teaching and learning guest Blogs
Adopting guerrilla tactics to provide creative opportunities
I've tried to launch creative writing journals several times.
They have started with good intentions: students engaged; well received within school.
But then the nagging starts ... and the writing stalls ... and eventually the venture folds like a used paper napkin.
However, this time I think I've cracked it. Having followed @the_Book Fairies on Twitter, I have been impressed with their charitable philosophy of sharing worldwide passions for literature by hiding varied works of prose in secretive locations, to be found by unsuspecting members of the public, with the instruction to take the book, read it and then leave for the next person to enjoy. It struck me that we too could adopt the same philosophy. Instead of our creative magazine festering in the back of a disused filing cabinet, why not share across the community?
I put the proposal to my year 8 students who immediately bought in to the idea. We had been studying Dickensian characters and they were particularly motivated by the intensity of Gradgrind and Scrooge. So, we decided to create our own 21st century stereotypes by mag-pieing Dickens' structural devices (preparation for GCSE English Paper 1, question 3). Each student came up with a character with whom they could associate: the angry dinner lady; the teenager glued to the cracked screen on their phone; the disaffected fast-food outlet employee. We then explored one hour in their characters' lives, practising the art of condensed narrative (Paper 1, question 5) and saying a lot about a little.
Encouraged, we compiled the journal and then arranged where and when we would drop the magazines on to the unsuspecting public. So this weekend should see 'The Wyedean Review' popping up in coffee shops, hair dressers, hospital waiting rooms, primary schools, leisure centres, libraries ... There are endless possibilities. Students have been encouraged to photograph locations and tweet @WyedeanEnglish using the hashtag #whyreadwyewrite. By bombarding the local community and using the twitter sphere, I hope to enthuse others with similar projects.
The benefits are vast. In terms of preparation for GCSE, we have stepped outside the classroom and created a live audience for our writing. Undoubtedly this has meant students have valued crafting a 'professional' piece of literature for public consumption. And as covertly as they are dropping their magazines, I have snuck in many valuable skills required for GCSE English Paper 1.
This will be a half termly project, where differing ages and abilities will take responsibility for producing the content, promoting our culture of high expectations for all. This project also has wings: excitingly, the Art department have offered to produce the front cover; Business Studies students have offered to deliver the publication ... there are endless possibilities for collaboration.
However, most importantly in times where we repeatedly read about creativity being sapped out of the curriculum, we have reinvigorated a love for creative writing. That most wonderful skill of creating a character and shaping their future.
I have even written this blog.
Thank you for reading. https://staffrm.io/@lucymc/vAhL79F7Pi
Labelling and notions of fixed ability are prevalent in our education system. Students are divided into groups according to their prior attainment and ‘appropriate’ work is provided as a result. OFSTED inspectors check that teaching is differentiated accordingly and some teachers are encouraged to provide lesson objectives according to ‘all, most, some’, creating an opportunity for teachers and students to subconsciously lower their expectations. From the earliest stages of formal education, teachers are required to make predictions about future development based on present attainment, determining students’ academic ability.
In their 1968 book, ‘Pygmalion in the Classroom’, Rosenthal and Jacobsen reported that experimentally created teacher expectations resulted in changed performance on the part of the students. Teachers were told by researchers that one group of students would make significantly more progress than their peers. Despite the fact that these ‘bloomers’ were randomly selected, this group ‘showed greater IQ gains over the course of a year than a group of control students’. The debate continues to rage…
Rubie-Davies et al refer to teachers as ‘high and low differentiating’, finding that ‘none of the high expectation teachers grouped their students by ability’, suggesting that ‘within-class ability grouping (can have) detrimental effects on student self-beliefs’. Compared to setting, however, Baines suggests that within-class ability grouping is an advantageous form of grouping as it can ‘be more closely connected to learning and teaching objectives’ and ‘offer greater flexibility in reassignment of students’, although warns against homogenous ability groups as ‘all participants have similar understandings or assume that others already have these understandings’.
A further characteristic of high expectation teachers is a positive teacher-student relationship. Ireson and Hallam find that ‘pupils who feel supported by their teachers are less likely to become alienated and disengaged from their work’, claiming that ‘environments that foster a sense of belonging (should) also promote achievement. Muller et al report students feel ‘it is important to have teachers who care about them. They want…their teachers to be able to believe that they can do good work and demand it’.
The final aspect of practice in which high expectation teachers differ markedly is through goal setting based on regular, formative evaluation. Providing students with clear, specific feedback about their goals can aid student progress. Hattie also claims that ‘feedback is among the most powerful influences on achievement’. In order to have the most impact, feedback needs to be ‘purposeful, meaningful and compatible with prior knowledge’ as well as ‘relating to specific and clear goals’. The research warns against directing feedback at the level of ‘self’, and stresses the importance of allowing learning from mistakes, suggesting that ‘we need classes that develop the courage to err’.
The terminology of ‘a culture of high expectations’ is in itself complex and problematic, but any opportunity to explicitly raise expectations should be seen as a moral imperative.