During a collaborative planning session with our Year 5 teachers, Louise heard about some of the successes and challenges of teaching writing with these students. From this discussion, Louise was able to plan a sequence of lessons to help these young writers, covering topics such as:
- developing characters
- giving characters a backstory, plus when and how to use it
- withholding information from the reader to keep them keen
- giving characters flaws and weaknesses, and how to use these for dramatic tension and to drive the plot
- knowing what your characters want above all else and making it as hard as possible for them to get it.
Considering our Teaching principle (Teaching techniques and strategies is empowering), Louise expertly helped these writers create emotional narratives using a guided meditation technique (see below). This process was so empowering that our Year 5 students used the same technique with their parents during a student-led conference, with astonishing results.
Each student guided their parents through the same meditation, with each parent then producing their own piece of writing. Many parents reflected on how powerful the strategy was in helping them to create descriptive scenes and characters, wishing this were a strategy they had been taught when they were at school.
Implementation: teacher writing workshops
Louise also led the staff through a process of considering their own writing life and the implications this has for classroom practice. Not only was this an important message for our teachers, but it also fed nicely into one of our project goals: that we are teachers who write and writers who teach.
To do this, Louise reflected on her own teacher training, recollecting that the skills of teaching writing should have been given more prominence. For this reason, Louise stressed the importance of teachers modelling their life as a writer, including all of their strengths and struggles. To demonstrate her point, she invited teachers to take part in a variety of writing activities, including ‘Go to the wall’ and guided meditation.
It was interesting to note the range of reactions from teachers, particularly when asked to share their writing aloud with the group. Some sunk in their seats, some proudly raised their hands, others conveniently needed to go to the toilet! To be placed in the shoes of our writers proved a powerful exercise, as we experienced first-hand the range of emotions our own students go through. We did, however, also uncover some amazing writers on staff.
Inspired by Louise’s message, staff bravely shared their writing with their students the next day, and it was clear that students loved learning more about their teachers as writers. This residency was a rare and powerful opportunity for us to learn from an expert writer.
More on guided meditation
In our Year 5 workshops, Louise used a powerful guided meditation technique to help students tap into all their senses before writing. Students were provided with the visual stimulus of a mysterious forest. They were then asked to close their eyes and visualise the setting and a character in this scene, while listening to a series of prompting questions. For example, how old is your character? What clothes is your character wearing? What can you see? What is the light doing?
This guided meditation was a process that many described as helpful, because it enabled them to become their character. After capturing this moment in time, students were invited to take part in a ‘brain dump’, downloading their visualisations on paper.