Review of 'Folding paper, opening words'
by Jenifer Smith and Emily Rowe, article in autumn 2018 edition of NAWE's 'Writing in Education'
This article, set out as a dialogue between Jenifer (writer educator) and Emily (year 5/6 teacher), grows out of a myriad of other conversations around the teaching of a class of year 5/6 children, 'especially the teaching of language and thinking'.
The authors identify some of the visible and invisible elements underpinning a school culture which nurtures young writers - young meaning-makers. Critical to the children's writing health are the spaces provided for them to be themselves and 'to say what they want to say'. While still attending to the statutory performance and progress requirements, the curriculum is 'attuned to the needs of the individual child'.
Trusting teachers is an essential prerequisite. Trust builds professionals whose responsibility expresses itself in dedicated attention to 'what the children have to say'. Such respectful behaviour transfers to independent and resilient learners. This means holding firm to a moral principle that each child matters in their own way, attending to the demands of context and not being distracted by 'too much ridiculous guff' about rigid and atomised structures. An emphasis on meaningful, fluent 'communication, understanding and expression' means that the detail falls into place when the occasion calls for it, and is not forced in willy-nilly.
Trust is also present in believing in the children's capacity to respond with innate and distinctive intelligence when exposed to a rich diet of talk and reading. Through purposeful interactions, children make progress. This happens when they borrow and internalise - and when they develop the confidence to make and experiment. They need to get things true for themselves, not just right for others.
Through 'freewriting', Emily says:
'They see another side of themselves. I see them explore their writerly selves.'
She quotes Stephen King in his book 'On Writing'
...that writers aren't made. He [King] argues that 'the equipment comes with the original package' ready to be 'strengthened and sharpened'.
and Michael Armstrong: '[Children] are simultaneously recipients and innovators, inheritors of a tradition which they recast in accents derived from their own experience, including the experience of immaturity.'
Alongside story-telling and drama, in the engaging act of book-making, the children feel invested in their work.
There are simple folded papers and zig-zag books, as well as themed shapes - bears and gardens and castles, and house books with opening doors which invite/provoke a range of questions, speech bubbles and labels. Making situates meanings which may be drawn, torn, folded, stitched, recycled, cut ... and written:
'Simple, folded hexagonal books fitted in nicely with our summer project about bees, and leather-bound books - made from scraps of sofa material swatches! - were perfect as pirate diaries while we studied a topic on coasts.'
Jenifer describes this essential - and essentially dialogic - element of the school's practice which 'provides a structure and the creative restraints that support the young writer ... I think it also makes the idea of a reader, an audience more immediate.'
Emily underlines the affirmation of children's creative identity that comes with them fully owning this fuller writing process: "Books that children have made themselves, or even those we make and then are shaped by them, acknowledge children as makers and authors".
These are powerful language practices, reminiscent of 'poetry' in its Greek philosophical application:
In philosophy, poiesis (from Ancient Greek: ποίησις) is "the activity in which a person brings something into being that did not exist before." Poiesis is etymologically derived from the ancient Greek term ποιεῖν, which means "to make". (wiki entry 2018)
Simon Wrigley 18 Dec 2018.