Literary know-how in a totally different class

12th February 2010 at 00:00
Two pioneers will be spreading the word on best practice when they become Scotland's first online teachers in residence

There are writers in residence and artists in residence - why not teachers in residence?

The Scottish Book Trust's idea led to a search for two teachers who, for a year, would share online what they were doing in the classroom.

Learning manager Philippa Cochrane knows of no precedent for online teachers in residence anywhere in the UK, so those chosen have a crucial quality: "They don't need the safety belt of knowing someone's done something before," she says.

The two pioneers are Michael Stephenson, an English teacher at Livingston's Inveralmond Community High, and Lucy Young, who has a P2-3 class at Andover Primary in Brechin.

Ms Cochrane hopes they can spark debate throughout Scotland and use this to create literature and literacy teaching materials.

The pair, both of whom are expected to spend two-and-a-half hours a week on the project and will be paid pound;2,250 for the year - will blog once a fortnight, on alternate weeks, as well as using Twitter. They will also run online book groups, using nominations for the Royal Mail Awards for Scottish Children's Books.

Mr Stephenson, 29, impressed the book trust with his use of wikis to create an online fantasy adventure, Dragonquest, similar to the Fighting Fantasy series of books (although he stresses that he was influenced by Neil Winton, head of English at Perth Academy and a passionate advocate of wikis).

He believes the project, which also involves Learning and Teaching Scotland, will have some similarities to the English teachers' Glow group, but with important differences: he and Ms Young will be able to call on the book trust's expertise and literary contacts, while access through its website will ensure wider availability. The project will, however, also have a parallel home on Glow.

Mr Stephenson's big idea for the project involves adaptation. He will use graphic versions of two novels, Neil Gaiman's Coraline and Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Pupils will be encouraged to convert stories into another form of their choosing. He will also work on an anthology of poetry with pupils at both his school and Osizweni Technical School in South Africa, on the theme of identity.

Mr Stephenson is confident that, by allowing the project to run for a year, the end result should be a "very rich" resource that brings Curriculum for Excellence to life.

Ms Young, 33, believes that sharing ideas with teachers throughout Scotland could provide surprises - but that's exactly as it should be.

"I love reading about other people's ideas," she says. "The way children take it on is totally unexpected sometimes."

She wants to focus on poetry as performance. Pupils will receive help from local Scots poet Lydia Robb, and might use stuffed toys as characters. One idea is to take them round school, hidden in boxes, and, through their performance, ask other classes to guess what is inside.

Textile artist Paola McClure might then help children to put their work into a three-dimensional concertina-style book. But this idea, like her others, is not "fully formed", as she does not want to restrict either the visiting specialists or the online debate.

"The benefits of sharing practice even within a school are vast - and you could have a much bigger community online," she says.

The project only has funding for 2010 - pound;30,000 from the Scottish Arts Council's Learn Fund and pound;14,000 from the book trust, but Ms Cochrane hopes the online teachers' blog will build up momentum that ensures discussion continues for longer.

The teachers in residence will be launched online on February 25, with a Glow Meet involving Eric Booth, a leading American expressive arts and education consultant. The online teachers will then talk about their hopes which, for Ms Young, include establishing a more sophisticated idea of what constitutes a teaching resource:

"Resources aren't always about a physical thing, but about a good idea that we can share with people," she says.


The Scottish Book Trust will host separate primary and secondary live events with Michael Rosen on March 4, World Book Day, live on the internet: www.scottishbooktrust.commichael-rosen-live-1

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