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English at school

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Sun Jan 22, 2012 6:35 pm
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Napier says...

Essentially, what writing skills should be taught in school in regards to the English language?

Creative writing? Persuasive writing? Letter and article writing?

Or do you think studying books and plays are more important?

In my view, I believe in an all round system, but with emphasis on structuring sentences and important documents such as letters and, possibly, CVs, though maybe they should be saved for PSHE or whatever your school's equivalent is (I'm not quite sure about the American system).

So, thought?
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Tue Mar 06, 2012 4:06 pm
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Lava says...


Coming from a land of non-native English speakers, I think for us, it is best if we're taught English in such a way that we are able to converse/discuss with another individual in English.
So, alongside comes letter writing, grammar, contextual inferences, idioms, phrases etc.

Past this point, I believe that student should be allowed to choose what he wants to learn. Technical, Creative or just purely professional aspects to it or even dropping english. Or a mix of all. However, the student should have been exposed to all these to a minimal degree before having to choose.

(My english is pretty much self-taught. I learned *only* grammar {the 8 parts of speech} in school. For 14 years.)
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Wed Mar 07, 2012 12:21 am
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Laminated says...

Yes, I think the focus of the main English courses in schools should be practical grammar and letter and business document writing. Aside from that, I think students should be able to choose whether to study plays or not, whether to read poetry or not. It will be of little practical use to people if they learn about plays only to become an engineer.

That said, I'm perfectly happy with the way things are now.

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Wed Mar 07, 2012 8:37 am
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Snoink says...

Creative writing? Persuasive writing? Letter and article writing?

Or do you think studying books and plays are more important?

Everything! Technical reports, science reports, persuasive writing, article writing, letter writing, resume writing, cover letter writing are handing skills to know.

And as far as studying books and plays? I like this quote:

“It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.”
― William Carlos Williams

Basically? Literature and poetry help us understand the world. It's necessary.

So, were I to take over the school system, I would separate English into two required classes: literature and composition. And life would be good!
Ubi caritas est vera, Deus ibi est.

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Wed Mar 07, 2012 9:12 am
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noninjaspresent says...

I believe grammar and such should be compulsory, and then the students could choose to do either, creative writing / literature, practical English, or a class that teaches both.
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Wed Mar 07, 2012 10:14 am
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fireheartedkaratepup says...

Some kids hate English/reading/writing, then find a good book that makes them interested in reading/writing/whatever. For this reason, I think plays and books should still be studied, though for how long I don't know. They have much to teach us.
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Fri May 17, 2013 9:54 pm
queenofscience says...

Well, I got to say something. WHY is it that all the books that schools read are old, or depressing! This makes no sense. The only english book I enjoyed reading was ' Catcher in the Rye' ( it was very funny!)

And in English, they don't do creative writing either, however, at my new school we do.
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Fri May 17, 2013 10:12 pm
Cole says...

The old ones are the best! (Like wine or cheese, supposedly.)
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~Hosea 6:3~
ונדעה נרדפה לדעת את יהוה כשחר נכון מצאו ויבוא כגשם לנו כמלקוש יורה ארץ׃

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Sat May 18, 2013 1:09 am
kayfortnight says...

Ugh, not really. Half the so called classics we read in school are just plain boring, and only a few make me want to read more by that author(Shakespeare). And it's not like the modern books we read occasionally in Honors classes are any better. They all seem to be cliched books with characters that continually annoy and are impossible to connect with. A good trip to the library and independent analysis is so much more productive.
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Sat May 18, 2013 1:42 am
queenofscience says...

Agreesble!! :) Btw, I LOVE creative writing, see in my school we are working on a book as a group and we are going to do a full cast audio book of it and I just volunteared to write a screen play of it. However, I have to say, because i'm as good of a writer as I am, I was sort of a story nazi, as in ' if things made sense/consitant.'
I am the science and science fiction guru.

The mind is beautiful, yet brilliant. You can think, create, and imagine so many things.

Eugenics= scientific racism.

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Sat May 18, 2013 3:26 am
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Cole says...

I think it's unfair to brand classic literature as boring or cliche. Classics aren't cliche. They were the firsts; they established the cliches!

You have to learn to appreciate them. I didn't like anything by Jane Austen at first, for example. However, after I really delved into the historical context of her life and work, I realized just how bold she was to write the things that she did. Now she's one of my favorite authors because understanding her world made her writing so much more powerful.

Me liking books is rare because my taste is very particular. If I call any book a 'favorite', it generally means that the book is a masterpiece in my eyes. Some of these happen to be classics.

Here are some that are personal favorites of mine and that I think every person should at least attempt to read just for the sake of being a well-rounded reader and person:

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (my all-time-favorite novel)
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Paradise Lost by John Milton
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Inferno (and/or the entire Divine Comedy) by Dante (particularly the Longfellow translation)
Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
Ben-Hur by Lew Wallace
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
The Holy Bible (the King James Version, though very poorly translated, is beautiful in language)

There are definitely more.
My heart holds all secrets; my heart tells no lies.

~Hosea 6:3~
ונדעה נרדפה לדעת את יהוה כשחר נכון מצאו ויבוא כגשם לנו כמלקוש יורה ארץ׃

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Sat May 18, 2013 3:45 am
Karzkin says...

Jane Austen was considered the Stephanie Meyer of her day. Tru fax.

Also, why does stuff have to be old to be a classic? There are plenty of great books that have been written in the last 50 years. Anything by Murakami or Calvino, for example.
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Sat May 18, 2013 4:37 am
spinelli says...

As a future English teacher, I have to say there's a lot about the public school system that is terribly flawed. As far as Texas education goes, secondary English classes were stupid. I had about half good teachers, half bad teacher from 6-12.

