By Professor Teresa Cremin, Professor of Education (Literacy), The Open University
Of course they are. In the time it has taken me to compose this blog many will have: commented on students’ work, written lesson objectives and plans, prepared PowerPoint resources, drafted reports, written personal and professional emails, text messages and Facebook entries, notes, lists, and Tweets, to mention but a few! Some may also have composed diary entries, blogs, lyrics, poetry, narrative or non-fiction, both alongside students in classrooms, or at home alone / in collaboration with others. As 21st century adults, teachers, like the young people with whom they work, write for numerous purposes and in multiple modes, using different materials and technologies.
But do teachers see themselves as ‘writers’? Are they self-assured writers? Research suggests many express low self-esteem as writers, do not write for creative purposes, have worryingly negative attitudes towards writing, and voice concerns about teaching writing. In their roles as teachers, they are expected to focus upon developing ‘writing’ not writers – and are required to raise standards in writing year on year. In policy and practice scant attention is paid to writers themselves, be they teachers or students. Yet young people’s writing interests and identities as writers are shaped by their teachers as well as by their parents, peers and themselves. In particular their teachers’ conceptions of writing, and these adults’ practices, preferences and identities as writers (and as teachers) are likely to impact upon classroom practice and the identity positions offered to younger writers in school.
Some scholars argue that teachers who are confident with the written word and who see themselves as writers are more effective as teachers of writing and make more of a difference to students’ outcomes and the development of positive writer identities. Others argue that teachers and students benefit through working alongside professional writers. Yet these claims have not been rigorously tested. Until now that is.
Funded by Arts Council England, Teachers as Writers (2015-2017) is a partnership project between Arvon, the Open University and the University of Exeter. It is exploring the impact of professional writers’ engagement with teachers, on their classroom practices in the teaching of writing and on student outcomes. It is also documenting the impact of the work on professional writers. It involves 8 primary and 8 secondary teachers and 8 professional writers working to establish a mutually beneficial co-mentoring frame in order to support students as writers. The project is both large-scale and mixed method: combining a robust randomised control trial (32 schools) and qualitative data (focused on the 16 teachers) gathered in classrooms.
The research is being undertaken in Devon, Cornwall, Dorset and Somerset in areas of rural and coastal deprivation and involves the 16 teachers spending a week of their Easter holiday at Totleigh Barton, one of Arvon’s three residential centres, writing alongside the professional writers Steve Voake and Alicia Stubbersfield. Back in school in the summer term the teachers will be working in a co-mentoring relationship with another professional writer and co-planning and teaching a unit of work on narrative writing with them. Students in both ‘intervention’ and comparison classrooms will be taking pre- and post-intervention writing tests in March and July.
To find out more and follow the progress of this exciting arts and education partnership project and the opportunities and challenges it represents for teachers, professional writers and students, watch this space for our weekly blog!
Professor Teresa Cremin
Professor of Education (Literacy)
The Open University