‘How are you enjoying your topic at the moment, sweetheart?‘ I asked my increasingly reluctant-to-talk-about-school 6 year old a few weeks ago. Their current topic is Africa, and Africa is right up his street.
‘Hmmmm‘, he said. ‘I’m not sure we are actually doing Africa any more. We seem to be doing animals instead.‘
‘Even so‘, I replied; ‘whether it’s Africa or animals, it sounds like something you’d enjoy?‘
‘I think our topic is actually exclamation marks’, he said. ‘Exclamation marks, and a couple of things about animals…..But mainly exclamation marks.‘
‘Oh, what have you been learning about exclamation marks?‘ I asked.
‘I know that sentences with an exclamation mark must start with ‘how’ or ‘what’ and end with a verb. Like “What a cold day it is!” ‘
I felt confused – where had this come from? Is it really seen as a priority for 6 and 7 year olds? Why are these restrictive and probably very daunting rules being foisted upon young children? And what purpose can this one possibly serve?
I decided that my boy had probably exaggerated a bit – perhaps they had had a little focus on exclamation marks but to him it had felt like more than that. However, a chat with his teacher revealed that yes, they have indeed had a drive on exclamation marks recently…..or, as I now know from having done a bit of research, a drive on exclamation sentences. If you are wondering what the difference is between a simple exclamation mark and an exclamation sentence……. well, an exclamation mark can be still used as punctuation in a statement such as ‘How amazing!‘, or ‘Help!‘; whereas an exclamation sentence should adhere to the rules outlined above by my son. ‘What a beautiful day!’ does not count as an exclamation sentence; whereas ‘What a beautiful day it is!’ does. And of course this is the sort of language we use with each other and our children all the time, isn’t it?! ‘How beautiful you look!‘ / ‘What a wonderful jacket you’re wearing!‘ – you know the sort of thing.
The Department for Education‘s guidelines on the matter tells us this:
The definition of an exclamation should not be confused with the uses of the exclamation mark for punctuation. The exclamation mark can be used in a variety of sentence forms and not just in exclamations.
And yes, if they are to be judged as writing at the ‘expected standard’ then our Year 2 pupils (who are aged 6 and 7) should be able to recognise and write examples of exclamation sentences.
And if the answer is yes, then my next question is, why?
Is this going to make them better writers? Better thinkers? Better people? Because I’m not sure that filling young children’s head with this prescriptive nonsense will do any such thing. And if you’re not going to achieve any of those things then why do it? Just so that we can say ‘yippee, look at our 6 and 7 year olds who are now able to pass tests that are much harder than they were before‘ – is that why? Just in the name of ‘raising standards’?
If we really want to encourage our little writers, surely one of the first steps is to get them reading. Get them to the library…..you know, those brilliant places full of books that have had to reduce their opening hours because they have no funding? Get them reading and get them telling stories. Get them creating, writing stories and acting out stories. Encourage them to write and to use language without being restricted by frightening rules which make no sense to them. Let them know that writing is about endless possibilities, not about rules and restrictions.
If anything could sum up the utter ridiculousness of what is happening in our schools in the name of ‘raising standards’, then surely it is this focus on exclamation marks.
What absolute complete and utter nonsense it is!
(and yes, this is an exclamation sentence)
N.B I am not a teacher. This is how I have understood things from a) my son b) teachers and c) things I have read. If I have got anything wrong then please feel free to correct me 🙂