SPaG – How (and why) to implement consistent spelling and grammar teaching across your school
Sara Wernham explains how implementing a consistent and integrated SPaG programme can improve learning outcomes for every year group…
- by Sara Wernham
Personally, I find the term ‘SPaG’ rather inelegant and unpleasant-sounding! However, what it stands for – Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar – are the basic foundations for writing, and so without them it is difficult to take part in and access other subjects – at least not independently. I find, however, that the teaching of spelling, punctuation and grammar is generally not given as much thought and attention as it should, and that it therefore often lacks consistency, both in class and across year groups.
SPaG should be taught progressively across the whole school, building up the children’s knowledge, consolidating what they know and applying it to the rest of their work.
I was not taught much grammar myself growing up, so teaching it proved a steep, and – I have to say – an unexpectedly interesting, learning curve. Punctuation and grammar are often taught where they ‘fit in’ with other themes within literacy; “We’re writing descriptions this week, so we’ll mention adjectives”.
We should however, see them as a subject in their own right, thus making teaching more likely to be consistent. ‘Systematic’ not ‘incidental’ punctuation and grammar are essential.
The progression in punctuation and grammar is not so obviously linear, and concepts do need to be re-visited and built upon. You should introduce ideas in a logical manner and extend, revise and consolidate knowledge already taught.
Some of this is stipulated in the National Curriculum, but there are big gaps to fill if you decide on a do-it-yourself or ad hoc approach.
The easiest way to ensure SPaG teaching is consistent is to use a published programme that works systematically. Other people have done the hard work of looking at the curriculum, organising what the children need to know, and producing resources for you.
The other important factor, of course, is that you, and all the other teachers use the same programme. Much has been made in recent years by the DfE of the advantages of ‘fidelity’ to a scheme, and this does promote consistency as you don’t use a bit from here, a bit from there, leave some things out entirely and possibly use conflicting approaches.
Phonics for everyone
I find that often after the primary years any consistent approach to spelling tails off. Teaching becomes more incidental – “We’re studying Romans so your spellings is a list of ten words you might need”.
Also, as children get older, words tend to be ‘spelt out’ with letter names and not sounded out.
Strategies should be consistent across the school, and phonics strategies should always be the first to be tried and encouraged – whatever the year group. Don’t teach phonically in spelling lessons then spell out words at other times!
Be it Y1 or Y6, we should all teach spelling points and go over spelling words regularly in class. A quick revision every day, sounding them out, and pointing out tricky bits makes a huge difference. All the children then get a chance to do well, not just those who are naturally good at spelling or who have help at home.
Your school’s approach to how to teach spellings should be agreed and reflected in all year groups, to avoid confusing the children as they move through year-groups.
You will find there are numerous spelling programmes but not so many for punctuation and grammar, and even fewer that cover all three! While you might think they are completely separate subjects there is, in fact, quite a lot of overlap.
For example, the past tense in regular verbs is indicated by the suffix
It is also important for us to remember that it is both the programme and the approach that needs to be consistent. To achieve consistency, it is vital that you, and indeed all of the teaching staff, should have training in, and an understanding of, the programme(s) being used.
You should be aware of what is taught in different year groups, where the children start from, what they did last year and what will be expected in the future. This seems very obvious, but it is amazing how many teachers seem to have little idea what goes on in other year groups.
So, in short, I would say the essence for consistency is a good scheme, training, discussion and an agreed whole-school approach.