Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Day 2 - reflections

After a long pause at the end of Day 1 Pauline volunteered to provide the daily log for Day 2.  She began Day 2 with her recording of the Day 1’s activity mingled with reflections.  The daily log helps us to remember the previous day and to situate our Day 2 efforts.  Pauline’s recounting was comprehensive and insightful.  Once we have had a chance to listen to her account of the day, we take about five minutes to write our own journal of how we experienced it. 

From our own scribblings of Day 1 we moved into the second demo of the summer institute.  James, a post-primary teacher chose the topic of form which we explored through various pieces of texts whose form he had manipulated or deconstructed.  We began with one piece of text where we are asked to engage in a guessing game around its genre.  Was it a memoir?  Was it micro fiction?  An anecdote?  It was projected on the wall, just a string of words, its form only defined by where the page ended.  We considered the piece assisted (and equally challenged) by questions posed by James.  Low-key, quiet, questions which leave your head spinning.  James revealed the text to be a poem by Rita Ann Higgins It wasn’t the father’s fault and when presented as the writer intended it seemed that everything had changed. Nothing seemed to have impacted so much on the tone and meaning of the text as the insertion of sentence breaks; their inclusion bringing something ominous to the text - a rattling sense of the sinister.  Where some of us had considered the unbroken text trivial in tone, maybe even mildly amusing, with the insertion of sentence breaks and the dividing of the text into stanzas the effect was immediate and malicious.  The impact/influence of form is stark, masterfully revealed in a most understated manner.  James continued to help us to explore form moving from free text to poetry, from prose to poetry, allowing us to pilfer lines and to rework them, to swipe phrases or single words.  He moved from the west of Ireland writing to works from the United States with a poem by William Carlos Williams To a Poor Old Woman and an extract from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Of the former, the rhythm of the piece caught our attention; the repetition of the line ‘They taste good to her’ and the way the poet breaks it, creating a sound where you want to move to the cadence (I managed to stay seated – just).  With the latter, we shared our concocted efforts succumbing to the temptation to tamper with evocative sentences such as ‘Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum’.  We could have been in the Deep South.

Transported from there, after the break, we considered writing/writers’ groups and how these work, or don’t.  We were reminded of John McKenna’s advice to SWIFT 2014 to, in essence, run, very far away, from writers’ groups about a year or two in; that there would be no point beyond that.  But colleagues in the room had had different experiences and some of those had involved groups that had been meeting successful over years.  It was remarked that it’s usually women in these groups (in the interest of time/space, no comment).  We agreed that we would brainstorm around how groups might operate and that we would then review the guidelines agreed by SWIFT 2015 to see how we might wish to repurpose them for our intentions.  I will post the consensus here tomorrow.

Following lunch, we returned to our childhood as Annette presented Demo 3.  Annette is a primary school teacher and most recently taught 3rd class (9 year olds mainly).  She told us about how she used writing notebooks in her class and what they mean to the children.  The notebooks are used for first drafts, for free-writing and for capturing ideas.  Sometimes, Annette asks her students to just write spontaneously on topics that bubble up during the day, for example, an interesting visitor.  In terms of what we can learn from across the education levels, I am always struck by how we might capture the enthusiasm with which primary school students write; in Annette’s class they all want to write.  They just do!  Annette explained how she uses word chunks with her classes and gave us a handout of these.  From this page, she identified three chunks that we were to work with and from which we could develop a short piece of text.  To finish her demo, she shared finished booklets from her 3rd class writers with us.  These were beautiful handwritten publications, illustrated by the children and containing such wild, generous texts as:

I love ice-cream, it’s better than mice.
I don’t know about you
but I’ll save it for tonight. 
Chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and banana. 
I’ll save it for my friend Santana. 

William Carlos Williams eat your heart out J

The day finished with a session from our Maynooth University colleagues Aine Neeson (University Writing Centre and Department of Applied Social Studies) and Carmel Lillis (Education Department and Professional Development Service for Teachers).  Aine and Carmel talked about professional conversations (a phrase I have learned from Carmel and which I employ regularly now) and deliberately presented to the group what they describe as a ‘dialogic space’ between them.  They consider reflective writing, reflective practice, its purpose; they talk about what reflective practice looks like and the use of ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘my’.  Their starting point was an improvised conversation between them on reflective practice and its meaning and place in their own lives and work. Among other things, Aine spoke of knowledge generation and meaning that can be gained from critical reflection, and Carmel spoke about possible value to the school community. After a few minutes, they opened the conversation to a group discussion which went off in many directions - from mindfulness and self care in professional reflection, to an imagined world where reflection would be a normal element of professional teaching practice. There was some reflective writing, of course, and a further discussion around the ethics of revealing our reflections publically, and in doing so, how we represent both ourselves and others. Food for thought then.     

Deirdre closed the day with Day 3 on the horizon … bring it on.

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