Timed out

22nd September 2000 at 01:00
MODELS FOR WRITING. Edited by Leonie Bennett. Ginn pound;99

Models for Writing is a timely commercial response to the growing concern over writing standards. While there has been an overall improvement in exam scores, this can largely be attributed to the rise in reading levels. The quality of written work has remained, by and large, the same - hence the Ginn publication.

The packs, for Years 3-6, comprise a teacher's book, a pupil's book, photocopy masters and a ring-binder of transparencies for overhead projection. Each unit - there are 30 - is based on two lessons' worth of work. Their objectives are neatly correlated with the literacy hour framework.

The main aim of the packs appears to be coverage of all the varieties of writing required by the national literacy strategy.

And herein lies the problem, a flaw ironically exposed by the very contents of the Year 5 scheme. There are three units that look at the work of Michael Morpurgo. In the first there is an extract from an interview describing the way he writes. No primary teacher has the time to allow an idea to gestate over a number of years - The Butterfly Lion apparently took this long - but his principle of the organic growth of a narrative is relevant.

He does not plan his tories. "Once I've got the idea I let it find its own way," he says. He drafts his work, not by analysing the sentence grammar, but by listening to its cadence. "I read it aloud or tape it... to hear the rhythm so it comes alive. After a chapter or so I rework the whole thing."

Such a process is as far away from this pack, and indeed much of the literacy hour, as it is possible to imagine. For above all what Morpurgo describes needs time.

"Once I've got the embryo of a story... I go somewhere quiet and I write fast for long hours," he says.

It is not easy to package the art of writing into skills developed in two lesson gobbits. This is not to say that children don't need guidance or that writing frames are not an invaluable support. Modelling good writing is important but there is something soulless about a diet of de-contextualised extracts.

There is little sense that any of the writing featured in the pack, including Morpurgo's The Butterfly Lion and The Wreck of the Zanzibar, is worth looking at except for how it might be mined for some syntactic or structural feature. And in the end that misses the point of why anyone would want to write in the first place.

Bethan Marshall is a lecturer at King's College, London

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