealth of knowledge about language that could be used to enrich traditional grammar education (cf. Denham & Lobeck, 2010; Van Rijt, 2015; Zwart, 2010).  [p. 364]
  • Rijt, J van, A Wijnands & P-A Coppen. 2019. Dutch teachers’ beliefs on linguistic concepts and reflective judgement in grammar teaching. Contribution to a special issue What is Grammar in L1 Education Today? (Ed.) Kaisu Rättyä, Elżbieta Awramiuk & Xavier Fontich. L1-Educational Studies in Language and Literature 19. 1–28. doi:https://doi.org/10.17239/L1ESLL-2019.19.02.03.
    • Teacher beliefs have been shown to play a major role in shaping educational practice, especially in the area of grammar teaching―an area of language education that teachers have particularly strong views on. Traditional grammar education is regularly criticized for its focus on rules-of-thumb rather than on insights from modern linguistics, and for its focus on lower order thinking. A growing body of literature on grammar teaching promotes the opposite, arguing for more linguistic conceptual knowledge and reflective or higher order thinking in grammar pedagogy. In the Netherlands, this discussion plays an important role in the national development of a new curriculum. This study explores current Dutch teachers’ beliefs on the use of modern linguistic concepts and reflective judgment in grammar teaching. To this end, we conducted a questionnaire among 110 Dutch language teachers from secondary education and analyzed contemporary school textbooks likely to reflect existing teachers’ beliefs. Results indicate that teachers generally appear to favor stimulating reflective judgement in grammar teaching, although implementing activities aimed at fostering reflective thinking seems to be difficult for two reasons: (1) existing textbooks fail to implement sufficient concepts from modern linguistics, nor do they stimulate reflective thinking; (2) teachers lack sufficient conceptual knowledge from linguistics necessary to adequately address reflective thinking.
  • An article by Gert Rijlaarsdam, prepared for an ESRC-funded seminar.
    • Main points:
      • Grammar is obligatory in primary and lower secondary schools.
      • But the only grammatical analysis required by government is subject – predicate  – parts of predicate.
      • The aim of grammar teaching is to serve the teaching of
        • spelling, punctuation, standard grammar and social choices (of Dutch)
        • foreign languages – but this is taught communicatively, so uses little grammar.
      • But: “Teachers seem to like to teach grammar, although they know that it is not related to the quality of written production. Even in lower secondary, vocational tracks, which cater for the less cognitive advanced students, the amount of time spent on grammar is relatively large. One of the reasons might be that only in grammar teaching the teacher can show her disciplinary competency, being educated as a teacher of Dutch — teachers in secondary education are trained in one school subject.”
  • Confirmed by Babette Verhoeven, who “was one of the last cohorts to go through the “traditional” system, which was then reformed – and in this reformed system I first became an English teacher, so I know both the old & the new systems.”
    • There is perhaps room for more variation under the Dutch dispensation – so some MFL teachers (while also teaching in the communicative approach) might do more explicit grammar teaching than others (my English teachers certainly did).
    • Under the old system that I went through, when you went to grammar school as I did, you had to study Latin & Greek – here, there was lots of explicit grammar teaching (parts of speech, but also tense-mood-aspect & case).
    • One of the big changes in the curriculum when this traditional one was updated in the mid-1990s was the dropping of these two languages. Instead, students would study a course similar to the English A level in Classical Civilisation: more of a focus on the philosophy, art, archaeology / history of Ancient Greece & Rome – with literary texts such as Homer being taught in translation. I suspect one of the reasons for ditching these languages was that too much time was spent on teaching & learning conjugations & declensions (too much grammar), which was seen as not useful for the 21st century.

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