Children writing funny stories: some reflections on the impact of collaborative talk

 
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32                                                                                                                                     Children writing funny stories

Children writing funny stories:
some reflections on the impact of
collaborative talk
Caroline Pearson

     Abstract                                                                             I was interested to combine approaches because I was
                                                                                          aware that many children love to tell funny stories to
     This article describes work undertaken with a class of                               their peers (the pleasure in being able to make your
     Scottish Primary Six children (aged 10) that encouraged                              audience smile is huge) but sometimes find it difficult
     them to write humorous stories. It reflects on the impact                            to write these stories down. I was interested to see
     of different teaching approaches, in particular exploring
                                                                                          whether some direct teaching about humour might
     how teacher-led input combined with opportunities for
                                                                                          equip children with knowledge and strategies that
     peer talk might serve to influence children’s writing. The
     aims were first, to investigate whether, through ‘mini                               would help them write. But I was also aware that in the
     lessons’, children’s story schemas could be expanded to                              realm of humour children laugh more together than
     include ideas about incongruity, and second, to discover                             they do alone. Collaborative talk was designed to serve
     how independent talking in pairs might encourage                                     as an important stimulus for this and for the children’s
     children to take up and reformulate ideas given in the                               own invention.
     initial teacher-led input. During the sessions following
     the ‘mini lessons’, many opportunities for paired talk                               The setting
     were offered. These were found to lead to a reinterpreta-
     tion of ideas of incongruity, and to affect the selection                            I worked with a class in a state primary school in a
     and devising of voices for characters. The children’s talk
                                                                                          suburb of Glasgow, in a predominantly white, middle-
     often gave evidence of a marked ability to describe
     humour and act it out orally, but analysis of the written
                                                                                          class catchment area. There is little unemployment
     stories reveals difficulties in writing down comic events.                           amongst parents and most families live in privately
     This has implications for the role of the teacher in finding                         owned, modern, detached or semi-detached houses. The
     ways to intervene sensitively to introduce new strategies.                           Primary Six class I worked with consisted of 33 white
                                                                                          children, all monolingual English speakers. Many of the
                                                                                          children had been born in the local area and had
Introduction                                                                              attended the school since the age of five, so knew each
                                                                                          other well. One pupil had behavioural difficulties and
My intention was to explore ways of enabling Primary                                      was regularly supported by the classroom assistant.
Six children to write humorous stories and to examine
how direct teaching about genre might combine with                                        The particular social and cultural backgrounds of the
opportunities for pupil talk to facilitate this writing.                                  children clearly influence the relationship they have with
                                                                                          school. The children in P.6 came from environments ‘rich
Among others, Corden has documented the value of                                          in print’. They had access at home to books, comics,
providing a mixture of direct teaching and workshop                                       television, computer games and the Internet. Parents
approaches (Corden, 2002). He advocates the use of                                        were concerned to back the school and most made some
writing workshops where ‘mini lessons’ might form the                                     effort to reinforce the values and literacy conceptions of
beginning of sessions. I felt these would be beneficial                                   school within their homes. So for pupils there was not a
since some of the ideas of humour were new to the class.                                  significant mismatch to deal with between discourses of
‘Mini-lessons’ can then be followed by a workshop                                         home and school. Although some mismatch existed
proper, where children work for prolonged sessions                                        between the children’s informal conversation styles and
independently, requesting a conference only when they                                     the more formal discourses of the language lesson,
so wish. Within these workshops, opportunities for peer                                   communication was not significantly problematic; after
talk come via children working with writing partners or                                   six years of practice within the same school, children
response partners, and joint reflection can occur before,                                 were well used to switching code.
during and after composition. The social support of peers
and teachers can help children to ‘‘shift perspectives,                                   Forms of humour
move fluidly out of reader and writer positions and
reflect on their work and evaluate it according to                                        There is little literature on the types of humour
audience and purpose’’ (Cullen and Corden, 2003, p. 14).                                  children might enjoy employing in writing but Kerry

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Literacy   April 2004                                                                                                   33

