Task: As far as can be gathered at the time of writing these are examples at Year 7 of Child C and Child D. The writing has been set to test ‘levels’ so we are told no writing frames were provided, but ‘success criteria’ were discussed with the pupils. However, all writers worked with ‘relative independence’ and some support was given with teachers modelling expectations.
The following texts are based around the novel The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. They interpret events in the story in terms of 1. a diary of one of the characters, Cherry Valance; and 2. a newspaper report.
[jump down to the discussion]
Child C (Y7) – Cherry Valance Diary
Me and Marcia were so excited to go to the drive in. But we bumped into [this] these people they were absoulotley trash. Dolly [he] was talking like so loud and talking about nonsense. So, then I asked to be left alone with Marcia because she’s like my best friend but we don’t really have alot in common which means there’s completely no conversation which is sooo boring. Finally Dolly come’s over I was actually reveled when he walked over to me and Marcia. He asked me if I wanted a coke I was like sure. I did’t really wan’t one but it was actually really nice that he was offering me something for once. Then I went over to ponyboy because he looked really lonely. I ask him is age. When he told me I was so shocked hes 14. He seems like a really nice boy. Then after like 40 hour’s Dolly come’s back and then I throw it at his disgustin face. It was so funny I could’t stop laughing. So, then he started to flirt with me I was going to be sick no joke. He started to put his arms around me. Johnny come’s in and wacks Dolly’s arm of my shoulder. He was like my hero because I would’t want Dolly flirting on me. I say Thankyou because I was so relieved I don’t know what I would of done. This was a bit strange Marcia wanted to find out Johnny’s age Johnny is 16. I think johnny has a secret admiera. I really like the greaser’s there alright I especially like ponyboy and Johnny. Well, that was my day I was a mixed emotion day.
Child C (Y7) – Newspaper Report
A week ago an 18 year old soc was stabbed to death in a park, the victims name was Bob Barrel.
The police are investigating this murder scene. The two muderers were 16 year old Johnny Cade and 14 year old Ponyboy Curtis. These boys are the main criminals and also the suspects.
We have interviewed Cherry Valance (Bobs girlfriend). She has told us “Bob has been very tipsy and I have no idea why I miss him a lot”. Then Cherry Valance ran off and started crying.
The police are investigating, they have been saying they could smell English leather. They also said five soc’s which were men come out of the car.
We have investigated and discovered that that Bob Barrel started the argument with the greasers. But also, Bob and the others soc’s were drowning Jhonny Cade and Ponyboy Curtis. So we think that everyone has there own right in every single way.
We interviwed Dallas winstone. It took a long time for Dallas to speak up. We finally persuaded him to speak up but he went out of the room and cried for a while. In the end he told us “I wasent there I don’t know what’s happened leave me”.
This is the end of Daily News Report. We hope you enjoyed this article. But keep safe everyone.
Child D (Y7) – Cherry Valance Diary
Last Night, It was seven pm when me and my friend macia decided to go to the movies. At the movies we came across three unusuall people who we thought were Greasers. Me and Marcia was sat down when the Greasers came and sat down behind us. I felt shook up as they particularly came behind us when their was a lot of other chairs in the movie.
All of a sudden, One of the three boys put their grubby feet on the back of my chair, and it was irritating as I was their to watch a movie not to mess about. I thought to myself How rude you hood putting your feet on the back of my chair, but I chilled my Bean [An the film was going on I had to say something to him so I said] Dolly said, to one of the other boys “Boys she’s good looking. Me and Marcia heard him so I replied “Get your feet off my chair and shut your trap”.
Dolly, One of the Greasers started talking dirty witch in my mind was unplesent. It kept going on and was really annyoying because [Dolly] he delibratly came and sat behind us and was talking a load of filth. I said to Dolly anxiously “Shut your dirty trap for once”. So he did. Dolly out of the blue offered me and Maria some of his coke, as if we would take it. I threw back in his face because I was angrey. He came across and said “This might cool you down” and held the coke up. I replied “ I wouldn’t even drink it even if I was starving. [So that was that.] Suddenly Dolly put his arm around me. So that was that, until…. Johnny, Dolly’s good friend, could see Dolly was pushing me to my limits. I thanked Johnny by saying “Thanks he had scared me to death.
Child D (Y7) – Newspaper Report
The Sun News!! (set out in two columns with drawn photos like a newspaper)
East Side Murder!!
Enemys in the east!
An attack in an East side park
happened last night
Last night was particularly
dramatic in the East
side park. Bob Randle
a rich west side kid
18 year old was murdered!!
