By Tricia Nash, Researcher, Open University
I would like to describe the four schools and the five classes I am so fortunate to be regularly visiting and observing as one of the researchers for the TaW project. They include a year 3 and year 5 class in a school located near the centre of a popular Cornish coastal town famous for its sailing and oysters; another year 5 class in a junior school on the outskirts of a well-known Devon university city; a mixed year 4, 5 and 6 class in a quintessential Somerset village nestling in the stunning Blackdown Hills; and finally a year 8 class from a secondary school situated in the middle of a thriving, bustling Devon market town. So all are quite distinctive although all of them have a number of children from socially deprived circumstances and all have been so incredibly welcoming.
The teachers of the classes involved also differ, firstly in their years of teaching experience from several years teaching a range of year groups to more recently qualified teachers in their first schools and classes. They vary also in their own writer identity both past and present. One had seen herself very much as a writer for some time as for instance she had written a poem while at university which a tutor had encouraged her to try and get published, and although she had been too shy to do so it had given her confidence in her writing. She had therefore also written a novel over several years that she had kept revising and updating and hoped to get published one day although she had not written for a while:
‘I haven’t been in the mind-set for a while. But yes, I do, I still hope to be published one day.’
She was hoping involvement in the project would give her the impetus to return to and finish the novel and then would endeavour to get it published.
In contrast another teacher with many years’ experience of teaching had never written for her own pleasure either presently or in the past so did not see herself as a writer:
‘The only writing I do is writing that would be connected with my job and with school.’
She therefore was rather nervous of participating in the project but wanted to do so to hopefully improve her literacy skills mainly for the benefit of her students:
‘For my students, I would just, I’d love to be able to give them a better writing experience. I would love them to leave primary school being really confident and enthusiastic writers.’
I have been a researcher in schools for many years but had not been in a classroom for a couple of years as I had been undertaking research in HE, so was amazed at children as young as those in the year 3 class involved in TaW having to know and understand the meaning of concepts and words such as ‘adverbial’ and ‘conjunction’. But I have been mightily impressed with the creative ways the teachers have cleverly slipped these concepts into their teaching and wall displays so as not to turn their students off their writing – or hopefully not!
I cannot wait to be back in these vibrant classrooms in May to observe more exciting lessons which I too learn so much from, such as those last observed about Devon witches, UFOs and Tutankhamen! This time I am also going to be talking to six students from each class all about their writing which should be fascinating as well as revealing.