Mallan (1993) has summarised research findings by             character who changes into something completely
Kappas (1967) and Klause (1987) that state that by the         different (mismatch between what they were and
age of ten or so children find the following funny:            what they become);
                                                              character in an unusual setting (mismatch between
exaggeration                 human predicament                 the two);
surprise                     ridicule                         odd couple (mismatched characters).
slapstick                    defiance
the absurd                   violence                        Session Two
verbal humour                incongruity
                                                             This focused on characterisation. The children worked
According to McGhee (1988), the key element in all of        in pairs, selected one character from a story they liked,
these is incongruity. The essence of incongruity is that     and built up a character profile by answering a lot of
something is out of place. It is either incompatible with    questions about the character. They then moved on to
what is appropriate or contains disparate or discordant      decide on the main character they would like to build
elements. I had investigated how incongruity arises in       their own story around and devised a similar profile
picture books and was now interested to see if children      for him, her or it.
could recognise different types of incongruity in stories
read aloud to them and then incorporate elements of
these in their own story writing.
                                                             Session Three

                                                             In this we looked at story maps. I modelled a possible
Outline of sessions
                                                             story map for the Very Hungry Caterpillar (a character
                                                             who takes things to extremes) and for Peace At Last (Mr
In order to teach about features of written texts Bunting
                                                             Bear is a character who tries to sleep in difficult settings).
describes using a model that involves:
                                                             The children went on to decide upon a map and story
   immersion in the text type;                              type they might like to adapt to use for their own story.
   identification and discussion of generic features;
   modelling of features by the teacher;                    Sessions Four to Six
   independent construction by the child;
   reflection (Bunting, 2000, p. 57).                       These contained no new input, but each session started
                                                             with sharing ideas and discussion on what we had
I decided to use this process, where the child moves         done so far. The children then worked in pairs, first map-
from dependence to independence with scaffolded              ping out, then drafting and editing their stories into
stages of support. My approach was also influenced by        their final versions. Most requested conferences with
the work of Lewis (1999, 2000), who advocates children       me or the classteacher at some point, but some pairs
devising pictorial story maps or frames through the          chose to work entirely independently throughout.
analysis of familiar text types, and then using these to
create their own story versions.
                                                             Sources of evidence

                                                             I decided to gather data from a variety of sources, in
Session One
                                                             order to be able to explore issues from different
                                                             perspectives. I observed and talked to the pairs during
In the first session we discussed ideas of humour that
                                                             the planning and writing of their stories, analysed all
appealed to the children, with a focus on some of the
                                                             the planning documents and the stories themselves,
ways in which humour occurs in well-known texts
                                                             interviewed the classteacher and interviewed the
they had liked (The Owl who was Afraid of the Dark, The
                                                             children about their final versions. I had two criteria
Very Hungry Caterpillar, Hiccup the Viking who was
                                                             for assessing the children’s writing:
Seasick, When Mum turned into a Monster, The Tiger who
Came to Tea, The Man whose Mother was a Pirate). The          How far does the writing reflect the models and
children were then given a different range of texts and        ideas offered in the initial teaching?
asked to discuss what they thought made them funny.           How far does the children’s invention carry it
Lastly, they were asked to select one text and look at the     beyond them or convert them to original uses?
main character, then decide in their pairs if he or she
could be categorised under one or more of the
                                                             Aspects of their work could be placed along a
following headings – each of them involving an
                                                             continuum, according to how far it was derivative from
element of incongruity or mismatch:
                                                             or close to the models presented, or entirely the pupils’
 character with something unusual/surprising                own creation. I was looking at how ideas of incongruity
  about him/her (incongruous characteristic);                were used or reinterpreted, whether other forms of
 character who repeats something over and over              humour were introduced and how characters were
  again and takes it to extremes (incongruous                developed. In all this, my interest was in the new ways of
  behaviour);                                                using teacher input that the children’s work presented.

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34                                                                                           Children writing funny stories

Themes emerging from the evidence

I shall begin by examining the use the children made of
the ideas of incongruity explicitly introduced to them
and consider whether their story schemas have genu-
inely expanded to include these ideas. I will then go on
to explore the influence of opportunities for paired talk
presented in the workshops. I will argue that paired
talk affected the selection of characters, the devising of
voices for the characters, and children’s ability to visu-
alise comic events. However, there was a mismatch
between the clear oral description of funny ideas the
children could give, and the flatness of these ideas
when translated into writing. I shall reflect on the gap
between children’s talking and writing, attempt to
understand a little of the children’s experiences of these
two activities, and suggest how the teacher might help.

