Michael Rosen also spoke at the conference (michaelrosenblog.blogspot.co.uk/) about the need for fuller and more authentic writing in schools. He caricatured as ‘straining for effect’ that artificial style of writing brought about by the unhealthy backwash of high-stakes testing. For pupils to learn and be motivated, he said, they need to explore, experiment and share their writing, and know that it is through the dynamic and generative process, not by the acquisition of wooden formulae, that writers progress. And the provisionality of all writing means that the process defies finity. As Michael said, ‘every act of writing is an experiment – we do not know what the outcome is - we are always learning to write’.
7.7.2016 Luton NWP teachers meet at Wrest Park. We use phrases to spring-board us into free-writing. We undertake scavenger hunt with 6 prompts:
- Something red
- Something curved
- Something broken
- 5-10 consecutive words written on something other than paper
- Something missing
- Something sharp
After reading out and talking, we discuss what we have learned about writing in the first year of gathering together:
- the discovery that when individuals free-write for a short time alongside others, they remove their fear of writing and develop fresh thinking
- writing which emerges from within (rather than ‘targeted writing’ which tries to satisfy external demands) unlocks the imagination and unfolds thought
- a trusted group - in which writers are supported to voice their writing, where writing is celebrated and where the unique thoughts and rhythms of each writer are attended to – can encourage writers, give them value, and generate greater engagement and writing momentum
- that attending to vocabulary and ‘word-strings’ can raise awareness of writing’s muscles and rhythms, thereby helping writers find and trust their own inclinations, with beneficial effects on subsequent writing
9.7.2016 Islington NWP teachers meet in the group leader’s house. We share words that we are liking now, and then we write together – a fascinating exercise in anthropomorphism – love affairs between disparate objects (you had to be there!) We also reflect on the effects of writing together:
- A morale boost – a reminder of the health-giving effects of practising autonomy when your life is controlled and circumscribed – the joy of sharing – refreshing to be meeting out of school
- Writing together develops sensitivity about sharing, especially knowing how deeply writing can trawl the subconscious
- ‘do it, embody it, experience it’ – ‘it comes from somewhere more honest’
- Regularly sharing words has made our pupils less inhibited to ask each other about words and meanings.
- We have fun experimenting with writing. By the same approaches our students increase their appetite and proficiency in writing. Some pupils feel threatened if they don’t know ‘the right answer’ or are forced to demonstrate ‘progress’ in timed conditions, but when they are encouraged to think divergently and the teacher says, ‘I want to hear your voice’, they enjoy the writing process more, developing confidence within themselves rather than relying on external judgements.
12.7.2016 Jeni and I meet in Anglesey Abbey to plan for the UK project’s first writing residential. Jeni reports on her experience of participating and presenting at the Maynooth NWP writing summer in Ireland. The Irish teachers’ writing is rich and deeply valued.
16.7.2016 Milton Keynes NWP teachers and students meet – at least 3 generations – and write outside together near the Peace Pagoda at Willen Lake. It is a privilege to write among members of the same family, and to hear a year 8 student with the courage and confidence to read her work aloud, receive feedback and discuss the writing of others with insight. This, she says, is in stark contrast with the more mechanical, less productive writing processes she encounters in school. Her teacher does not write - yet.