Previously, I completed action research as part of my Open University studies, namely for the “English Grammar in Context” module. The context was my teaching and I specifically focussed on an adult literacy class at a Birmingham probation office.
The problem I had identified to solve was seemingly about grammar, but turned into something much broader.
Initially, I had identified that some students could struggle to develop their writing due to incomplete sentence structure. I wished to investigate the barriers that students had to developing their writing. To enable me to do that, I asked the question:
What does a grammatical analysis of a piece of everyday writing by my own students reveal about its effectiveness?
I chose to follow a Hallidayan approach to linguistic analysis, particularly because he identifies that lexicogrammatical choices are not just about the language in use, but also about the social setting as well. The focus of my study was largely social, considering adult literacy through the lens of popular policy dialogue of the time that apparently poor basic skills can impact on an individual’s life to the point of social exclusion or a higher probability of offending.
When collecting data for the analysis, I encountered an unexpected issue, namely the lack of everyday writing for the cohort. Using the categories of ‘writing to maintain the household’, ‘writing to maintain communication’, and ‘personal writing’, from Barton and Padmore (1994), I found that, from all the students within the cohort, they only identified with a maximum of one of the categories. I also encountered considerable anxiety around writing outside of their comfort zones, apparently linked to fear of making mistakes in spelling, punctuation or grammar.
Although not part of my initial study, I believed there was sufficient evidence that a lack of everyday reading and writing practices affected progress. Within the group was ‘student 4’, someone who had joined the class very enthusiastically, had excellent attendance, but whose progress had plateaued quite quickly. I was convinced the answer lay in his everyday literacy practices, or rather a lack of them. I compared his progress against another student, in a mainstream literacy class, who was also completing a counselling course alongside the literacy course, and who was reading and writing large amounts. This student’s progress was expediential.
Although small, my initial study allowed me to develop my teaching practice and pedagogy to ensure that students have the opportunity to develop their grammar to understand sentence structure, as well as lots of opportunities to write (therefore practising the art of writing). It also showed me the importance of using real-life examples and of modelling good writing. I believe this has the positive effect of building student confidence in their writing ability and, therefore, their ‘voice’.
However, ever since, it has always felt important that I also promote everyday literacy practices. This led me to the Reading for Pleasure research and work, plus various writing for pleasure activities, which I promote to my students and are often the topic of this blog. I’d like, therefore, to be able to investigate further how effective this approach is and am intending to apply for the ETF/SUNCETT Practitioner Research Programme to give me the opportunity to explore this further.
I believe that raising everyday literacy levels would build confidence, voice and skills for all students, regardless of subject studied, so therefore hope to develop transferable models that can be used by other teachers and educators.
 The Skills for Life national strategy: https://dera.ioe.ac.uk/7187/7/ACF35CE_Redacted.pdf
 For me, language and literacy have a strong link to identity, which I am currently exploring, looking at the work of Kate Pahl and Ruth Finnegan – to be followed up in a further blog post.
Barton, D. and Padmore, S. (1994) Roles, Networks, and Values in Everyday Writing, in Graddol, D., Maybin, J. and Stierer, B. (1994) Researching Language and Literacy in Social Context. Avon, The Open University.