Take-up and reinterpretation of ideas of
‘incongruity’ from the initial input

On reading the children’s stories, it appears that twelve
out of the seventeen fit into the five types of funny story I
had introduced. These 12 seemed to belong to three of
the five types. The other five did not easily fit into any of
the types. The table below shows a categorisation of the
stories using the headings discussed in Lesson One.
                                                                Figure 1. First Draft: The Dog Who Wanted to Fly
Some of the stories have elements of more than one
story type. There’s an overlap between the first two            deficiency (The Shark that couldn’t swim) is likely to
types – as the character with an incongruous ambition           keep trying to resolve the problem and in that sense to
(The Dog who wanted to fly) or an incongruous                   have a one-track mind.

Table 1: Types of story written by the children
Story type                                                                      Title of child’s story
Central character with incongruous characteristic                               The Dog who wanted to fly
                                                                                The Dinosaur who wanted to help
                                                                                The Shark that couldn’t swim
                                                                                The Bird that couldn’t fly
                                                                                The Polar Bear who hated snow
                                                                                The Vegetarian Parana (sic)
Character who repeats something over and over                                   Coffee Mania
                                                                                Fred the Painter
                                                                                Hippistue (the inventor)
Incongruous couples                                                             The Cat who married a Dog
                                                                                Mojojojo and the Fish Finger
                                                                                Derek and Cheeso (the flying cat)
Transforming central character                                                  Grumpy Wizard
2 stories showed characters changing at the end.                                Joe the Cheat
Both though simply showed characters who finally
reformed and lost their ‘bad’ characteristic for the
purposes of a happy ending – so do not fully fit the
type of story initially discussed
Character incongruous in their setting                                          None of the stories fell into this type
Other stories which did not fit the categories discussed                        Baby Frog
                                                                                Grimble the Clown
                                                                                Super Washing Machine

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Literacy   April 2004                                                                                                 35

It was clear from the range of stories that children           wrong – as they do in Hippistue (a drinks machine
understood the ideas of incongruity introduced to              which turns out the wrong colour drinks), Derek and
them. They were all also able to identify the category         Cheeso (where Derek’s space rocket nose-dives back to
their story fell into. Many children, however, adapted         earth), and The Grumpy Wizard, where a computer
ideas for their own purposes. For example, several of          catches fire. The element of anarchy, of things getting
the stories pick up on the idea of incongruity but are         totally out of control, a favourite source of humour
not entirely funny or at least not funny in the same way       with children, enters into these stories. This was
as was the model picture book. The incongruous has             another humorous device not highlighted in the initial
perhaps triggered other emotions in the children               teaching, but developed independently by the chil-
besides laughter – e.g. pity, pathos, scorn, fear. So, for     dren. Ideas that were jointly formulated at the
example in The Dog who wanted to fly, Bonzo’s repeated         planning stage drew on knowledge of a wide
attempts to fly fail dismally. He hits his head on a           repertoire of comic devices that was the children’s
bucket, is scared away by geese, and trips on a stone          own. In the interviews, children were able to point to
and falls. The resolution of the story is not the              where they occurred in their stories. They were all able
achievement of his ambition but the abandonment of             to identify the parts of their story they found funny.
it: ‘‘‘I give up’’ said Bonzo collapsing on his bed. ‘‘I       Despite this, however, none was able to articulate why
suppose dogs can’t fly’’‘. In this case, as in others (The     they were. Indeed there was a fair amount of
Shark who couldn’t swim, The Polar Bear who didn’t like        frustration with my question:
snow) the children have somehow failed to make the
stories humorous or have reinterpreted the idea of a              ‘‘You can’t say why something’s funny . . . it’s
character with an incongruous characteristic to give it a         impossible . . . I mean funny’s funny, isn’t it?’’
more serious reading. Unprompted, they have grasped               (Malcolm).
a second aspect of the incongruous that points not to
comedy but to poignancy: to the plight of one                  It appeared that although the children had initially
who is different from the rest and is made to feel bad         talked about humour when scaffolded by the teacher’s
about it.                                                      questioning and use of specific terms, and could use
                                                               the ideas of incongruity in their writing, they were not
                                                               able independently to articulate any ideas of this, or
Introduction of new forms of humour                            else did not see the point of doing so.

