Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Day one - SWIFT 2018

And we’re off, on the first day of SWIFT 2018.  We are a punctual bunch.  There are participants in the room and I am greeted by the reassuring hum that one hopes will ensue when you provide ‘coffee on arrival’ for people who have never met each other before.  We will be 20 in total this morning when we all get here; this number will include Claire Heylin (SWIFT Fellow 2014) who has been invited along to show and tell us about her teaching of early years children in a primary school setting.  But before that, we settle at our tables, share some numbers that mean something to us, and begin to think and talk about our writing.  I draw on a piece from The Guardian for its tone and Ellie reads it aloud for us


Though it touches on other topics, this piece talks about writing, specifically about finding the right words for our writing, being just famous enough as a writer, and what one should do when given advice as a writer.  We follow this by capturing some thoughts on a page in completion of prompts such as ‘When I got feedback on my writing recently it felt ...’  and ‘I find real joy in writing when …’ Some of us share some of these, with one participant remarking that you are often afraid of what will appear on the page and that by writing down what you think or feel you are acknowledging that it might be real.  Of course, she’s right.  The first part of the day finishes with participant expectations for the week, introductions and a mention of our absent friends from the Bay Area Writing Project - BAWP (University of California, Berkeley) who helped us to get started 4 years ago now.

And following from a tradition established by those same BAWP colleagues Deirdre begins the day proper with ‘foods from my childhood’.  We remember specific foods, list them, share them, choose one to develop and then some of us read the work.  The benefits of the exercise are discussed not least the fact that each of us has had a childhood which will have involved food – it is common ground.  It is remarked also that the prompts that Deirdre provides in the development of the exercise are like invitations to say more, go deeper, suggest ‘so what’, and that we and our students need strategies to do this.

Our break is followed by Claire’s contribution which gives us a smashing flavour of her broader work context and hones in on one specific pedagogy that is used in that setting.  The pedagogy is Talk 4 Writing by Pie Corbett and Claire has charming video pieces of her students working through various stages of the process including Imitation, Innovation and Independent Application. Claire provides us with a great description and associated insights about how this pedagogy works in action.  With her guidance we try it out making story maps based on short stories we have been given.  It is striking that this approach to writing involves speaking (almost in chorus), map making, movement, along with the usual idea generation, drafting, revising, editing, publishing and/or performing.  We ask questions at the end of the class and think about how what we have seen and learned might be repurposed for our own context.  We express, inadequately, our gratitude to Claire for kicking off our week like this.

After lunch, Marina (brave soul) does the first participant demo of the week; she is ably assisted by Margaret and Sarah who are her demo buddies. The demos are the backbone of  SWIFT.  They provide opportunities for participants to share lessons, either that they have used in the past or that they hope to try in the future, and to get feedback on them.  In our documentation we describe the demo as follows: ‘the teaching demonstrations of the Summer Institute tap [participants’] knowledge and give Fellows an opportunity to present to the group a current practice they use to teach writing or a way they use writing to enhance learning. The demonstrations also give Fellows a chance to open up an issue, problem or question in teaching writing, or using writing to learn, and explore it with others in the institute’.  Marina’s demo uses a jigsaw technique where she has cut up a sonnet and we need to put it back together in our groups.  When we do this she asks us to read the poem and work out what it’s about.  Again we are being encouraged to move beyond what seems immediately obvious to further meanings.  We share these.  We then take on to write a sonnet, or at least the beginning of one which we read out to the group.  We talk about what it feels like to write poetry and to write it with other people; we are trying all week to find out more about ourselves as writers and to learn more about how we can support other writers.

At the end of the demo participants are asked to provide feedback to Marina who has done a great job.  With regards the feedback process participants are reminded first and foremost of a key feedback question: ‘would I want to receive this feedback’.  The need to be kind to each other is emphasized as is the importance of asking questions of the presenter as opposed to providing suggestions for changes.  Marina’s buddies collect the feedback and help her to interpret it while the rest of the group thinks about how they might use what they have heard, experienced or learned today in their own setting.

We finish on time and we say we will come back again tomorrow … on verra :-)

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