On Teaching Creative Writing

I must admit to nerves. Despite almost eleven years of teaching, to be alongside a poet teaching 8 year 8s, was – as this is so important to me – somewhat nerve wracking.

If I pretend to lead, will you follow?

If I pretend to lead, will you follow?

My poet colleague is very good and organised. To steer sometimes reluctant teens towards writing poems is no mean feat. Using visuals, group work, shared and modelled writing, etc, scaffolds and examples. He is very good.

There was much muttering and asides going on. It was an occasion where one’s blood could boil, but it was carefully managed. They needed to be engaged, especially as language was partly in the way, as well as the unusual freedoms that creative writing allows for.

They were working around the notion of friendship, and the scaffold had a section where children were expected to give an example of a time that a friend made them laugh.

So   damned   funny

So damned funny

Some of the more vocal pupils were able to verbalise this, though one boy didn’t really seem to get “funny.” I suppose this opens a whole can of worms!

The two boys, right at the end of the session, brought up two separate occasions of putting a frog down someone’s neck, and making younger children eat insects.

Genuinely funny, and wrong! This is where poetry could crack open and really say unsayable things.

You hurt.  I laugh.

You hurt. I laugh.

It made me focus on the aims of these sessions: these include the very important fact that creative writing is not very well explicitly taught as part of the curriculum, especially in Primary School.

Children are forever writing, but the emphasis is most often on good form, not what is really creative, imaginative writing. How does one develop this ability? Or encourage it where it wasn’t before?

There are clearly processes children can be guided along which end with poems being written. Structured pieces of writing with form, and personal statements being allowed.

I read a good “mission statement” for creative writing on the NAWE website. They outline what they mean by Creative Writing, and how this is achieved. NAWE website

My overriding sense is one of caution in how children are taught to produce outcomes. I can’t help but apply my own experiences to all this. And the bewildering, painful mistakes I made. It’s not at all that I think we should lead children to make mistakes, but rather that they should be encouraged to make these.

There is a very good argument for children being guided to produce art work. But, to my mind, there is a better argument for teaching children the more essential aspects of being creative: resilience, purpose, self exploration. Tricky. Perhaps the former is simply the first steps on this creative path.

I am thinking around what I should be aiming to give the children I teach for creative writing. Having read some of the work they produced, it is clear they are coming to me full of words and not a little emotional insight into the world in which they live.
Their work was full of above average for their age, phrases and word choices. But quite stuffed. I’ve decided to give them a pared down poem – This is just to say, by William Carlos Williams – and focus on getting stuff out, as much as putting things in. Negative spaces. Careful choices.

in the end, we're just shirtless and shrieking

in the end, we’re just shirtless and shrieking

There is not a little chiming with the Paul Klee show at the Tate. He would sit and stare, compose in his head over time, before making considered marks on canvas or paper. Such a thinker.

One of his pieces is called Burdened Children.
burdened children


About grahamcliffordpoet

Graham is an award winning poet, based in London. He graduated from the University of East Anglia with an MA in Creative Writing, and has since published nationally and internationally, winning many awards and performing at some of the most prestigious and well known Literary Festivals. His debut collection, The Hitting Game, is published by Seren.
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