Opportunities for talk allowed children to introduce           Interpretation of input on characterisation
into their writing other forms of humour that are of           Activities on characterisation I had introduced were
interest to them. There are a number of stories that fall      also adapted by the children. Activities I gave were
into the ‘trickster’ type (e.g. Mojojojo and the Fish          designed to help children develop a ‘rounded char-
Finger). Some stories contain elements of slapstick and        acter’ before starting their story. This may very well
word play. None of these features was included in the          help children to a clearer idea of the figure they want to
initial teaching.                                              write about, but the priority for children was not a
                                                               completely understood character but a striking one.
The children seemed to enjoy ideas of things going             They were likely to shed complicating characteristics
wrong. This is not a story-type, but rather a narrative        when they turned to writing their story, and opted for a
twist that can occur in different story types. It was a        good name and one striking characteristic.
clear feature in a number of the stories. Bonzo tries to
fly but falls off a gate (The Dog who wanted to fly); the      Reading the scripts gives evidence that the children’s
Dinosaur tries to be helpful but creates chaos (The            priorities were not the same as mine had been. A table
Dinosaur who wanted to help). A particular source of           representing the differences might look something like
humour was when inventions or machines went                    Table 2 below.

Table 2: Teacher’s and children’s priorities
Important for me, the teacher                                Important for the child
Coherent narrative                                           Lively action, crazy happenings
Plausible ending                                             Happy or sad endings
Believable characters . . . who tackle problems              Striking characters . . . with effective names
Believable situations                                        Extraordinary situations
Convincing dialogue                                          Spirited altercations, vigorous repartee
Correct use of tenses                                        Plenty of exclamations in capital letters
Good punctuation
Competent grammar and syntax

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36                                                                                                  Children writing funny stories

It is important to help children develop stories that they
feel they ‘own’, and to give opportunities for their
interests to emerge. I think that probably the most
influential factor in enabling this to occur within the
workshops was the opportunity for collaborative talk. In
the next section I will outline some of the impact of this.

Influence of collaborative talk
Devising of characters

Opportunities for unstructured talk appeared to
facilitate the entry of aspects of the shared, unofficial
world of the children’s cultural and leisure interests
into the official literacy practice of the school writing
workshop. Ann Dyson (1994) has explored ways in
which apparently ‘off-task talk’ constitutes intellec-
tually skillful behaviour and the evidence from my
class echoes her findings insofar as it certainly
influenced children’s selection of characters and the
devising of voices for the characters. Children dis-
cussed a wide range of sources for their characters and
drew their ideas from personal experiences, films, TV
programmes, books, comics and computer games. Jane
and Malcolm, for example, mention in the interview
that they have been playing ‘Cartoon Networks’ in the
playground – ’’practising voices’’. Their main char-
acter, Mojojojo, comes from a cartoon they watch called
The Powerpuff Girls – ’’only we changed him to make
our Mojojojo good’’ (Jane). The hippy originated from
Malcolm’s observation of hippies living on the caravan
site in Rothesay where he spends holidays; Fishfinger
Sam, Malcolm says, ‘‘came from my stomach because I
was hungry at the time of writing’’. All the children                Figure 2. First Draft: Mojo Jojo and the Fishfinger
interviewed felt that these sources were far more
influential than any of the picture books I had read to
them.
                                                                     The children’s conversations involved a fair amount of
                                                                     practising of voices. They needed to be able to act a
Evolving voices
                                                                     character out, both in reality and in their heads. Once
                                                                     they could get into role in this way and confidently
The cartoons and films mentioned above also provided
                                                                     speak as their character would, they were ready to
voices which the children recontextualised and used in
                                                                     write. Maybin (1994, p. 143) makes the point that
their writing. Dyson has noted how children draw
                                                                     ‘‘taking on someone else’s voice . . . involves taking
upon different voices from interrelated communica-
                                                                     on a value position’’, and children’s developing
tion practices and affiliate these in their writing. She
                                                                     identities and ‘ideological becoming’ are being con-
also notes how the social interaction that occurs within
                                                                     structed by testing out and using other voices (even
the writing process can provide characters, dialogue
                                                                     ironically).
and content as the children write with potential
audiences (each other) in mind. I think Jane and
                                                                     The undoubted vitality of Mojojojo comes from the oral
Malcolm were both writing and performing for each
                                                                     exchanges. These are made up largely of imperatives –
other as they rehearsed and re-rehearsed the exact
                                                                     (‘‘Hey you hippie give me my fishfinger’’), exclama-
pitch, intonation and rhythm of their characters’ voices
                                                                     tions (‘‘Hey what’s this egg!’’) and challenges in
for the taped readings:
                                                                     question form (‘‘Why did you chuck an egg at me?’’).
                                                                     Pronouncements are regularly prefaced by ‘Hey!’
     ‘‘No it’s Mojojojo (he trails the first syllable and            (‘‘Hey monkey!’’) – a verbal equivalent of grabbing
     accelerates the ending) not Mojojojo . . . You don’t say        someone by the collar. The idiom is not that of the
     ‘Hey what’s this egg?’ say it like this . . . ‘Hey what’s       writers’ peer group but is derived from cartoons. The
     this? (pause) . . . egg?’ (rising intonation) . . . that will   joint negotiation and practising of these voices has
     keep the wee ones laughing and laughing . . . well it does      entailed a form of cultural induction and creative
     us’’(Malcolm)                                                   takeover by Jane and Malcolm of the world of

