Friday, 24 February 2012

Friday diversion

Not a book review today; a mini moan- only a mini one mind. I've just returned from doing an 'Impact' session with Bill at his school. 
These are termly events where parents come in for an hour to work one on one with their child in a workshop focusing on either literacy or numeracy skills. They're actually pretty fun and a nice opportunity to catch up with classroom dynamics and the skills of Bill's teachers.

Last term's session was on numeracy and was really about teaching us parents that they Don't Do it like we used to Any More. We were shown how to use a number square in some depth- no 'carrying over' apparently. I came away both informed and impressed and much better equipped to help Bill out. Good.

Today's was focused on developing writing skills. I have to say I found this a tad depressing.

It wasn't any fault of the session itself, which was fun and lively and well led; it was more confronting full on the reality of a SATS/National Curriculum approach to Creativity in all it's full glory in our otherwise funky and imaginative school.

We were introduced to 'The Story Mountain' and the children shared their knowledge with enthusiasm. Apparently all stories must have an Opening- where character and setting are established, followed by Build Up where events give clues as to what will happen, leading to Problem (the summit)- something goes wrong, then Resolution; the problem gets sorted and finally, Ending- the characters look back at the story and what they have learned.

But all stories don't work like that! In fact many of the best entirely subvert it don't they? Yesterday's read for starters. This point seemed underlined to me when the next thing we did was read 'Winnie the Witch' which proved quite hard to categorise neatly as it contains a number of Problems and false Resolutions. As Bill commented trying to plot the story arc, "It's more of a wobbly topped jelly or a castle than a mountain I think".

We were also given a set of vocabulary expanding 'WOW' words and 'approved' different ways of starting sentences to incorporate in our stories.

I realise I'm being slightly unfair (it is only a mini moan) as you have to understand the conventions fully first before you attempt the subversion. See Picasso. It was just a bit of a jolt. When we were doing the numeracy session I was entirely happy to be given the 'rules' and told how to help my child apply them- so why should it stick in my craw to apply the same to the literacy? Probably because I've been reading Michael Rosen's blog and what he talks about much more eloquently than me here and I sort of trust him more than Michael Gove.

In the end Bill and I had a lovely time with our story props of Ninja, bat and forest creating a story of blood sucking baddies and a Deep Dark Forest where an ancient line of raised-by-the-animals ninja babies must defend its secret treasure tree. I'll just have to make sure that when he writes it up properly it obeys all the conventions and makes a nice mountain or I'll be a Bad Parent. Yawn.


  1. Hi Polly,

    You are exactly correct with what you have witnessed. It's called recipe writing lessons. I find them totally non creative. Teach to the test until the kids no longer want to write because it's so overly controlled and organized for the writer.

    Reading is also following down this path. Writing is pulled apart not all sorts of pieces and the overall meaning lost.

    I hope some balance comes back when they realisebhw much the testing is costing and they decide to cut the testing budget.

    Thanks for your honest post.

    You have been busy,

    Cheers from Jenny

  2. Thanks Jenny. How depressing. I'm already having conversations with parents whose children are in year 6 and who are also looking at Secondary schools where apparently 'whole books' are no longer taught- they just analyse passages for comprehension. AAARGH! what's to do?

  3. So much testing seems to be in the name of accountability - and that means politics. While I agree that some kids really do need scaffolding in reading and writing, concentrating only on the bones just leaves out all the juice and joy.

    1. exactly. I have no objection to the teaching of scaffolding as long as it doesn't become the sole (or even just the most important) criteria for assessment.