Saturday, 10 May 2014

Piddle, PEE and Wee!

‘Tis the season of exams, acronyms and practice essays. The exam season is now in full flow. Remember to use ARTWARS. Remember to PEE. Remember to PEEL. I was recently part of a Twitter discussion about the value of PEE (Point Evidence Explanation). Like most things, the discussion got nowhere. Some like it. Some hate it. This, I think, should be the motto for Twitter: Some hate, some like. I, like some, use PEE, but I use it sparingly and I always adapt the structure depending on the context. For the less able students, it is a great set of coat pegs to hang things on. For the more able students, it is a ball and chain that holds them back. Now, I am not going to write a lengthy analysis on ‘to PEE or not to PEE’, instead I want to explore the idea of formulating writing.   

Do we use enough formulae in our writing? As English teachers, we search for patterns and connections in texts, yet do we teach linguistic patterns in our writing? Do we teach patterns enough in lessons? Or do we spend most of our time teaching techniques and features of writing?  

I remember my interview for my PGCE and in the interview I raised the issue of using mathematical approaches to writing. I was aghast at such an idea, but like most things in teaching, after time and a few gins I am starting to see that maybe, on some level, it has some legs.

Last year, I did some Inset on report writing. It wasn’t that the report writing in the school was bad; it was just that there wasn’t any consistency in style. The style of the report varied from person to person and subject to subject. We needed a formula to help people structure their writing. To help them with making the style of their writing consistent.

 The formula was:

 Name  -  he /she – his/her – name

Now, it wasn’t an epiphany moment. It wasn’t really ground breaking. It was, instead, a pattern to adhere to, and people did. Their sentences followed the pattern. The rhythm that we had set.

Chris has made excellent progress this year. He has had his writing published in two books this year. His ego is clearly increasing as a result. Chris must understand that two bits in two books does not make his an established author.

This pattern allowed for clear writing. It allowed for variety and cohesion. But, it was a formula that I taught. Sadly, report writing is never explicit taught to teachers. It is something we are expected to be able to do. But, do we use any linguistic patterns in our teaching of writing. Yes, I teach them great words. Yes, I teach them clever techniques. Yes, I teach them some clever sentences. But, do I teach them patterns in writing. Do I? The answer is plainly: no. The closest I get to patterning is teaching rhetoric, but it is no cigar.

Having young children you realise how patterns and the order of words are explicitly taught through songs or even through saying the words.

All together now: Mon-day, Tues-day, Wednes-day, Thurs-day, Fri-day, Satur-day, Sun-day

Don’t forget: One times two is two. Two times two is four. Three times two is six.

That rhythmic pattern becomes ingrained. It becomes natural to students. It becomes second nature. Yet, we don’t apply a formula to writing. We expect students to make endless choices about their writing. We apply general formulae to genre, yet on grammatical level we don’t consider a formula. We give students a structure for writing like PEE, but we don’t give them a pattern for the real ‘nuts and bolts’ of writing. Would teaching students the following pattern help a class to write an effective analysis?

Name / writer / author /Surname

Susan Hill uses the setting of funeral in daylight to reflect the woman in black’s power. The writer’s use of sunlight and the sighting of a ghost surprises the reader as the two wouldn’t be usually associated together. This links to the author’s use of a nursery and presentation of things we normal expect to be safe and free from supernatural events. Hill clearly wants to invert the traditional conventions of a ghost story.  

We have all marked a piece of work and groaned internally we have read thirteen ‘the writer’s in one paragraph.  But, have we ingrained the pattern of cycling the possible nouns you could use? May be this use of patterns need to be ingrained more in the teaching of English. If we regularly use the patterns, then students will probably internalise the pattern more.

Does this patterning of things or formula work in other places?

1st person narratives  I / my / the / we

I felt the sunlight gaze its eyes over my back. My skin burned. The window was open. We usually keep the window closed. I knew something was wrong. My gut instinct was to get up. The house was silent.

Persuasive writing -  you / we / some / our

 You have probably have never voted before. We have heard so much about politicians and their claiming of expenses. Some even think they have a right to steal from the taxpayer. Our hard-earned money is being wasted to fund a politician’s birdbath.

Clearly, I am focusing on nouns and pronouns in the blog, but maybe there is some scope for using verbs or adjectives. Or, something else.

 Present / Past / Future – The clock ticks. The battery was replaced yesterday. Maybe he will replace it with a new, digital one tomorrow.

 Sight / sound / touch – Sprinkles of light floated in and out of the shafts of sunlight. The slow creaking of wooded floorboards hid the rumble of traffic outside. The smooth boards were smothered with a thin carapace of dust and dirt.

Now, the title of the blog: Piddle, Pee and Wee. It is all about patterns and patterns of words. We like to use easy to remember patterns. Step forward: PEE. Maybe we just need to be more sophisticated with our patterns. Rather than a blanket for all pattern, we pick a pattern that works well for the task or text. We teach patterns rather than things. Good writers use patterns and connect words and idea together in interesting ways. And, the great thing about patterns is that you repeat it. Again. And again.  

Thanks for reading, 


P.S. Although this blog isn't really linked to 'Writing Tools' by Roy Peter Clark, I'd like to acknowledge that Clark's book has made me reflect on writing more than anything I have read in the last ten years.  

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