Thursday, 3 March 2011

Mixing newbies & returner writing students

Woop woop, I have just noticed that this is the 101st blog entry -- astonishing!

'How do you handle it when you've got both 'returners' and newbies in the same class?' Helen asks. She's started a new course with some who've done one term, some who had a first session before course cancellation, one with her for 18 months and a bunch of students new, possibly even completely new to creative writing.

Yes, big challenge. A compliment to your teaching when students come back for more more more, AND who can ever finish 'learning creative writing'? AND... the returners help to keep the numbers up, so that there can be a class at all. So, congratulations to Helen.

Sometimes as well as this, there's a management extra: at one time, my writing course had an external accreditation (so that it attracted some government funding... financial mysteries beyond my remit and now defunct). After a year or two, the organisation would no longer allow the same course title with students (and me) completing the paperwork for the same credit --- even though they were progressing their writing and writing new stuff each year. So my helpful boss and I devised a solution, which could work for anyone in the 'repeater' situation.

But Helen's other problem is the newbies mixing in with old hands, so I'll address that first. I'm running into the mixed level challenge (but students all new to me) in my current teaching -- but still, that's different to the knowns-and-newbies medley. So what do I suggest?

First -- be upfront and human about it. Warn the (what shall we call them? I'll stick with:) old hands that they will be hearing some of the same jokes, and doing some of the same exercises, and you hope they'll bear with you. Add that As they ARE CREATIVE, and as each piece of creative writing is new, it is good and useful to repeat the exercises.

eg, if it is Character Profile, or even Profile from a Postcard, Monologue, Stimulus Object et cetera -- of course they will be doing it with a different character. So... the writing will be different and they will have exercised even more than before. Similar if the goal is to write a short story or several poems by end of term: of course they need to be new stories/poems, even if from similar starting point. That's what creating is all about. Assure them there will be new content too (subject of next week's blog, to do with solution above).

Then -- you need to gentle-in the newbies as you would with an entirely newbies class, with your (my?) starting creative writing basics -- Bubbling and Chaos Writing (freewriting) (see Matrix book if you don't know what I mean). By using a different stimulus word on the board, and using your pack of word-start index cards/slips of paper, it will still be fun and useful for the old hands.

In the first session or several, don't ask for whole-group reading out. Instead, put people in pairs or threes to share their writing -- much less intimidating for newbies. Try to put old hand with newbies to avoid cliqueiness, and enourage support and new bonding. More next week! BUT ALSO SEE THE 9 FEB BLOG ABOUT FLEXIBLE ASSIGNMENT SCHEME.

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