Writing less, better

Writing less, better. TMLondon

I love the phrase “writing less, better” and have blogged on this idea before. Indeed the Jaffa Cake Conundrum was the title of my presentation at TMNQTHerts in October. Since then I have tried to develop simple and effective ways to encourage students to respond efficiently to written tasks. I am still amazed at how much student written work is just spurious fluff with no real meaning. Too often the task instructions are rewritten, wasting time for both the student writing the work and teacher feeding back.

My presentation at TMLondon looked at five ways of encouraging students to ditch the bluster and hone in on the task. Below is the list of ideas, perhaps you recognise the acronyms?

  1. Don’t rush! RTQ
  2. Don’t repeat the task instructions! ATQ
  3. Don’t use pronouns! Write names, key words, etc
  4. Don’t panic with exam questions! BUG
  5. Don’t overcomplicate! KISS

RTQ = Read The Question, or RTFQ*. Don’t assume you know what the task is about, read instructions carefully and ask if unsure.

ATQ = Answer The Question, or ATFQ*. Having read, and clarified where necessary, the instructions start writing something that is directly relevant and meets the success criteria.

What is the meaning of this?! Well, since you ask, it’s a pronoun used to identify a specific person or thing close at hand. What “this” certainly is not, is a good way of demonstrating a good grasp of a topic or task. By far the better course of action would be to use key words and terminology to make a more lucid and effective piece of work.

BUG = Box the command word, Underline the key words, Glance at the mark allocation. To avoid losing marks in test questions use BUG as a way of structuring a response. It surprises me that some A level students do not know the difference between describe and explain!

KISS = Keep It Simple, Stupid. This principle was apparently used by the US Navy and Lockheed aerospace (thanks Wikipedia!). Why try to make things more complicated? Sure there might be complex processes that need to be learned, but making the simple complicated is an easy trap to fall into.

KISS leads directly to the idea of “intellectual impostors”, or more accurately Intellectual Impostures by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont. Richard Dawkins’ excellent book review Postmodernism disrobed in the scientific journal Nature was brought to my attention by Tim Jefferies in a tweet about UCAS personal statements. He observed that some students overcomplicate to try to appear more intelligent; this is something I can verify too. The contrast between a clear and lucid literary style to the passage below from Felix Guattari could not be starker:

“We can clearly see that there is no bi-univocal correspondence between linear signifying links or archi-writing, depending on the author, and this multireferential, multi-dimensional machinic catalysis. The symmetry of scale, the transversality, the pathic non-discursive character of their expansion: all these dimensions remove us from the logic of the excluded middle and reinforce us in our dismissal of the ontological binarism we criticised previously.”

As Dawkins states, “an intellectual impostor with nothing to say” would not cultivate a literary style that was clear or lucid (Dawkins, R (1998) Postmodernism disrobes, Nature, vol. 394, pp141-143). Instead they create something that is quite the opposite as a kind of snake oil to obfuscate. Returning this train of thought to our students, although we should be encouraging flair in writing it should not be at the expense of clarity. An easy strategy a pupil could take to check they have not fallen into this trap is simply to read the written work out aloud. Prose that a student might think reads articulately on the page can often be byzantine, convoluted and thorny when properly analysed. This is where KISS comes to the fore!

I hope you enjoyed this post and or the TMLondon presentation. If so you might be interested in a secondary education conference on Saturday 28th May in St Albans. Tickets can be bought for just £30 through TicketSource.  Book now

Full information can be found here.

*The F stands for Full!

UPDATE:

Thanks to the wonderful Leon Cych you can now watch the two minute nano-presentation from the night itself here

Header image courtesy of canva.com

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2 thoughts on “Writing less, better. TMLondon

  1. Pingback: #TMLondon 2016 | @TeacherToolkit

  2. Pingback: #TMLondon – Michael Smyth (@tlamjs) | Learn 4 Life

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