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Literacy   April 2004                                                                                                       37

American cartoons. Opportunities for peer talk have               written text this reads:
been crucial here in enabling children to shape and
sculpt their characters and to evolve voices they feel              ‘‘He transported himself to work and went on his
are right.                                                          computer. He was so board [sic] that he waved his wand
                                                                    and a blast of fire came out of his wand at his computer
                                                                    and [he] didn’t move [he] just sat there . . . ’’

Problems in the written texts                                     On tape Donald says:

In this particular story the voices are handled with                ‘‘What I was thinking was . . . is that . . . if you think
assurance in the writing. However, this is not the case             about it, if you saw someone doing that, you might not
in other stories where voices are rather flat. In order for         think it funny reading it from the story, but I mean if you
the children to achieve the full effects they desire there          saw someone doing that it would be funny wouldn’t it – if
may be a role for the teacher to intervene and within a             you saw someone . . . but obviously with the . . . wand
‘conference’ to teach some of the means for represent-              . . . going uuh . . . uuh . . . get away! . . . (he jumped
ing the illocutionary force of characters’ utterances.              up and acted out a Basil Fawlty type of frustration here)
The children might benefit from help in focusing upon               . . . it would be funny wouldn’t it?’’
choice of words, word order or the use of punctuation
and layout.
                                                                  Some thoughts on teacher input
Another area where teaching input might be beneficial
is in helping the children to elaborate the funny event           Donald’s talk gives evidence of his ability to picture the
in their writing. When examining the stories I noticed            humorous scene in vivid detail. His spoken words
children’s tendency to recount the funny event over-              show a much fuller conceptualisation than the written
quickly. So for example this is the written text from The         version conveys. This has implications for the teacher’s
Dog who wanted to fly:                                            role during the conferences. If we are alert to this
                                                                  tendency we may be able to help children build up the
                                                                  tension and elaborate their humour, by encouraging
   ‘‘ ‘Why don’t you make some wings?’ advises Zoe the            them to describe what they can see going on in their
   sheep. ‘So he tried to bite some feathers off the geese. But   heads more fully. We might refer to devices other
   the geese turned round and flapped their wings at him and      authors have used, or suggest techniques such as role
   scared Bonzo away.’’                                           play. The children here, for example, could be
                                                                  encouraged to role-play their character and come up
                                                                  with phrases their character might say (out loud or in
The text is a little too thin to convey the humorous              their heads) and this will bring the scene closer to the
situation the children have in mind. Lorraine and                 comedy they have in mind.
Nicola want to get to the point or get to the joke straight
away, and do not bother to unfold it. But without this            A range of oral strategies is very helpful but even so,
the key incident falls flat. With a little unfolding this         the transition from talk to writing can still be
has plenty of comic potential: How can Bonzo make                 problematic, and it is worthwhile trying to understand
wings? Birds’ wings are made of feathers – but a dog              difficulties from the child’s point of view. Writing is a
has no feathers. He will have to get them off some kind           slower process than telling. And writing down a funny
of bird, by biting them off. That flock of geese is handy         story in particular, can make it feel like a joke that is
– he will try them. But he gets a shock, for geese are            going on too long. The enjoyment of thinking up funny
fiercer than he is. All this must have been in the                incidents and trying out voices and exchanges is clear.
children’s minds, otherwise they would not have come              But I think the child fears that what was funny the first
up with the incident at all. But they have skipped over           time may not be funny the second time round.
most of their ideas in their haste to get to the funny            Children have their own ways of preventing the
event – so that it happens too suddenly to be funny. The          writing process from outrunning the comic time-span
idea that has given rise to laughter in the planning              by speeding up the pace and reducing the story to its
discussions (and has been socially satisfying) is lost            barest bones. But the bones are not always funny, as the
when it comes to writing it down.                                 examples cited have shown.

