What’s the difference between correcting and improving?

 My old teacher would have marked in red, which no doubt ‘brutalised my senses this substantially lowered my self esteem’. Yeah, right…

The modern day professional has to be considerate enough to mark the work in a peaceful green no doubt leaving the student ‘at one with himself and the universe’. 

Here is a sentence as it might perhaps appear when handed over to my teacher for marking…


Here is what the she might have done to it.


And here is my finished article ready for presentation.


As you see it is the same sentence, simply corrected and copied out again. If the object of the exercise was to keep the child reasonably gainfully occupied and enable the teacher to present evidence that books were marked then we have succeeded! 

If, however our purpose was to improve the style of the student’s writing we have missed the mark by a fair margin. Oh, fear not, allied with a suitably encouraging comment like, “You need to pay more attention to spelling and grammar, this approach will keep Ofsted out of your hair for ever – but sadly nobody learnt anything.

In order to improve the sentence we would need to add a little something or shuffle it about a bit. We need to make it maybe sound a bit prettier and grab the reader’s attention, to whet his appetite and make him crave more…

To explain this to a pupil is difficult unless he has a command of the names and functions of the different elements that are used to construct a sentence. THIS is the purpose of all the SPAG stuff that we are currently tasked with teaching. Each element of the SPAG stuff is like the bricks in a box of Lego; like Lego you can use more or fewer bricks and the bricks can have variety in the order in which they are put together to produce simple or more complicated structures. Whereas Lego is, by and large intuitive once the initial concept of clipping bricks together is understood, sentence construction needs to be modelled and explained over an extended period in order for it to become second nature.

The fact is that you need to keep repeating stuff and insisting upon it until it is internalised – all children when asked will tell you that a sentence ends with a full stop, they are told this when they are five years old. I challenge anyone to look at any set of books from the top end of primary education with children of ten and eleven and find every book in the class with sentences perfectly demarcated with capital letters and full stops. The reason is that not enough rigour has been put behind insisting that this is done in the infant and lower Key Stage 2 classrooms – they’re all too busy teaching bloody apostrophes to tick a box before they move them on. The poor teacher at the top of the school inherits a train wreck in which nobody uses full stops and apostrophes grow like weeds rven in words that don’t need them. The best one I ever saw was pain’t – the child explained that he had been told that to pass his assessment he needed to put an apostrophe between ‘n’ and ‘t’ wherever he saw it, and of course it stuck.  

I could cry…

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