Why personal accounts matter

Although it is not sure whether John Comaroff, who edited The Boer War Diary of Sol T. Plaatje, intended to do so, his introduction provides valuable reasons why we should encourage our young people to document, write personal accounts.

It’s been very clear to us in working with literacy improvement initiatives in South Africa that there is a lack of student writing. Students simply re-write what is either on the blackboard or what is in a book. They do not,in most south African schools, create their own work.

It is likely that we are not holding up before our students the value of the work they can produce themselves.

When Comaroff reflected over Sol Plaatje’s diary, he speaks specifically to this value and noted that the “account of the siege of Mafeking…introduces some new substantive material”. As such it holds significant historical value. But, not just that, he also pointed out that, “it presents a familiar situation in novel perspective”.

“Perspective” is everything, a sage, once said. We have seen time and again what our young students capture, for example, when we allow them to use the camera features of the mobile phones we use for projects. When we then proceeded to ask them to construct paragraphs describing what they saw, we are afforded the opportunity to see what the child sees.

More of these opportunities, will not only give us more material to use as a basis to sharpen literacy skills, but also provide the future with a “novel perspective.”

4 thoughts on “Why personal accounts matter

  1. I like that, “novel perspective.” I’m a Jr. High teacher and writing is a lost art. Teachers have so many requirements to cram in during the year and writing isn’t one of them. The deficit glares like a roach in a punch bowl when I get their papers back. 8th graders, 14-year-olds, have the penmanship of a 2nd grader and don’t capitalize their sentences let alone use punctuation. I think I’ll go back after the break with a focus on writing, even though I’m a science teacher!

    1. Thanks for your comment. The problem is particularly evident for the Natural Sciences and it may be partly because of the divisions between the faculties at school level and the lack of probably integrating science texts into reading and writing strategies by Language Arts teachers.

      My 13yr old daughter also just noted that your observation of deficient penmanship is also evident in her 7th Grade class at a private school here in Rome, ITALY – a bit of a global disease, I’d say.

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