Actually it’s not the first time this particular bee has buzzed in my bonnet and I know it has buzzed in other people’s bonnets too!
Before I start my rant, I had better explain the happy occurrence that caused it.
We received through the post a short story written by my ten-year-old nephew. I say ‘short,’ it runs to fifteen one-sided pages of A4! I read it avidly and to be perfectly honest with you, it was brilliant. He took a subject he is passionate about, football, and turned it into an exciting, well-written, very well composed, well-punctuated story. He had obviously done his research. To sit down at that age and handwrite such a long and involved story taking care to get the facts right and for the most part spelling correctly, punctuating correctly and getting the grammar right was very impressive. So it was a very proud Aunty moment and judging by the comments from his teacher at the end, she too was very impressed. She commented on how it hooked her from the start, complimented him on his language choice, and varied sentence construction and good use of punctuation.
Excellent, a lovely surprise, so why have I got a bee in my bonnet?
Well as great as the short story was and the compliments definitely well earned, there were, as you would expect, some mistakes. It would be incredible not to make any in such a long piece of writing as an adult, let alone as a ten year old.
The mistakes came mainly in the last few pages where the author understandably grew a little tired.
The problem I have is that there doesn’t appear to be any marking of these mistakes from the teacher. No comment that this or that should be taken note of for the future. Of course he should be praised for his excellent effort and positive encouragement given in abundance but how will he learn for next time if the errors aren’t pointed out?
I discussed my concerns with a friend who has two young children. She told me that her daughter’s teacher told her she is only allowed to mark three spelling mistakes in any one writing piece so that the child’s confidence isn’t knocked.
To a point I can understand this but are we really doing children any favours by not being honest with them?
Some time ago, another friend who is a former secondary school English teacher told me that these days they are allowed to mark on content and composition but spelling or grammar mistakes are ignored. It frustrated him greatly.
This isn’t just a recent problem. Thinking back to my own school days I had a struggle to get my English teacher to teach us Shakespeare. I begged and pleaded for him to do so. Eventually one day we settled down to read MacBeth but the uproar from my fellow pupils was so great, the teacher abandoned the play! I had another English teacher who failed to mark work at all until again, I begged and pleaded. We had a liberal headmaster, a former English teacher himself who decided that once he became head of the school he had no need to teach. These people seriously set my English studies back, and it irks me to this day which is probably why I get so upset when I see incidents where work isn’t (to my mind) properly marked.
I don’t blame the teachers, somewhere along the line, someone in the education system made this dictate.
By making such rules I truly believe we are letting our young writers down. They will one day compete on a world circuit and need to be up to speed to do so. Are children really so sensitive these days that they have to be protected from learning from their mistakes? Surely not. I survived the red pen, especially in maths at which I was particularly useless. I don’t feel scarred by all the ‘see me’ notices at the end of each piece of work I handed in (even though I hated seeing them there at the time.)
A case in point is the friend with the young daughter. She found a piece of artwork her daughter had done and when she turned it over she found a maths test on the reverse. “Why did you want to throw that away?” She said.
“Because Mummy, I got nine out of ten and I wanted to get ten out of ten.”
Surely no one has the right to assume children don’t want to do their best and not help them accordingly?