Amy Fleming*1 “‘My spelling isn’t that great’: Michael Morpurgo on why teaching kids to love writing is more important than grammar” https://www.theguardian.com/books/2022/may/18/my-spelling-isnt-that-great-michael-morpurgo-on-why-teaching-kids-to-love-writing-is-more-important-than-grammar
When I was a primary school teacher in the 1970s, in a village called Wickhambreaux, just outside Canterbury, we were free of such burdens. I was able to concentrate on encouraging children to find their own voices. That is what literacy is for – to express your thoughts, to discover the music in language, the joy of reading, and all the interest, knowledge and understanding we can gain through that. It is not the analysis of a sentence – that comes later.
As you read one story, they pick up a book by the same author or a similar book with a similar subject, and extend their reading on their own. And I extended their writing by saying to them: “Look, Roald Dahl was your age once. He sat down and wrote his first story. Why don’t we go and write our stories?” I would never make them sit down with a blank sheet of paper, and then say: “Do it”, which is what happens time and time again in tests up and down the country to this day. It’s an impossible task to set a child. You have to inspire them; you have to go out and trigger it somehow.
We would go for long walks up to the nature reserve, look at herons standing in the reeds, and we would be quiet. Then we would go back and write down what we felt about what we had seen. Some children would be descriptive; most were very thoughtful. But each of them was beginning to find their voice as a writer. They weren’t cramped by anything I was trying to teach them.
It is important to keep our focus on every child becoming a reader, and having the experience of falling in love with Philip Pullman and Jane Austen and Shakespeare. It is not about teaching something that’s then got to be tested. If you do that, what will happen – and what has always happened in our system – is that those who succeed at that level are fine and go on their way towards university. And those who don’t succeed begin to feel that they’re failures and that language and books aren’t for them, because they’re not enjoyable, because they keep getting bad marks in tests. The problem with testing is that there are winners and losers and we have an education system that divides people very early on. More and more, what has been lacking in our primary schools is space in the curriculum for creativity, for exploring the potential of children in terms of the way they use language.
On World Book Day this year, a pupil asked me: “Do you ever make mistakes?” Of course I make mistakes. When I’m working on my own books, I often slip into a slack way of saying things, which is too oral, if you like. I’m reminded about it fairly firmly by good editors, and that’s fine – it’s a way of improving what’s already there, and refining it. My spelling isn’t that great, either; I’m quite ashamed of that sometimes. My grandson can spell things better than me. But that’s OK. It’s just a side of me that needs improvement. At 78, I’ve got plenty of time left.
I often get letters from teachers and children correcting the grammar in my books, and they are quite right. But people can be over-obsessed by it. If you look at some of our great writers and you start analysing sentences, the poetry is what counts, the sound, the meaning. The grammar is supposed to be what serves that. It’s not what you start out with in the first place.
Sally Weale “Focus on phonics to teach reading is ‘failing children’, says landmark study” https://www.theguardian.com/education/2022/jan/19/focus-on-phonics-to-teach-reading-is-failing-children-says-landmark-study
University College London “To what extent does grammar teaching help children learn to write?” https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/2022/mar/what-extent-does-grammar-teaching-help-children-learn-write