Six Free Periods

Well. Three weeks, six sessions, lots of lesson plans, resources, ideas that blossomed, others that never got off the ground, three sentences three minutes, just going with the flow…now suddenly, it’s all over!

It has been a brilliant, fun and illuminating three weeks working with Linda and Michael and the S3 English class from Inveralmond Community High School on Writers in Schools. Here is my reflection here on the things that I, as a writer, have both learned and enjoyed.

Firstly, one of the highlights for me has been the opportunity to concentrate on process not product. By focusing on writing in quick short bursts to build material, without any instructions as to form, content or completion, we allowed the pupils to behave like real writers hoping that their stories would flow more organically than perhaps they otherwise might have done.

It was a bit of a white-knuckle ride, particularly for Michael, and I did worry occasionally about whether the students would produce anything that could eventually be handed in. But then I comforted myself with the thought that this is just what it is like being a writer – one sets out in hope etc. etc. – and it certainly demonstrated to the class that they all had something they wanted to say.

Their concentration when actually writing was palpable.

And not one of them said to me, ‘I can’t…’

I also particularly liked the way Linda taught me how to model my own artistic processes for use in the classroom. The exercise she ran in how to improve a piece of writing by cutting was a great example of this. One of my key goals on the project was to build a toolkit of ideas for workshop exercises and Linda’s approach showed me that as a writer I will always have something at my fingertips to rely on. It also means that whatever I offer will be unique and complementary to anything a teacher might do.

Speaking of cuts, however, like a typical writer next time I would strip down the lesson plans even further. Michael, Linda and I were all enthusiastic about getting the pupils to develop ideas board and look at other texts set in schools, but perhaps these things needed more time and careful execution to be really meaningful. Just like real writers the pupils seemed happy to concentrate on doing lots of actual writing rather than other things once they got into the zone.

Finally, I did enjoy subverting Michael’s role as teacher by making him not just a workshop participant, but also as our Book Festival mystery guest writer. A wonderful gasp went round the class when I ‘outed’ him as a published poet – something the pupils responded to well, without it undermining his normal position.

Writers are everywhere. I think that is what they learned.

And one of my favourite pieces of feedback?

‘It felt kind of like a free period’.

What higher praise can there be!

© Mary Paulson-Ellis, 2010