His body was discovered
This morning by a local
Neighbour. The local neigh-
Bour called the pilice
and the police discovered
it was stabbed wound.
A police hunt is underway
as the weapon was found
2 metres away from the scene.
After 24 hours of searching
it seems that the suspect has vanished.
That they saw a
blue mustang heading North
on the park at three-thirty
this morning toward
Two Greasers were seen
leaving the park
after the murder.
they looked suspicious.
Dolly Winston was arrested
for the murder of Bob Randle
this morning. While in
New York Dolly has already
got a bad background. This
background life was Robbery in 1982
and assaulting an O.A.P. in 1984.
Dolly is the prime suspect
At the moment!!!!
LF It’s meant to be a diary entry. That’s as far as I know about this. So, as a diary entry, if I were a classroom teacher, at best I might write a response, I wouldn’t comment explicitly on anything for lots of reasons, if there was an issue I wanted to address I might model it in my response, but I wouldn’t pick up on anything, because of the writer/reader relationship. My particular area of interest is reference, for example, there’s a really nice bit, this is what a girl would write. And I did have a diary at that age. When he told me I was so shocked he’s 14. He seems like a really nice boy. Then after like 40 hours Dolly comes back and then I throw it at his disgusting face. Well, there’s a really nice use of reference there. It’s absolutely crystal clear to her that it’s the coke but it took me a double take to know what it was. Now if this had been a piece for anyone else than herself as a diary entry I might have wanted to comment on the use of reference. Use of reference assumes a shared knowledge that isn’t going to be given at that point in the text. However, if it’s a diary entry in technical terms she’s writing it for herself. And in that sense it’s absolutely fine. So for me what was interesting about how you would comment on this one that stood out as compared to the others because of the fact that it’s a diary entry. It just opens up different opportunities to engage with the writing that aren’t about how to do a diary entry.
UC This isn’t a real diary-it’s not her writing for herself, this is something teachers get children to do to show their basic understanding of a text – The Outsiders –so they are being asked to write a diary entry as if they were somebody else. As Cherry Vallence. And the experience is an American experience. So, it’s a fictitious diary. Written for a public audience.
LF Well, the thing is that there are success criteria we don’t have, so that’s a different issue. That for me is a missed opportunity. It should have been a letter written for somebody else rather than a diary entry if what you really want to do is get at the emotive feeling. It ignores completely the relationship between the writer and the reader.
(Recap, at this point, for MB)
I was trying to suggest that the role between the writer and the reader has to be respected in the tasks. So, because it’s a diary entry, in one way it limits what you can say about the language. On the other hand, it opens up a different sort of avenue for how to respond. If the purpose is to access, the student has understood the emotions of the moment that could be handled through a response because some diary entries work that way that I’ve written an entry someone responds to it and says, oh I can see you were feeling this way and I liked how you used this expression. I wonder how I would feel. There’s a different opportunity for the engagement between the response and the diary entry. I wouldn’t want to touch the structure of the text. There is a problem with the reference in this text, the use of it, and even that I wouldn’t have any grounds on which to say, you need to clarify this reference for the reader because she is the reader and the reference will be resolved. In terms of ratifying the expression, however you want to talk about it, there is no issue with this text for this particular person because she is simultaneously writer and reader. If the teacher wanted to do something differently with the language then it would have been better to make it a letter, a letter home even, than a diary entry.
MB I think Ursula’s point is an important one, she’s not writing in her own persona. Yes, it’s a diary entry, but somebody else’s diary entry, not her own, and it did seem to me that she’s captured very well the role in which she was writing here, so there’s a kind of double layer here, we have to regard it as someone writing in a persona that is not their own.
MG It’s a really interesting piece actually. She gets the register right and she understands what a diary ought to look like, from perhaps her own experiences of diary writing – personal writing – writing where you haven’t got an audience with spellings and ambiguous references and then you’ve got the very obviously marked institutional work of the school work – lined paper and it’s got a heading and a date – there’s a tension for me between what’s going on here and it’s about audiences. In one way you could say this is a very clever piece of work
LF That’s partially what I meant. You’ve got to respect that this is a diary entry even if it’s institutionalised. It’s the me and Marcia is absolutely the right language for a diary entry
MG You see, I looked at it in comparison to the next bit and thought that this is so much better than the second piece where she doesn’t really get how to write a newspaper report. She falls back into very formulaic utterances with examples that have probably been given in class.
