Tuesday, October 2, 2012

PL 41/12: The grammar of schooling

Filed under: Uncategorized — plinius @ 9:58 am

The “grammar of schooling” explains why schools are so hard to change.

Picture: Jacksonville School Kids 1980s

The shape of classrooms

The term became current almost twenty years ago, after a US study of the resistance to educational reforms. In their seminal article, Tyack and Tobin wrote:

  • The  basic “grammar”  of schooling, like the shape of classrooms, has  remained remarkably stable over the decades.
  • By  the “grammar”  of  schooling we mean the regular structures and rules that organize the work of  instruction. 
  • For example, standardized organizational  practices  in dividing time and space, classifying  students and allocating them  to classrooms, and splintering knowledge  into “subjects.”

When we speak, we do not consciously follow the rules of grammar.

  • Practices like graded classrooms structure schools in a manner analogous  to the way grammar organizes meaning  in  language.
  • Much of the grammar  of  schooling has become  so well established that it is  typically  taken for granted as  just  the way schools  are. It is the departure  from customary practice  in  schooling or speaking that attracts attention.

Grammar works behind the scene.

Digital technology

Fifteen years later much had changed. School remained resistant to change. But now politicians, school authorities and educators were struggling with the impact and the potential of digital technology in education.

In 2009, Martínez Arbelaiz and Correa Gorospe asked whether the grammar of schooling could be changed.

  • Tyack and Tobin´s concept of the “grammar of schooling” is a very powerful metaphor that can help explain why ICT integration is seldom successful.
  • We propose that this rigid set of structures and rules are lecture-type sessions, which include, among other defining features: exams, a clear division between subjects, standards for different topics, etc.
  • This rigidity in turn prevents ICT from being significantly integrated into school practices and holds innovation back, since it tends to block ICT possibilities.

They add that

  • Administrators, teachers, parents and students usually have an unconscious underlying knowledge of what the “real school” consists of and consequently, any innovation or teaching changes that deviate from that internalized model, hardly if ever, succeed.


  • David Tyack and William Tobin (Stanford University). The “Grammar”  of Schooling:  Why Has it Been so Hard to Change? American Educational Research Journal. Fall, Vol. 31 1994), No. 3, pp. 453-479
  • Asunción Martínez Arbelaiza; José Miguel Correa Gorospe. Can the grammar of schooling be changed? Computers & Education, Volume 53, Issue 1, August 2009, Pages 51–56

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