Character writing – Year 6
Task: This writing was produced in response to a class novel after reading Carrie’s War. It was created to show an understanding of character through the medium of a will.
(Deletions by the children are indicated in brackets – [ ] )
Child C (Year 6 Primary)
This document is about myself Dily’s Gotobed’s will. I wish to send my treasured items to my closest members. This will was last witnessed on the 18th March 1940.
Firstly, let us begin with the twenty nine ballgowns for each year of my marriage. I have excpeirenced a wonderful time with Miss Carrie Willow. I have been [reveling] reliving all my memories and sharing them with [Caroline Willow] her. I highly recommend to put forward my ballgown dresses to Miss Caroline Willow.
Moving on to Louisa Evans. I will let Louisa take forword my money. This is because I think that [Mr Evans] Sammuel Evans is quite controlling over Louisa. So I would like Louisa to get her own family and house. She will be able to set free and have her own life.
Althoh she has the money, I would like to let Louisa have my jewell’s. This is because so she can remember me by them.
JB I mean I have read Carrie’s War years ago and I believe there is something to do with her will and I presume that’s where this idea has come from. It’s just bizarre to give an 11 year old this activity to do. And especially to show an understanding of character
LF I really liked her, Let us begin with the 21 ballgowns. Wills start with a person, you’re giving things to them, the list of things you’re giving them but there must have been something about these ballgowns.
UC But how can you demonstrate character through the medium of a will?
LF This person does try because the reason why Carrie Willow gets the gowns, … it’s wonderful memories and Louisa I need to take care of her
UC But what’s that to do with character? But she comes across reading this as a caring person who values her friendships. Minimalistic, I appreciate it’s not the best way but it seems to me that at least this is what that person is trying to do. Because even in the end she’ll have all my money and my jewels so that she remembers me by them. You get a feeling for the person who Carrie is, even though it is a very unusual way to do that.
MG There’s a lot of thinking about other people’s minds here, isn’t there. She will do this and she will remember me then. I suppose that’s the character part, isn’t it? Whether you’d go that far in a will I don’t know but you might give some rationale.
LF It seems to be what she’s tried to do in any case is to try to get something about the character out there in the will by listing her belongings which is, as you say, a bit bizarre.
UC What is the purpose of getting children to write in the genres in which they are demonstrating their knowledge. Isn’t that fundamental?
LF Yet there’s no evidence here that that’s what they’re doing. There’s no evidence here that they’re actually using this as an opportunity to develop some skills to have in their toolbox.
(N.B. The author, Stephen King, in his book, On Writing (2012) (London: Hodder and Stoughton), talks about his craft in terms of a ‘toolbox’ with vocabulary and grammar as ‘the common tools on top’ (p. 125)
That we’ll use this now to develop literacy writing skills. This is using writing to develop their reading skills.
MG It’s almost as if you know they’d be quite interested in doing this, rather than it’s going to be a useful thing for them to do, where you can think about writing and crafting and shaping and so on.
UC It’s not even using writing to develop reading skills. It’s using writing to check understanding of the text.
JM Well, it strikes me it’s like one of those things where you can’t read for the whole hour, so you can read for a maximum of 20 minutes, so we need to have a writing task, so what’s gone on in that section that we’ve read today, oh it’s something to do with a will, oh let’s have a will, and that’s what you see in all of the lessons every single time. There’s no consideration of what the value of writing a will is. And there’s no consideration of what the will has to do with the wider text. Is the will relevant, is it a plot point? It’s actually very often just a kind of matching up of, this is what has happened in the bit of the text we’ve read today, so how can I use that as a vehicle to do a writing task?
MG The other thing with all these things actually is the text types and genres are very broad, aren’t they? So there’s no fine tuning of audience or purpose. You know, writing a report for The Sun is very different to writing a report for The Times. And you see this with A level kids as well, they don’t get those subtle nuances. Even this Macbeth thing, an investigative report
UC Is it a police report? An insurance report?
MG And who’s going to be reading it? And why would they be reading it?
LF There’s no purpose. There’s no clear purpose of writing. This came out in Lindsay Thomas’ project in Buckinghamshire.
One of the teachers asked the students, why do they write? And there are some very interesting responses. One of them was, ‘so that you can mark it’. If the only reason they’re doing writing is because they’re told to and so that it’s assessed, they will never, never develop literacy skills. There’s no purpose, no attention to readership, all those things. The other point I would make about literature students is that they have an intuitive sense of how language works, they just get it. So, they get the readings without much effort compared to some of the rest of us, they can write about it without as much effort as compared to some of the rest of us, those who do struggle with language don’t pursue it, so these are the students who are managing English language in schools, primary and secondary. One of the teachers I work with in Buckinghamshire said, ‘You know this is hard for me, this grammar stuff, and I don’t see why I need to do it.’ And that’s effectively the lack of explicit discussion of what’s going on with language. I think it’s that, … part of it anyway, is so intuitive. These are the people who, just somehow, make sense of it. My son’s a brilliant mathematician, he just gets these really complicated mathematical concepts, they just seem to come to him. The rest of us have to work hard at it. It just somehow is that some people, they get it, the whole analysis of it stays at a very subconscious level. Some are very good at it but that’s not necessarily going to translate into skills at supporting those for whom it’s not. So that good students who have that intuitive ability with language will adapt to the tasks and do well. But if you just make the framework explicit, that benefits everybody. That’s the message of Reading to Learn (www.readingtolearn.com.au). And some of the others.
UC The problem for me is that the materials are too decontextualized. That you have this programme which will give you everything you want to know about functional grammar, I suppose, or the case of how language works, but then how do you translate that into classroom practice? And some teachers might be interested enough and fascinated enough to go with the whole thing, but for your everyday classroom teacher they haven’t got the time but if you focus and target it. The project I am doing at the moment I have kept the SFL to a minimum and looked at it more in terms of textual organisation and actually making explicit the language structure through which the students demonstrate their knowledge and the reason why the science teacher went with it was because I actually gave them an example actually taken from a PE mark answer about definition, explanation, and something else. And there was an exclusive framework of how to structure this answer. Now in Biology GCSE they have six mark answers, and what that means is that the question is actually two questions, but all the questions have two parts implicit in them, so three marks for part one, three marks for part two. So it’s bringing in aspects of language in relation to the structure of what they’re writing. And what they’re writing for assessment, because that was my other way in, no teacher’s going to want to listen to anything I have to say unless it’s tied to assessment. And so far it’s proving really, really successful. But here, they’re being asked to write about what they’ve read. But also through this range of almost completely random text types.
SM It’s that link isn’t it, it’s when it’s linked to a literary text because I think you can see a massive difference between the pieces they’ve done, the non-chronological report, a lot of those are really good and they’ve got a really clear structure, the framework they’ve been given, clearly works for them and they can adapt it and do it quite well, but as soon as you come to literary texts you can tell there’s been no space for interpretation of that text at all. They haven’t been given the time to actually sit and have a think about character, it’s as Jeff’s just said, read it and do this quickly. You need that time to think about, to talk to people about what you’ve done and what you think about it.
JW Can you just follow up on the Macbeth one, as an example. The murder of King Duncan and the same two children. At junior level. The murder of King Duncan and Dear my dear wife.