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Being A Writer-Teacher

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

Full article (abridged version in newsletter at bottom of page)

Being a Writer-Teacher by Kate McCallam

Kate is a Y6 veteran and a teacher of 15 years. She is currently a writer and educational consultant for writing and computing.

One of the 14 Principles of Writing for Pleasure is ‘Be A Writer-Teacher’ and thereby show the children in your class how you go about the craft that is writing. For some that can be a daunting prospect, for those of us that fancy ourselves as the next JK Rowling, it’s a dream!

My love of writing began with secret diaries aged 7. I wrote two novels aged 12 (one crushingly cliched romance, one slightly better murder-mystery) before moving on to a comedy sketch series about teenage angst for Drama workshops at school aged 15. This was heavily inspired by TV show, The Mary Whitehouse Experience and was hilarious, even if I say so myself! I’ve always found joy in writing and absolutely love teaching it, so I I jumped at the opportunity to really develop myself as a writer and a teacher of writing with the Arvon Foundation - a charitable organisation in the UK that promotes creative writing.

Back in 2016, Arvon joined forces with the OU and the University of Exeter on a two year project called, Teachers as Writers. It was funded by the Arts Council and explored how giving the opportunity for teachers to work with professional writers might change their understanding of being a writer, how they teach writing, and lead to improved pupil outcomes. Professor Teresa Cremin and Debra Myhill wrote a piece for the UKLA about the outcomes of the project here:

My involvement in the project came later on with a ‘Teachers as Writers’ 3 day residential at Ted Hughes’ former house in Hebden Bridge in November 2019. There were 8 of us enrolled, all teachers of Y5/Y6 and our tutors were author, Bali Rai, and poet, Alicia Stubbersfield. They taught us in amazingly stimulating and creative ways, and we wrote. A lot. We explored. We played. We tweaked. We delved deep. I even cried while reading out one piece to the group, but was reassured that this always happens on a residential - such is the power of the pen! It was such a wonderfully emotional and creative experience as a writer, a teacher and a person. We all got on so well (as we lovely teachers often do!) and the rugged landscape and roaring fires certainly helped. We learnt about the true craft of writing and were encouraged to pursue our own writing through 121 tutorials. We explored how we might tailor our writing classes in school to provide more of the workshop feel we had been afforded on the course. I took such a lot back with me to the classroom and blogged about it at the time. I’ve recently moved this post to the ‘free resources’ section of my website, so do take a look if you fancy giving an Arvon- inspired lesson a try.

That particular weekend was transformational for me as a writer. I began writing more and more, starting with a lifestyle blog (mostly read by friends and family!) Before moving on to creating another website sharing my modelled texts with the teaching community. I felt confident enough to leave the classroom this academic year to pursue professional writing and an educational consultancy in writing. Arvon has been a constant, supportive companion on that journey: I have attended masterclasses with award- winning poet, Caroline Bird and an online residential with YA writers Marcus Sedgewick and Lucy Christopher. They gave me so many pointers with my first middle grade reader (still in progress) and I have written a verse picture book that is currently out with agents. I write a monthly column for a regional lifestyle magazine and seeing my words in print for the first time is something I will never forget.

Most recently I’ve been involved with another Arvon project lead by Richard d’Souza, a former teacher and now PHD student at the University of Exeter. Frustrated by the formulaic writing that our current assessment of writing so often produces, he is looking at ways in which we can accurately assess creativity in writing with a view to putting more emphasis on creativity in the writing process. This is fantastic news as far as I’m concerned and the government are listening - they funded it - so this could be the start of a much improved framework that won’t penalise our writers for missing an apostrophe when their creative idea is verging on genius.

Richard is looking for more teachers to get involved in the project, and doing so has been incredibly formative for me professionally, so please do get in touch with him if you are interested.

A bit of background

Arvon was founded in 1968 by two poets, John Moat and John Fairfax, with the original aim of providing time and space away from school for young people to write poetry. They set up a writing residential centre in Devon and then Ted Hughes got involved and together they set up a centre at his former home in Hebden Bridge. Today the charity provides a whole host of creative writing courses, events and retreats both in-person and online and the courses are tutored by leading authors delivering workshops and offering 121 tutorials. Teachers receive a 50% concession on most on courses, and there is a wealth of expertise and an exciting programme of study on offer.

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