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5 Misconceptions about Grammar

15th July, 2013


We all have our little idiosyncrasies, those quirky little habits, beliefs or passions that stand out to others, yet make up the sum of who we are. For some it might be nurturing their artistic side by doodling while on the phone, for others it might be keeping safe by avoiding cracks in the footpath. For me, it’s grammar. Not just correcting grammar in other people’s speech, but giving a detailed explanation for their mistake. You didn’t sleep good, you slept well. Good is an adjective. Well is an adverb.

Grammar is my passion. It is also what I do every day as part of my work. So perhaps you could call this, as the French would, “une déformation professionnelle”. My kids just roll their eyes, shake their heads and largely ignore it. But I know I am not alone in my quest for a well-constructed sentence and the proper use of words. Grammar, it seems, is becoming increasingly fashionable and a hot topic of conversation around the dinner table.

Over the years, I have collected a number of misconceptions about grammar (another quirky habit of mine), around the professional arena, the classroom and the social scene. I have listed five of them below.

Misconception 1: Good grammar is a measure of intelligence

In a blog for the Harvard Business Review, Kyle Wiens states he will only hire people who use good grammar, because good grammar is a sign of credibility, attention to detail and learning ability. He argues that if it takes someone 20 years to notice the difference between “its” and “it’s”, that person’s learning curve (and by extension IQ) is not one a prospective employer would be comfortable with. Whilst grammar can indeed be a way of showing people you’re intelligent (at least in an academic sense), it does not account for minority groups such as people who suffer from dyslexia that are likely to provide a text riddled with typographical errors; nor does it account for non-native English learners. In other words, very intelligent people may be misconceived as being lazy or obtuse because they grew up in a community that did not provide them with opportunities to learn English grammar. So is grammar a measure of intelligence? I think not. Grammar is merely a product of one’s education and upbringing.

Misconception 2: Grammar is innate and does not need to be taught in schools

Akin to Chomsky’s “innateness” theory of language acquisition, Australia has put immersion at the centre of its language pedagogy for more than four decades, believing that students will pick up language skills from their environment alone. The assumption is that grammar is hard-wired to the brain and that learning happens by osmosis through listening, speaking and reading, making the explicit teaching of grammar redundant. However, if children learn their mother tongue by simple imitation through a succession of trials and errors, what happens once their role models no longer have a formal understanding of the fundamental principles of English? The answer to that is plain to see: truncated messages littered with grammatical errors and poor communication. The solution? Getting back to basics. It is important for young Australians to receive an English grammar foundation at school. There is really no excuse for not teaching the code that gives access to a personal voice.

Misconception 3: Grammar preserves the language but suppresses communication

For years, Australia has largely deplored the teaching of English grammar in schools, asserting that children should be allowed to express themselves freely. The argument is that writing is a top-down process starting with rhetorical strategies such as invention, research, arrangement and drafting, rather than a bottom-up process which includes grammar rules as basics and moves from words, to sentences, to paragraphs. Whilst the top-down process of writing makes sense, the idea that worrying about grammar stifles one’s creativity doesn’t. Grammar is a set of standards that ensure there is a regularity to the order in which we use words, how those words change form and combine with each other to make sentences. As such, we rely on grammar whether or not we are cognisant of it. Grammar doesn’t suppress communication; grammar is foundational to good expression at all levels.

Misconception 4: Grammar is for grammarians only

The misapprehension that grammar is for the elite is a common one. Grammarians are largely perceived as a minority group made up of “frigid and dehumanised pedants” (Edward Sapir, “The Grammarian and His Language.” American Mercury, 1924) holding the hammer that pounds correctness into our heads. It ensues that grammar is not easily accessible. But the ideal role of grammar in education is a very different one. Back in the Hellenistic and Roman periods, a grammarian was merely a language teacher or facilitator. The most famous Roman grammarian was Aelius Donatus (4th century AC), whose initial work the “Ars Minor” discussed the eight parts of speech. His subsequent handbook, the “Ars Grammatica”, also covers faults of style such as barbarisms (slang) and solecisms (error or deviation from the conventional order of words). Simply put, Donatus’ work is a record of language systems. In other words, grammar is the language that allows us to talk about language, which is essential for good communication to become accessible to all. It gives us the terminology to discuss sentences easily, which parts don’t fit together and which parts should be moved around. As such, grammar is not an elitist pastime at all, but an empowering and liberating tool for the masses.

