On constraints, or will you stop counting, please.

Second one in the series of Blogathon reposts, where I say an articulate NO to the tyranny of limits.
250 word count of the Blogathon order is strictly followed.

If you’re on Twitter you might have come across the following collocation: “the tyranny of 140 characters”. I have seen it used many times. I have been the victim of this tyranny not once. My claim of this post is that the tyranny of limits exists in English (as well as in other subjects) and it is manifested profoundly, especially in tests and their writing tasks.

“Answer the question. Write your answer in 100-120 words.”
“Comment on the statement. Write 200-250 words.”
“Express your opinion. Your essay should not exceed 180 words.”

Seriously? A word limit to my opinion? I remember at school I wrote compositions which were several pages long, and they still made the points clear, and I fulfilled the task.

I’ve seen students who don’t have much of an opinion. I’ve seen students who have a lot more to say that limits allow. In both cases, it’s a pressure. The word limit given to creative writing tasks is almost painful for me.

I understand the grounds for this tyranny. First of all, it’s easier to assess a piece of writing. Secondly, it brings order. At last, it forces the person to formulate thoughts clearly. I’m totally ok with these points. Yet…notice the connotations of these words – assess, order, force. Don’t feel too welcoming to me.

I’m law-abiding and obedient, so I will succumb and keep my posts here within the word limit. After all, this post is exactly 250 words and I made my point clear.

(Link to the original post: http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/blogs/annloseva/third-post-constraints-i-stop-counting)

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4 thoughts on “On constraints, or will you stop counting, please.

  1. Ray says:

    why are you constrained to 250 words on your own blog???

    • annloseva says:

      I’m not, not on this one) but this post as well as the previous one is a repost from my blog I was doing for the Blogathon 2013 competition this February (see the link at the end of the post). 250 word limit was a requirement for successful blog entries.
      Thus my nervous outburst on the third day of the competition.:)

  2. cioccas says:

    Thanks Anna, you’ve expressed so well and your thoughts reflect my own. I’ve always struggled with word limits and am lenient in my teaching, well as much as I can be within the constraints placed on teachers in assessing. I think it helps students to have an approximate number of words as a guide, but baulk at having it as a limit or constraint – as either a minimum or maximum.
    And well done on keeping within the constraints imposed for your blog post 🙂

    • annloseva says:

      Thank you Lesley! For commenting, for being in this team of those teachers who value freedom in writing)
      It’s most dangerous that after training for two-three years at schools to pass state exams with these very instructions, both in Russian and English, students get into the habit of having to be presented these limits.

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