It’s a question I’ve been asked three times in the last week. Each time, by a student who, when given an exercise that combines reading and writing, usually complains.
I explained that we do writing and showed him the tasks he’s done over the last few weeks.
“Not that, creative writing. Like writing a story.”
I currently teach Functional Skills English, but before that I taught Creative Writing and I write novels. I was ecstatic that he wanted to do creative writing.
Now, my reason as to why we haven’t yet done creative writing is fairly easy. The class that student is in has only been running four weeks. It’s barely been time to get to know my students in terms of likes and dislikes. My other classes, running since September, all do creative writing exercises regularly.
But it made me think, when we teach functional English, do we abandon creativity? We focus a lot on reading, mainly because it is often the area of greatest difficulty for our students. But do we lose something by not practising Creative Writing?
The need to create is so purely human. Surely there is a lot to be said for allowing that to happen in English and then letting it drill down in to functional skills tasks. Creative phrasing can be deftly turned to a letter of complaint, after all.
I teach creative writing a lot because I love it and want to share that, but should all teachers strive to have it in their classrooms? I’d say it would make things a lot more interesting.
How important is reading anyway?
First of all, apologies for the little hiatus from this blog. I went on a little autumn holiday for 2 weeks and since I got back a mix of family things and PhD work has kept me from giving it the time I should. But I hope I’m back now, with updates on Tuesday, Saturday or, if I’m particularly productive, both.
My first mini study for my PhD has been in to students’ perceptions of the importance of reading. I work with students 16+ who are all taking English for the second (or third, or fourth) time since school. Many of them have myriad issues with reading and for some, they feel it’s a skill beyond their grasp.
Which led me to think about how important students feel reading is versus how important it actually is in the “real” world. There is no doubt that being able to read opens many doors, and is a skill needed to access many areas of life, including health care and employment.
But I would hate my students to feel that, because their reading skills are lower than average, they’ll never manage to get a job or achieve success in life. When I ran a focus group as part of my research, after we had finished with the main questions, we talked about jobs that didn’t need reading on a daily basis. If you have the level of skill needed to apply for the job and complete the recruitment process, if you can make sense of your bank statements and bills, there is no reason you can’t do that job, have a happy work life and have a happy home and family life.
I put a lot of emphasis on understanding the difficulty of reading and helping students progress, but I think it’s also important to recognise that, once students have mastered basic literacy skills, maybe for them, that’s enough.