When Simon and I meet we always try to write. Today we took as a starting point a list of titles taken from David Morley’s The Cambridge Introduction to Creative Writing. We very much recommend this book, especially if you want to think about your own writing practice and to try out different kinds of writing. The titles in the list are taken from the Norton American Literature anthologies. Simon chose ‘I heard a fly buzz when I died’ and the one that leapt out at me was ‘How to tame a wild tongue’. I am not sure whether or not the original title was from Gloria Anzaldua’s essay which focuses on the idea of losing an accent or native language to conform to the current environment. Today the title leapt at me and I began to write immediately. I want to finish the piece, because I began it by writing about my childhood, but found myself wanting to write about how my wild tongue has got me into such terrible trouble sometimes which is perhaps why, now, I have found it so difficult to let my words loose in a blog. One of the things we talked about, when we had written and read our writing to each other, was how context shapes what we write. I have been writing alongside Simon for two decades and recently we have been writing whenever we meet. We always use the oportunity to talk about writing and what happens when we write. I think we trust each other with our writing. That makes it easier to take risks and not to have to write for any kind of effect. It is getting late, and I have to make toffee so I shall do that and vow to keep creating blog entries, to build a picture of writing teachers.
I am just going to write briefly tonight. I wanted to start talking about teachers writing. Simon Wrigley and I are working with teachers to create spaces for them to write and to talk together about what happens in the classroom. We are finding out what happens when teachers write together. It is such a pleasurable thing. And the experience of writing together enters the classroom and changes pedagogy. One of the things that we do is write together in public spaces. The British Museum is a wonderful place in which to write. There is something about the way it is presented and the things that are collected there that prompts us to write in many different ways. We find ourselves and our lives amongst the objects and we find ways of writing in the voices of others.
I have found so many barriers to posting on this blog that the gap between my last post and this is huge. I think I would just like to try and cover some of the highlights to bring the blog up to date and then maybe come back to some of the events in the next few weeks. So….
…and I wrote no more. I am very aware of just how difficult it is to visualise the audience for the blog. Just write, as hear regular bloggers say. And so I am resolved to ‘just write’.
Writing Through Childhood: Rethinking Process and Product By Shelley Harwayne is a book about placing children at the centre of the writing process. Shelley Harwayne is New York teacher who was a codirector of the Teachers College Writing Project and principal of the Manhattan New School. She writes with passion about the writing that children do when really given the space and encouragement to be writers. I have just finished reading the book which I recommend to primary teachers as both energising and practical. The front cover illustration of the copy I have is filled with double portraits of children: one photo taken when the child is five and another at ten or eleven. The book considers all those years of writing and writing development. The Manhattan New School as described here, placed great emphasis on writers’ notebooks [from year 3], conferencing, mini-lessons, gaining inspiration from literature and from personal experience and a culture of sharing and celebrating writing of all kinds throughout the school and with families.
I especially enjoyed the chapter in which Harwayne thinks about behaviours that are typical of children (e.g. pretending, collecting, wanting independence) and thinking about how those can inform what happens in the writers’ workshop. One series of ideas, linked to the thought that children often look up to older children, really made me think about the whole school and its possible culture where children of different ages write for each other, critique each others work and have workshops together. One five year old set a trend by asking to spend a writing workshop with his older brother in year 3. A request was duly written and answered and then others joined in, spreading the possibilities to friends, neighbours and bus companions.
Another chapter considers mini-lessons and includes a long list of books that Harwayne has used to show examples of how writers have tackled all kinds of ideas and tricky problems. Most of the books listed are American in origin, so that sent me scurrying to Abe books. It has also meant that I have begun to compile my own list of titles that are more readily available here. It has made me think that we seem to have fewer good books based in Britain that are based on non-fiction – diaries, nature notes, memoir and fewer books, also, about the emigrant experience. So several thoughts for thoughts for later postings.
I have been thinking about writing a blog for a long time. I have not started before because it has always seemed difficult to know what to say and the editor in the head hits the delete button as soon as letters hit the screen. So, today, I have been pushed into the water and I shall just have to raise my head and kick my legs and wave my arms around. I am interested in education and work with people who are starting out on the path towards being primary school teachers. They make me think and rethink about teaching and learning and children and what it is to be a teacher. I have been teaching for a long time and find it endlessly fascinating. I am interested in so many things. Those that rise to the surface just at the moment include writing, storytelling, drama, poetry, children’s autonomy. I can see that I am going to have to let this first page go, just to get myself moving. I think that most of all I am interested in the quietness of teaching, its puzzles, its indeterminacy, the importance of the individual and of relationship.
This page has a photograph of writing – and reading. I am interested in the ways that teachers write and how writing can have an impact on teaching. I think that I am discovering that writing alone can have a powerful influence on individual well-being and confidence and that writing and being read – being part of a community – has the potential for affirmation in an important way.