LF Of course I’ve been drawn to all the nominal groups. These boys are criminals but they are suspects. So, there’s a lot of negotiation as to how we include these things that we’ve got to talk about. So that was quite a fun piece, actually, in terms of managing. This is the kind of thing students typically do even at university level just simply because the saliency of the people being referred to is so obvious to them they can’t displace themselves into the writing context for an imagined reader and that’s kind of things are not quite so good.
SJ I saw that all the way through these pieces. It’s one of the things that I noted down that they’d failed to think about what the reader does, or does not know. I think through every single one there’s a point where they’ve failed to look at. I mean that first story. They make assumptions about what the reader knows and they’ve got it all in their head and they’re like getting it out and getting it out but they forget that you didn’t really know that. So, I did see that all the way through.
LF Yes. That’s a real classic problem. I think, with me included that when you’re writing a piece to slip out and not realise where is the boundary between the shared knowledge and the non-shared knowledge.
SJ I did wonder with this one though, with the diary entry, which I was quite impressed by, if they’d been asked to do the newspaper reports with it or straight after because I wondered about the impact of creating such an informal piece, and then turning immediately to a newspaper. And that’s why she’s gone with mysterious murder after she’d done this diary.
UC And is the newspaper report also a response to The Outsiders?
JM To me, that raises a very interesting point about what is the relationship between studying the text and creating the writing tasks. I suspect that a lot of it is to do with checking that they’re understanding what’s going on in the story. In which case, there’s not that attention to the genre that they’re producing; and the text specific references that haven’t been explained are not problematic for a teacher from that point of view. They strike me very much as the kind of texts where it’s …The relationship between studying the text is, oh here is a vehicle, oh we could do a diary entry off this. That sort of lack of clarity between reading and talking about a text and having writing tasks which are springboarded off that. Why are they doing this? What’s the point?
MG These are some of the old favourites of the classroom, the diary entry and the newspaper report and what you’ve got in terms of a schema for this particular genre is relatively weak. She hasn’t read lots of newspaper reports. If she had done, she wouldn’t be writing like this. How much of that was addressed in the teaching? And to what extent was the genre looked at? Or was it just, Oh you’ve read a book, you can write a newspaper report
LF That seems to me to be an important point in terms of the work I’ve done with teachers. Feedback at the end of the day was that what they really wanted was sample lessons. What they really wanted was to turn all these ideas into something off the shelf. Need to think what their own goals are in terms of developing the literacy levels of their students and being able to make a choice about what the best way to achieve that is. An issue might be that there isn’t any real clarity about why they are doing this. If it’s really to explore the ideas in the novel then it doesn’t matter what kind of writing you ask. Let’s do this, we haven’t done this before. As opposed to this is an opportunity to explore literacy skills in a variety of text types which is one of the objectives.
MB I’ve looked at children’s writing similarly where teachers seem to be more interested in encouraging children’s abilities to read than they were in developing children’s abilities to write. Again, very much the comments you’ve been making here. A lot of English teachers see themselves as English literature teachers rather than English language teachers.
UC And there’s a lot of resistance, isn’t there. I’m thinking of some research that has been done, especially this notion of extending the notion of literacy into the secondary curriculum. And this isn’t what I do – literacy. But certainly what I’m struck by and the work I’m doing with secondary schools and other subject teachers is that actually the English teacher is in some ways the worst person to be charged with looking at literacy, particularly in secondary schools. It’s true. They are.
MG It’s interesting that you say that you may remember when the National Strategy came into secondary schools there was a Literacy across the Curriculum set of folders. It was often the case that the people running these things were saying, Don’t give it to the Head of English, give it to the head of Language, give it to the Science teacher or someone else.
UC Because each discipline has its own specific set of discourses, that’s really what I’m discovering. And if that’s right it was the evaluations of the National Literacy Strategy that said that teachers don’t see themselves in that way because, if you think about it, most of us if you are an English teacher you probably won’t have studied Science certainly beyond GCSE yourself, if at all. So, you might be familiar with some of the discourses of the Humanities subjects but certainly not Maths, Science and all the rest of it, whereas the Science teachers, of course, are experts in Science. Every secondary school teacher is an expert in the discourse of their subject and they know that implicitly. They’ve gone through the subject, they’ve gone through the system. They’ve got their degrees, they are successful at creating and constructing Science, creating and constructing History. The English teacher, it’s very, very different isn’t it, we’re very specific in what we teach. And it’s not just about English but about literacy. It’s across the whole curriculum. I feel a sort of tension in reading these pieces because I see myself as the teacher who would have got the kids to write in this way and now as a discourse analyst now how can you ask them to write a newspaper article if they don’t understand the register of the text. So, if the purpose is to get at the knowledge of the text they have read, are we saying that the vehicle through which they do that be it a diary entry, a newspaper report is irrelevant or not. If it’s relevant then that adds a different dimension.
