A grumble about teaching English

‘The big ginger cat of London likes eating fish and climbing the curtains.’

‘the enormous marmalade coloured cat of london likes munching his way through mounds of salmon and whizzing up and down the curtains like a yoyo’

Which sentence is correct? Which sentence is better?

According to the new National Curriculum for Year 1, the first is better because the child has achieved the objective of using capital letters for names of places. Never mind the use of descriptive language, we’re not interested in that today. Vocabulary choice isn’t even on the curriculum for Year 1 (5-6 year olds for anyone not from England) and our objectives should be based on the new curriculum and the key skills.

Let me make it clear, I have absolutely no problem with children developing these skills. I think they’re hugely important. As a teacher I work hard to raise attainment in my pupils. I want them to write legibly and grammatically. Children should be able to

write sentences by:
saying out loud what they are going to write about
composing a sentence orally before writing it
sequencing sentences to form short narratives
re-reading what they have written to check that it makes sense
discuss what they have written with the teacher or other pupils
read their writing aloud, clearly enough to be heard by their peers and the teacher

and

leaving spaces between words
joining words and joining clauses using ‘and’
beginning to punctuate sentences using a capital letter and a full stop, question mark or exclamation mark
using a capital letter for names of people, places, the days of the week, and the personal pronoun ‘I’

But surely there is more to writing than that? There is but I decided against cut and pasting the Transcription part of the document. The above was the Composition element. If we all work really hard we might produce a generation of children with accurate grammar and perfect spellings but will we produce children who want to write?

The new curriculum that was taken from came in this academic year. Last year I taught the same topics so had a look through my planning to see what had changed and if I could reuse any ideas. Last year when we wrote poems about the sea, we looked at imagery, we played around with adjectives, wrote sentences on strips of paper, tore them up to change the word order and looked at what happened to the sentence. We watched short films and music videos. Enya’s Orinoco Flow was a favourite as was this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H1mX8ptsmBM We created characters and sent them on journeys. One day, when I figure out where he ends up, I’m going to write the pilot’s story myself.

The child who wrote amazing sentences on a wanted poster for their invented pirate got recognition for that even if they had forgotten to capitalise ‘seasick jane, the terror of the west indies’. This year, even with all my best endeavours to make the lessons fun it feels like some of the joy has gone out of it.

As someone who also loves creating stories and images and making a reader feel for a character it all makes me rather sad. Of course I want my writing to be accurate (though I know my lovely editor will pick up on my mistakes and won’t even keep me in at playtime) and wading through an otherwise engrossing book full of typos can be a labour of love, but checking the accuracy is something that comes afterwards. Once my hero has admitted he was too proud and cold to admit his feelings and the heroine has fallen sobbing into his arms after an emotional fight then I’ll go back and check for stray capitals. If all my reviews on Amazon concentrated on the accuracy of my commas I’d probably give up*.

Today Nicky Morgan, the Minister for Education, has announced a war on illiteracy and innumeracy, which is great, because we like funding wars. I just hope she’s planning to fund this war as well as the one on Terror or against places that might affect our oil supply because schools could sure as hell do with the funding! If schools fail to get every child through the tests they risk being turned into academies (taking them out of LA control and giving them to private companies to run) and Headteachers risk being sacked. This is not going to encourage teachers to allow children the freedom to explore language and creativity, or Heads to let them.

Last year I used to get little stories or poems brought in from pupils after the weekend. Not all of them were brilliantly spelled or had the right capitals and full stops but they were fun and showed a genuine pleasure in producing ideas. This year they proudly show me their alphabets written in cursive writing. To me that speaks volumes and none of them have happy endings.

*I won’t- writing is the only plan I have to get out of teaching that doesn’t involve leaving in a box (thank you to you all if you’ve bought my book, if you haven’t please do, I can’t take much more waiting for OFSTED to descend).

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