Writing in a Level English

By Bluett, Jane | NATE Classroom, Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

Writing in a Level English


Bluett, Jane, NATE Classroom


'If imagination cannot be taught, the craft of writing can.'

Andrew Motion

To succeed in the current A Level specifications students need to 'communicate clearly using accurate and coherent expression' if they study literature and to 'demonstrate expertise in writing for a variety of specific audiences and purposes' if they study either language or language and literature combined. Since 2000 the requirement has been that literature students write effective literary essays and that language and lang/lit students write linguistically informed essays or reports as well as original or personal writing and some form of editorial writing. In the case of lang/lit students, many also get the chance to creatively transform literary text. This then is the current range of writing at A level.

With the advent of the new specifications in 2008, this division of writing practice is, hopefully, set to change. The new assessment objectives for all three strands of English demand that students demonstrate creativity in their work, whatever that may mean. Literature students will once again be allowed to articulate 'creative' responses to text. Language students will be charged with the need for accuracy and creativity in their writing. The return of creative writing to A level English? We shall see.

I could, and usually do, argue that there is scope for assessed creativity in writing practice within the language specifications. However, having, yet again, trawled through this year's Original Writing folders I have to admit that not many students seize this opportunity. The instructional leaflet and the 'real life' article of angst rarely hit the mark of expertise or creativity. When a student submits poetry, what then? Do we know how to assess it? And did we omit the three lessons on poetics from our AS Language scheme of work? Some students produce exceptional short stories but have they been 'taught' their craft? I raise these questions simply to highlight the problems of enabling students to write for a variety of audiences and purposes. If we do this with a wide variety of purposes in mind we necessarily dilute the teaching of the craft of any particular style of writing.

Literature is the art of writing but A Level Literature is all about reading. It is certainly true that the literary essay can be very creative, any graduate of English Literature who ever fell behind in their reading can attest to that. My question here is, do our A level students read literary essays with a view to writing them? Most models within the A level classroom are those written by successful A level students, there is no specific requirement to study the critical essay as genre. Do our students read critics for textual understanding or for exploration of the writing craft? Do our students read the TLS?

In spite of the many opportunities for writing at A level, the possibility for truly developing the craft of writing remains limited. In one way it could be argued that English literature provides the most opportunity for this as the range of writing expected from students is so limited. The language student's exposure to such a wide range of writing styles necessitates breadth but not necessarily depth. When discussing their development as writers recently, some of my language students concluded that their writing repertoire had narrowed over the course of their education. Inevitably most of their regular writing practice was computer mediated; they were, however, happy to write for MySpace, which brings me nicely to the question of audience.

Our students are asked to write for specific audiences. This they attempt to do with impressive ease. Often they have never encountered the audiences they purport to write for, nor do they consider publication as an end result of their writing. …

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