by Hannah Brown, Age 16, United Kingdom
Artwork by Katie King
Nowadays, many young writers find themselves deterred in schools from an activity many love: writing. Be it by being “forced” to write in guided activities, having to go through the required creative writing exercises in exams, or teachers who put a damper on dreams, young writers are faced with even more pressure to keep going.
Recently, I went to a primary school in the south of England to find out what kids think about writing. The teacher told us how they foster writing: through biography, narrative and poetry. The evidence was clear all around us, with colourful wall displays and books thick with work.
I spoke to a boy named Alex* who is top of his class in literacy. He enjoys narrative writing, as you can write “whatever your imagination decides.” As he talks, it is clear Alex knows what he’s on about; he flicks through the pages of his exercise book, which I can see is highlighted a lot in pink.
“Pink means you’ve done well,” he tells me, “and green means there’s something to improve on.” Down the side of the margin, I can see a little acronym, ISPACED, followed by a bunny made out of punctuation marks and some stick men over lines (to show simple, compound, and complex sentences). When asked, Alex tells me that they’re used for marking and helping them know what to put into it. But do all of these marking schemes help kids with their creative writing?
I think so. English state mainstream schools between 2007/8 and 2012/13** have at least 64.5% of students making the expected level of progress as they develop in literacy. Although this percentage has been taken over by mathematics in later years, it shows that over half the students are doing well in English.
Maybe the question is more about the pressure children are being put under by the government and teachers to get good scores; this could be a fundamental factor in why many cease to write, as well as the fact that students have to be taught many things. Teachers simply don’t have the time to let kids write for their own enjoyment in class. They have to do the set tasks, which include things like analyzing of texts or reading prescribed books. Teenagers rebel, and if you’re being told to do something, normally it’s just a great reason not to.
When he’s older, Alex would like to be a tri-athlete, nothing to do with writing at all! However, he also says he would like to continue to write, and I have pointed him in the direction of the international Junior Authors Contests.
As Laura Thomas has shown us, there is a growing market for young writers out there. But many can’t find these communities, and they miss out; schools are often the only places they have.
So, can schools help young writers develop their skills to become more advanced in the craft? With the right techniques, surely it’s possible. I wouldn’t know half of the things I do now if it hadn’t been for my teachers. But there are some students that just don’t want to. As I entered my GCSE English exam for creative writing, I was surrounded by groans, some not even having the faintest idea of where to start. Was this cause by my school’s teaching methods? Of course not.
Some kids want to write, and some don’t, just like some want to do sports and others would prefer to watch. Try as they might, schools can’t save every person’s literary dragon. Developing writing minds is just one of the many things they have to do, after all. Keeping this in mind, do you think schools do enough? Have you learned about writing from going to lessons, or do you think schools could do more?
Not everything can be blamed on the teaching. If you’re unwilling to learn, you won’t. You could lose your literary dragon through simply being unaware of the great world of writing, and that could be another reason why the writing bug fizzles out by the time the later teens arrive. Students need to help their teachers by being eager to learn and develop. I’m ready. Are you?
*Name has been changed.
Hannah Brown is a young writer who has recently left school and is looking forward to sixth form. She is currently writing a film script.