Wednesday 28 February 2018

Writing for pleasure 8 - what have I left out?

It's easy when writing things like this to tie everything up into neat programmes or lists of things to do. I've tried to make clear throughout that whatever I've written here and elsewhere they are for adapting by whoever is reading it. 

There's another aspect to this: there are always bits missed out, an emphasis that was skewed, points that were not made, so this last section is a kind of rag-bag of thoughts about what comes before.

1. All writing is helped by reading. The more that pupils read, the easier it is for them to write. The more widely they read, the easier it is for them to write. This is no mystery: writing involves us assembling words and structures in the writing-way-of-doing-language. By reading, we put into our heads the structures that belong to writing. We use these in order to write. This means that any way in which we can get every pupil reading for pleasure is a fantastic way to improve writing. There are now online and in books many suggestions for how to carry out a whole school policy on reading for pleasure. 

2. Much of what I've written here has put forward suggestions for 'processes' in which the process in question has been 'structured'. Only occasionally, have I dispensed with that and suggested freer ways of writing. I don't want to minimise this. When you have a group who are reading a lot, talking about what they're reading, and, say, performing poems or reading each other's stories, there'll be plenty of times when all we need to do is provide an open trigger or stimulus: a piece of music, a clip from a film, a walk in the snow. There'll be times in the midst of production of a magazine, when the need of the moment - to have a write-up of that netball game, to have a review of the latest album by 'x', and that job has to be done straightaway. These much more spontaneous ways of producing writing are no less valid than any of the more structured ones that I've suggested. What's more, the methods of one can feed into the other. Any writer will tell you, that part of writing is to have moments of 'inspiration' that arise out of daydreaming, walking, looking out of the window, and other parts come from having to write for a deadline, taking instructions from editors about what to take out and what to put in (often based on the expectations of genre - a form of modelling, if you like - imitation-invention!). We need both.

3. The different sections of this 'Writing for Pleasure' series are intended to be influencing and affecting each other: collecting, investigating, imitating, inventing and distributing. In any given day or week or year, it's not that one should come before another. The idea is that are all going on simultaneously: informing and helping each other. 

4. You can take any part of this series - or all of it - and use it for school-based research. You can think of any part of it as an 'intervention' and you can observe/analyse yourself teaching it, observe/analyse the pupils responding to that intervention, observe/analyse the writing that comes out of it, observe/analyse other teachers', parents' reactions to the outcomes. This is what we do at Goldsmiths in our term 'Children's Literature in Action' as part of our MA in Children's Literature.  I supervise teachers, librarians or people working in arts and education doing these kinds of studies. The 'matrix' in my booklet 'Poetry and Stories in Primary and Lower Secondary Schools' is for teachers to use as a way of analysing pupils' responses to literature. I would recommend anyone reading this series and trying out any of the ideas to set up some kind of research or monitoring arrangement. Everyone involved will benefit from such work. 

5. Some of the best work I've seen has arisen from 'whole school texts'. This is where a staff agree on a text that can work for the whole school to interpret in different ways: to read, discuss, investigate, write responses to, stories around, reviews, make videos, do art work, look at the history of the writer and/or work and/or culture it came from. I saw Ranelagh School in Newham do this with 'The Tempest' and there was work from nursery to Year 6 on this taking episodes and scenes from the play, modern versions writing their  own, doing  performances, paintings, building islands and so on. And the children were sharing their work with each other and with parents.