It is a scenario familiar to most, if not all, teachers of writing. The timeline says it’s “creative writing time”, so teach creative writing we must.
You plan for the final outcome, leading lessons on character, setting and “show, don’t tell”. You make sure you have a Kurt Vonnegut quote – or four – on your PowerPoint and encourage your pupils to plan. Finally, it’s time to write.
And you find yourself with half a class of pupils with no idea what to write about.
How is that possible when we’ve spent weeks planning this? Then again, how often, as teachers of writing, do we ourselves write? How often do we write with our pupils in the classroom, or experience for ourselves not feeling particularly inspired straight after lunch on a Tuesday afternoon, but still having to get something on paper, anyway? And how often must we experience the horror of having something we’ve only just stopped scrawling on the page read out in front of an audience of our peers?
Enter, the National Writing Project (NWP). You might not have heard about it. I certainly hadn’t until June this year.
The NWP is a grassroots movement of writing groups run by teachers for teachers, where teachers of writing gather to write – and talk about their approaches to teaching creative writing in the classroom.
I have a modest background in publishing. I used to write every day, but since training as a teacher, I haven’t written a thing. It’s the one bad habit I’m sad to have given up and I decided I wanted to take it up again. In October, with the help of more people than I can name, I launched the first ever NWP group in Scotland, here in Glasgow.
Supporting each other
We will meet to write, critique and support each other, while also sharing approaches to teaching writing. There will be chat, drinks, lots of writing – and we will make use of this fabulous city of ours, meeting in museums, art galleries, coffee shops, libraries and, dare I say it, maybe even the odd pub.
The NWP promotes the idea that teachers of writing should themselves write. That we shouldn’t ask pupils to do something that we ourselves are not prepared to do.
If it sounds like I’m selling snake oil, the research is there to support the idea. Teachers who write regularly become more confident teaching creative writing and understanding the challenges of writing, so they can better support pupils in the classroom.
If you’d like to join us, you’ll find a seat waiting for you around our writers’ table here in Glasgow. Or a park bench. Or a picnic blanket – when the sun comes back.
Lisa Hamilton is the National Writing Project (UK) Glasgow group leader and a newly qualified English teacher at Springburn Academy