Creative Writing and VCOP
I love commenting on class blogs and I’m so privileged that so many children take part in the weekly 100 word Challenge. It has got me reflecting though and I thought it was a good time to share these thoughts. Let me say from the outset, none of what follows is intended as critism of the brilliant teachers we have up and down the country and the sterling work they are doing!
The advent of the National Literacy Strategy brought about a huge change in the way English is taught in our classrooms. Initially this was at primary level but over the years the influence of NLS moved across the age range.
I suspect that English was one of the subjects that most teachers felt they could teach, certainly at KS1/2/3. If you were a fluent speaker of the language then unlike maths or science you would probably feel able to teach others. However, the literacy strategy showed that the teaching of English was far more than passing on learnt knowledge and encouraging children to write imaginatively. It was very much more complicated than learning collective nouns to put into your writing or making your sentences longer.
Ros Wilson has done an amazing amount of work to promote the improvement in children’s writing and her ‘Big Write’ happens in many primary classrooms each week. From the entries in 100 Word Challenge, there are some fantastic writers out there. The children write with imagination, humour and a sense of audience.
However, what I have noticed in commenting both on the 100WC and on class blogs with schools across the country is an almost clone like approach to writing. The same phrases come out and often the same mis-use of words. I’m wondering if there is a list of connectives for instance that teachers feel they have to work through! As an example, when was the last time you used ‘furthermore’ in your daily life either written or spoken? Yet it is a word frequently used in writing and more often than not in the wrong context.
This is taking nothing away from the great work that teachers across the country do to get children literate. The introduction of VCOP (vocabulary, connectives, openers and punctuation) has provided a framework for children to scaffold their writing. Certainly for those reluctant writers it has been a great way to get them going on writing beyond answering basic comprehension questions with just a sentence.
However, what happens when they have mastered the format? How do we move children away from the formula to writing in a flowing way that does not worry about how many connectives they have used and whether their words really do WOW? I can imagine the SATs marking grid to have all the features of VCOP with the relevant marks attached. It is very difficult to mark writing. As a reader you know when it is good because it stirs something inside.
Do we now need to support our teachers, not necessarily away from VCOP, but towards a greater depth of understanding what creative writing is? After all, do you count the number of connectives used by Shakespeare or register the openers in a Dickens novel?