Thursday, 10 March 2011

Mixing newbies & returner writing students - part 2

Continuing the theme of mixed levels of students (how're you doing, Helen?), last week I expanded about gentling in the new-to-creative writing students and asking tolerance from the old hands for hearing some of your same jokes and tricks. This week, a bit more attention to the loyal returners. Or: your fan club.

Even without newbies, a classful of students coming back... and back... and back can be a challenge. Details now on the solution mentioned last week. Here's the bad news -- well, not so bad, as we are creative teachers, and passionate, too -- you do have to come up with some new material. However, it's not too painful when you simply think of it as fine-tuning and variably focussing what you are already doing. It all began with the title... and arose in part for administrative reasons.

Let's say the course was originally called Creative Writing. The new tweak was subtitling. I devised two further course names to make a 3-year cycle, so after the first (unsubtitled) came Creative Writing: Narrative Devices. Then Creative Writing: Structure, Pace & Voice. Three years is a good long time to have held (taught? entertained?) a student; if he/she comes back a fourth year when you repeat the cycle, it will have been so long ago -- and they will have grown so much -- that it will feel new again.

The secret is that of course you are teaching narrative devices, structure, pace and voice all the time... but now you and your students are shining a spotlight on them, focussing. And this is what provides the new angle for your returners. Dialogue, character development, setting etc still are present too, and all of this is fine for the newbies, so long as you start off with gentle, fun, freeing exercises (see last week's blog).

Here are the Learning Outcomes I devised for the Narrative Devices subtitle:
  1. Identify a variety of narrative methods
  2. Recognise person point-of-view
  3. Describe the uses of various person points-of-view
  4. Recognise storytelling angle point-of-view
  5. Define verb tenses and their effect on narrative
  6. Generate, submit and engage in writing with awareness of narrative devices
If anyone out there wants my breakdown of these into Criteria for Assessment, please ask and I will put them in future blogs.

Two big supports for these new angles -- add the reading of a book or selected contemporary short stories to the class. I did one novel per term but it was a pretty advanced class. Maybe one or several short stories is better for starters. We are NOT doing lit-crit here, but READING AS WRITERS, to notice and discuss and then try out the points above.

Other one: make it a regular workshopping class, with readers scheduled ahead, committed to reading out. Make this a 20 or 30 min slot per person -- 10-15 mins to read (about 2,000 words), the rest for feedback (developing constructive critical abilities in all). [more on this in The Matrix book]

Oh, yeah, you still have to go to a book of exercises like mine or your big shelf of 'how to write' books and find exercises you can turn into class exercises... but with the above elements, at least not soooo much of this.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thanks very much for this - all very useful stuff! The classes are going well! I have one class with a quarter of 'returners' (but only really one who's been with me for a while - the others are still relatively new to writing, so it's working out fine). However, I do have another 'challenge' in that class - a young girl with Asperger's and a speech impediment, which means I have to read out everything for her and assist in group work, etc. Not easy but it's stretching me as a teacher! My other class is all brand new people and it's the best class I've ever taught. I can see little lights going on! They are really enthusiastic and keep telling me how much they're enjoying the class. I've never had so much positive feedback - I'm really enjoying it!