What are we learning?

By Becky Swain, Head of Learning and Participation at Arvon

This week a teacher asked me, ‘what are you learning from this research?’

It reminded me that just as the teachers and writers and students in this research project have had space to reflect on writing, consult others and respond to feedback, it has also enabled the team at Arvon to do something very similar.

The Teachers as Writers research project has been an opportunity for Arvon to work in partnership with two universities, to ask the question, ‘What kind of engagements enable writers and teachers to work together to improve student outcomes.’

So, what have we learnt?

Well, the research data from teachers and writers and students is currently being analysed by the research teams at the University of Exeter and Open University. We wait in the wings at this stage to hear more about the difference that the project has, or hasn’t, made for the teachers, writers and students who have taken part. However, I can categorically say something about what we have learnt so far as an organisation about leading a research project.

Working in a creative writing charity, we are of course not always talking about writing. For much of our working day the agenda for the learning and participation team includes programming and contracting writers, planning and writing funding applications, balancing budgets and focusing on a myriad of project management and administration tasks. Teachers as Writers has certainly carved out time for the team at Arvon to think in a different space. It has allowed for conversations and reflection on our practice working with writers and teachers. As we have started to shine a light on evidencing practice, it has also helped us to avoid making assumptions about what aspects of our work are most effective, and has enabled us to adapt programmes based on learning.

Part of the great strength of working with academic research partners is the wealth of knowledge and understanding that they bring to the project. It is a privilege to learn from the collective understanding that they bring to the task of what we have begun to call, ‘deep hanging around.’ The space for research enables you to work with academic partners to question practice and to try to decipher the specific detail of what is going on for teachers and students involved; rather than being consumed by the day-to-day facilitation and delivery of projects that can leave little room for reflection.

The project has introduced us to new professional writers across the South West region who are interested in supporting teachers and students to develop their writing skills. They have a real appetite to do more work with schools and from their experience with the project they feel much more prepared than they did in the past.

Both writers and staff understand even more about the challenges faced by schools that are often narrowly focused on attainment, often at the expense of other key considerations such as motivation, creativity and confidence – and we appreciate more fully that these attributes, whilst being crucial to learning, are not easily assessed by standard assessment criteria. It has also emphasized the need to advocate for the value of this work at senior management level in schools if we are to ensure that teachers have the time and space they need to engage effectively in professional development.

Feedback from those taking part suggests that TaW has provided positive professional development for the writers and teachers involved. Even before we have the full findings from the research, the process of reflection has helped us to improve our professional development offer for teachers and to ensure that it is even more specific about subject knowledge for writing – what we are starting to call craft knowledge. Early findings from the research have inspired us to design new professional development offers for teachers and writers that we aim to pilot next year, including week–long and shorter courses retaining key elements.

We are aware that many research and evaluation projects within the arts sector are driven by the need to advocate for the value of what we do, to prove and evidence the positive outcomes of the work that we lead. Advocacy is of course key for all of us, but being part of a research partnership has reinforced for us that research needs to be driven by genuine shared curiosity to learn, to ensure that the voice of the teachers and students is at the heart of the research, to test ideas and to be willing to be proved wrong sometimes.

This weekly blog has led to new connections with schools and writers across the country wanting to know how they can be involved in the project as part of a national conversation. It’s led to discussion with a wide range of literature organisations and writers about how we can collectively seek support to advocate for the value of teachers and writers working together to improve outcomes for students.

On the 7 March we will be in Exeter to share early findings of the TaW research – led by Professor Debra Myhill, Professor Teresa Cremin and the research teams at Exeter University and Open University. The aim of the day is to focus on sharing learning from the research project, to develop a deeper professional understanding of the teaching of writing – enabling teachers and schools to be better equipped to meet challenges of the new curriculum. Presentations and case studies will focus on key messages for pedagogy and raising standards. If you are interested to find out more, we are offering six free places to the seminar day. It’s a 10.30am till 4pm day and you will have the chance to hear from teachers and writers involved in the project. Places will be first come first served and if you’re interested please email becky.swain@arvon.org and let us know a little about why you would be interested in joining us.

If you are interested in receiving advance information about weekend and week –long Arvon courses exclusively for teachers then please do get in touch to join our mailing list.

Becky Swain
Head of Learning and Participation


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