Indeed, a friend has just emailed me with these stories about her nieces, one of whom is a Primary school teacher:
She has also managed to keep teaching creative writing (primary level), despite the many pressures to have it squeezed out of the curriculum, because she says the children love it so much. In contrast, another younger niece, living in Lincolnshire, herself still at primary school, doesn't do any creative writing any more at school. Particularly sad because, although she has some learning difficulties, reading and story writing is what she loves most.
Such stories are all too common. In a world obsessed with measurement, immeasurably important things can get lost. With a surfeit of accountability in small matters and a dearth of trust in professionals’ wider expertise, this is almost bound to happen. Yet our future health and prosperity rely on the cultivation and exercise of creative freedom and discovery.
So, what do year 11 writers say happens to them when they write?
“When I write I try to escape my current life, which sucks ... Writing used to be my crutch but now it is an aching symphony ... and it’s so sad that something so beautiful and elegant and expressive has been tainted by my broken mind and the rules and regulations. When I used to write, it was my happy place; no one could tell me what to do. When I write now it’s under school rules, exam conditions...; it’s no longer mine because my soul has decayed and what is creative writing if not the soul of the writer?”
“It’s proven helpful to get it down and get it out of my head since it detaches me from my anxieties and allows me to manipulate the stressful situations I come up with. That in itself is invaluable to me a way from writing as I often put so much pressure on little, unimportant things and writing from an omniscient perspective rather than trying to disentangle myself from within really puts the major things into focus and I find myself able to brush off the smaller things more easily.”
“When I write, the world becomes a stress-free place where I don’t have to worry about the future, exams and jobs. I can be me for a few minutes. When I write I get to explore the endless possibilities of life. I don’t have to be one person, I can be multiple. I can be the rebel in my stories and avoid being the somewhat perfect student in real life...”
“When I write I finally feel free to do something I enjoy that I don’t have to do. This lets me retreat into a thought space within my own mind which I’ve always loved but haven’t had much time for. I ... enjoy thinking whilst writing as the serenity allows me to realign my thoughts and find out things about myself and others and work out things that I never understood. ...”
Makes you think, doesn’t it? Quite unprompted, here are metaphors of writing as a force which heals, disentangles, liberates, realigns. How different from the punitive, conflicted, statutory differentiation of ‘examined’ writing! These ‘unguided reflections' are only part of what students free-wrote in five minutes. Importantly for learning, the conversation that followed was all the richer and more considered for having spent a little time writing. ‘Provisional’ writing – writing which wasn’t to be marked for its use of grammatical constructions or stylistic features , but attended to for its ideas - gave them the chance to find a voice, to express their thoughts (not regurgitate someone else’s) and to begin to explore what they had learnt, what the barriers for learning might be, and how these might be overcome. Some more of writing’s ‘affordances’, perhaps?
Any teacher wanting to explore the benefits of this kind of writing further might participate, with their pupils, in the EMC’s online exhibition of ‘unguided writing’– teachers and students writing freely together - part of national writing day 21 June. It’ll be of great professional interest to find out how freedom, community and celebration – as opposed to regulation, competition and judgement - affect people’s writing.
And/or you could join an NWP teachers' writing group and discover the many benefits of writing together.
NWP outreach director