Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Writing students demand homework

Back to the present, as it were, my new pc, new server, new email address settling in. I hope. As I was saying, surprise, delight and demand came to me from students last week, in the form of requests for homework.

Maybe writing students have changed, or maybe I'm doing something differently. When I began teaching creative writing and asked students to bring in something done at home for the following class -- and planned a good 15 minutes to hear these and give feedback -- I was sorely disappointed. And left with an embarassing gap in my planned 2 hours.

I've learned since then how to fill sudden gaps (pairs talk on latest writing need etc; or a spot of reflective writing). Still learning: how to give homework on demand.

One class has a lot of new-to-creative writers, new to classes too. Very shy of reading out. So I devised a takeaway sheet with a dozen or so possible scenes, situations or monologues to choose from. These jump off from information and exercises covered so far in class.

For my other class, more advanced and deep into their own pieces, I created '8 Days a Week' -- an envelope for each writer containing 8 slips of paper. Each slip has a starting phrase or a situation, very simple and sketchy because the writers are in completely individual worlds and stages of their work in hand. Instructions: to be used Only for Stuckness. They should really endure and overcome the blank page freeze syndrome for themselves... but I've softened and provided an emergency escape.

If anyone out there wants to know the Homework Sheet Choices or Stuckness Prompts, contact me via comments.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Writing students demand homework!

argh! Blogging, internet wobblies and changing email address has done me in. See you next week.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

The size & timing of creative writing

Wow. Started my 5-week Hero's Journey/Writer's Journey course last week, enrolled to the max of 19, with 3 others who turned up. First of all there's Health & Safety, and more than that: rather a lot to teach such a subjective, experiential discipline. But then, I asked for it.

I ran the same course in spring in the afternoons and it drew only 6 people; worse, the summer school repeat had not enough to run. So I proposed to Team Leader that we try evenings. And there you have it, with wings. So much of adult ed is the right time for the right subject for the right market. To bear in mind when pitching your ideas and slots.

These days, too, I think short courses are the way to go -- less commitment for new and/or busy people, and less costly. Of course less money for you; but then more time for your writing.

How to handle such a big group? The course is not planned for workshopping so no one is expecting to read out and get feedback. My plan in any case was to do several exercises per session, some very reflective or brainstormy, thus not suitable for reading out. However, it is nice to hear some work, pour encourager les autres. And, interestingly, the majority are beginners, new to creative writing classes.

So: I will put them in pairs to share some writing done in the session; or even just to talk about it. This gentles newbies into reading out and, just as important, creates supportive bonds of friendliness.

But I will ask for volunteers and hope I get one or two next time, when we advance to Obstacles & Allies.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

KISS in substituting

Recently I substitute taught a general creative writing and workshopping class for a mate. I used some of the Present Tense material I'd successfully used (see recent past blogs). The session went fine... or fine enough. It was satisfactory, and what more should you expect, coming in cold to an existing formed class? But I love the feel of a really good session, and I missed that feeling. So I have come up with two lessons learned for myself when substituting.

1) Keep It Simple, Stupid. The class was of mixed experience and level and my exercise was multi-staged, designed for my group of known experienced writers. It worked for some of these unknown students, but left others flat. It was too complex. So: don't be tricky. When subsituting, do a simple inspiration stimulus, a word, phrase or story question. Or rely on the treat of writing from picture postcards or from objects from a Serendipity Bag.

2) Always write out a lesson plan and a sheet of tutor prompts for each stage of the session. I was a bit blithe about planning, thinking I'd remember all the stages of that exercise. I'd brought my Matrix book to use as prompt to the stages, but then didn't pick it up and use it -- it feels unnatural to teach direct from a book, even when it is my own! Instead, I should have done what I always do: scrawl on A4 sheets the steps and prompts when prepping each session.

By prepping in writing, my psychic energy, passion and voice go from me, to my pen, to the page of session plan and notes and then out to the students with confidence, authority, conviction and fun, because the lesson has become part of me. I have become the message. The opposite of this is flabby, lazy, didactic or droning teaching. From me, anyway.