CPD - Writers in residence spread the word on critical literacy skills

19th November 2010 at 00:00
Creative writing and graphic novels were the subject of some inspiring CPD and teaching materials, now online

"Since the last time I wrote here, I've been crazed, become a cannibal and fallen victim to a zombie apocalypse." This is how English teacher Michael Stephenson began a recent blog post. "This is the last time I let writers into my classroom."

But being one of the Scottish Book Trust's two online teachers in residence is not all flesh-eating insanity, he insists. "The one-year project ends just after the Christmas break. It's given me great opportunities to work with writers and other creative professionals. I've learned so much."

Mr Stephenson, who teaches at Inveralmond Community High, and Andover Primary teacher Lucy Young each received pound;2,250 to blog on alternate weeks, run online book groups and spread the word through Glow about their experiences and the resources they generated.

His initial aim was to use the project to explore and report on adaptation in literature learning - teaching students to produce graphic novels and other motivating media from texts. It seemed an ideal way, he says, to examine themes, structure, setting and character, and encourage pupils painlessly to develop their "critical literacy skills".

So the Scottish Book Trust organised a CPD session for teachers at Inveralmond and an artist in school workshop.

"They got John Chalmers and Sandra Marrs from a graphic novel company called Metaphrog to do the CPD and an artist called Tom Foster two weeks later to do a workshop. It was very high-quality CPD, which is now available for other teachers, because the book trust filmed it and put it online.

"There's also a poster Tom Foster and I put together, as well as blogs and Powerpoints about how it all worked. It was a very rich learning experience for pupils. There was deep learning going on."

The following term, Mr Stephenson moved adaptation on, by getting students to turn the novel Coraline into film scripts and video games - and again shared experiences and resources on his blog.

"More recently we've been working with the Scottish Book Trust's writers in schools programme. We've had novelists Linda Cracknell and Mary Paulson-Ellis in running writers' workshops," he says.

"They did it totally differently. They changed the classroom, gave them notebooks, showed them how to develop ideas, then finished off with a book festival, with the kids reading their work aloud and interviewing authors."

There was a lot to learn, for an English teacher, about the process of creative writing and how to teach it. "We tend to take a structured approach with lessons on setting, characterisation, etc, then pulling it together to get a story.

"That's not how writers work. They showed the kids how to create loads of material - with techniques like quickfire questions and hot-penning - which you then choose to develop or not. We teachers like everything produced to lead to the final outcome. They were relaxed about throwing things away if you had something better. There was a lot of peer assessment that worked well - and again it's all in the blogs."

Glow is one promising area for further development of online teachers in residence, says Mr Stephenson. "I like Glow Meets that broadcast CPD and beam real writers into your classroom. Nick Hesketh had one organised by online teachers in residence earlier this week, and has another on November 30. And there's one by Philip Pullman in December."

Perhaps the best part of being paid to write a regular blog is the obligation it imposes, he says. "It feels like I've just handed one blog in and it's my turn again. But it makes you think about what worked and what didn't - which is valuable in itself, and also for professional recognition from the General Teaching Council for Scotland, which I'm going for."

The greatest benefit of being an online teacher in residence has been the ready access, through Scottish Book Trust, to creative professionals of all kinds, says Mr Stephenson. "That is nice in itself and also good for my teaching. It's given me confidence to try new things, take risks, be more creative in the classroom."

The reflective professional aspect of writing a blog has been valuable, he says, and the firm intention is to continue. He laughs. "But you know what it's like being a teacher - finding time to write a regular blog is never easy."

- The Scottish Book Trust will continue to support online teachers in residence after February, says learning manager Philippa Cochrane, but with one change.

"We'll have two different teachers a term, to open up the experience to more practitioners and widen the reach of the programme and the networks and local authorities taking part," she says. "We will keep working with the key partners who have supported us through this year - Glow, GTCS and so on - and explore ways to broaden and deepen the online CPD we offer."



The poster below was written by Michael Stephenson and drawndesigned by Tom Foster. It can be downloaded and printed on ordinary paper in any size up to A3, as a free, high-quality resource that teachers can use as a class handout or poster to complement their graphic novel modules.

The Metaphrog CPD with John and Sandra can be watched on www.scottishbooktrust.comotirmetaphrogs-voicethreads.

These, together with Michael's "Adaptation: From Text to Graphic Novels" teaching module, make a full pack of resources for any teacher interested in using graphic novels in the classroom.

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