Friday 23 February 2018

Writing for pleasure 3 - collecting language


'Out there', every day, there are millions of examples of 'language-use' - spoken and written. We can think of it as a resource, which we can use to pick and mix, or 'scavenge' for what we want from it. This is what I mean by collecting.

1. Speech. It's great to focus children and school students on their own speech and the speech of the people they hear around them, relatives' sayings, proverbs, aphorisms, slips of the tongue, things they hear  in the institutions they go through (school, hospital etc)  and what they hear on holiday or on the media.  We can create spaces on walls, in books, or in corners, where we collect whatever is interesting, ambiguous, odd, fantastic, muddled, funny, tragic, pithy, clever, enigmatic. Teachers can model this by bringing in a few examples from e.g. their  parents, off the TV, toddler talk, overheard on the bus, etc in order to get things going. 

This is what many writers do. It's a writing activity. The key thing is to keep it refreshed and enriched, so maybe you have to keep changing it, every month or so. 

Encourage children and students to use it, to create their own versions  of it. By 'use' it I mean that we can draw attention to items on the list and discuss them.

2. Writing - same goes for examples of writing. This can include anything from poems, stories, plays that are being read, ads seen on buses or on posters, things taken from newspapers, odd things from text books,good jokes from joke books, stuff clipped from magazines. Again, the principle is 'clipping'. It can include lines from songs, street signs, odd things written on products, instructions for furniture you have to assemble, recipes - any examples of writing that catch the eye.

It can also include the idea of 'anthologising'. Encourage children and students to make anthologies of passages of writing they like or are intrigued by or puzzled by. It doesn't have to be marked or overseen. You can set it for homework, just copy anything, a few quotes, a passage that appeals to you, a verse from a song in the charts. And you can encourage the pupils to talk about the pieces, (perhaps in a designated time) or by writing a few words about it in their anthologies. 

Again, many writers do this. 

All of this are ways of making how language works, explicit. It draws attention to the way in which we are affected by language in many different ways. 

It is also non-hierarchical. It says that language is everywhere, in use, affecting us whether it's 'popular', 'mass media', 'high art', 'commercial'; whether it's 'perfect' or an error, slip of the tongue, ambiguity, pun, piece of rhetoric or some such. All this is scope for discussion and contributes to 'knowledge about language'. It may well uncover how language works on affecting us. 

3. Collecting longer kinds of writing. 

Essentially this means a library! We have to ask ourselves how pupils get access to the huge variety of written  text in the world: school library, local library, internet, theatre, film, and all the ways in which text is blasted at us through TV, ads, promos, captains and so on. 

If we want pupils to write. we have to, bit by bit, get them interested in saying - in broad or specific terms - 'I would like to write like that'. Essentially, this is what Shakespeare said to himself when he sat down to write his sonnets. It is part and parcel of a writer's job, to say, 'I would like to write like that'. This can mean, 'using that form', or it can mean 'trying to express those ideas'. or 'using that motif', 'using that theme' or indeed, 'something triggered off by what I just read'. 

One of the best ways to understand form, theme, structure, genre is quite simply, 'trying to write like that'. By creating a pseudo-science of 'analysis' we have made it hard for ourselves. It is really much easier to have a go ourselves. 

However, if we are just 'set the task' of doing this, it can be off-putting. If we've collected an example, and imitate the example we like or are interested in, it's usually a much more motivated task. 

At the heart off all this, is the motor of 'making literacy mine'. One of the jobs of education is not simply to say, 'we are  endowing pupils with this chunk of literature' but it is to find ways for the notion of literacy to be one of possession. 'I, the pupil, have the right to own this piece of writing, or this kind of writing. It doesn't belong to one person, or to one kind of person, or to one institution - but to everyone. And I am part of everyone, so I'm entitled to have this and use this.'

That message is particularly important for those who get a sense that some or all writing doesn't belong to them. 

Collecting examples of speech and writing, talking about it, making anthologies carried with those activities, the message that it all belongs to you.