First, to give delegates a taste of the experience which characterises teachers’ writing groups, we ran the story-writing exercise which follows.
‘Experiential’ learning is so undervalued: not all can be learnt through instruction of old nostrums, least of all fluent self-expression. In any art form, there is great value in exploring yourself and the medium simultaneously. Some would say that's what art is for: to examine the human condition. In writing, such practices allow a creative exploration of complexity and uncertainty; an experimentation without fear of judgement; room to feel the flow of language; the release of genuine voices in their own rhythms, free from the obligation to satisfy external demands. And, in a trusting community, discoveries can be made and writers can be attended to fully - with genuine critical engagement. Without such experiences, skills may be taught and knowledge transferred, but there can be little real learning which connects, transforms and strengthens both the learner and the learnt.
So, after Jeni had read us a story, she invited us to list as many titles of personal or family anecdotes or stories, told, often told or, as yet, untold. Furious scribbling and then, minutes later, we shared around the room:
- The story of the drunkest man in London
- The story behind my grandfather’s postcards
- The story of when uncle Edward fell out of a window
- The story of lying on interview
- The story of when dad released the dogs
- The story about Sorrento and the cake
- The story my brother tells about JB
- The stories we tell about Mo when she is not there
Intriguing titles all. Then each person chose one of their titles to write about. After a further 10 minutes, we re-joined each other in pairs and small groups, read our stories, and reflected on our different feelings and processes of telling, writing, listening and discussing. Finally, Jeni and I shared some of the testimony of writing teachers from the project – much of which has already been included in the book.
You can read the PowerPoint slides here.
On 9 December, at the invitation of Anne Turvey, I led a writing session for 50 student teachers at the Institute. This was to continue the good work of the NWP group leader, Morlette Lindsay, and to invite others to pursue the research which she had been planning before she died. We all free-wrote and shared together, about those things we have learnt that were never on any curriculum – hugs, stilettos, the unforeseen. People were fascinated by the pleasure this gave them and by the liveliness of each other’s free-writing, the sense of individuals unencumbered by someone else's objectives. Morlette would have been pleased.
In 2017, more teachers’ writing groups will start and we will continue to collect evidence of the effects. We are planning further publications. Jeni will be convening a group of ITE lecturers in order to advance NWP’s work. We will be running a free, writing session at the Whitechapel Gallery in June and, I am delighted to say, there will be another residential in October for writing teachers.
If you would like to get involved, please visit or join a group. For other enquiries, please use the contact form.
NWP outreach director