Friday, 13 July 2018

Day 3 - SWIFT 2018 - written by Deirdre Mc Clay

SWIFT Blog: Day 3 Wednesday 11th July 2018
So, day 3 of SWIFT has traditionally been in the lovely Maynooth University Library on the south campus. I arrive to find most of the participants merrily chatting away over coffee. I think we’ve all aced the chew and chat sessions this year. The library staff have made us very snazzy ‘SWIFT 2018’ signs, and after 5 years of SWIFT, surely even I can’t get lost.
First up is the daily log, and we’re in for a treat and a half. Louise guided us back through yesterday’s high points with wonderful humour and observations. She described how writing on pen and paper was so different from her usual computer writing and how each word seemed to matter more and was mulled over before committal: ‘writing is thinking tidied up’. Her experience of the panel discussion was likened to watching a fish bowl and wanting to dive in to try out her own ideas on writing transfer and the Leaving Cert. Thank you, Louise, for such an entertaining and insightful log.
After the log, we had quite a bit of personal writing time to work on a piece of our choosing. There was that lovely, almost silence one can achieve in a library - just enough soft noise to know that writing is in progress. This was followed by a break and the best chocolate chip cookies. Did I mention that we’re very good at chew and chat?
Next up was a demo from Bríd on teaching academic writing to adults who are early school leavers and back to education. She introduced us to the term ‘Cogenerative Dialogue Resources’ which means letting group discussion form the basis of the class and co-construction of learning. Our tasks were to answer a question about our own writing processes and style, and to read and discuss a sample of academic writing - both tasks were in small groups first, with feedback to the whole class. Oh what feedback and discussions these prompts provoked - from creating space and time to write, to Hilde’s creative solution (when all around is chaos) of making a writing den, with a blanket, on your settee. The different approaches were aired: deadline good or deadline bad or making your own deadlines; taking frequent breaks or not; a special room as a privilege or as a trap; the connection between reading and writing. The writing samples also sparked an interesting discussion on the dryness and jargon-loaded nature of some academic writing which  led to a consensus that we needed to be careful in choosing texts for students by prioritising clarity. The session closed with feedback to Bríd assisted by Katie.
The final session before lunch was a testament to its author Katie Grant (Royal Literary Fellow) – it  was so interesting and engaging that we ignored the call of soup and sandwiches behind us and listened intently. Katie explained the history and role of the Royal Literary Fund (RLF in the UK and described firstly her role as a fellow in helping higher education undergraduate students with writing skills in 1 to 1 tutorials. She then settled on explaining her role as a RLF fellow in Scotland in designing, piloting and delivering a very successful school-based project called RLF Bridge. From a pilot of 10 post primary schools in Scotland, it has grown to over 80 participating schools where RLF fellows teach 5 x 50 minute workshops on academic writing development. The aim is to help with writing development including reducing fears around writing, providing vocabulary, examples and help with understanding writing terminology, and showing examples of how to structure good paragraphs. The sessions are active, fun and informative. Katie demonstrated a short story task that sparks discussion of what makes a good short story and aids critical evaluation, and she finished off with an exercise based on a paragraph matrix. It has been a pleasure to have Katie with us as both a participant and a professional writer with the many perspectives that brings to the group.     
After lunch, we are in for yet another treat. Alison has arranged for two visiting professional writers to discuss their writing process and engage in a Q&A session. We had one hour of chat, discussion, stories and examples that informed us and made us laugh. Thank you to both Deirdre Purcell and Sharon Tighe-Mooney. Some gems of advice: don’t strive for perfection from the outset or you will stifle ideas and words; all individuals have different writing processes and there is no one way or blueprint; something big can be developed from a very small and specific idea – pick something that resonates with you; there is no writing without reading – read widely and avidly. The rest are secrets that will remain with SWIFT fellows! Sharon’s book is non-fiction on the topic of the role of women in the catholic church ‘What About Me?’ Mercier Press Deirdre has written numerous books and spoke about writing fiction, memoir and non-fiction and even threw journalism into the mix. What a great day 3. Roll on day 4.


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