I loved Anna Wilson’s recent post about the six year old boy bored by writing at his school. One he and his brother were, at home, given their own special notebooks for stories, they filled the paper.
I repeat, paper.
If you want me to work on writing with children, I’m likely to need a flip-chart. I need it to collect ideas, to help to model the writing of a story together, to show the children how I - and they - can work.
However, back then, schoolchildren did have other opportunities to write, to explore, to try things out. Even the chance to draw and paint on paper. Do they have such paper space now?
I must say that, to this particular observer, the children’s experience of writing seems heavily structured and slightly joyless. The writing curriculum includes diaries, letters, reports, accounts, chronological and non-chronological writing and more. Fictitious letters to local mayors or suggestions to head teachers seem to frequent favourites. (One local school did address a real issue by writing to ask for Richard III’s body to be re-buried in York, but I’m not convinced it was that strong an issue for the children in question.)
Young children do – oh, delight! – encounter story writing, or genre specific writing, to be exact. During one half-term a year – yes, year – they are taught how to write a Myth or Legend, or a Quest story or an Adventure. Wow! An allowance of ONE WHOLE STORY a year, broken up into weekly tasks! Expression aplenty for the modern child, especially between the ages of seven and eleven, surely! Or possibly not?
I often wonder if the need for handwriting – and the need to write? – has been damaged by the wretched interactive whiteboard.
The screen can be excellent – when it works - for downloading ready-prepared presentations and documents, for showing diagrams and text that can be circled or crossed out, for drawing lines from Thing A to Thing B, as well as for showing extracts of books and accompanying video clips, of course.
(A reading of a whole book in class? Heaven forfend!)
True, the set of the four inspiring “pens” - black, blue, red and green – lets you make marks but what you can’t do easily on such whiteboards is to model writing properly. For a start, you can’t rest the side of your hand on the surface as you write. One touch messes up the system. Even the most fluent writers need to rest their hand at times, especially while thinking. These devices aren’t made for the loose collecting of ideas, or drafting a story together, or even writing on at any speed. (Write too much and the writing pages will probably need to be reset.)
Apologies if I seem to be ranting. I feel like ranting! Having just done a month of “morning pages” as a way of kick-starting my own writing, I’m very sensitive about the need for pen and paper – or, at the very least, the option of paper and pen - to start the writer's voice speaking.
Others may feel about these amazing screens differently - and if so, do let me know - but for now, you paperless places, I’m not sure whiteboards do good service to writing.
And yes, I do work on a computer and use the internet and so on, but I'd never, ever want to be without the space of paper to write on.
Finally, another person's thoughts about handwriting. Thank you, Michael Sull.