Recently there was a great article on the BBC Website recently titled, ‘The Commas that Cost Companies Millions’.  The article opened a little tongue in cheek, stating that for most people ‘a stray comma isn’t the end of the world,’ but it continued to state that, for a Dairy Company in the US City of Portland, a missing comma in an employment contract meant that the company had to settle out of court at $5 million.
I am sure that we are all familiar with the humorous puns and memes regarding the comma. In stating one’s likes or hobbies, missing commas can indeed render you somewhat psychotic:
I like cooking my family and my pets.
When ignoring the use of a comma to signpost that you are addressing someone directly with a suggestion or an instruction, you may seem like a danger to society:
Let’s eat grandpa.
as opposed to
Let’s eat, grandpa.
We’re going to learn to cut and paste kids.
as opposed to
We’re going to learn to cut and paste, kids.
Indeed, if you don’t think commas are important, try forgetting the comma when you tell someone, “I’m sorry, I love you.”
This may seem silly and light hearted and yes, indeed it is, but the underlying point is actually a serious one. The incorrect use of grammar and punctuation can render our meaning and intention unclear and it can give others a bad impression of us. NAPLAN tests the effective and appropriate use of commas, as well as a whole range of literacy skills including spelling, reading comprehension, inference and deduction and writing for a specific audience and purpose.
It’s not just about NAPLAN and HSC though. Literacy is a skill for life far beyond school. Literacy is a tool for learning. If we cannot read well, how do we interpret, understand and analyse important information? If we cannot express ourselves coherently, how do we prove our understanding or put across our point of view? The 21st Century Society demands citizens who cannot only read and write, but can use these skills to evaluate and apply information gained from across a range of media. Literacy is also about developing a positive attitude towards lifelong learning and awareness of the wider world, in each individual. Our development of literacy skills lies at the centre of being able to think and express our emotions. It is central to our well-being and self-confidence within society.
Developing literacy skills not only supports learning but also enhances understanding within the curriculum area and is a key way of raising standards and outcomes in all subjects.
In the Prep School, a student’s Literacy Teacher also teaches them other aspects of the curriculum. If a student is failing to transfer their literacy skills from one subject to another, it is picked up immediately; the teacher is able to combine the delivery of literacy and subject content in a far more explicit way. As specialist teachers in the Senior School, we may not always be certain as to whether a student’s poor literacy is reflective of a genuine lack of knowledge and understanding or simply a lack of literacy transference. Maybe a student uses capital letters competently in their English but they do not make accurate and appropriate use of capital letters in Science. If we want our students’ writing to improve, we all need to work together and demonstrate the same expectations of their literacy. This will support them in their ability to transfer their basic literacy skills from one subject to another; to recognise, for example, that an accurate and appropriate use of capital letters is as important in Science as it is in English.
As part of a wider Whole School Literacy Drive, this term sees the introduction of ‘Literacy Focus Points’. Each term, there will be a whole school focus on a very specific aspect of writing. Teachers of all subjects will make students very aware of this. The Termly Literacy Focus Points will be displayed on the FROG Student Portals.
During this term, in addition to the feedback on the subject specific literacy and subject content, all subject teachers will also specifically target errors in students’ use of the termly literacy focus point in their extended writing. Thus, on any one day during the term, a student’s misuse of capital letters, for example, will be picked up by the student’s English teacher, Science teacher, Maths teacher, History teacher, Art teacher and Music teacher. Every day during this term, all teachers of different subjects will give specific attention to the accurate use of this element of writing.
Being reminded of the importance of the appropriate and accurate use of capital letters frequently and across the curriculum will encourage a greater transference of literacy skills and expectations. The Literacy Focus Points will be rotated on a termly basis. This term, the literacy focus will be on ‘capital letters and commas.’
Over the next few terms, the Literacy Focus Points will include those areas of literacy which have been identified as in most need of attention:
- Homophone spelling errors
- Colons and semi colons
I will leave you with a little anecdote:
An English Professor wrote on a white board: ‘A woman without her man is nothing.’ He asked the students to punctuate it correctly.
Half of the class wrote: ‘A woman, without her man, is nothing.’
The other half of the class wrote: ‘A woman: without her, man is nothing.’
Punctuation is powerful!
Head of Teaching and Learning