Portuguese language teaching in Brazil

Image: Lissaa Spiridonova


Grammar is in the process of finding a space that matches its great role in the production of meaning in texts.

How it all began

The pedagogical system established by the Society of Jesus in Colonial Brazil privileged, for more than two centuries, the study of Latin grammar, combined with Rhetoric (precepts of the art of organizing good speeches), including Poetics (analysis of metric rules and versification and literary genres). It was only in the middle of the XNUMXth century, in the Educational Reform undertaken by the Marquis of Pombal, when Portuguese became a mandatory language, that the language gained value as a cultural asset and was included in school. In addition to literacy in Portuguese, which already existed in the pre-Reformation period, the study of Portuguese grammar is included, and the study of Latin grammar is also carried out in the vernacular.

With the consolidation of the Portuguese Empire in Brazil, especially with the arrival of the royal family and the installation of the press, Brazilian works are published, grammars are produced in the country, and the Portuguese language is gaining space as an area of ​​knowledge in the school environment. Although they remained school subjects until the end of the imperial period, Rhetoric and Poetics gave way, in the first decades of the XNUMXth century, to studies on how to write well. And the Grammar continues.

In addition to the countless school grammars produced in the 1940s and 1950s, the Anthologies (collections of literary texts) appeared, which took over the place left by Rhetoric and Poetics and played an important role in the teaching of Portuguese in that period.

It is in the 1950s that two events impact the teaching of Portuguese. One of them is the publication of the NGB – Nomenclatura Gramatical Brasileira –, which selected grammatical contents, in addition to unifying the nomenclature studied until then, providing a more systematized set of contents, which contributed to the strengthening of the centrality of Grammar in the classroom, centrality and primacy that had already been built as a result of the Jesuit tradition in teaching Latin Grammar and the disappearance of Rhetoric and Poetics, as well as of Anthologies. Another important change is that the majority of society, until then excluded from school, starts to claim their right to formal schooling.

With the pressure for the democratization of access to education, the school begins to serve the children of workers, which is why public networks expand significantly, having to hire teachers in a much larger number than the one that until then served the small portion of the elite. dominant, which meant that the process of choosing these professionals was less selective and teaching work became massive and poorly paid.


Overwork and its didactic consequences

With reduced salaries, teachers multiply their workload, which makes them seek more practical solutions for their teaching activities. It is when the textbook starts to assume an important role: overloaded with teaching loads that reached more than forty class hours a week, the teacher adopts the textbook as a work of study and preparation of classes, as well as material for exclusive use in conducting class. The teacher distances himself from the content he develops with his students, no longer being responsible for choosing what he is going to teach. It is the textbook that defines what is right or wrong, see the teaching of vocabulary, traditionally present in the form of a glossary at the end of each didactic unit text, in which each word considered difficult to understand was associated with a meaning, emphasizing the false principles of lexical equivalence and meanings absolute.


Pragmatism and teaching

During the period of the military dictatorship in the country, starting in 1964, the teaching of Portuguese turned to more utilitarian purposes, a phase in which the student was treated as a sender and receiver of different texts, in verbal and non-verbal codes. After changing the name of the discipline to Communication and Expression, the idea of ​​free expression was included in the different codes, a principle that appeared, for example, in encouraging the production of drawings of verbal texts. Despite the fact that the new proposal defends the development of the student's oral expression and recommends the exchange of ideas and debate, it is criticized for having abandoned the teaching of language structure, for not having presented good results and because , already around the beginning of the 1980s, the teaching of the language hidden in the denomination was no longer in line with the political and ideological principles that flourished with redemocratization.


Linguistics comes into play

The Diretas Já movement, followed by the departure of the military from the government, built an atmosphere conducive to free thinking and committed to respect for citizens, regardless of their political affinity. It was at this time that the advancement of linguistic sciences began to affect the teaching of the mother tongue, mainly through the introduction of disciplines such as sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, textual linguistics, conversation analysis and pragmatics in the curricula of Literature courses. With that, reflections on linguistic varieties arrive at the school, with the debate on the prestigious and discredited variants, the differences between orality and writing and the teaching of grammar in a textual perspective, not limited to phonological and morphosyntactic structures.


The realization of some discoveries

At the end of the 1990s, with the publication of the PCN (National Curricular Parameters), this innovative vision of the Portuguese-speaking area influenced by linguistic sciences was formalized, despite many criticisms of the document. Less comprehensive proposals, however, no less important than the National Curricular Parameters, contributed to the construction of a Portuguese language teaching focused on the development of reading, writing, orality and linguistic and semiotic analysis. One can mention the work carried out in the São Paulo Municipal Education Network, between 1989 and 1992, with Paulo Freire at the head of the Municipal Education Secretariat (SME).

Based on the decentralization of the school, through the resumption of the School Councils, and the dialogic method in the construction of knowledge, the team of Ana Maria Saul, director of the technical guidance division of the Secretariat, developed the Interdisciplinary Project, nicknamed Inter and inspired by the ideas of Paulo Freire. After a survey carried out in the community, teachers and students defined the generating theme that would lead teaching-learning for a certain period of school activities.

The areas of knowledge should develop the theme, within their specificity, as a way of responding to this community need. With a view to bringing to the school what science had been developing, the Secretariat signed an agreement with public universities and private universities in the State of São Paulo to support the training of their teachers in the development of Inter. A guiding document was also produced for each area of ​​knowledge, called the Area Vision, strongly marked, in the case of the Portuguese Language Area Vision, by the linguistic trends that were advancing at the time, such as the study of linguistic variation, orality and the grammar applied to the text.


A remodeled Portuguese language teaching?

More recently, with the publication, in 2018, of the National Common Curricular Base, a federal document that guides state curricula and municipal curricula across the country, Portuguese language teaching was consolidated based on discursive genres, a result of the influence of the strengthening of Discourse Studies in the teaching-learning of the mother tongue.

Initially, however, genres are understood at school in an analogous way to what was done, in earlier times, with textual sequences (in an ancient tradition, restricted to narratives, descriptive and argumentative). Thus, it focuses on teaching the compositional structure of the genre, both in writing production and in reading. The student is expected to classify texts within the structure of a given genre and to produce a given genre following a pre-presented model. Once again, normativity that is not very reflective comes into play: if previously the framework of language prevailed in lessons on metalanguage and grammatical classification, now such normativity seems to be subject to the structure of gender.

Despite gender not being an absolutely stable and immutable type of utterance, and encompassing much more than its compositional structure, its stylistic component, essential for language teaching and learning, is almost unexplored in this initial moment. As for grammar, it is deprecated or remains in its old normative place, being taught as independent content.

With the development of applied linguistics studies, through which it is understood that the work on gender also and mainly involves its stylistic aspects, linguistic-grammatical resources gain space in Portuguese language classes no longer in a normative perspective, but as lexical-grammatical choices on which the constitution of the genre depends and which are responsible for the meaning effects of the enunciative acts.

Although this practice has not been universalized, due to the precariousness of teacher training in the country and the little access they have to the development of linguistic theories, it seems that grammar is on the way to finding a space that matches its great role in the production of linguistics. of meanings of the texts.

* Beatriz Daruj Gil is a professor of philology and Portuguese language at USP.

*Marcelo Modolo Professor of Philology at the University of São Paulo (USP)

Modified version of article originally published in Journal of USP.


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