MG It’s part of the problem. I don’t know whether it’s the case with this writing that the compartmentalisation of assessment focuses that were around a few years ago.
UC It’s completely assessment driven.
MG My question would be what was the context in which this was written. Were students given assessment criteria? That’s the value with writing, that you give the message that some things matter and some things don’t. Today, this matters, and tomorrow that matters. Really confusing.
JM There’s often, I think, an arbitrary relationship between a that-has inspired-the-task sort of text and what the assessment focus is. So, a task like this might cohere very well with the assessment focus today but it might not have a coherence with the text. What is the relationship between the bit that we’re reading and why we’re doing this particular genre of writing. Because I think your point’s absolutely right there’s a sort of crowding, isn’t there, of like, well we’re reading a text so we’re reading so we need to get a load of writing in as well and it almost doesn’t matter what it is. I mean. I would never read a novel and write a newspaper report.
MG That’s a really crucial point.
JM Something like a diary entry, I can see the value of it.
LF Blogging. It should be blogging
JW Teacher’s comments: 4b You have used some key events. Use paragraphs and vary sentence lengths to separate ideas.
MG Well, a diary entry, something like how a character is thinking and what is going on in their mind, I can see a fluidity there and the value of how that contributes to reading the text but writing a newspaper report, it’s not something you would ever do.
LF They should be blogging and responding to each other’s blogs.
Instructions that are completely against the genre.
MG So, on the one hand, you’ve got an invitation to write something where the student is able to show some creativity and so forth and feels comfortable with that is marked down, and on the other hand you have something that the student cannot access. It’s a weird pairing of tasks, isn’t it.
JM It’s that sort of you need to vary modes, you need to not have a task that lasts more than 20 mins because the kids won’t be able to pay attention to it, that’s what you’ll see all through my research, that’s what you’ll see all the time. You can’t read for too long. For God’s sake, don’t read for too long because they won’t be able to pay attention and we’re not meeting enough learning objectives so we need to have writing and reading in the same thing. If you need to have a writing task, why not this one. I think it recalibrates how teachers are thinking. The emphasis is on getting some writing in, not there being an actual coherent link. I don’t know what point they were at in the text when they wrote this, when they actually did this piece. I would be very surprised as to whether this had actually been thought about as to whether this was actually a good point to have a diary entry.
MG Why would you have it in the first place? The diary entry used to be on KS3 Sats questions. Write a diary entry for Juliet. I mean they were externally assessed questions.
JM Well, it comes down to what you’re assessing, doesn’t it, and if you’re assessing basic literacy skills, you’re not assessing their knowledge of writing in a genre. That cognitive conception of what a diary is why you might write one. Doing this wouldn’t inspire me to go and be a journalist.
JW And yet the same teacher’s comments on the newspaper report. You have followed newspaper conventions and have included direct speech. Try to include reported speech. So, the focus there is on the newspaper article. Not on the events of the story which you would expect it to be.
LF So, in the first one, they should have asked them to write a synopsis or something like that. Because even in a letter you’d be hard pressed to get subject paragraphs in there.
UC Something I’ve noticed is that teachers address issues of language as part of their marking of a completed piece of work rather than paying attention to those features as a preparation for the writing. So, I was just going to show you a photograph of the school I am working in. I went in wanting to work with KS3 but because teachers are so assessment driven and also…. The school has a huge focus on literacy but it’s all in the context of assessment. It’s after the writing has been done rather than as part of preparation for the writing. So, you’ve got a piece of writing. The genre is irrelevant. And then stuck all over this writing are language points. Correct tense. Embedded clause. And then if you move it further along they’ve got this weird thing called a literacy ladder (www.literacyladder.net). The literacy ladder is completely decontextualized.
LF Also, they are missing out on the skills they’ve got in other genres.
MB I mean the comments you made about direct and indirect speech, that sounded to me not like attention to the genre as remembering this kind of tick list. So, you’ve got three considerations here: you’ve got, have the children understood what they’ve read? (point 1) Are they writing in the genre they’re supposed to be writing in? (point 2); and have they got the right sort of linguistic forms (point 3)
SJ I do think there’s a mismatch anyway between the tick list they’ve got and the activity they’ve set. For me this would be an activity to look at character as opposed to events. And there’s another piece of writing where they’re asked to do which I thought was really bizarre, they were asked to create in the style of a will, again to look at character.
