Unsurprisingly perhaps

Unsurprisingly perhaps, when Sophie came home from school after being taught to use fronted adverbials, she started to put them everywhere. Amazingly enough, her writing didn’t get any better. Before long, in fact, it began to get worse. A few days later, she was introduced to semi colons; unhappily, this seemed to compound the problem. As quickly as she could, Sophie incorporated this new punctuation mark into her writing; as you might have anticipated, though, she began to put semi-colons in places where they didn’t really belong. Just a little bit later on, Sophie’s class learned about alternatives to the word ‘said’; unfortunately, Sophie decided to incorporate these into her speaking as well as her writing. Before long, Sophie was mumbling annoyingly, shouting callously and screaming bitterly; all night long, she would whisper threateningly into her pillow. Not long after, Sophie’s teacher told her that descriptions worked best if you used the ‘power of three’; from now on, Sophie could not just be happy, she had to be completely, extraordinarily, amazingly happy with her great, fantastic, perfect life.

That weekend, Sophie stroked her pure white, snowy, velvety smooth kitten as a wet, salty, bitter tear of disappointment dripped down her face; “Unsurprisingly perhaps,” Sophie muttered unhappily to herself, “I don’t really enjoy writing anymore.”

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12 Responses to Unsurprisingly perhaps

  1. Michael Fordham says:

    Cecilia came home from school one evening, and she realised that her frustrations were over.

    Ever since she had been in primary school, she had been encouraged to express herself in her writing, and not to worry excessively about things like the use of semi-colons or the rhetorical structures of the English language. She had always been praised for her creativity and this had made her want to be a writer and she had begun to pen short stories, poems and articles for newspapers from around the age of 12.

    The problem with her work was that no one else was appreciating it. Her writing had been criticised for being poorly structured and full of grammatical errors. She had not understood this: through most of her time at school she had been praised for her creativity and passion for writing, so how could it be that her work was now being rejected?

    Fortunately for Cecilia she had a new teacher turn up in Year 11 who spotted where her weaknesses lay. The new teacher taught Cecilia the beautiful subtlety that might be conveyed through the careful use of grammar; she was taught, too, how to make clever use of rhetoric to capture the attention of her readers. It took time, effort and practice, but over several months Cecilia had learnt the rules of language that she had never known. Sometimes she chose to break those rules, but now she knew when she was doing it and for what reasons.

    It occurred to Cecilia that learning to write was not so different from learning to play the violin, which she had learnt since the age of seven: she had not thanked her tutor as she made her practise her scales and bowing technique, but Cecilia knew that all of this initial hard work meant that she could now produce music of great beauty. And she could now do this with her writing as well.

    For Cecilia now knew that artistic passion and creativity could best be expressed by those who had mastered the great aesthetic tools passed on to us in our society.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. nancy says:

    I’ve seen lots of different ways of teaching writing in schools-and the strange thing is, from the point of view of moderation and assessment (which I also do), that, regardless of how they are taught they still go through the same stages of development.

    They start off making marks, which slowly grow into words. Next, they make lists. Then they string the lists together, attempt to tell a story with a sort of structure…they go through this phase of throwing everything they know at their writing (I like to call it the confetti stage, often correlates with leaning about apostrophes), and finally they seem to grasp written language and start making it do what they want it to do. At age ten/eleven, I reckon most children are still in the ‘throw everything at it’ stage.
    Being able to paragraph and then to link paragraphs together, while choosing the words you want and using punctuation properly is a complex skill – and not many children of that age (in my view) have the complexity of thought – or the stamina – to do it.
    So, in a way, the children have the last laugh. We might throw everything we’ve got at the teaching of writing, we might deconstruct levels and chop them up and say that because a child at a certain stage should be able to do this, this and this that therefore we actively teach them to do this, this and this, but in the end, when you see their writing massed, you see that they must still pass through the same stages of development.
    Personally, I dislike teaching writing the way. I would rather the children had something they wanted to ‘say’ – and help them to express it, their way.

    Liked by 2 people

    • suecowley says:

      Yes, that would be my sense too: audience and purpose are what matters. The grammar is important, but the desire to ‘get it right’ comes through the search for sound and meaning, not the search for what is ‘correct’. Of course we teach the techniques, and the names, but writing *is* grammar, grammar is not a separate entity.


      • nancy says:

        I tend along those lines too. I think one of the criticisms I am growing to have of the curriculum in schools, is that, to many children, it makes no sense, no connection with their lives. As far as writing is concerned, they need to have something to write about. When they have *that*, then you can get to work.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Kelly L says:

    It’s a fine line to walk. How do we as teachers, encourage creativity and passion yet instil the necessary tools required for eloquent execution? I am inclined to agreed with aspects of both Sue and Michael’s arguments. Plenty of amazing writing that is grammatically incorrect still has a powerful impact in every day life. However, in the world of education there is a terrible degree of snobbery surrounding writing which can inhibit progression for both students and staff. Sometimes the hunt for mistakes can distract the reader from the content. This is sad because the message tends to get lost in the errors. However, recognising this prejudice and equipping students to be prepared for such judgement by teaching them the knowledge is part of our vocation. I am now worried about the judgement that will be passed on my own literary misgivings! 😕

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pete says:

    I agree that children firstly need to be motivated to write about something before they can be expected to concern themselves with grammar. The great thing about word-processing is that it is possible to create text and then, with some supportive feedback, improve the first draft to the point that it is something to be proud of and perhaps to publish in some way (my file, the classroom wall, take a copy home, post it on the class blog). I do not understand why more of the writing done by children, especially in upper Primary and lower Secondary school, is not done using a word processor.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Cool post, thanks Sue! A writer I’m following said on his blog somewhere that people tend to send him their work asking ‘is this any good’ – he always replies that he can’t say if it’s ‘good’ or not, but he can talk about how ‘effective’ it might be for the people and purpose of the text. Although, he said, the best way to discover how effective writing is, is to share it with the people you believe you’ve written for and see what happens. If it falls flat there’s a need to review the work and this may involve seeking out instruction in grammar, or it may be something else. Wouldn’t it be fun if students sought teachers for grammar instruction because they’re trying to do good and it’s not working and they believe their grammar is the problem? Wouldn’t make for purposeful lessons.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I love you, Sue Cowley.

    I can’t tell you how alarming it was when I came to the UK a few years ago to be told that “A piece of writing couldn’t be a Level 6 unless it had a semi-colon in it”.

    Less is almost always more!

    I love you.

    Chris Waugh

    Liked by 1 person

  7. fish64 says:

    “My feeling is that getting to ‘good writing’ is like a series of steps, and that children need to take each step in turn”. This was your comment on a post by David Didau on the problem of rubrics and success criteria. Yet I would say that in this post you illustrate exactly what happens when it is decided that everything needs to be broken into little steps – namely “tick box teaching!” Assessment for Learning has a lot to answer for!


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