Writers in Schools: Part Two
Read part one of our Writers in Schools blog here
On our sixth visit, every member of the class stood up and read the first line of their story. They were also able to say what kind of writer they were – ‘Detective writer’, ‘Struggling writer’ (probably literary, then), etc – and to answer questions about the writing process in a quiz, e.g. Q: ‘What would you do to ensure your setting or a description comes alive for a reader?’ A: ‘Use all of your senses’.
Perhaps it sounds a bit unsatisfying and not much of a result for the six 50-minute sessions that Jane Alexander and I ran with Mairi Kennedy’s S3 class at Whitburn Academy. ‘So what?’ you might ask. But into those diverse first lines a great deal of development had been packed – each pupil knew quite a lot about their character, had decided on features of the setting, atmosphere, and where the story was going so that their opening line contained a sense of forward propulsion into a narrative. They were now ready to write their stories. So the outcomes of six visits?: ‘getting started’.
The three of us decided on this approach in advance and so shared a vision. Mairi was our anchor to the prior and future learning of the class, to a knowledge of the progress of individuals and to what activities were practical and meaningful. She was prepared to take risks by allowing us to up-end the usual arrangement of the classroom twice a week and give each pupil a personal writer’s notebook which was most definitely not a ‘jotter’ and would never be marked or even looked at by anyone else. Crucially she also recognised that we were there to help inspire, to model our own creative processes, to get the class experimenting with activities which involved generating material, developing craft skills and revising work. But this was only ever in bite-sized chunks. None of us expected that fully-formed stories were going to be written by the time we said goodbye.
Whatever the goalpost that is reached during the writer’s visit(s), it’s also important to register and celebrate what has been learnt and created. One question we asked in the final quiz was: ‘What kind of questions would you ask yourself to develop a story?’ Thankfully 100% answered, ‘what if..?’ and none, ‘so what…?’. I left with every confidence that, with Mairi’s guidance, those young writers were going to come up with some great stories.