You Can’t Test Creative Writing
Now even the UK is up-in-arms about the inadequacy of using standardized tests to access writing skills. Here are a couple of quotes from an article:
Head teachers fear some pupils in England have been graded incorrectly in a writing test that forms part of their national curriculum tests or Sats.
It also polled members in one local authority – Lancashire – where 47 out of 48 respondents reported “serious inconsistencies” in the way different papers were marked.
In June, a review of Sats by Lord Bew recommended the creative writing test should be scrapped and children’s creative writing skills assessed by teachers.
Of course, they are running into the same issues we face with our own SAT writing section. It is genuinely improbable that we will ever create a standard way to judge writing quality through a mechanical method. We attempt it with the supposed ‘rules of grammar and punctuation’—but if you spend any time studying and reflecting, you will realize that such things are not standardized. Actually, it is impossible to create a static set of rules for a fluid thing. Language continues to adapt and adjust and grow. Sorry, that’s just how it works. Language may be the only truly democratic thing on the planet (Thank you Rudolf Flesch for this point!). A writing course could be the answer, but wouldn’t it need to foster freedom instead of crush us by its rules?
If English had a static set of rules then wouldn’t we all talk like Shakespeare? Well, methinks I doth protest too much 🙂
Language is indeed fluid, and creative writers come up with even more cool-and-unique-to-the-moment ways of communicating things. You can rest assured that Shakespeare wouldn’t have written with the same ‘grammar’ if he were alive today. Or, stated plainly, if he had—we wouldn’t know who he is!
Isn’t it time for all of the stuffy grammarians to recognized excellence in writing on the basis of some other set of criteria rather than their own ‘approved’ set of rules? N.B. – I didn’t say, “Give up on excellence in writing.”
My suggestion? Go back to sound. Recognize language is an instinct in the same way music is an instinct. Pay attention. If people like a song…maybe there is a reason. If people like a writing style…maybe there is a reason for that too! In fact, could the reason be that it just sounds cool, whether it is grammatically approve or not?
What if we permissioned (cool use of a verbifying a noun that I’d get a D for in school) our own children to write, at least occasionally, in a way that just struck them as sounding great? What new writer with a new style might we gift to the world because of our kind empowerment to write in a fresh way (it will also possibly become the new ‘good writing example’).
Recently I ran a few of my sentences through a popular grammar-fixing software program…and I did poorly (a D 🙂
Next, I ran Faulkner and Hemingway through the same program…they did worse than I did!
Maybe the other experts will figure it out and we can have the creativity perfectly programmed out of us. In the meantime, why not join my expertise and help a generation of writers by encouraging them to write with their instinctive ear for what sounds how they want it read? Curse the rules…full Grace ahead!
Write well and write free,
P.S. Thoughts? Comment away…let’s think together.
P.P.S. If you found this helpful, you might want to know I have a whole curriculum available to teach children how to write by sound (instinct): It’s called The Writing Course