I’ve written about stripping writing back to the basics before and using modelling to really unpick what makes writing interesting. Why I love…Creative Writing as a slow process
This year, Year 10 had finished their exam for Literature and as a team we wanted to do something meaningful with writing to support our students before they fully engage with the Language course. We discussed the idea of doing a slow write for creative writing and I explained that I’d done that before and it had been a successful way of building an ‘in the moment story’. Convoluted narratives that last many days, weeks, years or months are not brilliant to read as they tend to go nowhere, in my opinion and can’t be given justice in 45 minutes. I always try to remind students that they are writing a snapshot in time, rather than a novel and that novels take months of planning, researching and writing, therefore drawing upon their own experiences (however limited) will make for a better story. That is why I insisted that they all write about a year 10 classroom and an incident within that classroom that happened within the space of a lesson (1 hour).
I put together a creative writing template on PowerPoint as a guide through the unit and created a copy for every teacher to use/adapt or ignore as they saw fit. The unit is very much based on the ‘I’, ‘We’, ‘You’ model of teaching. Sarah Barker @mssfax has a brilliant much recommended by me blog on here: https://thestableoyster.wordpress.com/2018/09/15/teaching-nothing-new/
which runs through the process. The basic premise I used was modelling a bad example, crowdsourcing the reasons for the poor quality and writing this on the board, to form the success criteria. E.g. too many short sentences became vary the sentence types ect. Then, when we had co-created the success criteria, I again crowd-sourced using questioning to get an improved version of the model, which I would painstakingly write on the board exaggerating the decision making process and rejecting words or phrases till somebody in the room came up with something that felt right or sounded right. We’d discuss these choices as they arose and we’d decide together what was right.
We did this for every step of the process – I – We – You: Plans, Introductions, character creation, rising action, climax and resolution. Although, I cheated at the climax point as I could tell the class were fatigued with the process and wrote the improved version and put it together with a success criteria for them to use as an example when writing their own climax.
The difference this time with the teaching of this unit in contrast to my previous slow write was an explicit focus on teaching skills and vocabulary and looking at name and word choices while teaching. We explored the meaning behind names, the difference between using personal pronouns and giving a character a name and how building characters engages the reader more effectively. This work was shaped by our English team and the many discussions on how to effectively teach the creative process, so thank you to them.
As well as doing I – We – You, we also looked at extracts from published writers at different steps of the process to try to mimic those techniques in our writing. The extracts were chosen specifically to explore different techniques such as use of dialogue and characterisation and resolutions. At the end of the unit we typed up the stories and I was really encouraged by the quality of thought and the development that was shown in the majority of the stories that they created.
Throughout the process it also forced the students to re-read their plan several times, to re-read what they had written before and to decide if they need to elaborate or not before they carried on. They had to take control of the writing process and the editing process or else they had very little of a story there.
I also freely admitted to the class that I’m not overly confident with creative writing myself and that is in spite of knowing the components of creative writing and having read avidly for my entire life!
Resources can be downloaded here, these are the word documents that I used alongside the modelling to support students understanding:
The template and the process that I went through with the students can be found here – the PowerPoint that is populated probably best shows all the thinking behind the scheme:
This is the ‘WE’ version of the story that was co-created with the class, which isn’t by any means perfect but which tries to build a coherent story within a short time frame.
Bombarding B11, Year 10 arrived, shoving, pushing and barging each other. Shouting with a countdown “3!, 2!, 1!” Miss Strachan tried to calm the rowdy class. Outside the sun was beaming through the windows, creating a stuffy, boiling pressure cooker. While trying to remain calm and get the lesson under way; bottles were being scrunched; pens were being clicked; students were leaning back on their seats; students continued to mutter, talk, laugh and make noises guaranteed to annoy the now impatient and irritated teacher. Rolling her eyes, she exclaimed “I cannot believe this is my last lesson with you!”
Miss Strachan was (the loud, Scottish, sometimes incredibly stressed teacher) was stood impatiently at the front of the musty, humid class. Glaring furiously at year 10, her tomato coloured face looked like it was about to explode, with frustration. Strachan’s volume was at an all-time high like an animal in pain. Crossing her arms, tapping her feet, exuding anger as she faced her class and stood her ground firmly.
Annoyingly, as the lesson with year 10 progressed the whole class were insulting each other, verbally abusing each other and generally acting up. Stressed, the teacher, Miss Strachan was getting more and more aggravated. Every time she turned her back, more noise, disruption and off task behaviour derailed her lesson.
Abruptly, with a death stare, her patience exploded. Screeching, in a high pitched tone, her frustration boiled over. “This is my last day, all I want it to have a memorable and enjoyable final lesson.”
Little did she know she would get the former!
Ignoring her, the class continued to shout and jeer and generally incite each other like a pack of wild animals. They were practically foaming at the mouth. Outside the sun pierced through the windows increasing the heat and the pressure cooker inside the room. One student, a tall, intimidating ring leader (you know the type!) started a water fight!
Control was gone. If control had ever been in place.
Water bottles with squeezable tops were whipped out of bags at a remarkable pace. Jets of water escaped from left, right and centre. White shirts were quickly soaked through and the noise levels rose even louder than the previous volumes. The chaos was unbearable.
In the corner, Miss Strachan let out a bellow, as she could feel the aggression in the room step up a level. Some quieter students were cowering in the background, trying to avoid the water, looking on in disbelief and thoroughly embarrassed by the level of disruption unfolding in front of them.
Acting quickly, Miss Strachan stepped in between two boys whose facial expression showed rage towards each other, she pushed them apart, shouted at the top of her lungs “SIT DOWN, NOW” as she continued to glower and stare at them.
The students seemed to come to their senses. Sheepishly, they sat down. Looking around, evidence of the chaos surrounded them.
Stood at the front of the class again, Miss Strachan hung her head, clearly defeated. Year 10 had finally destroyed her faith in young people.
As she began to lecture them, she realised it was futile, and stopped.
The bell rang.
En masse the students left. The main instigator asked, as he left the room “Miss, why are you leaving?”…