I begin Day 4 in absentia. I drive to the airport to pick up two UK colleagues who will join us for today and tomorrow. Jeni Smith I have met before when she worked in University of East Angelia, from where she is now retired. She is travelling with her colleague Mari Cruice who works in University of Roehampton. Both are involved in National Writing Project initiatives in the UK particularly in teachers’ writing groups. Jeni has just published on the work with Simon Wrigley: Introducing Teachers’ Writing Groups: Exploring the Theory and Practice. Having collected the travellers, we join the group before coffee and just as participants are about to write feedback for Jane. Jane’s demo has been on the topic of reflective practice. She had asked the group to read a piece the night before and to write about it. She connects this with a flipped classroom approach. This is our second dip into reflective writing which is an important part of our professional practice as teachers.
We have coffee together and as we begin our work again I admit to being the person who seems to leave us chasing our tails all week. Deirdre has been facilitating the morning session and everything has run like clockwork. I confidently declare that we will have lost any benefit she has accrued and will be behind schedule before long again; I am not wrong.
Following coffee I seek volunteers for a role-play; this is later described, unfairly, as pressganging. We will spend the time from coffee to lunch in our writing groups. Having previously agreed our guidelines for what might be good practice in writing groups, the coerced would-be thespians take their place at the front of the room to enact the worst-case scenario writing group. Deirdre convincingly portrays a shy reader who has just finished sharing her work. In succession, and relentlessly, she is subjected to a range of characters including, the obsequious writing group cheerleader, the grammar and punctuation pedant, the red pen wielding corrector, the agenda queen, and finally to the participant for whom its all about her writing, as opposed to anybody else’s. The results are hilarious and we all enjoy the ease with which our colleagues adopt their roles. No exaggeration is spared in the farcical portrayal of the writing group from hell. We break into our own writing groups ready to quell in ourselves any lurking paler version of the melodramatic characters that we have just seen. At writing group everyone will read their work and get feedback. The groups will also decide who will contribute to author’s chair tomorrow.
After lunch Jeni and Mari work with us. They tell us about how they have been working with teachers and how they bolster teachers’ and their own writing. Jeni briefly contextualises the work before Mari reads her contribution to Jeni and Simon’s book, ‘Hiraeth and Hinterlands’. This piece is again about place and about writing; we are captivated not least by the rich snippets of Welsh. Jeni and Mari lead us through the afternoon with writing and reflection. Jeni asks us to write down 7 words we like or that we find interesting. We then articulate these in canon around the room listening for spontaneous rhythms and unplanned musicality in the words as they move and connect. We consider the ‘rights of writers’. We hear, from Jeni and Mari, of the impact on teachers that the writing groups have had. Those groups, like SWIFT, seem transformative for participants. It is inspiring and enthusing to hear from our UK colleagues about their work; I am so glad they have made the effort to join us.
We finish Day 4 with only one day left; we are freewheeling to the finish line!