More or less

Or less or more.

I’ve more or less been on holiday this week. Officially, less; and unofficially both more and less. Unofficially, I’ve been on holiday this week. We didn’t have to teach the usual classes, and the IELTS class never happened; but because this term has been so long, I seem to be unable to quite put it all behind me.

We got sent a new curriculum, which was kind of a revised version of the old one, but the whole thing’s been given cohesion across all levels. I was perusing it when I noticed an error and, like any good pedant, dispatched a mail message back to Central Command. The reply came along with a revised version of the new curriculum, which I also perused, and found that the writing section was ill-formatted and, frankly, badly organised.

In all honesty, the whole thing is also overwrought. Our pupils are never required to produce a piece of writing above the length of a (short) paragraph, assuming that they produce anything at all. The writing curriculum could be reduced to

  1. Understanding the topic.
  2. Planning.
  3. Writing.

Step 1 would involve me explaining for the nth time the necessity of under­standing what they’re meant to be writing about instead of latching onto the solitary word they understand and writing about that.

Step 2 is optional. In some cases, it may be optional because they know what they’re going to say and don’t have to plan it; in other cases, planning requires thinking, and thinking results in neurological trauma.

Step 3 ranges from a halfway decent attempt to derisory scrawling to paper that’s only less blank than the mind of the pupil who should be writing on it.

They mostly write paragraphs, so formatting is largely not an issue, but the internal structure of a paragraph is. They can use punctuation, but they do it Chinese style which, no matter how often you correct them, they’ll do again the next time and the next time, and the next time etc. The register seldom departs from semi-formal since the genre is typically formal in nature.

All right, we reach the ultimate paragraph. The point isn’t really any of the above. The point is that I’m even thinking about this stuff when I don’t need to be thinking about it. Perhaps it’s just me being me. I observe that there’s a flaw or error in something and find it hard to resist the urge to correct it. I’ll calm down eventually, but I need some sort of diversion.

[10.08.14. For a long time, this was my philosophy of writing. Nothing that my pupils had to write was more than about 200 words, and thus the process required little real planning. The problem is that they are inimical to reviewing and revising, partly because they just don’t have the competence even with extensive guidance. (As for peer reviewing, the phrase “the blind leading the blind” springs to mind; it works even less well among groups who have only attained partial competence.)

On reflection, pupils seem to start out by writing paragraphs of topic sentences, which will eventually evolve into paragraphs with fewer topic sentences before the little darlings more or less grasp the ideal structure of a paragraph. At that point, it’ll be done with dull, robotic competence, without the slightest regard for the suffering audience.]


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