MB So far we’ve been discussing Child C, and child D has done two comparable exercises. Wouldn’t it make sense to look at child D’s diary and newspaper report?
MG Can I just say something about this very quickly. It seems a lot and I think your point Ursula is a good one that you never get this lot fronted so it’s never done at the beginning, it’s at the end as though you haven’t done these things. It’s really problematic. I mean the other issue of course is, I wonder how many teachers would actually feel comfortable teaching this in the first place and that’s the reason why it doesn’t get done as much as it could be. Most English teachers still come from a literature background and were not explicitly taught any language work at school. You know, they’ve probably gone through their whole career maybe getting out of it in some way but it is threatening. It is difficult. Actually those who do tackle it on, whether they’re forced to take it on and it’s often A level English Language, that’s the starting point.
UC I am struck by the way in which language is being positioned in relation to subject knowledge. Subject knowledge is constructed through language so what are the linguistic features of your specific subject that construct the knowledge in your subject. And for me it seems to me that English teachers have a very….So for me what seems to work if in preparing for a piece of writing you go through in class what that piece of writing involves. That seems to me the step that’s been missing. And if you actually stop and take time. Basically it’s about deconstructing the texts. Teachers’ annual increments are dependent on their exam results.
MG The important things are the accountability in which these events are taking place. One last thing on that. The other thing that I think has hijacked the whole procedure is the ubiquitous and absolutely tyrannous PEE paragraph ( point/evidence/explain). I think it first appeared in the National Strategy a few years ago but what you see now is often read some text, straight away, write a PEE paragraph. https://www.otc.edu/GEN/resources_priv/Faculty_and…/PEE_Structure.pdf
The analytical response now is always coming before any kind of personal engagement or negotiation or interaction with others about meaning. So, it’s going against any decent work about what teaching literature actually means. And I think that’s hijacked writing as well.
MB Wouldn’t it make sense to look now at Child D.
We’ve looked at Child C. It seems to me to make sense to go on to Child D Same texts.
JW It’s Cherry Valance’s diary and the newspaper report.
MB Child D is doing the same exercise as Child C and they’re both in Year 7. I’d be interested to hear what the teacher’s comments are. Well, just evaluative comments, it seems to me that Child 4 has done less well at the diary but better at the newspaper report than Child C. But that again is a matter of genre, of judging how well they’ve got into the genre.
LF The language is good but there are bits of language that, … this is speech. But they’ve very obviously tried to vary their sentences, so they attended to the success criteria in that sense that you’ve got last night and all of a sudden. Interestingly though those letters still have capitals, I wonder whether they were added in as an afterthought.
JW The comments. The Cherry Vallance one, well done, effective use of the text, good effort to include lots of feelings
MB I would have thought Child C conveyed more feeling than child D
MG Can’t remember but this one seems to me, the direct speech and so on, indicative of someone who’s using bits from the text. The first diary entry was like a proper diary entry, wasn’t it. This one is showing how much you can remember about what’s happening in the text.
JM But lots of feelings suggests that that might be attention to the diary entry.
JW There’s kind of mixed messages coming through the responses and then the final comment, Always use capital letters correctly. The response to the newspaper report. That was how it was set out (Shows layout)
MG There’s also an effort to create an image in the centre.
LF So he was multi-modalling
JW And the comments here, Well done. Good effort to sound like a reporter. Try to be more focussed on making events clear in the initial paragraph. You have all the information just make sure you put it across clearly and concisely. So, it’s maybe have you included all the events that are relevant.
UC I don’t understand that. How could you do that?
MG It’s odd feedback back anyway, isn’t it. Because if you knew how to do that, you wouldn’t have done it.
JM It does seem like a more appropriate task if you’re trying to test their knowledge of events. A newspaper report would be more appropriate. Cause, in a diary, if you’re writing for yourself, you know what happened, so you wouldn’t comprehensively write it all down. So, to try and elicit whether they’ve got that knowledge or not, that does sort of fit.
MG I quite like the shifting between active and passive forms in here. You know, to delay the agency, and to delay blaming his body was discovered and then more active forms, later on, he seems to understand the nature of the genre quite well. And now I’ve seen the picture it’s quite a good understanding, actually.
JW The first one is just a continuous piece. Whereas the second one was an attempt to create an actual newspaper.
MG So the first one has just done a copy, whereas the second one has created a newspaper text.
JW So presumably the choice was left to the pupil. Do you want to move on to the will? Child C but in primary. The text is Carrie’s War. No comments at all.