The Blank Lesson Plan

Is there anything more scary to a writer than the blank page? Not really. Unless it is a blank lesson plan instead.

Friday afternoon. A writer and a teacher discuss the project they are about to embark on. ‘Is there anything in particular you are aiming for?’ the writer asks, fishing for inspiration, imagining herself alone in a room, blank mind, blank lesson plan, searching for the right answer. ‘It’s up to you,’ comes the reply. ‘You’re the expert.’

Except I am no expert.

But also, I was not alone. Through Writers in Schools I would be working with teacher Michael, writer Linda and a wonderful class of twenty-five S3 pupils at Inveralmond High unaware of the extent to which they were going to be experimented on. By the end of six sessions blank lesson plans should become a thing of inspiration rather than of dread. At least that’s what I was hoping for.

I understand the importance of planning ahead, though it is not how I approach my own creative writing. But in a school environment with only 40-50 minutes to make an impression you have to know what exercises…which resources…how much time…who will press the buttons on the projector. Even so, when faced with my own blank lesson plan I discovered that what was important to me was not writing down what I would do, but rather developing an understanding of why I was there in the first place.

Linda and I talked a lot about this – the role of an artist in a school. After all enthusiastic teachers like Michael bring all sorts of creative ideas into the classroom without the need for a writer who doesn’t even know how to get the pupils to sit down. It made me think about the real value of what I had to offer.

So eventually instead of a task orientated approach – let’s all write a short story – Linda and I decided to focus on process. More specifically on writing for enjoyment, exploration and fun. And on modelling in the classroom what working writers like us actually do to produce our own stories and poems.

We all brought something to the planning table. Linda proposed the Raymond Soltysek article as a framework. I suggested a writers workshop with chairs in a circle and desks against the wall. We all agreed that generating as much material as possible was the way to begin. Also that each pupil would have a private notebook, the contents of which would only ever be marked, judged or assessed by themselves and certainly not by me or a teacher. Most importantly Michael agreed to go along with our ideas and to decide for himself how they might fit with his wider curricular-based teaching.

So back in my room, alone but freed from the need to be an expert, instead of six blank pages, six sessions floated into my mind. Just like being a writer I had discovered that all I needed to get my lesson plans going was a pen, a piece of paper, some inspiration and a real sense of vocation.

© Mary Paulson-Ellis, 2010