Every so often I decide that I ought to be a Responsible Parent, and I take against technology. I hide the iPad in my desk (you can rarely find anything in there, once it has been sucked in – this is partly because the drawer handles have fallen off and been put in some unknown safe place that is not entirely obvious, even to me, the putter of things in safe places), and refuse to tell anyone where I have put it. This makes the children cross, but after they have shouted at me (and each other) for about half an hour, they go and find themselves something else to do. Usually this involves books, or lego, or a bit of colouring or a jigsaw. Sometimes, this means writing.
When I was a little girl I loved to write; my dad got into the habit of squirreling away little bits and pieces that amused him. In the days before photocopiers, accounts I had written in school were copied out, phonetic spellings and all, and every so often, when I find something they have written, I do the same. The odd book they bring home, at the end of the year, makes its way into the bottom drawer, and I smile to myself at their turn of phrase, or the little things they chose to write for news.
It’s difficult, though, to put the teacher-me to one side when I read their writing. I become easily annoyed at the absence of full stops, concerned that the sentence appears to have been left behind in the desire for wow words. I’ve read an awful lot of children’s writing, you see. I’ve sat in countless meetings, discussing the merits of spelling and handwriting, whether, on balance, a collection of work denotes a specified standard – or not. I have become boggled by reading the same subject rewritten by countess childish hands.
It’s a funny business, this assessing of children’s writing. Very quickly, in order to make your judgement, you find yourself sliding down into a grammatical morass. Noun phrases, extended or otherwise, ambitious vocabulary; the hunt for shifts in formality (google it) clutches at you as you pass by, pulling you into a swamp of disconnected detail. It’s very easy to lose track of what it was they were trying to say, when they put pen (or pencil) to paper. It’s oh, so easy to forget that they are, in fact, children, adopting as they do, as if they were clacking round the garden in their mother’s high heeled shoes, the voice of an adult addicted to purple prose. Sometimes, I wonder if the purpose of teaching children to write hasn’t become in order that they may fulfil our official (if temporary – hopefully) checklist.
Until, that is, I see my children writing at home. Here, there is no purpose other than their own pleasure (or rage, if you are my daughter and you have filled a notebook with all your plots for revenge upon your older brother/s* *delete as appropriate), no teacher with a red (or purple, or green or pink or any other colour you care to mention) is going to come along and tell them what it was they did wrong, to force them to fit their ideas into the convention.
Sam used to write only lists (and occasional notes on the calendar when he had decided that it really oughtn’t be a school day and instead he was declaring an INSET day). Now it seems he, as I have done, ever since my teenage years, can be found using writing to tell whoever cares to read about his day. His words, his voice, are there on the page and I, his proud mama, will put them in the safest of safe places and think upon what it was he was really trying to say.
There are two consultations at the Department of Education that will close on the 22nd June. They are about school assessment; one on primary assessment and the other on the recommendations of the Rochford Review. Please take the time to read them and let them know your thoughts. You can find the link here.