There were stories of self-knowledge and social observation. There were stories about helping elderly relatives hold on to their memories – and thereby their identities – as well as several reflections on the positive ‘disturbance’ of being in unfamiliar places. And there were peppery vignettes and anecdotes such as ‘frogs cry like children, when they are threatened’. So often, it is the freshly realised particularity of the image - and its framing - that most intrigues and affects.
On September 4th, I led an NWP workshop for primary teachers. By reconnecting to their own creativity, they felt their agency with words and sensed their own stories unfolding, thereby readying themselves not just to instruct, but to collaborate as co-learners in the classroom. Writing teachers become stronger by practising what they preach – just as reading teachers benefit from cultivating their own reading, and all teachers by feeding their own enthusiasms.
Such approaches have been long promoted in the USA, where, after 44 years, NWP (US) writing groups now exist in most teacher education centres across 51 states. In their 2002 publication, ‘Because writing matters – improving student writing in our schools’(2002), Chicago Professor George Hillocks argues that ‘writing is thinking’: an inside knowledge of it should, therefore, be a prerequisite for any teacher. By ‘inquiring into things’, rather than simply trotting out forms and models, teachers and students alike strengthen their own critical thinking about the changing world. They re-examine what they know – or think they know, they observe afresh, they ask questions, they interpret themselves and their worlds through voices and personae, they test these interpretations with others - and they imagine – and discover what might yet be possible.
Similarly, Mikhail Bakhtin urged agency through immersion, not in theories and conventions about language, but in its daily dialogic practice:
Language, for the individual consciousness, lies on the border between oneself and the other. The word in language is half someone else's. It becomes "one's own" only when the speaker populates it with his own intention, his own accent, when he appropriates the word, adapting it to his own semantic and expressive intention. Prior to this moment of appropriation, the word does not exist in a neutral and impersonal language (it is not, after all, out of a dictionary that the speaker gets his words!), but rather it exists in other people's mouths, in other people's contexts, serving other people's intentions: it is from there that one must take the word, and make it one's own. (Dialogic 293-94)
These ideas continue to inform the collaborative enterprise of NWP(UK)’s grass-roots, teacher-led, writing groups. Last year, for example, NWP co-director, Dr Jeni Smith, convened a group of university lecturers to collect and publish evidence of effective practices in teacher education. In such ways, teachers' writing groups become laboratories for researching and refreshing current writing practice and pedagogy ...
... and on October 11th, a new NWP group launches at Springburn Academy in Glasgow, at a writing workshop led by Lisa Hamilton and myself, 4-5:30 p.m. Glasgow teachers have been emailed and the event is being promoted by SATE (The Scottish Association for the Teaching of English). Springburn Academy have advertised it on Glasgow's Continual Professional Development website as a free event. Click here for further details.: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/sate-national-writing-project-glasgow-branch-launch-tickets-37726315425?aff=es2
NWP outreach director
Russel K Durst: the British Invasion http://www.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Resources/Journals/CCC/0663-feb2015/CCC0663British.pdf
James Britton: The development of writing abilities 11-18. 1975
Mikhail Bakhtin: The Dialogic Imagination, 1981, http://www.public.iastate.edu/~carlos/607/readings/bakhtin.pdf
- quoted by Marilyn Middendorf in ‘Bakhtin and the dialogic writing class’ 1992. https://wac.colostate.edu/jbw/v11n1/middendorf.pdf