SATS smother children’s creativity!
Writing standards tumble for under 7’s!
GCSE examiners shocked by txting slang!
We’ve all seen the headlines. (In fact, I’m amazed that armies of creative writers aren’t already storming the school gates to rescue our poor children from the tyranny of the National Curriculum.) But seriously, sometimes in life you get an urge to give something back, and for professional writers that feeling may manifest itself in a desire to share your craft with the next generation. And where better to do it than in your local school? If that sounds too corny and Dead-Poets-Society for you then you have my permission to leave this post right now.
It should be a win-win situation: teachers get a helping hand, the pupils get a sustained dose of creativity and attention, and you get the satisfaction that comes with sharing your time and skills. That’s why I’m volunteering this year and if you are too then here are some helpful pointers and links that I’ve picked up in preparation.
5 tips before you start
I did a quick survey of my writing and teaching friends and asked what advice they’d offer to writers who have the chance to work with a school. Here’s a summary of what they said:
1. Be polite and respectful of the fact that you’re a guest in someone else’s professional domain. Do the class teacher the courtesy of speaking with them beforehand, at a time to suit them, please.
2. Don’t go in as The Expert, even if you believe yourself to be one, or – worse still – as some kind of saviour of children’s creativity. Just imagine just how irritating that would be. Better to offer yourself as a resource to be used. Can your lesson, for example, tie in with one of the curriculum topics outlined in that term’s Scheme of Work?
3. Be aware that you’ll probably be required to have a CRB check carried out under the new Vetting and Barring Scheme, which becomes compulsory in 2010. It’s no use ranting about it or getting uppity. That’s been done already by some of our finest writers.
4. Join the National Association of Writers in Education (NAWE) which costs £30 a year for Professional membership and includes free public liability insurance. “NAWE aims to put creativity at the heart of education. We believe that everyone should have contact with practising artists – and especially writers.” Can’t argue with that.
5. Look at the work of another worthwhile organisation First Story, a charity which organises and pays for authors to visit state schools as writers-in-residence. (Thanks to writer Josa Young for sharing this last point.)
What’s the story? A framework for getting started
Last week I spoke to Paul Campbell, a scriptwriter for BBC1’s Casualty, EastEnders – if you’re quick you can catch his 2 Nov episode on iPlayer – and Holby City. He told me how he’d recently volunteered to help a group of six 8-year-olds with a script they were working on at school. (Can you imagine how cool that must have been for those kids?) Now Paul is a true professional and also a generous soul, because he very kindly agreed to let me share his lesson handouts with you on this blog.
Here’s a photocopiable table to help pupils develop a story outline, and then map out the story scene-by-scene. (This can of course be adapted to a prose writing activity.)
Also, here’s the basic layout for writing a script, illustrated using the tale of Little Red Riding Hood.
Thanks Paul for letting me publish these.
What about you? I’d love to hear from any writers who’ve gone into schools to share their craft with young people. Or from teachers who’ve worked with writers. Please share any experiences, advice and tips.