Serious fun

By Becky Swain, Head of Learning and Participation, Arvon

In Teresa Cremin’s blog a fortnight ago on the subject of writing for pleasure, she questioned whether we consciously plan to nurture young people’s enjoyment in writing and asked whether students are writing for themselves, or for others – their teachers or the assessment system?

These questions have been in mind this week as the 16 primary and secondary teachers taking part in the project from schools across the south-west of England met for a planning day at Exeter University. It was a key moment in the research project, as each teacher was introduced to a professional writer as co-mentor to plan the next stage of activity with students in the classroom. The focus of the day was on exploring teacher and writer identities, co-mentoring as a process and giving teacher and writer pairs the time to start to design and co-plan a unit of work with students focused on narrative fiction.

The energy and enthusiasm in the room was fantastic, and early in the day both teachers and writers were asked to focus on identities, beginning with ‘Me as a Writer.’ Each shared thoughts and ideas on how they got started in writing, memories of childhood writing, considerations of when and where and what they write, how they feel about writing and what influences their writing. An exercise on ‘Me as a Teacher,’ gave each the chance to share experiences of their identity as a teacher – including learning preferences, pedagogy, how to engage students and foster pupil autonomy and enjoyment of writing whilst balancing a focus on subject knowledge and assessment criteria.

As the project positions teachers and writers as co-mentors and co-learners, it was clear that there was a mutual learning exchange going on, with respect for each other’s expertise and dual identities. The session seemed to be laying the foundations to develop a space for critical reflection on each other’s practice and will help each to avoid falling into taking teacher-writer conventional roles separately, and instead to draw on each other’s respective strengths and expertise.

With a chance to research whether writers’ involvement with teachers and students has an impact on student outcomes, we know that it is essential to focus down on learning objectives. These objectives need to meet the needs of learners in the class and connect with the National Curriculum and current assessment arrangements, responding to the contexts in which teachers currently operate.

Some of the crucial learning points from the day were not to see the work in school as an additional project, but in the mainstream and a full unit of work within the school term. Also, for the need to be precise about learning objectives and subject knowledge focused on narrative writing with assessable outcomes which are achievable in around four to six weeks with students in schools – whether the focus might be on how to open a narrative effectively, create believable characters, establishing mood through setting or advancing students’ skills in reviewing and revising work.

From the afternoon of co-planning, everyone in the room fed back the need to give space and time for writing for pleasure in the classroom. One teacher suggested encouraging students to write for themselves, ‘by using writing journals, where children can write down ideas and thoughts that won’t be marked, but with time given through the term to develop, revisit and revise writing.’ Many initial ideas included teachers’ intentions to work alongside students and to write together with them in class. Also to focus on editing, with some teachers taking a leap of faith to use their own writing as stimulus. One teacher who had previously lacked the confidence to share her own writing with students said to her writer co-mentor, ‘We are both going to be writers writing in the classroom and sharing and critiquing our work.’ Another writer co-mentor explained how she will offer up a draft manuscript of one of her novels to use as a focus for a lesson about editing and re-drafting.

Whilst there is still work to be done to focus on learning objectives, it is clear that the next stage of Teachers as Writers back in the classroom will be serious fun.

Becky Swain
Head of Learning and Participation

2 thoughts on “Serious fun”

  1. What a fantastically exciting project. Week after week we see teachers’ and children’s creative lives transformed by the power of working along side published writers. When teachers and children sit round The Hurst’s round table together in a workshop the magic of the equality is palpable. If teachers are confident with and excited by their own writing, the impact that this has on the children is enormous. In fact only this morning David Morley, who is leading a Retreat with Walking at The Hurst this week, told me a story about how he became interested in writing poetry because he was nurtured and encouraged by two incredible teachers along the way. I am beyond excited to see how this wonderful project develops.

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