The main issue that I have with teaching children about using apostrophes is that somebody had always got there before me and often created major confusion.
Bravo to the person that taught six year olds that could barely write their own names about apostrophes of omission. You taught them to recognise when the letters ‘-nt’ come together at the end of a word and showed them how to stick in an apostrophe to be all grown up.
Then you drilled them for a while, giving them worksheets which kept them quiet and pleased their mummies, but never thought to introduce them to the fact that not all words that end in ‘-nt’ get an apostrophe.
The same happened with words ending ‘-ll’ or ‘-ve’.
Clearly, the little dears needed to be seen to make progress so, before they left the infants, the apostrophe of possession was introduced – but only the simple ‘s.
Again lots of worksheets, or maybe even ‘point and click’ activities on trendy apps, were bandied about in which every final ‘-s’ needed an apostrophe dropping in before it.
So, by the time I had them, aged 11, apostrophes were growing like mushrooms all over their writing…
I have genuinely seen the following.
I like to pain’t.
Wi’ll you come to my party?
Can I ha’ve a cup of coffee, please?
As he en’tered the room he saw a ghostly shape.
All of these are the result of what I call “Apostrophes week”: maybe the infant department curriculum and planning documents clearly stated that these children must all be taught apostrophes no matter what their reading level or cognitive capabilities, or maybe teacher just felt like apostrophes were a good idea, who knows?
Of course, the children are keen to please, learn the trick and are rewarded with praise – much the same way as I taught my labrador to sit, lie down, speak and close doors.
But the dog doesn’t really understand the actual words, she just knows that her actions please me and she gets a pat on the head and maybe a treat.
Although they fell out of fashion, worksheets are a useful tool and I do reckon that learning takes place more often with pen in hand than it does by clicking a screen. (If you call worksheets Skills Development, Assessment and Consolidation Activities they become back in vogue…)
My only plea would be that:
Firstly, colleagues might not be so eager to teach the apostrophe at the lower end of the primary schools – may be get full stops and capital letters nailed first?
Secondly, introduce a thought process so that pupils have to think whether an apostrophe is actually needed; maybe chuck in a few questions in which an apostrophe is NOT actually needed and thus we might identify whether they have been taught a transferrable skill or simply conditioned to ‘sit on command’ in order to tick a box …