Words. Words are truly wonderful things. They allow us to categorise and make sense of the world around us and the curious creatures called human beings who inhabit it; they allow us to fully formulate and express ideas, emotions and stories we experience within us; and they allow us to listen to, learn from and enjoy the ideas, emotions and stories of others. Words are the musical notes of scholarship, media and literature, and we who have the pleasure to deal in them should endeavour to retain, with every new word we find, the joy we felt when, at the age of eighteen months, we finally managed to successfully express what we had been yearning to express: “Duck!”
The curiosity and boldness of attempt we witness in a young child learning about themselves and the world, the frustration yet tenacity as they attempt to express themselves and the subsequent satisfaction when an attempt is successful is worth taking as a model for any age. We all learn from the world and others and at times battle for language and the right way to express ourselves in a given situation, and we all feel great satisfaction when we hit upon that right way.
At Hampton Court House we endeavour to further ignite our students’ natural curiosity, love of learning, delight in storytelling and joy of self-expression. Any blocks or fears that have crept in, we hope to gently encourage away so that every child can experience the freedom and thrill of sharing their thoughts, stories and work with their classmates, perhaps the wider school and hopefully the world beyond the school. We guide the students in learning the tools of language, the words available and the different techniques in using those words artfully. We allow them to experience these through inspiring stories, extracts and poems written by those we admire as having mastered the art of the language. We show the students the form and teach them the ‘rules’, with an aim of allowing them to experiment with style and then mindfully break some of those ‘rules’ as they develop a style of their own. During the process they will learn how to look at another’s style discerningly and critique the use of language in its expression of theme. They will learn to cristalise, structure and efficiently express ideas, both on paper and vocally, with confidence and clarity of voice. And, as the icing on the cake, they will experience and come to love and appreciate some wonderful and absorbing pieces of literature, moving poetry, powerful speeches, and persuasive media.
All the skills that the students develop are assessed at various stages along the school road. In the younger years, they are assessed internally, in a confidence-building manner, by the teacher. In Year 6, they are assessed in the relaxed yet formal manner of the 11 Plus Common Entrance. In Year 8, they are assessed in the stimulating 13 Plus Common Entrance papers. These are excellent precursors to the International GCSEs in English Language and Literature, which the students sit in Year 11.
Of course, the greatest proof of how these skills are developing, however, will shine out of the students in their general happiness, confidence and ability to express themselves in every subject, school life, home life and whatever they choose to do in the world, for I can think of few instances in which the skills of communication will not enhance an experience.
NB Shakespeare used over 17,000 words (the average vocabulary in England is between 4,000 and 5,000 words) and was, I am sure, still learning and inventing new ones until his last days. We should never stop collecting!