Thursday, July 17, 2014

Form, Intent, Content and Language - The Barrowford Letter.

Some brief comments, supplementary to this post by GoverNancy writing on TES Connect about Barrowford Primary School's letter to pupils. GoverNancy reproduces the letter.

What follows records my response when I read the letter via Twitter prior to the appearance of online commentary. It's the approach I take to all written matter.

What am I reading?

Form is an authorial choice, a signpost to how I am invited to read and with what evaluative criteria.
This is in letter form. I am not addressed. A headteacher is addressing an 11 year old. However, it is standardized to include all relevant recipients and hence in the general class, formal letter, enclosing, as it does, that most formal of communications: exam (here SATS) results. I would in normal circumstances never have read this letter. A parent published it and it has subsequently been widely read, by far more people than those to whom it is specifically written.

Why was this letter written?

Authorial intent is patently to write something as an introductory courtesy which may accompany and offer context for educational information of the highest significance to writer and reader. The alternative was to forward the results alone. I reflect that the letter did not have to be written, that the writer has much else to do, that it is close to year's end, that the students addressed are leaving and hence, the writer will rightly, humanly feel all that implies.

I find myself describing an altruistic impulse which I am not surprised to find in a teacher.

What does the letter say?

I note that the central communication, eagerly and anxiously awaited by pupil and parent or guardian, is the all-important exam result. Given that unmistakable presence, I hardly expect the letter to state the obvious. It would render it superfluous. The introductory paragraph is enough to confirm what all involved are acutely aware of: SATS results matter a lot.

The bulk of the letter is expressly designed to affirm this is a school that values and (here) celebrates much much more than that which SATS results report on. This affirmation is not merely a personal (and certainly neither a prejudiced nor political) passage - the head teacher is echoing the National Curriculum for KS1 and KS2, as is her legal duty.Specifically, she takes this supremely appropriate moment to remind all concerned that the school curriculum comprises more than learning. Section 2 HERE formally expresses that which the letter details in a language more appropriate to a different context and audience.

I make a mental note that the final paragraph (of course) returns to the matter of SATS and that "there are many ways to be smart" has no pretension to be an educational theory. She's right - children are praised for a "smart" appearance and SATS doesn't report on your prowess with the violin.

Is the language appropriate?

"Smart" is a word in common (as opposed to academic) use, closer to "smartypants" than anything else. It suits the audience and broader education theme. Clearly, this teacher is going for language that's informal and accessible to children (parents will read and, from the flurry of positive public responses, pick up on this head's intended implication - we understand your child and they understand us, see?).

I recognized immediately that I'd read the central paragraph via a link months before. Notions of plagiarism are just not relevant in this context. I thought of the head, finding a moment to try to support her pupils at a crucial time the best way she could muster. Well, this passage, in content, language and spirit does the job.

End of.

No comments:

Post a Comment