What was this writer thinking?

I came across an interesting post that has been doing the rounds on facebook recently, regarding a ‘slow writing challenge’ that had been set to primary school students.

Since I quite enjoy writing myself, I was looking forward to seeing ideas to write from the point of view of a villain, for example; or of an observer – however, it appears that the challenge is to cram as much grammatical theory as possible into a short paragraph. It got me wondering what on earth would have happened if some of the classics had been subjected to a similar evaluation.

Here’s the homework:

"Sentence 1: This sentence must contain seven words

Sentence 2: This sentence must start with a simile

Sentence 3: This sentence must contain an adverb

Sentence 4: This sentence must start with an interesting opener

Sentence 5: This sentence must use personification

Sentence 6: This sentence must start with a fronted adverbial

Sentence 7: This sentence must use an expanded noun phrase

Sentence 8: This sentence must have a clause in it

Sentence 9: You must use a thesaurus to up-level two words in this sentence

Sentence 10: This sentence must contain a high-level connective"

‘Here’s an example of a 10-sentence paragraph from Charles. I won’t shame Charles publicly by giving his last name, but suffice it to say, as someone who wrote this well after his 7th birthday, he really ought to be producing better English prose than this.

charles dickens writing “Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was dead as a door-nail. Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what is particularly dead about a door-nail.I might have been inclined, myself, to think a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile: and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was dead as a door-nail.”

Now, let’s evaluate this piece against our Slow Writing requirements.

Sentence 1, as you’ll have noticed, is one word shy of the quota. There is no simile in sentence 2: a pity, as there’s quite a good one later on, but that doesn’t go by the rules, so we’ll mark it wrong anyway. Charles missed an excellent opportunity for an adverb in sentence 3, and frankly, since sentence 4 merely reinforces the previous sentence, we can hardly regard the introduction of the book’s main character as an ‘interesting opener’. Charles obviously doesn’t understand the difference between personification and a simile in sentence 5 –we recommend that he has a few catch up lessons during break times to address this. Sentence 6 – I can’t begin to describe everything that is wrong with this sentence. Not only are there no fronted adverbials, but a single word followed by an exclamation mark is not a complete sentence according to our KS2 guidelines. Charles must try harder. Once again, Charles misses a good opportunity in sentence 7 to use an expanded noun phrase – we’ll return to this when we revise the paragraph. Sentence 8 just about passes muster as a subject-verb clause – if an obtuse one, and we can award a recognition mark for ‘unhallowed’ in sentence 9 – well done, Charles! It would be preferable for Charles to have used one of the more common connectives but we’ll give him half a mark for ‘emphatically’: sadly, we don’t see any of the curriculum-approved connectives in sentence 10.

How should Charles have approached this piece of work? With a little adjustment, Charles could easily have met all of the requirements of the exercise using the knowledge he should have gained as part of the KS2 curriculum.

“Marley was definitely dead, to begin with. Like Christmas falling on the 25th of December, there was no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed clearly by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. With a scowl and his customary speedy signature, Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. The wind whispered all around that Marley was as dead as a door nail. Whatever you might think in your own case, I don’t know what is particularly dead about a door nail. An old, rusty door nail might be worn and weathered, but I don’t think it is the deadest thing you might imagine. Many people, who are interested in nails, might think of a coffin nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile: and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was dead as a door nail, moreover, Scrooge knew he was dead.”

Isn’t that better?

pag

Unfortunately, we’ve had a lot of low marks in this Slow Writing challenge. I hope you will all take this in the spirit of constructive criticism, but Jane – your extensive use of dialogue means that you’re not showcasing all the grammatical requirements you need to demonstrate. Try using description instead of introducing the conversation between Mr and Mrs Bennet in your opening paragraph. Mary – sorry, George – you have done well on your expanded noun phrases and your similes, but remember, don’t use too many of them: I’ve not seen a single fronted adverbial from you this term. And as for you, Geoffrey – not only does your spelling and grammar leave much to be desired, but that story was completely inappropriate for a school essay. Oh, and Mr Cummings -I shouldn’t have to remind you –  Remember Your Capital Letters!

Keep using all the grammar you’ve learned, and your writing will really improve!’

 

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A Letter to the Education Secretary

My child is not a genius. He’s fairly bright at best,

He doesn’t have attainment medals glowing from his chest,

He’s pretty well behaved – at least, I don’t hear that he’s naughty –

He’s not a music prodigy, or known for being sporty.

He’s reading not too badly, can decipher what’s on signs,

His writing’s not too scrawly if he keeps between the lines,

He doesn’t have additional needs as far as I can tell,

And up to yesterday, I thought that he was doing well.

 

But then I got the test results, and thanks to you, I’ve learned

That instead of being proud, I really ought to be concerned.

A five year old that reads and writes seemed pretty good to me –

(Even though he gets confused between the letters B and D)

But it seems he’s way behind, and the levels that he meets

Only indicate a future washing cars or sweeping streets.

His spelling should be perfect, and he should be writing prose

That echoes that of Dickens’ or Edgar Allen Poe’s

He should know abstract maths and science, engineering too,

And write in perfect cursive – which I know that I can’t do.

 

And since he can’t, say experts, then the problem lies with me:

I clearly feed him crap and let him watch too much TV

I believed it when the experts said I ought to give him space,

To let him do the things he likes and learn at his own pace,

I didn’t teach him how to read before he started school,

Because they said I’d do it wrong and he would look a fool,

I don’t know what the others did, but rest assured, I see

That my five year old’s a failure and the fault is down to me.

 

You told us in the news last night that kids need to be smart,

To concentrate on SPaG and STEM and not on books and art,

Our children should learn more and more, enjoy themselves far less,

And the best way to ensure this is by giving them more tests.

Well, Education Secretary, I guess I don’t agree

For knowledge for its own sake’s an important thing for me

I want my son to love to learn, be curious, be keen –

Not just be another product of the UK’s test machine.

 

So when my son looks scared at every piece of work he gets,

When he only reads and writes under the greatest of duress,

When his teachers are burned out and stressed with no time to inspire,

And you tell the schools they’ll close unless results keep getting higher,

When all the joy of learning’s gone and there’s no time for fun –

That’s the kind of education you’ve created for my son.