GUEST BLOG: Teachers developing their writing for pleasure By Matthew Lane

Teachers developing their writing for pleasure.

By Matthew Lane @MrMJLane

Feeling a need to practise the craft of writing. Feeling capable and empowered to engage with the processes of writing including talking about writing.”. The working definition of Writing for Pleasure given in the Writing for Pleasure manifesto: a definition that can be applied as readily to teachers as to the pupils in the charge.

In developing my own writing for pleasure, I have been fortunate to be a member of a Writing Teachers group based at the University of East Anglia (UEA) since 2013. The group meets monthly to write, discuss our writing; discuss writing pedagogy and share the writing of our pupils. Being a member of this group has developed my skills as a writer, my skills as a teacher of writing, and – most importantly – my love for writing and the pleasure I take in the process of writing.

History and background

In 1966, a National Writing Project was founded in the USA with the aim of universities and academics working directly with teachers to develop the writing skills of teachers. Teachers wrote together and in doing so developed their skills of writing and gained experience in discussing their writing and the writing of others. This project is still going strong today, with groups based at over 200 universities across the USA.

A number of small-scale projects have been undertaken in the UK with an aim of teachers writing together. In 2008, Richard Andrews made the case for a National Writing Project in the UK (NWP UK). The concept was turned into practice by Jenifer Smith and Simon Wrigley, with Richard acting as a critical friend and advisor. Jenifer has been running a writing teachers group at UEA since 2002 alongside her role as a Senior Lecturer for the School of Life Long Learning and Education. Her approach to Writing Teachers groups is one that has been developed by 20 years of prior experimentation and research and this model was used as the basis for groups founded as part of the NWP UK. At the time of writing, there are 20 groups of teachers meeting monthly in cafes, schools and universities. Some groups are made up of a handful of teachers; others are larger counting 70 members.

Writing Teachers

Each Writing Teachers group is a community of writers. Teachers come from a variety of school settings and experiences of teaching. The Writing Teachers group I attend at UEA includes teachers from across the age range of pupils from Early Years to KS5 to lecturers from the UEA’s School of Education and Lifelong Learning. Our group includes teachers from the state and independent sectors; local authority and academy schools and specialist settings such as Pupil Referral Units. We meet monthly at UEA for 2 hours, although the chatting and discussion of writing and teaching with old friends can go on long after we have finished writing.

Groups have a leader for the session that guides the writing teachers through a writing process for the session. Alongside the writing is discussion and instruction of the writing process. Teachers take time to write for the pleasure of writing and then discuss their writing. Members then have the opportunity to discuss how they could apply and adapt this activity to their school environment and classroom practice.

In my group we often start with sharing children’s work and learning that was inspired from an activity the group undertook at the previous meeting. We then start with words: listing words on a theme that the meeting will take or words we have found and enjoyed that month. Words are then shared one at a time around the group. Patterns are heard, explored and discussed. From this process I have learnt many colloquial words as well as about my fellow writing teachers.

We then undertake a short write (3-4mins) from a stimulus – often poetry or another short format write – with a focus on a theme or a feature of that writing. From these short writes I have found a love of poetry, especially how poetic devices can be used to enrich prose. I had not appreciated until I joined the group, that to understand the act of writing poetry you need to write your own. To find your voice as a poet and then be reflective of how this influences your teaching of it. To reflect upon the act of writing.

I write in large bursts, adapting ideas as I go; whilst other members of the group are pensive, crafting each line. This makes you aware of how much writing goes on in the mind, rather than on the paper, and how we should not then expect children to always be writing in lesson or jumping straight into the writing as soon as we say to start.

Then there is time for discussion of a book or resource to inform our longer write or project for the remainder of the session. We may write based upon a book; a found object or piece of art; a walk through the campus or explore ways of publishing writing. Publishing work may be through different forms of display as a group (a group story board or written Christmas Tree) or individually (poems hung, verse-by-verse, from a branch).  Crafting a shape poem Christmas Tree with my class is an activity I have enjoyed repeating every year. There is always fierce competition in my class for the poem that forms the star on the top.

Joining a writing group highlighted the importance of teachers writing for their own pleasure and writing as part of a group. Whilst I would not give a second thought to reading a children’s novel, writing for the joy of writing (and to develop my pedagogy along with way) seemed far more daunting. Maybe it is because reading is a skill but writing is an art that takes far more practice to become competent with? As with many other art forms, it is the discussions and contributions of others that nurture skills and passion.  I have had few greater pleasures in my life than seeing others taking delight in my writing as I share it with a group.

Writing is a deeply personal act: one that can lay open the deepest parts of our memories and emotions. Joining a Writing Teachers group gives the teacher a space with other practitioners to explore their own joy of writing and experiment with the frontier of their writing style that they may not have the time or confidence to do in front of 30 pupils. By working in a group to take pleasure in your own writing and writing style, teachers become more honest with themselves; more self-aware. And when teachers teach with honesty and passion, it brings their classrooms alive.

Conclusions

Joining a group of Writing Teachers has had a hugely positive affect on my practice as a teacher. Each meeting I come away with a bevy of new ideas and a renewed passion for writing and the teaching of writing. It could be a new activity, a new approach or a new perspective on teaching writing.

I have taken the ideas and ethos of Writing Teachers back into my own school, where I have founded a Writers’ Club for 7-11 year olds. Each week this year, 50 children gather to share words and ideas and enjoy learning about new ways of writing beyond those covered in the National Curriculum. So far it has created a 9-year-old lover of semi-colons; a novel that is nearly 100 pages long (and still growing) and pages and pages of beautiful poems and prose.

Being a teacher who takes pleasure in writing is vital to being a teacher of writing and a writer-teacher. How can we expect our children to have a love of writing if we, as teachers, do not know how to love writing ourselves? Being a member of Writing Teachers has brought authenticity and confidence to my teaching of writing. By working in the supportive environment of a Writing Teachers group, I have developed the skills and confidence to share my love of writing with children. I have developed the knowledge to explore the tricks of writing that make ideas come alive. As one of my favourite authors put it in A Hat Full of Sky: “It’s still magic even if you know how it’s done.”

***

And now you know how Writing Teachers is done you may wish to join or start a group of your own. You can find out more information from the National Writing Project website (http://www.nwp.org.uk/) and by reading Jenifer Smith and Simon Wrigley’s book Introducing Teachers’ Writing Groups (2016) published by Routledge.

I share my own ideas and thoughts on writing along with the creations of my Writers’ Club on Twitter. Follow @MrMJLane to see my tweets.

2 thoughts on “GUEST BLOG: Teachers developing their writing for pleasure By Matthew Lane”

  1. I really like the idea of starting a session with children’s writing inspired from the previous meeting. Might steal!

    Like

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