Fishing For Writing Creativity And Technicality

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Key Stage 2 English By: Please log in to see tutor details
Subject: English » Key Stage 2 English
Last updated: 18/07/2018
Tags: #creativewriting, #creativity, #grammar, #writing, xenglish

When I first started teaching English, it often felt like casting out a curriculum line, baited with an objective, into a pond of diverse skills that were the children of my class. Sometimes you pulled out a beautiful rainbow fish, dazzling with light and intensity, but not knowing how it was caught on the hook, and wriggled like mad to be free of the objective. Other times the line would catch the muscular, predator fish which loved to lurk in the reeds, unwilling to change it's habits and skills, regardless of the bait placed on the end of the line. And so this tossing of the line continued, never certain of the kinds of fish that would be hooked as the 'bait' changed from week to week.

Over time, I began to become more aware of the fishing line I used. When I laid that metaphorical line down, I found a whole range of 'fish' from the technically accurate, grammatically strong (and uninteresting) writer to the 'firework' writer, brimming with vitality and creative imagination, but unable to control and harness their energy in a purposeful and directed way.

Over the years, having watched many fantastic teachers, attended courses and read about different approaches and techniques, the murky pond started to clear for me. I considered that the curriculum baited hook was just a small part of my fishing tackle box, and that the kinds of fishing rod I used needed to change to meet the needs of my little fish, swimming around in my classroom…

Well enough of the fishing analogies! To be honest, the only fish I ever caught as a child were bushes behind me, as I cast my rod! The analogy I have drawn from many hours in the classroom is that solid learning, including learning opportunities, needed to cater for different styles of writer, including all of the children somewhere along that varied and ever changing paradigm.

My first teaching post was in an inner city environment with children who very quickly let you know if your lessons were not 'creative' enough. Some of the sounder advice a colleague gave me was to consider, from the moment a child enters the classroom, they were asking (and often showing), 'what's in it for me?’ Considering this, I often explored their interests and their world, finding creative opportunities which had value to them, and gave a reason to want to learn more. This 'sitting in the pupil's seat' approach really helped me to find creative sparks which helped those writers who struggled with ideas, or in later school environments, struggled to attach their grammatical skills onto. For those who were already creative, this often gave a channel of focus to anchor their thoughts too.

This creative writing process was encouraged and brought into the routine of weekly activities; so much so that children looked forward to what they perceived as the creative freedom to write. This though was the initial gateway to purposeful grammar and contextual learning. I found that when children are given the freedom to write, that only then can you truly gauge their potential. Many curriculum objectives felt inaccessible when taught discretely or without a focus.  By creating writing 'workshops' and 'shared writing experiences', I found I had better knowledge on what the children were, or were not, capable of. My guided writing sessions began to have greater purpose and meaning to the children as the grammar taught was embedded within the creative writing experience – using the children’s own ideas, especially those imaginative children, allowed the teaching of discrete grammar objectives for those who struggled with linkage and narrative organisation. Here then was the opportunity of the grammatically strong children to guide and support the creative minds of other children to write with greater meaning and clarity.

And so the structure of the class' weekly writing session began to follow a similar pattern. A creative input, based on my children's own interests (they would often suggest materials for following sessions), a shared writing component that allowed modelling and discrete grammar teaching, and then an open opportunity to write…for those creative rainbow fish, a freedom to write about whatever they wanted, but with an expectation of included grammar conventions modelled in the shared write…and for the tough reed fish, an opportunity to continue the shared writing, where a framework and series of suggestions of what to write next, gave some guidance as to how to take their narrative forward. This writing time was independent, with small focus groups led by myself when required. The children had a few, well-chosen and recognised writing scaffolds and supports to get them through any 'writer's block' moments – including a large box of laminated pictures of all different subject materials, appealing to both boy’s and girl’s interests.

The final part of a writing session was a self-assessment against some common, progressive writing objectives based at the word and sentence level. Peer review supported this process, particularly in relation to spelling errors and punctuation.

I don't think that, to continue the analogy, the writing pond ever becomes crystal clear, nor should it to protect those delicate minds in which we fish, I do know that my hooks have become more engaging, my fishing lines are better cast, and that my bait box continues to fill with new tools to keep my fish happy.

Anthony Foxwell Key Stage 2 English Tutor (Nottingham)

About The Author

An experienced teacher of over 15 years wishing to support learners in the local area. A committed tutor who believes that all children are enriched through learning, regardless of background and circumstances..

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