Creative writers as arts educators

Cremin, Teresa and Myhill, Debra (2019). Creative writers as arts educators. In: Noblit, George ed. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. New York: Oxford University Press.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780190264093.013.394

Abstract

In the field of writing in education two strong even common-sense views exist: firstly, that to teach writing effectively teachers must be writers themselves and secondly, that professional writers have a valuable role to play in supporting young writers. These perspectives are not unquestioned however. In particular the positioning of teachers as writers within and beyond the classroom has been the subject of intense academic and practitioner debate for many decades. For years too professional writers have visited schools to talk about their work, and have run workshops and led residencies. However, relatively few peer-reviewed studies exist into the value of their engagement in education and those that do, in a manner similar to the studies examining teachers as writers, tend to rely upon self-reports without observational evidence to triangulate the perspectives offered. Furthermore, the evidence base with regard to the impact on student outcomes of teachers’ positioning themselves as writers in the classroom is scant. Nor is there a body of evidence documenting the impact of the work of professional writers on student outcomes.

Historically, these two foci – teachers as writers and professional writers in education - have tended to be researched separately, with limited overlap and dialogue between them. Predominantly professional writers in education work directly with students as visiting artists, less commonly with teachers. As a consequence such writers have been positioned and have positioned themselves as offering enrichment opportunities and have not therefore been able to make a sustained impact on the teaching of writing. Moreover, whilst writers’ published texts are read, studied and analysed in school (as examples for young people to emulate and imitate), their compositional processes receive very little attention and the craft knowledge on which writers draw is rarely foregrounded in the classroom. In addition, writing is often seen as the most marginalised creative art, in part perhaps due to its inclusion within English which itself has been side-lined in the arts debate.

Notwithstanding these challenges, research and development studies have begun to create new opportunities for collaboration, with teachers and professional writers sharing their expertise as pedagogues and as writers in order to support students’ development as creative writers. In such work the concept of writer identity has come to the fore; how writer identities are shaped and formed, and the challenges, constraints and consequences of students and teachers identifying themselves as writers in school. In addition recent research has sought to listen to and learn from professional writers, analysing for example their reading histories, composing practices and craft knowledge in order to feedforward new insights into classroom practice. It is thus gradually becoming recognised that professional writers’ knowledge and understanding of the art and craft of writing deserves increased practitioner attention; it has potential to support teachers’ understanding of being a writer and of how they teach writing. This in turn may impact upon students’ own identities as writers, and their attitudes to and outcomes in writing.

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