Misconception 5: Grammar is hard to teach

I recently asked my children (aged 16, 14 and 9) what English grammar meant to them. All three immediately reduced the concept down to one word: boring! There is no doubt that compared to English literature or science, grammar is indeed a dry subject. Does that make it hard to teach? To some degree, perhaps. However, there are ways to transform dry and inaccessible subjects into enjoyable, interactive experiences that motivate and engage students in the learning process. In that respect, game-based learning is quickly becoming a popular trend in the delivery of curricula. Why? Because online games do not require rote memorisation but tap into the primal cues of the imagination and draw us into a virtual environment that feels familiar, desirable and exciting. Naturally, not all games have educational value. But good games have in common certain characteristics, including the presence of rules, predefined objectives, competitive elements and the ability to deliver content that connects with each learner’s individual skill, level and pace. A good grammar game has the power to unlock your students’ mind and release a plethora of possibilities.

I’d love to know, what misconceptions do you hear about grammar? And are there any challenges or objections you commonly face, either in the classroom or out?

Giving a Gonski

22nd February, 2013

1410758_59974973The academic year is back and we have been busy implementing schools and training teachers on how to use our feature product Grammatikus. Students from around Australia are now furiously hitting the site during school hours (Friday seems to be a favourite) and late into the evening. It’s fantastic to see!

It is also incredibly rewarding to be involved in something that raises the bar of literacy standards and helps improve student performance, which brings us to the Gonski report.

In 2010, the Federal Government commissioned a review of funding for schooling. In February 2012, the review panel, chaired by businessman David Gonski, detailed its findings in a 286-page document and made 41 recommendations, including a significant increase in funding of nearly $5 billion, which would mainly flow to government schools.

One year after its release, the Gonski report has made it into the news again. Will adopting its model address the equity issue and help Australia rank among the top five nations in international tests?  Or will it in fact threaten the quality of schooling by discriminating against non-government schools?  See for yourself and decide if you give a Gonski.

National Literacy Funding for 2013

25th January, 2013

63460_4774Welcome back to 2013.  We hope everyone had a good break, and look forward to an exciting year ahead.

In line with our commitment to offering the best possible service, our team has spent this month developing more upgrades for 2013, including preparations for the introduction of iPad compatible Grammatikus, which will be available in Term 2, 2013.

Considered an essential foundation for life, literacy has been recognised by the Federal Government as a priority for funding. Between 2008-2012, the Smarter Schools National Partnership for Literacy and Numeracy (NPLN) initiative provided $540 million to implement strategies and improve both literacy and numeracy. The focus of these strategies included the quality of teaching and the effective use of student performance information to flag areas of concern and provide adequate support.

Analysis of NAPLAN tests between 2008-2011, showed that 80% of participating schools improved their number of students achieving above the national minimum standard. Indigenous students made the biggest gains in reading and numeracy.

As a result, the federal government is providing additional funding for 2013 to build on those previous strategies and continue to reduce Australia’s tail of underachieving students. This program is called the National Partnership for Improving Literacy and Numeracy (ILNNP).


Inspire Kids to Create this Summer

21st December, 2012


Dragonfly hunt

Dragonfly hunt

Summer holidays are meant to be spent in the great outdoors, whether at the beach, the local pool or the mountains. But when the weather turns, why not try something different and let your kids’ imagination run free?

Why not let them create and share their own interactive stories, games and art with scratch? Let them build a world of blocks, gather resources for survival and discover physics with minecraft. Let them explore nature and become a citizen scientist with Project Noah. Or let them be inspired to become the next generation of makers on DIY!, where kids from around the world share their own projects and show others, for example, how to build a talking stuffed animal.

As for us, we will be working hard over the summer to build more upgrades for 2013 and continue to develop Grammatikus for use with iPads.

We look forward to an exciting year ahead, but in the meantime, from the team at CDMsystems, have a lovely festive season, a happy New Year and a relaxing break.  See you in 2013!

Australian Voices

30th November, 2012

1209813_69030987This month we had the pleasure of attending the annual VATE Conference at Deakin University, Melbourne. The theme was Australian Voices . It invited us to reflect upon the diversity of our community and as a result, we were encouraged to think of new approaches to methods of delivery that will not only address the variety of different needs, but also the new requirements of the Australian National Curriculum.

Michele Fitz-Gerald was there to meet teachers, discuss our Australian voices, answer questions and provide information regarding Grammatikus.  It’s always great to have the opportunity to promote literacy in our schools, and to meet teachers face to face.




AATE Conference in Sydney

29th October, 2012


October is the month in which we celebrate National Home Education week. This is a great opportunity to explore the practice of providing a course of study for children at home.

This month, in the spirit of improving literacy, we also attended the AATE Conference in Sydney, where one of our Directors, Michèle Fitz-Gerald, had the opportunity to chat with teachers and discuss the latest practices in the classroom.  The talk was all about iPads. Here are some thoughts that go beyond budgets, network logistics and digital resources,  and focus on the instructional use of tablets. Read more.

