How Meta-Fictional Alchemy Turned Fool's Gold to Pure Gold

By Shaw, Peter | NATE Classroom, Autumn 2010 | Go to article overview

How Meta-Fictional Alchemy Turned Fool's Gold to Pure Gold


Shaw, Peter, NATE Classroom


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English teaching is a wonderful, if at times over 4 whelming responsibility. Every child's economic security depends on the acquisition of basic literacy skills and the mastery of their language '5 is essential to make their lives meaningful. English teachers are therefore driven by a passion and purpose to ensure children learn to seek and make meaning. This inevitably involves separating fiction from reality, but of course this isn't always easy ...

In 2007, I was beginning to think that writing for real purposes and audiences was actually becoming pretentious. Fortunately, this was about to change when some gifted and talented 9 Year 7 students began telling me, despite my (explanations to the contrary, that they would become successful authors in their teens. Although I really enjoyed listening to their ambitions and aspirations, I doubted that they could achieve them. I remember concluding temporarily, that it was a search for Fool's Gold and that they wouldn't find real gold until they were older. It turns out that I was the fool and they were the gold waiting to be discovered.

As all conscientious teachers would do, I supported them, remembering that real teaching is more about helping others achieve what they want their way, than achieving what you want your way. The same students went on to write an anthology of fantasy stories in Year 8, entitled Out of the Shadows, which reached no 3 in Amazon's Childrens' Fantasy charts and the top 2000 books worldwide. They also sold 150 copies in Waterstones bookshops, 35 copies in WHSmith and over 500 copies locally. Many of us were surprised by how easy it was to do. Self publishing an ISBN registered book is not as expensive or as time consuming as many English teachers might think. What's more, unlike traditional publishing, you are in full control of the scope and scale of what you undertake. Students and teachers can learn a lot about raising literacy standards from the report of a proof reader and their full script feedback can be as cheap as between 100 [pounds sterling]-200 [pounds sterling].

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I enjoyed the lessons to be learnt from self publishing so much that I went on to lead the production of a 181-page graphic novel, cryptically named Fool's Gold! The scale of this left many industry critics amazed that we had pulled it off, but fortunately my team adopted the best project adage--'think big, start small.' Producing the first, far smaller book, taught us plenty of humility and grace with regard to writing for real purposes. I passionately believe that many of the techniques we used to produce Out of the Shadows and Fool's Gold could be adopted by any and all English teachers, to match whatever aspirations, ambitions and achievements they wish to inspire. What's more, I am fully prepared to share the 'real and pragmatic strategies' behind the Dearne's meta-fictional alchemy, because we all know that English teachers can't ever be 'pretentious' or hide behind 'fake' results!

I was fortunate, because I had the support of the headteacher, staff, governors and organisations linked with the school as well as the students, before proceeding. We started with student/ teacher meetings to discuss the importance of reading and how writers achieve a wide readership. In the meetings the students talked about what kind of book they wanted to produce and decided on genre, target audience and length. I devised an initial plot synopsis and organised workshops with professional writers, through which delegated groups of students learnt how to develop this into far more detailed text, pictures and dialogue. Fool's Gold centred on a combined treasure hunt and ghost story that featured the students themselves as the central characters.

The blurb read--

   It seems almost impossible to wet the
   learning appetite of the 'Iron Pyrates' at the
   Dearne High! … 

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