Teachers and students then wrote together to reflect on what they had learnt, what had surprised and puzzled them about the ‘A’ level course so far. One student was amazed to find how much more conscious she had become about the way people use language. She had developed a guilty – but widely shared - pleasure in photographing public signs.
Later, I crossed the south downs to attend a meeting of NWP Eastbourne - another writing group of primary and secondary teachers and consultants, which meets in each others’ houses - and sets each other homework. I was invited to read and annotate other people’s stories about ‘characters in danger’ - and to receive advice on my own efforts. Wild animals prowled town gardens, children fell through ice, women collapsed in pregnancy, and relationships teetered on the brink of disaster. The writing was impressive: diverse in tone and distinct of voice. Conspicuously, the group values each others’ writing company and feels rejuvenated by sharing words and cake together – not necessarily in that order - even on a weekday evening.
To build self-respect and to be serious about the process, nobody was allowed to disparage their own writing before reading out. This good rule is observed in other groups. It's too easy to invite vacuous praise with self-deprecating introductions. We have to learn to trust each other - and it really is all right to be you. It's an attitude which teachers bring into their own classrooms in order to instil care, co-operation, confidence and resilience.
Teachers' experiences in NWP writing groups informs the their work in schools: young writers, their experiments, their purposes, their own particular 'take', the content of what they want to say, and their responses to each other - all these things become of uppermost importance. Teachers create trusted environments in which they write alongside their pupils, cultivate sensibility about how feelings may be suggested, how words and tone reveal attitude, how the writing sticks, flows and is shaped. The hinterland of their own writing group is a deep, rich and sustaining resource for writing teachers in classrooms. Such writing groups demonstrate the importance of wholeness and inclusion in a world where so much is in fragments.
Both students and teachers discover that their personal and working lives benefit from the re-connections, affirmations, insights and experiences brought by writing together. (More ‘affordances’?)
NWP outreach director