The Power of Collective IQ

28th September, 2012


Molecule - photo by Svilen001

Molecule – photo by Svilen001


School holidays are here at last,  bringing with them some better weather, and the chance to enjoy the great outdoors.

At CDMsystems, we’ll be continuing to work on updates we have planned for 2013 (more to come).

In the meantime, the following link is well worth a look. It explores the idea of Collective IQ, a term used to describe the result of a large number of people collaborating via the online world. Imagine this: scientists stumped for 15 years by the structure of a protein from an AIDS-like virus call in gamers for help. The challenge was posted on foldit, an online video game in which players from around the globe collaborate and solve tricky 3D puzzles. The conundrum was available for three weeks, but it took the gamers’ collective IQ only 10 days to re-engineer the protein molecules, crack the code to the virus and open the doors to new drugs. Read more





Celebrating National Literacy and Numeracy Week

28th August, 2012

Children at work

Literacy is an essential skill. It is the ability to understand and process information in daily activities at home, at school, at work or in the community at large.

UNESCO (The United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organisation) describes it as a fundamental human right; a tool that empowers to improve one’s health, income and connection with the world. It is the foundation to personal freedom. Knowing how to write correctly and concisely, knowing how to read critically is essential in understanding the world, analysing events and forming personal opinions. From there on, our young Australians can grow into independent individuals and become contributing members of our community.

This month, we celebrated our National Literacy and Numeracy week, which was launched by Peter Garrett, Minister for School Education, at Yarralumla Primary School in Canberra. Read more

Grammatikus Improvements

24th July, 2012

In our last post, we promised you a sneak preview of our improved Game (ready in 2013). Now is the time to have a quick peek, so scroll down, take a look at the screenshots, click on the links where applicable and enjoy the ride!

 New Student User Interface

Students are our main focus. They are the ones we want to engage and encourage to learn. The engagement part comes with a re-think of how to best weave the fun and gaming components throughout the website without confusing, or losing the educational purpose. So we’ve redesigned our Student User Interface. Here are a few screenshots.

New My Profile

Grammatikus screenshot of My Profile

New homework and statistics on My Profile

New Homework Task Display

2 overdue homework tasks

Two homework tasks due in the Nouns world

New Overdue Tasks Display

Overdue Homework

Display of overdue tasks

 New Emphasis on the Story

Welcome to the Determiners

Displaying the story within the game

New Loading Screens

Loading Screen with story and hint

Bringing you the story and various game hints




New  Teacher Functionalities

If students are paramount, teachers’ enjoyment of the resource and sense of comfort are equally important to us. We have worked hard to give you what you need and want.

New Training Videos

An easy to use medium for a quick overview of the resource. Ideal for time-poor teachers, check out our training videos.

New Ars Grammatika for Teachers

A complete grammar guide to help you teach English grammar. Use it as a reference book or design your lessons around it. Contains indicators of corresponding year level per grammar point. Hosted in your Virtual Library.

New User Guide

A teacher User Manual that will answer your most frequently asked questions. Hosted in your Virtual Library

New Reports

You’ve asked us to give you a detailed progress report per student. We’ve delivered.

Grammatikus Progress Report

New Grammatikus student progress report

New Virtual Tutorials & Worksheets

The new virtual tutorials are now short, concise and year-level specific. We’ve removed the story for a better understanding of each grammar point. We’ve also increased the level of interactivity of our worksheets for improved user engagement. Have a look at our screenshot or stay tuned to see a preview…

Screenshot of new story videos




Improved Infrastructure

And finally, last but not least, we’ve upgraded our server. It is now in Australia. It is bigger and faster and has been designed to improve your experience.

We are excited about all those changes. We hope you are too…


Education Services Australia

29th June, 2012

It has been an exciting time for us at CDMsystems!

We are now working in collaboration with Education Services Australia  to support teachers in the implementation of the new Australian Curriculum by developing and providing flexible learning approaches to digital education.

Our aim is to provide quality material that is innovative, inspiring and engaging. As our feature product, Grammatikus has been the focus of our vision, and recipient of our time and energy. In the last 6 months, our English grammar programme has benefited from a major overhaul. This has been made possible thanks to the enthusiastic feedback we have received from our users. We’ve asked them what worked, what didn’t, what they liked and what they needed. They told us, we listened. As a result, our passionate and dedicated development team has worked tirelessly to bring you…

…a better Game.

Check out our next post to get a sneak preview of the changes and new functionalities we have implemented.