October 6, 2010
A friend of mine is fond of telling his son to avoid the use of absolutes: ‘You guys NEVER let me go anywhere’, ‘We ALWAYS have peas with dinner’. It is advice which people offering ‘rules’ for language usage might like to bear in mind. I am ALWAYS amazed, for example, when teachers and tertiary students tell me that they were taught to NEVER start a sentence with however.
Like many so-called ‘rules’ of usage, this is based more in prejudice than actual current convention. The well-respected Style manual for authors, editors and printers (John Wiley and Sons Australia, ISBN 0-7016-3648-3) lists the following as acceptable uses of however (when it means but, yet or nevertheless):
However, I will let you know.
I’m not sure of the outcome; however, I will let you know as soon as this is clear.
They also recommend that the following usage is ‘not widely accepted, and should therefore be avoided in standard or formal publications’ (p75):
I’m not sure of the outcomes, however I will let you know as soon as this is clear.
Not doubt someone, somewhere will disagree with this advice, but I am siding with John Wiley and Sons.
October 6, 2010
The official NAPLAN website advises that the 2011 Writing Task genre will be persuasion and the sample task (http://www.naplan.edu.au/verve/_resources/persuasive_prompt.pdf).asks students to respond to the topic:
Books or TV.
Reading books is better than watching TV.
What do you think about this idea? Write to convince a reader of your opinions.
There are two points to make. Firstly, persuasion is not actually a genre – it’s a purpose. In fact, narratives (short stories, novels etc) can be persuasive which is why Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World as a novel and George Orwell wrote 1984. They believed that their arguments would reach a wider audience if presented as stories. What the NAPLAN sample task seems to be asking for is a hortatory exposition – in other words an argument with the following basic structure: Thesis and preview of arguments^Arguments elaborated and exemplified^Reinforcement of thesis.
The second point relates to a confusion in NAPLAN’s own instructions: they invite students to think about if they agree or disagree or see both sides of the argument. The last part of this invitation suggests that the discussion genre (Issue^Arguments for^Arguments against^Position) might also be acceptable. While this might seem reasonable, research demonstrates that students who do best in demand writing tasks write with authority, take a definite position. The discussion genre, on the other, encourages students to take a more neutral position – at least until the conclusion. This has the potential to result in a mid-range grade.
Consequently, teachers would be advised to encourage students to write expositions.
Note: ^ in the summary of genre stages means “followed by”.