Ten years is a fair crack. So, in the summer, when the paper is written, I shall retire from NWP(UK). Jeni will continue and take the project forwards. I thank everyone who has taken part in the writing conversation and helped to advance the project thus far.
In the first eight years of the project, I travelled around the UK to encourage teachers to write, and to help them launch their own groups so that they could speak from experience. There is greater interest than there is capacity to do this in these pressured times, so although 19 groups continue to meet, about 40 have been launched. They have provided teachers with trusted spaces in which to discover their own writing and teaching processes, free from current fads and impositions. I have always felt such independence to be an essential prerequisite for the lasting improvement of professional practice.
In the last two years I have launched and supported writing groups for all adults - not only teachers - in my own community. It has been instructive to write alongside others. Here the stipulation of examiners and the appetites of publishers are put aside; instead, we have focused on the many other valuable reasons for writing. We write freely and regularly, exploring a range of approaches, and take time to appreciate each writers' voice; we do not scan each other's writing for the inclusion of key features or for how it meets exam criteria, or for whether it exceeds expected progress or would suit a publisher's list. If writers are to develop meaningful writing habits and the self-belief that will take them forwards, more complex human responses are necessary.
As group-leader I have tried to do these things:
- Introduce a range of reading, artefacts and images as models and reasons for writing
- Provide regular opportunities to write without fear - words, lists, free-writing
- Listen and attend to what writers want to share and to their characteristic expression
- Acknowledge and re-play their feelings and implied meanings back to them
- Write alongside them, share instincts and choices - don't be too safely neutral
- Notice and affirm writers' efforts and experiments - withhold judgement
- Show belief in writers' content by focusing on specific word choices and voices
- Show belief in writers' processes by following emerging thoughts and asking about next steps
- When writers are ready, identify aspects where alternative choices might help, and provide perspectives on what, why and for whom they have written
- Explicitly develop writers' habits of regular writing, responding to the writing of others, and reflecting on individual and social effects
I know that time and freedom are not equally available to all, but these approaches are already common in some schools. They improve relationships between language and learners, and they make positive contributions to mental health and well-being.
My last and most recent report on NWP(UK) activity - can be found here.
NWP outreach director