My senter are uecsy demcat with a full stop and captal more than 50 of the time.
This is deeply depressing. You might recognise the wording as Lewis's valiant attempt to copy out his teacher's misguided translation of the second bullet point of AF6 in APP: 'sentence demarcation with capital letters and full stops usually accurate'. But you'll notice that this is NOT a writing target, and certainly not a meaningful one to Lewis. Furthermore, on closer inspection, he's succeeded in exceeding his 'target' - by writing a nonsensical, purposeless string of words with 100% success in the capital letter and full stop department. Lewis is going nowhere - very fast. And his teacher knows just how to get him there. If Lewis was ever given time to reflect, he'd think that the adults who run education had gone stark, staring bonkers.
a crocdey jumsp up and Bist hes leg he got pod down in the water But he was fiten the crocdes and puchin the crocdas.
I think I know who the crocdas are - and I wish Lewis good luck in his fight with them.
But the architects of a system which prizes 'progress' over meaning should be very proud indeed. As proud, perhaps, as they are that children younger than Lewis are 'progressing' in reading nonsense words and regularly spelling 'I' as 'igh' - because there are higher chances of being 'right' by using that string of letters for that sound than with any other combinations of letters. (I'm reminded of Macbeth's famous elegy on the death of a phonics fundamentalist: " ... a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.") Well, of course, that's not strictly true - it rather depends on what you're trying to say. Meaning does come into this. 'I' is the second most frequent word in the Cambridge English spoken language corpus (source: Ron Carter 2012, NATE conference). 'I' is also ranked 8th most frequent word in Children's Printed Word Database, Masterton J et al, 2003 (www.essex.ac.uk/psychology/cpwd). 'I' is certainly the more common spelling of the subjective first person pronoun than 'igh' ... at the moment.
An isolated example? Sadly not. Here's another 'target' - one produced, presumably, to help another boy in year 3 - let's call him Harry:
'I am beginning to produce my own ideas for writing'.
You can't really expostulate, 'What on earth was the author of this target thinking of?' - because they obviously weren't thinking at all - and possibly weren't on planet earth. Again, the problem is that this is NOT a target. At best it's a written statement, peculiarly voiced (considering the first person pronoun) by someone else. And it makes very little sense. It's the kind of thing you might say if you were drunk; and the word 'for' makes it particularly surreal. It certainly bears little relation to Harry's writing need, if one might judge from Harry's own writing that follows:
The lit is the sun. Brorcoon bildings in egpt and then bilding's stutid to fol! But the sand is hot start jumping. Peppol cannot liv thair eneenor.
No shortage of ideas here, I'd say. But Harry's world where people cannot live anymore is not merely a fantasy. We seem to be living right now in such a world - a world where such writing 'targets' prevail - and it's hard to imagine intelligent life co-existing there for long. When the assessment tail wags so furiously that the curriculum dog is shaken senseless, it's time for major surgery. I'd set the crocdas on these writing targets.
As someone once said, we must 'believe in better'. This project, NWP, is about meaningful writing - a nobler vision than an escalation of rhetoric. This should not be just about dressing up, but about the places we have to go. We are rigorous about that: it is a moral cause. Everyone is a witness. Everyone has a story to tell - and we are all the better for expressing our own and hearing others'. For that to happen we need to trust ourselves, our children, and the power of the living language. Negotiated targets are one thing, but APP-derived ones quite another. There are important issues here of ownership and purpose, and representation and provenance. Of course we need to work hard to distinguish writing voices and values, and to challenge writing choices. But when setting out to write, we need to let go as well as hold on (Thanatos as well as Eros), we need to experiment as well as focus, and we need to privilege a full purpose over an empty structure - every time. We might indeed set ourselves writing targets, though we might also find that, when we write we don't stop thinking; so our second thoughts may mean setting aside our earlier plans.
Just to cheer you up, here's one of the best pieces of writing that I have ever read by any boy in year 3. It was written by David E. in 1995 and was achieved without any writing 'target':
Boudicca's final battle
Misty smoke drifting from the Iceni camp
Frost crunches under your feet.
See the first signs of daylight,
Smell morning in the air.
The wind rustles through the trees,
Behind you is a dark mysterious forest.
In front a glistening stream rushing down the hillside.
A deer rushes past.
Then we see the enemy.
We hear their blood curdling war cries.
They have skulls round their necks.
Their hair sticks up in spikes.
They look like busy ants.
They are wrapped with animal skins.
Boudicca is leading them.
She has hair the colour of blood.
Eyes like sapphires.
A cloak of ocean-blue around her shoulders.
We aren't afraid, we stand firm,
Waiting for the battle to begin.
"Stand your ground"
Screams and yells from the Britons.
The dust rises as they come.
Then the trumpet sounds.
The sky goes black.
Thousands of javelins come flying down.
We move forward.
The sound of pounding hooves fills the battle field.
The Iceni flee in fear,
But carts stand in their way and panic spreads,
They kill the oxen in despair.
We follow and kill all we can, till,
Eighty thousand lay dead.
In retrospect, I wonder what his writing target, or intention, would have been? How do you think he would have set off to write this, and did his direction shift at all as he wrote? And thinking now about what might help him, what writing target, if any, would you say, might he set himself next? Or would you set it for him?
I'll no doubt return to the crocdas in future posts - and I'd welcome any comments. Particularly if they're snappy!
Simon Wrigley, NWP outreach director