Teacher Creative Writing: The Importance of Developing Teachers' Own Practice as Writers

By Swain, Becky | NATE Classroom, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Teacher Creative Writing: The Importance of Developing Teachers' Own Practice as Writers


Swain, Becky, NATE Classroom


Finding space to develop teachers' own creative writing can have a powerful impact on motivating, inspiring and supporting students to improve their owl writing.

As writing attainment in English schools continues to lag behind that in reading, and teachers are expected to demonstrate their proficiency at modelling writing, I wanted to offer two examples of personal and professional learning that focus on teachers' development in their own creative writing and demonstrate how this can lead to transformational outcomes for both students and teachers. See page 34 for Caroline Murphy's report and reflection.

Arvon residential creative writing courses

Arvon started in 1968, when founders John Moat and John Fairfax ran a five-day residential poetry course for 15 teenagers in Devon. The course was a response to the way in which school life was becoming increasingly target-oriented at the expense, they felt, of young people's creativity, individual self-expression and motivation to learn for themselves. Over 40 years, the structure has developed into what teachers have described as an 'exceptional' course tutored by two published writers.

Each course takes place in the inspirational surroundings of our centres in Devon, Shropshire and Yorkshire. Away from the distractions of everyday life, with little in the way of a mobile signal, TV or internet, everyone has the space they need to focus on their writing.

Each course is tailored to suit each group, with a mixture of workshop exercises, time to write and one-to-one tutorials with both tutors. Each evening there is an activity such as a tutor or guest reading with time for questions. The residential aspect includes cooking together with everyone taking it in turns to work in teams of four to produce an evening meal. One of the highlights of the week is often the sharing of work on the final evening.

In 2012, Arvon will host 106 writing courses open to all, and over 30 schools will visit our centres for writing weeks, transforming students' ability to write creatively.

In July 2011, I visited teachers and students from Walker Technology College in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne during their five day residential stay at The Hurst Arvon Centre in Shropshire. I spent time with tutors, two teachers and sixteen Year 9 students, many described by their Head of English as 'struggling readers and writers'. Over a matter of days I observed that the improvement in their motivation, self-confidence and the quality of their writing far exceeded their expectations and those of their teachers.

On day two I was particularly struck by one student who had initially been reluctant to engage in writing. He beamed with pride that, 'Sir has shown us some of his own stuff.' For this student, knowing that both he and his teacher Martyn Webster were writers for the week and sharing their writing with each other, was clearly a powerful leveller.

After the course I invited Martyn to give his perspective on the benefits of the Arvon residential experience for him as a teacher and writer, and the impact it has had back in school.

'I have been greatly affected by the trip to The Hurst. It has reinvigorated my love of creative writing and reminded me that children love it too. I feel in order to teach this subject correctly I must continue to practice and experience creative writing.

One of the most valuable sections of the week was the one-to-one support available from the tutors. One of the greatest lessons I learned from the course was the benefit of feedback and discussing your 'work. I was put in the position of the students and I am now able to empathise "with them better.

I personally feel that a new avenue of writing was revealed to me during the workshops. I purposefully attempted to try new things and to experiment with my writing. I had only written a small amount of poetry before this, but would feel a lot more confident when writing it again. …

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