Aspects of Writing - A mousy wildebeest?

Aspects of Writing - A mousy wildebeest?

Interested in the debate surrounding the launch of #AspectsOfWriting, Associate Professor of English and Literacy Education at the University of Oxford, Dr Victoria Elliott, blogs her thoughts.

I love this kind of research. I'm a total geek when it comes to information that can be drawn from English exams; I'm so pleased that Cambridge Assessment takes the time and resources to do these kind of analyses. And this is a particularly pleasing analysis in that none of it is going to make for misleading salacious headlines. A level English Language teachers have been using this John Humphrys piece for years now. This report squarely debunks the textisms in exam papers myth - a single 'OMG' is not an exam paper completely composed of text-speak.

The very fact that there's not really a consistent pattern across years or grades is also interesting. This doesn't look like evidence of a massive decline in English writing skills - but the changes that are there are very interesting. The increase in the number of simple sentences and the increase in the use of paragraphs seem to me to reflect two things: the general trend in English language at the moment, and specifically the sociocultural context of the internet. A large proportion of what we read - teens and adults - is now, like this very text, on the internet. And internet texts favour short paragraphs which are easier to read on screen, and simple sentences.

The other identified change is a personal favourite: comma splicing is on the decrease. I am a martinet on the topic of comma splices, and this looks like a far change from the days of 2004 when I trained to mark KS3 scripts and was astonished to find some of my fellow English teachers had no idea what comma splicing even was.

With my teacher education hat on though, the best bit of the whole report is Appendix C - the spelling errors from 2007 and 2014. These lists are incredibly useful. They are words that students want to use, and do, which contribute to effective vocabulary, at the higher end, and at the lower they are the high frequency words which are not necessarily spelled well. If I was teaching in the classroom now, those are the words I would be specifically teaching my students. I might also be using them to stimulate some creative writing - pick a couple of words out with a pin and the imagination boggles. The 'mousy wildebeest' (A* 2014 and 2007 misspellings respectively) with a sense of 'grandeur' (2007)? There's a story right there.

Victoria Elliott
Associate Professor of English and Literacy Education, University of Oxford

Missed the live launch of #AspectsOfWriting? Watch again, access the full report and read more audience reactions here.


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