"Lewis is a traveller and in his words, ‘can’t write’. However, with questioning from me and with me typing his ideas, together we wrote this story. So the conversation went something like this:
Me: Where do you want your story to start?
L: In the caravan park.
Me: Whereabouts in the park?
L: by the trailer.
Me: what’s next to the trailer?
L: a fire.
Me: Zoom in on the fire, what do you see?
L: smoke coming up.
Me: Fab! We have our first line: Smoke curled up from the fire outside.
…and so on.
During the writing, he was sitting on a sofa next to me in the English classroom, I was able to explain the use of some of the punctuation for the reader etc."
The Family by Lewis Connors
Smoke curled up from the fire outside. Jo Dean sat with his freshly made cup of tea watching the lights from the cars going past. His mum and the twin girls had gone out to Tesco to get some food. The oldest daughter, Jolene was cleaning up the trailer while his dad was putting wood in the stove. Next to the caravan, eating the grass, was their beloved cart horse Cocoa. The family got Cocoa two years ago. They had bought her from Appleby Fair Show.
As Jo Dean went to go and help his dad, around about 6 o clock, he heard a loud bang. It was followed by the noise of a dog. He went to go and help the dog. The dog was bleeding on its back leg and it was making really sad noises. Jo Dean’s dad came over to try to help, but the dog was too badly injured. Just then, his mum came back from Tesco with the twins and Jolene came out of the trailer. They decided together as a family to go to the vets.
It was a really long, hard week waiting for news from the vet. They all tried their best to take their minds off it. They went chopping; they went on their quad bikes; they went walking; they went riding and at last there was a phone call about the dog. Jo Dean had named the dog Sasha. It was good news. The leg had healed. Not only that, the vet told them there was no owner. He said the dog could come and live with him. Now Jo Dean had his very own dog. Their family was complete.
Helen has created a climate of belief in her writing classroom. This is fundamental to nurturing meaningful writing. She knows that less confident writers will be surprised by the power of their own writing - as Lewis has been here. Without this 'surprise' self-esteem will be hard won and further development difficult.
This echoes what Sue Dymoke says:
"Children and adults who are learning to write continually need to experience this thrilling sense of mission and discovery when they write."
... All teachers need support to develop their confidence as creative readers and writers. This cannot be achieved unless time has been allocated ... Beginning teachers especially need to learn to struggle with words on the page, to trust their peers to critique and support their endeavours, and also to expriment with a set of writing practices and social interventions which they will feel able to adapt for use with their own classes."
(Harold Rosen lecture at NATE conference, 2016)
Helen knows this and has reached out to support her colleagues:
"I ran a course for teachers called, Reluctant Writers. In it we used variations on loads of NWP ideas such as word daisy chains and scavenger hunts etc. The English department were having great trouble with behaviour in their lessons (all the students are excluded and disaffected) and there were huge blocks against writing of any kind.
I’ve copied below some of the feedback I’ve had a result of the session.
- I tried out some of the writing exercises over the last couple of days too. Lists were particularly successful - with the unlikeliest characters grabbing pen and paper to jot down types of biscuits, flavours of crisps, Premiership football teams and African countries. The word chains also appealed to some - and the continuous writing inspired several students to really go with the flow - and one to suggest that we adapt it and turn it into a game of 'Just a minute'.
- I used your idea of setting a time limit and it worked SO well with Francesco and Asif (not their actual names). They've never made much effort in my lessons but this activity set them up from the start, plus they actually enjoyed the challenge and they made it competitive. THEN they worked solidly for THE WHOLE LESSON. I'm pretty speechless.
- I used the Tell Me More with two very reluctant Year 11 students and they were able to complete a character sketch of Bill Sikes from Oliver Twist, investigate online, look at film clips and stay engaged the whole lesson. Fab.
It’s so exciting to me that they are getting students to write."
NWP outreach director