This point is borne out in other stories and from the             Perhaps it is important to encourage children’s aware-
post-writing interviews where it became clear that the            ness that the comparative slowness of the writing
children were aware of a mismatch between what they               process can also be its strength. Writing can allow time
conceive of and can talk about as funny and what they             to get things right, and allow time to make things
are able to convey in writing. So in the Grumpy Wizard,           funny. To dwell on a funny moment, to consider the
when asked what they thought was the funniest bit,                possible different angles from which an event can be
Donald and Robert replied that they thought it was                viewed (as though creating a storyboard for a film)
funny when the wizard set the computer on fire. In the            might be suggested. Children could take time to think

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38                                                                                                  Children writing funny stories

about the sounds that accompany the main event,                 Were the mini lessons therefore a failure? What is there
other events happening around it, or to home in on              to be learned from this? I had based them on the now
particular details of the scene. We need to try not to          widely held view that the best way of extending
dampen the pleasure of the composition process, but to          children’s mastery as writers is through explicit
suggest that the children take a pause and then play            instruction, based on an analysis of the modes and
around with alternatives. We can make specific                  techniques of specific genres. A grasp of generic
suggestions (Would it be useful to you to try . . . ? Is        features has been recognised as useful for developing
this idea of any help to you?) in a manner that does not        children’s expertise (Martin, Christie and Rothery,
inhibit or take away ownership from the child.                  1994). However, at the outset I had doubts about how
                                                                much explicit instruction to give. I did not want to
Donald’s example and others I found give evidence of            overdetermine or overmanage the content of the
the children’s ability to think about humour and to             writing. I thought this might dampen the children’s
reflect upon the difficulties that a writer experiences in      enthusiasm for the task. So instead of pointing to one
communicating his or her vision. As the children                kind of story and carefully analysing the ways in which
reflected back in the post-writing interviews, they             it operated, I pointed to five. This opened up a wide
recalled decisions they had made, the negotiations              range of possibilities for the children and when it came
they had entered into and this exercise in review               to writing their own stories they had a large (and for
helped develop their metalanguage. This is exempli-             some, possibly confusing) choice. The breadth of
fied in Colin’s comment to Sam:                                 choice did mean, though, that from the outset the
                                                                children’s own imaginative tastes and preferences
                                                                were turned upon the task in hand. They used the
     ‘‘I wanted Derek’s best friends to be Pingu and Noddy      initial input as a springboard for ideas, and when given
     remember and you said NO . . . no way it’s too babyish     opportunities for paired talk used these to draw upon
     Noddy. No way you said . . . But I still don’t see why     the material and forms they really wanted to explore
     . . . Pingu’s my favourite character on video . . . He’s   and use. The children’s response showed me that they
     really funny.’’                                            valued their own inventiveness and the chance to
                                                                exercise it. They enjoyed feeling they were the
                                                                instigators of what they wrote and that writing, for
Possibly more time should have been allowed for this
                                                                all the prescribed forms it might take, on this occasion
kind of post-writing review of the process. I would
                                                                was essentially controlled by them.
have liked, on reflection, to have talked more to the
children and in more depth once the writing was
                                                                This raises the question of the extent to which we
finished, to explore which language structures and
                                                                should manage, direct and scaffold children’s writing
features they had consciously selected to use. Cairney
                                                                both during initial teaching and follow-up conferen-
(1990) found that primary children were able to make
                                                                cing. In teaching a child to ride a bike, the adult initially
some intertextual links by borrowing ideas and plots
                                                                keeps a hand on the bike to avoid a demoralising fall.
from literature, but were less likely to transfer more
                                                                Yet the child finally learns the skill only when the hand
subtle stylistic elements into their own writing.
                                                                is taken away. Teachers are fully aware of this paradox,
However, it is possible that looking critically at
                                                                which lies at the heart of all pedagogy. We need to ‘let
children’s texts with them might give evidence of
                                                                go’ but when and how to do this has to be a matter for
children manipulating a much greater range of devices
                                                                professional judgement. From the children’s point of
than we imagine.
                                                                view, a key motivation and reward for any learning
                                                                comes from a feeling of ability, and knowing that they
Final thoughts                                                  can now do something on their own or with other
                                                                children. If we can allow occasions for this to happen
In all three of the matters considered above – the              children will find that writing can be, just as much as
children’s treatment of incongruity, their repertoire of        talk, a vital form of self-expression.
humorous forms and their modes of characterisation –
there were discrepancies between what I had tried to
teach in the ‘mini lessons’ and what the children               References
actually achieved. While most had followed one of the
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Literacy   April 2004                                                                                                                  39

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