April 21, 2020
Bridging the gap between the creative and the critical in how we teach English
There is a great divide in how English is taught at school, between analytical essay writing (held up as the pillar of education along with Maths) and creative writing (mostly relegated to the position of worthy extracurricular). This division can partly be explained by assessment imperatives: with a nationwide examination system, it is far easier to ensure fair marking if answers fall into ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ categories, and creative writing is (to a certain extent) subjective.
However, recognising that the creation and analysis of literature are two sides of the same coin would equip students with a much better grasp of the importance of language and technique in communication – both oral and written. And sound communication is a critical skill that extends well beyond the classroom.
Tutoring presents a valuable opportunity for students to not simply ‘think outside the box’, but to widen the ‘box’ to better understand the circularity and mutual benefits of critical and creative mindsets.
In terms of how creative writing can aid analytical writing, it is evident that the difficulties confronted by students in expressing their own ideas with subtlety, literary devices and structure make them more receptive to recognising when such techniques are being used by others. Furthermore, writing is like a muscle: the more you practice, the easier the execution becomes. It follows that a student who is regularly forced to put pen to paper to express their own ideas is likely to express analysis of another’s with greater clarity and eloquence.
In terms of how analytical writing can aid creative writing, the literary arsenal provided by engaging with the works of recognised writers needs little elucidation. The pithy aphorism “nothing is original” comes to mind, and students should be encouraged to steal and steal widely (only in a literary sense, of course). By this I do not mean to incite plagiarism, but instead want to embolden students to bring new vocabulary, interesting structures and literary devices to the execution of their own ideas. To do so, they need an understanding of the power of those techniques; and this understanding requires honed analytical skills; and we’ve come full circle.
It is therefore incontrovertible that the two should be taught in a quid pro quo manner, with a push and pull, analysis and creation evolving hand in hand as the student advances in maturity. Beyond grades, there’s the importance of critical and creative thinking as tools for life. Innovation in thought forms the basis of an advancing society – socially, economically, philosophically, technologically…
English ought to be applied as well as studied. Though the subject’s importance is appreciated to a certain degree, the early division of Literature and Language kickstarts a disconnect between analysis and creation. This is a huge loss, as they really are two sides of the same coin – it is a shame to leave the coin unturned.