Jane Austen and e-asTTle

Mrs Bennet hurried at once to her husband, calling out shrilly as she entered the sunlit library.

Oh! Mr Bennet, you are wanted immediately; we are all in a most terrible uproar. You must not vacillate in acting to make Lizzy marry Mr. Collins, for she vows wilfully she will not have him. And if you do not make all haste he is on the calamitous brink of deciding not to have her.

Mr Bennet raised his eyes from his book like an owl being disturbed, and carefully fixed them on her face with a calm unconcern which was not in the least altered by her frantic communication.

‘I have not had the always  much appreciated pleasure of understanding you – not one whit,’ said he, when she had finished her beseeching utterance. ‘Of what are you so excitedly talking?’

‘Of Mr Collins and Lizzy. Lizzy steadfastly declares she will not have Mr Collins, and Mr Collins begins to say he cannot countenance having Lizzy.’

‘And what am I to do on this fraught occasion? – It seems a completely hopeless business.’

‘Speak to Lizzy about it yourself, make the most fervent imprecations. Tell her you unwaveringly insist upon her marrying him.’

‘Let her be called down. She shall hear the weight of my opinion.’

Mrs Bennet rang the bell with a jangling flourish, and Miss Elizabeth was summoned forthwith to the library.

‘Come here, child,’ cried her father not unkindly as she appeared. ‘I have sent for you on an affair of the utmost importance. I understand that Mr Collins has made you an offer of marriage. Is it true?’ Elizabeth replied that it indubitably was.

‘Very well – and this offer of marriage you have resolutely refused?’

‘I have, Sir, resolutely.’

‘Very well. We now come to the point. Your mother emphatically insists upon your accepting it. Is it not so, Mrs Bennet?’

‘Yes, or I will never see her again.’

‘An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. – Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.’

Elizabeth could not but smile wryly at such an unanticipated conclusion to such an unpromising beginning; but Mrs Bennet, who had fully persuaded herself that her husband regarded the affair as she wished him to regard it, was excessively disappointed.

‘What do you mean, Mr Bennet, by talking in this way? You unambiguously promised me to unflinchingly insist upon her marrying him.’

‘My dear,’ replied her husband, ‘I have two small favours to request. First, that you will unfetteredly allow the use of my understanding on the present occasion; and secondly, of my room. I shall be unreservedly glad to have the sunlit library to myself as soon as may be.’

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5 Responses to Jane Austen and e-asTTle

  1. John Carrodus says:

    The last time I used e-AsTTle helped me realise it was time to retire early. It clearly demonstrated to me much of what was going horribly wrong with literacy in primary schools by trying to convince me the best writing was crap and about the worst was genius at best and mediorcre at worst. My prediction is our kids will slide even further down the OECD Hits Chart under such tyranny.

  2. Kelvin says:

    From Nesta Devine: Hi Kelvin

    Couldn’t agree more.

    I first came across this peculiarity about 1971. A friend of mine, a student of the behaviourist psychologists at the University of Auckland, was doing a master’s thesis. The idea was to demonstrate that Applied Behaviour Analysis could be used in a positive way to enhance learning, not just to change behaviour. So they tried to analyse the features of ‘good’ writing, and not having much sensitivity to the language they mistook (in my opinion) flowery language for fine writing, and put into place a project to increase the number of adjectives students used in their writing. I’m sure they increased the number of adjectives, but whether this amounted to an improvement in the quality of the writing – I was never convinced of that. (and in my own teaching, my advice to students is always: replace nouns and adjectives with verbs and make the sentence shorter).
    I think the supervisor of the programme continued on the ABA route for some time, training RTLBs at Waikato, but then seems to have had a change of heart and switched his attention to Vygotsky (a much better educational theorist, in my opinion). Consequently the programme Te Kotahitanga, to which supervisor contributed the pscyh/educational theory basis, is based on Vygotskyan theory rather than on ABA.

    Returning to writing, however, I have been shocked in my recent experience of primary schools. What I found was the lack of any kind of artistic experience or expression, including literature and writing. The writing is all ‘transactional’, the art merely illustrative, drama non-existent, music seems to be mostly lip-synching to popular songs – and their reporting to parents limited to telling me that the children are ‘achieved’ or ‘not quite achieved’ according to the national standards. And these were excellent schools … I really do have great admiration for the principals and staffs. But clearly the environment in which they work is forcing them to have a very narrow understanding of their job and worse, what we as a society want for our children.

