It all started with an email that went something like this:
“hey krn do we need 2 bring any stuff wiv us tomoz for cls”.
Allow me to clarify. I was hosting a workshop for a class of journalism students and this was an email from a student who wanted to know what to bring to the lecture.
The entire email made me want to weep.
Here was, I assumed, a well-educated fresher eager to make his or her way in the esteemed world of journalism, where phraseology is king and the power of the press can change the world. But this would-be hack couldn’t even recognise the importance of knowing when to use formal and informal English.
In a world where mobile messaging is invariably the preferred choice of communication for many, the abbreviated form of of text-specific jargon – a kind of linguistic shorthand if you will – is, in my opinion, undermining grammar skills. And surely the younger the ‘texter’ and the more frequently they use word shortcuts, their use of proper English will most certainly decline.
Don’t get me wrong, technology is a wonderful thing and I embraced texting with a fervour but it is not and never should be an alternative for correct and formal English.
And this is why I found myself developing a set of workshops for primary schools in a bid to encourage children to write well, to enjoy writing well and to be confident in their writing skills.
For children of all ages, the ability to write well brings the power and opportunity to share and influence thoughts, ideas and opinions with others in day-to-day situations. These children need to know how to write for the ‘real’ world out there, not just for their teachers. To do this they need a good grasp of vocabulary, spelling and the fundamental rules of English. They must be able to recognise the difference between formal and non-standard English to write with fluency and speed.
But to build these skills I knew I would have to capture the imagination and ‘fire’ up the minds of my classes.
The Write Way workshops are tailored to suit schools’ particular requirements, with the core foundations of demonstrating and teaching succinct, concise writing remaining solid throughout. The sessions were initially aimed at Years 5 and 6 but demand over the past year has seen classes as young as Y3 benefiting from the workshops.
The first session sees the children discuss and select a story they want to write, something that immediately gives control of the topic to the child and develops an ownership of their writing. The end product is an individual and professionally designed ‘front page’ written by each child, complete with school masthead, written to a given word count.
Once a topic has been decided the children then decide how they will construct the story through research, interviews etc. I make no apologies for exploiting my long list of contacts for this bit and it’s a section of the workshops the kids absolutely love, especially because they are all provided with a reporter’s note pad and pen and a ‘press’ badge with their name on it. Teachers have revealed the children are reluctant to remove these badges and strut purposefully around school ‘hunting’ for stories.
Pupils are encouraged to proof-read and edit their work before completing their stories on laptops or computers. Then it’s my job to create 30 colour ‘front pages’ complete with byline and masthead and deliver them to the school within a week.
The workshops are delivered over five mornings and the children become completely engrossed in the whole process, even the most reluctant writers. One headteacher reported that, following a week of my workshops, one shy, withdrawn, 10-year-old spent his Saturday pocket money on a notepad, pen and a daily newspaper and had been interviewing everyone in school.
Whichever route children choose in life,writing will always be key and the need to be able to write succinctly and confidently is vital.
Writing is not just a fundamental means of communication in the ‘real’ world but a fun and a lifelong skill for a successful and happy future.
What: The Write Way