Things I noticed about bad teachers:
They made us read only what they told us to read. [Without explaining their significance. Non-English oriented students often don't find it in themselves to make these conclusions on their own.]
They told us what the books were supposed to mean. [Tragically generic...]
They dictated what we wrote and how we wrote it. [Had a teacher tell us we couldn't write a good descriptive paragraph unless we actually experienced it in real life. She was serious too. Does she think C.S. Lewis actually went to Narnia or what?!]

Good teachers:
Gave us a number of books to choose from to read [including classics and moderns]
Gave us a variety of projects/options to explain our OWN interpretation of the books
Made discussions of books and whatnot.
Actually gave creative writing assignments
Explained the reasons behind different grammar rules instead of just showing them to us

I think I learned the most technical grammar from the bad teachers. I know a lot of the fancy names but I don't really know the application of them. With the good teachers, they taught us how things worked without getting us too bogged down with the technical terms so we at least knew how to make good sentences.

It's just about passion. The passion should seep through the intended curriculum.

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Sat May 18, 2013 11:58 am
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Cadi says...

(I'm going to assume you're talking about English lessons for [countries with mostly] native English speakers - as Lava points out, lesson focus might need to be different for ESL learners.)

My English education (in the UK) was a split between language (writing stuff e.g. persuasive, creative) and literature (reading stuff), all the way from learning to write and read at all in early primary school, right up to GCSE, where English Language and English Literature are two separate (compulsory) qualifications. It worked for me, despite the essays at GCSE. (I really don't like essays.)

As spinelli says, a lot of how well lessons are taught depends on the teacher and the school. I was fortunate enough to go to two good schools.

-- In primary school, kids got individual attention from parent helpers when learning to read, and learned at their own pace from colour-coded levels of books; there was also set time for reading on your own (from your own choice of book, at your own pace), separate from the "write a letter" "write a news article" "write a headline" exercises of English lessons.

-- In secondary school, I managed to get one of the best teachers in the school (as far as I'm concerned) for four out of five years. (And the year I didn't have her, I loathed English.) She deliberately picked topics that she thought would be interesting as well as filling the syllabus requirements - so we studied things like 'genderlect', the difference between how men and women speak (which was very interesting, even though I now know that the author of the term is less-than-highly regarded and have formed my own opinions on the matter). We read Victorian short stories, a children's book called The Mouse and his Boy, and at one point she split the class into five according to reading ability/enthusiasm and set five different books of appropriate levels (including The Yearling and My Family and Other Animals. At GCSE, she deliberately picked set texts that she enjoyed, and chose the shorter one for our exam (Of Mice & Men) and the longer for coursework (A Tale of Two Cities), for our benefit. We had to study Shakespeare, so she chose a comedy and got us to write and act our own condensed versions. Most importantly, though, she was just a good teacher, who respected us as nearly-adults, and thus gained respect in return. (The teacher in that one year I hated English? She had no control, and no respect from us, and it went badly for her and us. She made Macbeth boring, and dragged us page-by-page through Z for Zachariah. And then left before she'd been with the school a year.)

So, a balance between language and literature is good. Focusing on the 'classics' isn't necessarily the way to go - they may be loved by many, but they are old and slow and can be hard to get through, even if you are keen on reading. As Karz says, there are good books that are newer, too. I enjoyed A Tale of Two Cities, but I was one of few in my class that did; I can't even bring myself to start on any of the Austen. And a good teacher who enjoys what they teach really, really helps, though sadly that's the hardest part to achieve.
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Mon May 27, 2013 6:48 pm
barefootrunner says...

There are plenty of great books that have been written in the last 50 years. Anything by Murakami or Calvino, for example.

Yay Murakami!! :)

Now I am going to rant about the school system.

In my country, English is one of the eleven official languages. You get taught English and usually two other languages in primary school, the other two languages being determined by your area. In high school, there is a problem. At least one of your primary school languages is often not taught at your high school, for example I had English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa in primary, and now I have English, Afrikaans and French in high school.

Because there are so many languages and there are so many varying levels of literacy, we have English FAL and HL — First Additional Language and Home Language. When you enter high school, you write exams to determine your level of proficiency and get sorted into one of the classes. You can also choose to move to FAL at the start of each grade, and many people do — so much so that the FAL classes are double the size of HL classes, tipping the scales sometimes at a whopping fifty students per class.

In FAL you learn grammar and basic reading and writing — essays rarely top 250 words and the work is rather study-to-improve-oriented. In HL you... don't really learn anything. The work is more about reading and discussing, doing lots of literature, poetry and analysis as well as long essays and orals, which tend to hang around 450 words and 10-20 minutes. It is practically impossible to improve — if you don't get it, you don't get it and nobody is going to help you. Exams are based more on interpretation and thought than study. The work we do is not so much English as politics and philosophy mixed with a dose of (mis)comprehension and (un)common sense.
Class usually consists of discussing the successes and failures of the current government and whispering stories about our teacher, who was an amazing anti-Apartheid activist and, among other things, nearly got shot, was constantly under watch by the SA intelligence and read the entire Bible to find out if racism was religiously justified.

However, the problem is that most of the students don't know their nouns from their verbs and struggle to pass the universally puzzling exams. I'd love it if we learnt about more than just politics — real grammar, spelling and vocabulary, how to write functional modern pieces of work like emails and transactional writing, how to write and tell stories, structures of large writing pieces and poetry-writing, not just analysis. Also persuasive writing and creative writing techniques, not just sit-down-and-write.

I enjoy our class discussions and we have no other subject that teaches us critical thinking. But I think that English should stay English and not become politics. Is this sort of thing a problem in other countries too? Do you think mixing in politics and philosophy is acceptable when it affects people's marks?
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