  3. Heather says:

    Thanks for this post Kelvin. I’m fairly hot over this topic at the moment so apologies for the length of this response, I’ve got even more to say on the topic ( probably a book’s worth) but would like to make the following key points in the hope of getting more discussion going.
    I’m a teacher, a published writer ( short fiction, poetry and children’s books) and have this year been working as a writing tutor. I’ve had the privilege of being invited into a dozens of schools, both primary and secondary to work with small groups of students in writing enrichment/ extension programmes. I’ve taken time to time to observe and to wonder at the current practices in writing and I despair at the negative effects the AsTTle tests are having on both teachers’ understanding of how writing works and on children’s belief in themselves as writers.
    For a start I have seen that many schools structure their writing programme into distinct 5-week genre/ style blocks as if each of these is a separate entity and each is essential on either a one year or two year cycle. (This too from a young age- Year 3 and up in all schools but in some the Year 1 and 2 children are also expected to write to specific genre rubrics.) The most commonly selected genre match with those tested by AsTTle so there is a strong teaching to the test mentality already established – Persuasive text, Descriptive, Explanation, Personal/ Recount, Procedural, Narrative. Many schools also include Information Report, and then if you’re lucky Poetry. This programme of work is very ‘transactional text’ heavy which is a complete swing from common primary school practice over ten years ago. (pre AsTTle???)
    So what do the children think about this? (Informal survey but overwhelming similarities across ages and decile) Boring! They want to write stories, use their imagination, write funny stuff, write letters, write from different points of view. They also tell me that they hardly get any time to write by the time the teacher has finished talking – sometimes they are just getting an idea down and the lesson’s over.
    What do the teachers think?
    First up the younger teachers wonder if there’s another way and then I ask them to think back to their own writing experiences and their faces light up. “We wrote and published books” “We wrote in a journal every day and it never needed to get marked.”
    Then they start talking about the time pressures too! The five week blocks require teachers to introduce the genre with reading texts, guide children to identify the features, model the genre, expect children to follow often tedious planning formats and that all leaves too little time for the children to actually write – with no/ little opportunity to revisit ideas and redraft – all because the ‘product’ must be ready for assessing/ displaying by the end of the fifth week. When I ask about conferencing 1:1 to craft a piece they look astounded – no time!
    Often, because our loving teachers want the children to experience ‘success’, or because they need an end product from every child to assess by a deadline, they will scaffold the work so that the end pieces are little more than ‘paint by numbers’. I have seen teachers proud to showcase the descriptive writing of their pupils that is repetitive, contains dreadful similes (often facts or nonsensical) is over burdened with weak adjectives and lacks in anything heartfelt, or even observed – an absolute must for descriptive writing! But I’m not teacher bashing here, all of the teachers I have spoken with want to know more. They are just doing what they think they have to.
    As you rightly point out overuse of adjectives, adverbs and similes in almost every case obscures the message, yet the asTTle rubrics call for these. (Please note that Literacy Online material does not). Precise nouns and lively verbs are the “powerful words” that our children need to learn about and that lesson carries across all genre. Adjectives are just the spice and adverbs are usually redundant because there will be a verb that does just the trick.
    I’d love to gift every child with a thesaurus to build up their vocabulary. I make a thesaurus search part of my lessons but many schools struggle to find enough to go around (Yes I know they are online but how many children know how to use even an online thesaurus effectively? I was talking witha group of Intermediate teachers and mentioned Roget’s thesaurus for the able kids and got blank stares. I credit my Form 7/8 teacher with teaching me how to use Roget’s – thanks Mr Smith.) A thesaurus is a writer’s toolkit – I said that in one class and a pupil wrote a fabulous comparative poem based on that idea.
    Okay my rant is almost over- but not quite because we need to discuss Narrative writing– a hugely complex and challenging form that teachers try to squeeze into 5 weeks and then wonder why their pupils can’t come up with much. Narrative relies very heavily on original ideas and all writers will tell you that to have a good idea you have to have lots of ideas! A sound writing programme will see children writing on a daily basis using lots of different formats that are being used to develop ideas, skills, enthusiasm and the belief by the children that they are writers. Not every piece will be a gem but some will be! Then when the time is right to move on to creating a piece for ‘publication’ (for an audience / for a purpose) the children have a bank of ideas to draw on. This is where the teacher will be able to focus in on the individual and take the time to guide them through the skills they need as they work to improve a piece through two or three drafts. Not for a grade but to come up with a piece they can be proud of. This is not cheating as I’ve been told. This is teaching and it is the reality of writing! Most writers in the “real world” will do more drafts than that and then an editor will have plenty to say. Oh and writers in the “real world” still call them drafts and not prototypes! Writers know that words have specific meanings and prototype is NOT the right word despite what some PD providers are spouting.
    Now I’m going to make a strong claim. The AsTTle writing test should NEVER be used for Narrative because it is causing damage to the esteem of our young writers. No professional writer would ever expect to write a short story in 40 minutes, from ideas to completion, yet the AsTTle test is being presented to our young writers, whether teachers intend this or not, as THE MOST IMPORTANT PIECE OF WRITING you will do this year and you have to get it right first time. The able children I work with are often so frozen about “getting it right first time” that they write nothing. A colleague (an internationally renowned poet) asked me what’s happened in schools in the last 10 years since he started as a writing tutor, because the kids used to have lots of ideas and be keen to start writing and now most need lots of coaxing to get started.
    The AsTTle mentality (the test and the way writing is taught) has sucked all the playfulness out of children’s writing with its focus on success criteria.
    Enough from me. But I have more and would love to open up this discussion with teachers. I fear that some current PD must be being provided by people who know little about the real purposes and processes of writing.
    Thanks for the opportunity to vent, Kelvin. Oh and I love what you did to Jane Austen. Rewriting opening passages of the classics using AsTTle criteria could become the next fun game!

    • John Carrodus says:

      Heather, an explosive broadside into what has become a ghostship in the doldrums of primary education backwaters. Your comments should be posted on every staffroom noticeboard!

  4. Kelvin says:

    Thank-you: hearing from people like you, and Nesta, and John, is one of the great rewards of a website. Inspiring all round.

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