Had a meeting yesterday with a group who are working on knowledge about language at school. We discussed, among other things, the Philip Pullman piece in which he says how mad it would be to think that grammar teaching would help people with their writing. It's a funny debate (if it really is a debate) as the different positions keep getting confused. Some of our group thought Pullman's piece was terrible, but others could see some interesting points in it. I think that my view is that some of the negative bits are attacking a view that doesn't exist (e.g. he implies that people who think grammar teaching is a good idea wouldn't realise that playing with language is a good idea) but some of the positive points make sense (even though I think they're shared by the people he's attacking). He does also say near the end of the piece that 'the study of grammar is intensely fascinating'. So I kind of think a lot of the groups who think they're disagreeing would in fact agree rather a lot if they got round a table. At the same time, though, discussions about 'grammar' are usually quite charged with a lot of baggage to do with personal histories and experiences, class, and so on. It's all quite complicated, but also fascinating. I don't really believe, btw, that it has been shown that studying grammar doesn't, or can't help improve writing. I do agree, though, that writing (with feedback) is one of the best ways to improve your writing. Reading is another. All of this is also relevant to me as I get more and more convinced that the main thing to focus on with students at Middlesex is helping them with their writing. Once you've got a good grasp of what you need to do to write a good academic essay, so much of the rest of it seems to just fall into place.
Hope that all makes sense. Got a bit carried away. (And ignored lots of what I've taught and been taught about how to write - or is that allowed in the blog genre?)