On writing and rote-ing

As we expected. The ground is being prepared by the Department for Education, readying us for the horrors of the updated National Curriculum. By placing a few judicious titbits in the sunday papers the men at the ministry can soften up the opposition by drawing fire for a while.

Micheal Gove wavingSo it’s to be learn poetry by rote and recite it. From Year 1 onwards. In fact, quite a lot of teachers will have no problem with this. Poetry is something of a neglected art form in the Primary curriculum, and the ability to memorise engaging works is not a bad thing in itself. We often marvel at people who can quote chunks of poetry – or indeed prose and plays – so it seems to be a skill that’s worth having, in that it trains the mind and uses something useful to do it with. (Is poetry useful? Discuss.)

More controversial is what’s casually dropped in after this headline grabbing bit of fluff. Apparently, there is to be a greater emphasis on spelling and grammar. No problem. The nation’s children will spell beautifully and produce sentences that are the very models of correct syntax and concord. The only trouble is, the content of these sentences is highly likely to be unoriginal, unengaging, and unrepresentative of what children can do when they’re immersed in the writing process. Why? Because the drilling and skilling for the inevitable grammar and spelling test will mean that there’s no time for the teaching and learning that makes writing worth doing: the enjoyment of making something new, of delighting or surprising a reader, of coming up with a novel combination of words that just works.

By the time enough space has been made for memorising and reciting, honing grammatical knowledge and endless spelling tests, there simply won’t be time for the immersion in creativity that characterises the best teaching of writing.


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