Tuesday, 26 November 2013

First Feedback

Feedback is a big challenge for me – both in terms of giving and receiving. So far, I am terribly in awe of all the work our First Story students produce, meaning that I am pretty much incapable of seeing improvements. When it comes to creative writing (as opposed to academic writing), I am not particularly familiar with the structure and how to propose adjustments. Plus, creative writing is very personal: I would hate to step on Kate’s toes and damage the hard work she does to support the students, so this may be something for which I will need some help and training.

I am also pretty atrocious at taking constructive criticism about my own work (as my long-suffering mother well knows...). But I love being a part of First Story and really want to see some development in my own writing! This year, I have been consistently terrible at submitting work to Kate, mostly because I have been busy but partly because I have been worried about what she will say about it!

Today, we started our First Story session by looking at a piece of anonymous writing (not from any of our students, it should be said!) and critiquing it. We talked about the imagery, the themes and the story (or lack thereof), and discussed what we could do to make it better, which essentially came down to all the students agreeing they would throw it in the bin and write something completely different.

It was a real confidence boost for all the students to acknowledge that they could write something better than this published piece.

So I finally got my act together and emailed her a poem and a short story. The poem was from the session when we had looked at Simon Armitage's poem, and the short story was from the day we had look at Katherine Mansfield's writing (click here if you dare). For both pieces, I recognise that some work needed to be done, so I hope I will not be distressed by anything Kate had to say. I think this recognition came from seeing Kate working with the students and getting a better idea of how their work could be developed, and from knowing that I had not made the same mistakes as we had seen in the starter sample.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The Student Teacher's First Lesson

Today, our wonderful writer-in-residence was whisked away to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen!

Initially, we were hoping Miss Woolley would lead the lesson, giving our young writers an opportunity to catch up and edit existing work, making developments and alternations and working towards the First Story anthology. But then Miss Woolley was called away on urgent business where she would meet another royal, Prince Charles, so Mr Moyser, our lovely English intern, offered to take the session.

As a student teacher, Mr Moyser presented me with a brilliantly structured and fluent lesson plan before commencing teaching. It noted the lesson aims, resources to be referenced, and differentiation opportunities. It was very detailed, but what impressed me most was his actual teaching - engaging, entertaining and educational.

Mr Moyser presented us with an extract from Zadie Smith's NW, in which she describes a route from A to B in a rather unconventional manner. The first part of the extract looks a little like a Google Maps route, outlining distance and turnings. The second part described the same journey using short snippets of detail, such as the smells, sights and sounds. It was a very unconventional starting point, focusing on sensual settings rather than character or story.

Then, the group were asked to think about a journey they know well, like the route to school. Mr Moyser used the technique of automatic writing, in which the young writers are encouraged to write about whatever comes into their head as the teacher offers prompts, such as "What can you smell?", "If you stuck your hand out right now, what could you touch?". Some students wrote lists, whilst others wrote sentences. After a few minutes of this, Mr Moyser asked us to pause, reflect, and edit, bringing together similar sounds and rhythms, developing our notes into a poem or short piece of prose.

This workshop produced a variety of different styles, which was fascinating to witness. Some students took the task literally, writing something similar to Smith's original but drawing on their own experiences. Others built up their routes, subtly adding in story or character through carefully manufactured hints and implications.

I really enjoyed this workshop - and I think this is partly due to Mr Moyser's beautifully executed and suitably flexible lesson plan. Seeing the direction the lesson was intended to go gave me a different perspective on a writing workshop, and helped me think differently about teaching and learning.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

First Writer's Block

At the end of each session, Kate collects up the work of most students for her special typing up service, in which she transforms scribbles and pencil scratchings into poetic masterpieces. Then, when we begin each new session, Kate will present us with the work from last week, so we can look it over and celebrate what has been achieved. It is a lovely way to link all the sessions together, and to get the students to recognise how well they are doing. It also means that the young writers begin each class feeling optimistic and ready to write!

During the week, Kate sent us all a short story and a poem to read, based around the story of Beauty and the Beast. As a group, we then talked about folk stories we knew as a child and dreams and fears these stories evoked. Most of us were preoccupied with Disney-style stories, though it appears one of our female sixth formers always dreamed of being Han Solo.

Thinking about childhood, Kate encouraged us to write, starting with the line, "When I was a child...", inspired by The Beast by Lorraine Mariner. There were giggles from all around the table as people reminisced about their youthful fantasies about handsome princes and comic book superheroes and life as a cat.

I, meanwhile, drew a complete blank. I had had an incredibly long day, running around in my other role as Primary Liaison. So when it came to formulating words in sentences, I failed.

But when I heard the students read back their poems and stories, I felt incredibly inspired. We laughed about shared dreams and common experiences and some superbly random childhood imaginings, and suddenly I started thinking about the task a lot more creatively.

Today, I ran out of time to write anything, but I have this weekend all to myself so will definitely find time to go back to this task.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

First Breakthrough

Over this first term, many of the students from First Story have come and approached me to talk about what they are reading or writing. It is incredible how fast they become confident in sharing with you, wanting to know what you think.

Today, I felt like Kate really broke through with some of the new students in our group. We drew from a poem by Simon Armitage called 'It Ain't What You Do, It's What It Does To You'. Kate encouraged us to think about our dreams - where we wanted to go, what we wish we could see and taste - and to contrast them to things we have seen and done - things unique to our families, our homes, our city.

I found myself thinking about all the great places I have visited, including Southeast Asia, Scandinavia, the United States. There is so much more I want to do with my life, but I found myself contrasting these amazing experiences with the more personal things I want to see and do, like seeing my friends get married, seeing my brother continue to mature and having a family of my own.

There is still some work to be done on this, but maybe I will put it online soon.

Meanwhile, the students produced some incredible pieces. Whereas mine had been an optimistic dream of my future, others had contrasted the boredom and discolour of Britain with their fantasies of other countries and cities. Some had compared their dreams of world travel with home comforts, such as food, family and friends. There was one student in particular who we really felt achieved her first piece of great writing today, in which she used incredibly beautiful imagery to describe her love of her family.

When all the students had left, Kate and I shared the excitement of her breakthrough. This is what First Story is all about!

Click here to see my work from this session.