Saturday, 17 January 2015

Post script punctuation


Over the last few weeks I have been exploring punctuation on the blog. But, probably, more importantly, I have been focusing on how we teach it. Do we focus our teaching of punctuation skills before writing? Or, do we focus on supporting its use when students write? Or, is it a post-production special effect? The CGI of writing. Everything is green screen until we add the wizardry of punctuation.  

After
Don’t forget to check your punctuation. That’s probably the sentence that most teachers use in the conversations with students at the end of the writing process. Have you checked it? Have you proofread your writing? Often, the student’s response to this kind of comment is a nodding of heads and a lack of proofreading. We all know that some people cannot nod their head and rub their belly effectively. So when a student nods their head to proofreading, I know in the back of my head they haven’t really done it.  You can’t possibly nod your head and proofread at the same time.

In my experience, if a student hasn’t used full stops securely during the writing process, then it is unlikely that that student will have an epiphany afterwards and add full stops to their diet-punctuation-paragraph.  If you don’t think in sentences, it is then hard to turn that thinking into blocks of meaning.

Assuming that students have a certain level of proficiency, how can we help students use punctuation after the writing process? Step forward the speech writer. All too often, our students see punctuation as an issue at the point of use. It isn’t something to reflect on. It isn’t something that you look back on. Like buying a house, you don’t look closely at the mortar between bricks when you are deciding if this is your dream home. You are thinking if you can fit a bookcase in that space. Those of us that love writing adore looking back at a piece of writing and thinking about how to make it better. For students, it is purely a tick boxing exercise. Like spellings, I have to check my work or miss will ‘ave a go at me.  

Speech writers know the importance of a comma, full stop and a dash to transform as speech and clarify meaning. Edward in Year 10 knows that all writing must have full stops in it and if he wants miss to praise him then he’ll add one of those other marks that he hardly ever uses. The different levels of understanding is miles apart. One to make meaning. The other to satisfy an expectation. For teachers, I think the hard job we have is making punctuation a natural process, a priority and meaningful. Will students ever understand the purpose of a semi colon if all they do is equate it to something clever people do in their writing and only Level 6 students use? It simply becomes something that a student crams in to show off and not something that is used to develop and improve the communication.

 
Let’s have a look at a speech by Elizabeth I.

I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.

This is probably treason: But, what if I looked at the punctuation and tried to improve on things.


What if I added sarcastic inverted commas?

I know I have the body of a ‘weak’, ‘feeble’ woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm.

She scorns what others think of her rather than admit her weaknesses. Put sarcastic inverted commas around ‘prince’ and she is questioning their nobility and royal claim in Europe.

 
What if I played around with the use of comas?

I know I have the body of a weak, feeble, woman; but I have the heart, and stomach, of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma, or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm.

The relevance of things changes. The heart is more important than the stomach and Parma seems more important than Spain.

 
What if I tried to use other tricks in my arsenal of punctuation?

I know: I have the body of a weak, feeble…woman. But, I have: the heart; and stomach of a king - and of a king of England too! Think foul scorn that Parma, or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should ‘dare’ to invade the borders of my realm.

The punctuation can transform the writing and add a new level of the original meaning. Speech writers know this. A comma in the wrong place will probably do more damage than a single word.

If we get students to see that the punctuation can be modified post production, they will be able to make more meaningful writing.

CGI can be used subtlety. One use it has is to digitally hide satellite dishes on houses in a period drama. You don’t notice it has been done. It adds to the whole experience. It makes it seem more realistic. We need to get students to digitally improve their writing with punctuation. We don’t need any big bangs and flashes associated with CGI, just a comma moved about here or there.

Thanks for reading,

 
Xris  

2 comments:

  1. Very nice and informative post for writing. Punctuation is an important element of writing. Essay writing services reviews with thinking, correct use of punctuations, knowledge of Grammar etc. Thanks for the post.

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