When students tackle grammatical problems. Exploring linguistic reasoning with linguistic metaconcepts in grammar education

Submitted by: Jimmy H.M. van Rijt
Abstract: When teaching grammar, one of the biggest challenges teachers face is how to achieve conceptual understanding. Some scholars have argued that (meta)concepts from theoretical linguistics should be used to pedagogically and conceptually enrich traditional grammar teaching, generating more opportunities for conceptual understanding (Van Rijt & Coppen, 2017; Van Rijt, De Swart & Coppen, 2018). However, no empirical evidence exists to support this theoretical position. The current mixed-methods study is the first to explore the role of linguistic metaconcepts in the grammatical analyses of first-year university students of Dutch Language and Literature. Its goal was to gain a better understanding of the characteristics of students’ grammatical conceptual knowledge, and strategies to use such knowledge in linguistic reasoning. It also investigated whether students’ analyses benefit from an intervention that related linguistic metaconcepts to concepts from traditional grammar. To this end, students (n=24) were asked to reason about a set of unseen grammatical problems both prior to and after the intervention, which yielded 180 grammatical analyses. These analyses were coded inductively, following a grounded theory approach, to gain insights into students’ concept use and their linguistic reasoning strategies.
The quality of reasoning was evaluated by an independent panel of linguistics experts on a five point Likert scale. To determine which types of concepts and reasoning strategies contribute most to the quality of linguistic reasoning, multiple regression analyses were carried out in a multilevel design. The intervention was evaluated using T-tests. Results indicate that using explicit linguistic metaconcepts and explicit concepts from traditional grammar are powerful contributors to the quality of students’ grammatical analyses. The most effective reasoning strategy consists of using linguistic manipulations. Moreover, the intervention significantly improved students’ use of linguistic metaconcepts and decreased the use of rules of thumb. Educational implications will be discussed, as well as future research directions.

Keywords: grammar, metaconcepts, linguistic reasoning

Van Rijt, J. & Coppen, P.-A. (2017). Bridging the gap between Linguistic Theory and L1 Grammar Education – experts’ views on essential linguistic concepts. Language Awareness 26(4), 360-380.
Van Rijt, J., De Swart, P. & Coppen, P.-A. (2018). Linguistic concepts in L1 grammar education: a systematic literature review. Research Papers in Education.