Dear Mr Rosen,
I notice you’re fond of writing open letters, so I thought you wouldn’t mind being on the receiving end of one.
Forgive me for thinking aloud, but I wonder if you are running out of things to talk about. It seems like only last month you were having a pop at “wow” words… and now here we go again. Indeed, it appears that wow words are in your Top Five Favourite Things to Write / Rant About along with the other usual suspects. I would like to say that your continual criticism of Michael Gove, phonics and the fate of the apostrophe is not big and not clever. However, it is big – your letters are published monthly in the Guardian and are endlessly re-tweeted online – and they are clever and funny too.
What they are not though, is helpful. Your views on Big Writing (and phonics for that matter) are at best misinformed, and at worst ignorant.
You quote the nursery rhyme “It’s raining, it’s pouring…” and exclaim that it is a “brilliant” piece of writing (I agree!) and that it achieves brilliance “without connectives !” (your space, not mine) Well, to quote one of my favourite fictional characters – The Grinch – “WRONG-O!”
It’s raining; it’s pouring,
The old man is snoring,
He went to bed and he bumped his head,
And he couldn’t get up in the morning.
There are two, count ‘em, two connectives in this piece… and they are both “and”. Yes, it may be the easiest connective to learn, but here it is used repetitively, for effect, adding to the rhyme and rhythm overall… these are all things that children learn through Big Writing where they regularly play “Spot the Difference” with lots of different text types and discuss, compare and contrast the writing and the effectiveness of it. In fact, it sounds frightfully similar to your suggested experiment in “teaching good writing”…
In my own class we’d probably also be asking ourselves questions like: What do you think happened to the old man? Why did he bump his head? Did he have an accident? Will he be ok? What happened the next day? Will the weather be different – will it make a difference? And then we would share our fantastic theories; we might even write some of them down…
I do see where you are coming from though. Let’s take the master children’s storyteller, Roald Dahl. He uses remarkably few connectives in his writing. Does this mean Roald Dahl is rubbish? No, of course not! In my class the children ably defended Dahl, reflecting on and discussing the apparent absence of connectives. They explained that instead of connectives Dahl sometimes used a comma. They pointed out that “Well, he has lots of short sentences – so he doesn’t need them.” Ok, great – now you’re on to something! Why does Roald Dahl use these short sentences? What effect do they have on the reader? “They build suspense”, “They create tension” and “They make you want to read more!” were some of the answers on that particular occasion. You see, that is the philosophy behind Big Writing – to help children to understand the power of language and to empower them to harness it in their own writing.
You freely admit that you “wonder what it’s all about” when you refer to wow words etc. So, in addition to my open letter, here is an invitation, to attend a Big Writing Day of your choice, as a guest of Andrell Education and Ros Wilson, enabling you to find out first hand.
I would love to see you there because firstly I believe we actually want the same thing – for children to love language and to become passionate, life-long readers and writers. Secondly, I could chew your ear about the demise of the apostrophe and get your autograph…
A Curious Teacher
Originally posted on Pandora’s Pencil Case 03/04/2012