Writers in Schools: Part Two

Writers in Schools
Category: Writing

Read part one of our Writers in Schools blog here

On our sixth visit, every member of the class stood up and read the first line of their story. They were also able to say what kind of writer they were – ‘Detective writer’, ‘Struggling writer’ (probably literary, then), etc – and to answer questions about the writing process in a quiz, e.g. Q: ‘What would you do to ensure your setting or a description comes alive for a reader?’ A: ‘Use all of your senses’.

Perhaps it sounds a bit unsatisfying and not much of a result for the six 50-minute sessions that Jane Alexander and I ran with Mairi Kennedy’s S3 class at Whitburn Academy. ‘So what?’ you might ask. But into those diverse first lines a great deal of development had been packed – each pupil knew quite a lot about their character, had decided on features of the setting, atmosphere, and where the story was going so that their opening line contained a sense of forward propulsion into a narrative. They were now ready to write their stories. So the outcomes of six visits?: ‘getting started’.

Writers in Schools

The three of us decided on this approach in advance and so shared a vision. Mairi was our anchor to the prior and future learning of the class, to a knowledge of the progress of individuals and to what activities were practical and meaningful. She was prepared to take risks by allowing us to up-end the usual arrangement of the classroom twice a week and give each pupil a personal writer’s notebook which was most definitely not a ‘jotter’ and would never be marked or even looked at by anyone else. Crucially she also recognised that we were there to help inspire, to model our own creative processes, to get the class experimenting with activities which involved generating material, developing craft skills and revising work. But this was only ever in bite-sized chunks. None of us expected that fully-formed stories were going to be written by the time we said goodbye.

Writers in Schools
The school visit can sometimes involve uncertainty for writers as to how their input fits with what else has been done or will be done, and whether it makes any difference. So in planning, even for a one-off session, I find it pays to discuss and agree with the teacher what is realistic to achieve in the visit itself and what will be carried forward and achieved by the teacher and the class after the writer has left; even ask to see resulting work at a later date.

Whatever the goalpost that is reached during the writer’s visit(s), it’s also important to register and celebrate what has been learnt and created. One question we asked in the final quiz was: ‘What kind of questions would you ask yourself to develop a story?’ Thankfully 100% answered, ‘what if..?’ and none, ‘so what…?’. I left with every confidence that, with Mairi’s guidance, those young writers were going to come up with some great stories.

Linda Cracknell

Linda Cracknell is a writer based in Highland Perthshire. Linda has written fiction, radio drama, and creative non-fiction. In June 2012, Linda started a two-year residency as Creative Writer with the Sick Kids Friends Foundation. Follow Linda's progress on her website