Challenge that Squinting Modifier!

My crusade to liberate literacy and develop creative writing in KS2, suffered a setback today. I discovered what a squinting modifier is!* Arghhh!

I have just completed a project to deliver over 40 creative writing workshops in seven schools creating poetry, stories and non-fiction writing.

In my sessions, we start with a warm up, which is usually a fun word game or a story game, and then we create a story, or poem all together. It can involve rolling dice, raising the stakes or just generally being as adventurous with our ideas as possible.

The children are all fired up with ideas, and then the well-meaning teacher steps in and says:

‘Don’t forget your fronted adverbials, and I want to see an expanded noun phrase and a subordinate clause. And I want you neatest handwriting with capital letters, commas and full stops in the right places!’

The session just died. The children wilt and all attempts at telling exciting stories have been sacrificed on the altar of LITERACY.

Illustration by Charlotte Cleveland

We need to change the narrative; children don’t dislike writing; in fact, they LOVE stories. What they dislike is literacy which is a giant fun hoover for creative writing.

This is not the teacher’s fault. They teach what the government has decided they have to teach, and many teachers agree with me.

My thinking is that if we develop creative writing first – get children to love stories and liberate them to write great stories – then we can break it down into its component parts later – once they are inspired to write. I have used fronted adverbials for years without needing to know what they are called, and when I edit, I rearrange my subjunctive clauses to make the narrative flow better, without having to name them.

I believe that the nuts and bolts of our complex language are best learned in the same way children learn to talk: by listening and copying what they hear. And questioning everything.

Using the same model, children can learn to write better by READING more.

When you read a book, you inhale not only the stories but the invisible things which make stories work; great sentences, unusual words and the pace, rhythm and style of our complex language.

Children obviously need to learn the skills of reading and writing; it is essential for the world they are going into and opens up so many wonderful worlds in both fiction and non-fiction books. 

But seriously? 

In the 21st century, most authors I know write on laptops and computers. We use spelling and grammar checks when we edit our work, and only handwrite to make notes, when we are not using note-pad on the computer or voice recorder on our phones. 

Adding barriers simply perpetuates the myth that writing is a chore that has to be endured until you can leave school. And there are so many rules about presentation and so few about creativity that I am left reeling when the children in the class need permission and reassurance to put words on a page: 

  • Should I write the long date or the short date?
  • Is this ok?
  • Am I allowed to…?
  • Is my writing too small?
  • How many lines do I have to write?
  • Should I use paragraphs?
  • Shall I start a new paragraph?
  • Can I write in pencil?
  • Which piece of paper should I use?
  • Where (on the page) should I start? Do I need to leave a gap?

I want to say: write your ideas on the walls in chocolate if that helps you express yourself, but I fear it would be frowned upon, and so I say, politely: ‘I don’t really mind how or where you write; I would just love it if you get those great ideas we were talking about, down on paper!

And this is only a small sample of the ‘rules’ they must follow to meet the targets of the curriculum. Barrier placed upon barrier until the wall is too high and too exhausting for many children to even bother!

Illustration by Charlotte Cleveland

Which is why I developed A Month of Writing Adventure to liberate the children from the confines of literacy and make writing fun. The mantra of the programme is: there is no right or wrong way to do it! Just turn up at the page and have fun with words and pictures.

Three schools have piloted the programme and
teachers are reporting an increase in children’s engagement:

“The whole class engaged; all abilities. The children found the sessions fun. They loved the characters and found the illustrations particularly engaging”

“Many children have had a go when previously they would play it safe. All the children were happy to join in. All the children loved the fact that they had freedom and they couldn’t do anything wrong!”

And from the mouths of children: 

“Dear Mole. Thank you for having a book that gives us the opportunity to draw and have fun with no right or wrong answers…”

“What I enjoyed most about this book is that I could go wild with my imagination.”

“Dear Mole. Thank you for the book. It has helped me along the way from the first to the last day. My confidence went up in both my drawing and writing.”

I rest my case! 

* BTW: According to Grammarly, a squinting modifier is a misplaced modifier that, because of its location in a sentence, could modify either the phrase that precedes it or the one that follows it. An example could be: Listening to loud music slowly gives me a headache.

Published by Anita Belli

Author and Creative Writing Tutor. Novels: Divas, Dogs & Dreamers. Once Upon A Blue Moon. Ruby Sixpence Whistles Up A Storm. The Traveller & The Rose. The Art Forger's Daughter. Non-Fiction: How to be An Author in the Classroom. Write Your Life. Kickstart Your Writing. Unlock The Block. For Children: A Month of Writing Adventure

2 thoughts on “Challenge that Squinting Modifier!

    1. Thanks Deborah. I learn a great deal from them as well. Working creatively with children is helping me to understand my own writing process; by becoming ‘childlike’ I can get to the heart of my writing and better understand my own purpose.

      Liked by 1 person

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