Friday, April 21, 2006

Standard Grade Writing?

I was sharply reminded today that not everyone shares the realisation of the value of blogging as an educational tool. My two students seem to have forgotten all about Progress Report over the Easter break, reverting in one case to pen and paper and in the other to doing no writing at all before coming for a lesson.

Sadly, the writing produced for my inspection showed none of the flair that had been emerging from the blog interaction - rather as pupils would seem engaged by a class lesson and then go off and do as they'd always done. And yet I'm convinced that continuous practice in writing for an audience is the way to hone these skills - and that the kind of piecemeal work which focuses on specific skills is (a) perfectly suited to blogging and (b) absolutely necessary to develop stylish and accurate prose.

I hammered away at the old mantra: Writers write. If they don't write, the skills languish. It is often felt that there is little you can do in preparation for a Writing exam - apart from knowing how much you can write in an hour and fifteen minutes - because the questions cannot be predicted. This is nonsense. If there is anyone out there preparing for the nonsense of the Writing Exam at Standard Grade (do you think Graham Greene wrote in exam conditions?) there are indeed ways to prepare.

Observe people, places, sights, atmosphere with the eye of what Edwin Morgan called the "accursed recorder". Be aware of yourself as a participant in a story called Life (though not all the time - you'll get a name for yourself). Listen to what people actually say and how they say it. And write something every day - a paragraph, a good sentence, a snatch of dialogue, a description. And if you're fortnate enough to be in the 2% of web users who publish a blog - make use of it!

And now I'm away to let the bee out of my bunnet.....


  1. It's disappointing, but maybe the girls will carry on writing now that term has started. They were both showing a lot of promise.

  2. 'Listen to what people actually say and how they say it'
    This is good because it's authentic communication - but what is more important - how people actually speak or good grammar. For me the reality of how people express themselves would be more important than what is academically accepted as good grammar, I do believe in education but knowing good grammer aint the same as thinking you have to always write good grammer - not if you want to get over what you're trying to say in terms that will strike a chord with people.
    (I shouldn't use punctuation I never know where they should go) but - 'Am I bothered'
    So,yes get all the education and qualifictions you can but if you want to write for people it's best to write in the language of ordinary people and not old Oxonians unless you want your readership to be very small and very critical.

  3. Jimmy, tell me this: do I communicate?
    I'd guess I probably do, because you respond to me in a way that suggests effective communication. What I write, however, is gramatically accurate - and, barring a few typos, correct.
    I want my students to know the difference - and to be flexible and effective writers.

  4. Jimmy3:31 PM

    You communicate very well Chris.
    What I'm talking about here is fiction writing - if there is such a thing I don't think there is much fiction in good story telling - the reality has to be captured - anyway you know what I mean - if you were to write a novel about a family who didn't have much of an education you wouldn't make them sound like they went to Oxford because you couldn't bring yourself to write bad grammar.

  5. I found a huge improvement in motivation to write properly, for the audience. We're talking emergent writers though, Pre A. A and level B ...and that extra care, combined with limited keyboard skills, significantly reduced the quantity of writing, I would ordinarily see. So now we are encouraging more volume and quality, by allowing more time.
    Good resulting work in their off blog writing, has been an unexpected bonus, since they might have their work scanned in and displayed, they hope. The other bonus has been that their verbal communication is encouraged, too. It is more focussed, technical and imaginative, and likely to be more grammatically correct. Who would have seen their work before? Maybe 3 people, date there have been about 900.....So...we blog on! It's the C in the ICT.

  6. Ah Chris, it's good to read that you haven't lost the passion you had when teaching with us! Are teachers like Ministers - they never actually retire?

    It's the old problem of getting the students to see the actual importance of writing - not just for the exam, but as a way of improving their thinking and communication skills.

    School's out - education's out? No transfer from school to life? The curse or natural result of being young?

    Keep your passion - you'll get them back on track. :-)

  7. I did notice that they had disappeared, which is a shame. They could have improved so much over two weeks.

    I agree with you on the writing exam milarky. Remember when I did work experience with your 4th year class and helped them prepare for a writing exam? That is definately the way to go - write something new every day. I keep a large notebook with me most of the time and have named it 'the little book of thoughts.' When I people watch and observe the world around me, I write things down and the creative juices flow - is this not preparation? Certainly is for my blog.

    Jimmy - I completely understand what you are saying, although these kids *have* to do this exam and have to do it correctly, according to marking schemes. I always hated it because I tended to write about personal experiences and felt it a bit unfair that I should be 'graded' on my life - but it had to be done.

  8. Ah well - at 11.30 pm on a Saturday night I find myself leaving naggy comments for the two who ave STILL not written anything! So, Don, maybe you're right - it's hard just to walk away and leave them to sink, which I should do now that I'm not obliged to keep struggling.

    What a waste, though ...

  9. Chris,

    If you're the person I think you are you won't walk away.