Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Writing for Pleasure 7 Distribution


An important, significant part of this whole process is what we do with whatever it is the pupils write. Traditionally, most of what is written goes into exercise books, which are sent to teachers who then mark them and hand them back. This means in terms of distribution this kind of writing only gets an audience of one, and that audience is not reading that piece for the prime reason of pleasure but of correcting it, and/or helping the writer develop/get better etc.

To be clear, there is nothing wrong per se with this, but there is a problem to my mind, if  this is the main or only channel for helping a writer get better. Imagine instead, if we thought of a school which can behave most of the time as if it's a 'commissioning' body: it commissions writing from pupils so that it can be published and/or performed. The job of the school, then, would be to use as many different forms for the pupils' work as possible: on the print front that would include (as it does in many schools anyway) wall magazines, blogs, school bulletins, booklets, pamphlets, books in the library, books on sale at school fetes and parents' evenings. On the performance front that would include class performances and readings, performances by older to younger pupils and vice versa, whole school performances, parent-teacher-pupil joint performances, videos, powerpoint with audio performances, talking books etc and 'performance' could be made an important part of the informal curriculum so that it's studied. 

Of course, under present conditions with so much testing, I realise that making this an objective is extremely hard. Yet where and when it happens, teachers can vouch for the fact that what is written ends up being read over and over again by other pupils (good for reading then!) and those who write have many reasons for 'getting things right' or 'improving the writing' - they want people to read and like what they read. 

Performance has the power of interpretation on its side. With every act of preparing a piece for performance, the performer has to interpret what's been written. They have to decide on tone, rhythm, volume and movement and whether it does or does not fit the writing in question. This will involve talk and debate whether things are working right, and following performances, discussions can be focussed on what can we learn from each other, what did we see in that performance that we can try out ourselves.

The overall effect of seeing writing as a form of commissioning for publication and performance is that it starts to affect what is written, and how. Consider for example the strange fact that though film, TV and radio are massively important media for us in society, the curriculum downgrades or ignores the writing of scripts for performance. Why should, say, writing a story be any more important in status than writing a script of a story that is performed in front of an audience? Why is this sort of activity usually restricted to Christmas and end-of-year shows? If pupils are now writing stories and poems on computers, it's comparatively easy to turn these into blogs, online magazines and the like. There's no problem about restricting who can see these because there are always buttons which control this. This way an audience for the pupils' writing can be widened only so far as the school decides.

Again, in the area of non-fiction, this kind of written output can encourage the writing of reviews of books, films and song albums, reports of sports matches, school trips, debates and opinion columns. As with all writing, there are ways to make these better and raise their status as important ways to write. In so doing, this kind of writing becomes much less abstract. There is a built-in need to interest audiences which invites debate about what makes for an interesting/exciting/funny report or review? This can take us back to examples in the press to imitate and use for invention. 

This is what was always called 'writing for purpose'. The digital media have made it comparatively easy to achieve this. And there's an added educational dimension to this. We constantly hear from ministers and the DfE about how education is supposed to equipping pupils for their later lives. Part of that is surely using whatever means are available to us to publish and distribute. Our phones, tablets and computers are massively powerful ways for us to disseminate ideas and by using them in schools, we can show pupils of all ages that they can be used for  many different ways of communicating with each other. 

Crucial to all this, then is that we involve the pupils in the 'means of production' - that they are part of the process of making the books, audio, video, websites, blogs etc., so that they learn how to do that as part of the process of writing. Writing isn't just a matter of putting words on the page. It's a matter of making writing part of a loop that includes real readers and getting involved in questions about how we get the writing to the reader, does just this.  Where some pupils may not want to perform their work, others can do that, and the non-performer can perhaps be more involved in the 'means of production' side, should that be appropriate. 

This matter of 'distribution', then,  helps us achieve the aim of creating reading-writers and writing-readers, or as I would add in: reading-performing-writers and writing-performing-readers. 

Even if what I've described here is unrealisable across a whole year, perhaps it can be achieved in times when, say, the curriculum can be suspended for a day or a week, or a fortnight perhaps after SATs, or the like. We could think of, say, a publication-performance week and a whole school goes flat out in getting all these different things made, done and 'out there'. Why not?