Friday, 13 July 2018

Day 2 - SWIFT 2018

Day 2 begins with the daily log provided by Mags – brave heart!  Mags recounts our day and provides insights into those elements that particularly struck her.  Following the log we have time to journal before Tuesday’s demo which is provided by Anne-Marie.  Anne Marie works in Finglas, in Dublin, with early school leavers and students from disadvantaged backgrounds.  Her demo centres around rap and how she has used rap to connect with the students and to genuinely begin where they are.  By her own admission she knew nothing about rap before she threw herself into this new world guided by her class, some of whom were pretty expert in the genre.

It is hilarious and affirming to see Anne-Marie rapping an excerpt from the Dr Seuss Sleep Book; she can hardly get through it for laughing, thus, providing us with the evidence that her son was correct when he said ‘You can’t do that one with them Mam – it’s too funny!’

In Anne-Marie’s class we listen to a rap that her students wrote and recorded.  She describes how committed and engaged her they were with this task and how it spilled over into time, interests and enthusiasm beyond the project.  We wear headphones to hear the work and I am taken by the mood altering power of music.  We also comment on the experience of hearing the students’ voices and reading their voices – the contrasts here and the similarities.  We examine the words and seek out the meanings and what is evoked.  I find Anne-Marie’s commitment and passion for teaching, and her care and compassion for her students, utterly inspiring.  I wonder if they realise quite how fortunate they are to have found themselves in her class, in the glow of her expertise and her attention.  I wonder do they know how much they mean to her …

After the coffee break we talk about writing groups: how they work at SWIFT and participants’ experiences of them.  A bunch of “volunteers” role play the writing group from hell which stars a cheerleader, a writing mechanics nut, and a piggy backer, amongst other characters.  Their authenticity is unnerving J  We spend the time before lunch agreeing what Louise subsequently calls the ‘compromised rules’ based on draft writing group guidelines.

In the afternoon we introduce a new feature of SWIFT; a research panel of previous SWIFT participants who have agreed to join us to discuss second level writing, particularly at Leaving Certificate, in the broader context of ‘writing for life’.  Lawrence from University of Limerick chairs the panel which explores the sort of writing that happens at second level and considers what part this might play in our students’ ‘writing for life’.  The discussion is intelligent and measured, but/and it inevitably brings us towards the bigger questions of the function of education.  Our previous Fellows are like this year’s cohort, an amazing group of teachers who have clearly given all the matters touched on today much thought.  I’m again tempted to think that the revolution might happen and that all the most damaging and unhelpful elements of the Leaving Certificate process and associated exams would be eliminated.  If ever our tendency towards reckless optimism was called for …

Our day finishes all too soon.  I feel, as I always do by Day 2, relieved that we are hitting our stride and incredibly privileged to be a part of this very special week. 

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