Friday 8 April 2016

Primary schools - last 20 years - 'writing' - 3 cults

People who've been in primary school teaching for the last 20 years will know that 'Writing' has been in the grip of three main cults.

Chapter 1.
National Literacy Strategy and 'genre theory'.
This said that children would and should learn to write according to the genres of writing as laid out in the NLS - recount, persuasive, etc. This came originally from the ideas of M.A.K. Halliday and are not only descriptions of how we supposedly write but also, when delivered to children, will liberate the disadvantaged by giving them the language of power. What was missing here, though, was whether the process of getting kids to jump through the hoops of specific writing styles in one-hour Literacy Hours was itself preventing the disadvantaged from taking advantage! In the end this 11 year experiment came suddenly to an end. Millions of pages of NLS bumf was chucked into skips and millions of pounds of education money was gone. Something compulsory, essential, necessary and transformational was

Chapter 2
This wasn't government directed. It came from something called 'The Big Write'. Here the theory was that 'good writing' came from vocabulary, 'connectives', openers and punctuation. So, every teacher should put up wow words on the wall (good words). Every teacher should teach children that good sentences have 'connectives' - a catch-all term to mean a mix of conjunctions, and what we used to call 'sentence adverbs', which, when levered into sentences, made it seem as if the writer had a grip on the passing of time, and/or linking one sentence to another in 'interesting ways'. Openers are about beginning things in interesting ways. And punctuation is punctuation. Primary classroom walls were covered in slogans and summaries of VCOP.

Chapter 3
Connectives out, subordinate conjunctions, fronted adverbials and expanded noun phrases in. Get these right and you write 'interestingly'. There is no evidence that this is the case. It's just something that is now the new cult of writing by numbers i.e. these three numbers. Walls in primary schools are now getting covered with these - sometimes in addition to VCOP and even the last stages of NLS genre theory, or replacing it.

Alongside SC, FA and ENP is the rest of the SPaG formulae which as I keep saying (and showing, I hope) is a misrepresentation of 'grammar', the spelling is taught in lists that confuse as much as illuminate and the punctuation is much more rule-bound than is actually the case in everyday writing that the children see in books, ads, on TV, online and in instructions in public places.

In fact, the interest in the cult of SPaG is primarily as assessment trick not an educational one. It's a shameful example of teaching an important piece of knowledge purely in order to grade and control teachers and schools rather than to illuminate and help children.

So here we have three cults in 20 years. How many more?