Creative collaboration: teachers and writers working together

Myhill, Debra and Cremin, Teresa (2019). Creative collaboration: teachers and writers working together. Impact(7) pp. 61–65.

URL: https://impact.chartered.college/article/creative-...

Abstract

What happens when writers and teachers work together in the writing classroom? And what happens when teachers are given opportunities to be writers themselves through workshops led by professional writers? These practices are often encouraged by arts organisations, such as the Arts Council, and by subject associations such as the United Kingdom Literacy Association. But there is an absence of rigorous research into the value of writers’ engagement in the education context and impact on student outcomes has been undertaken on a small scale with mainly qualitative data; none are able to attribute causality and most are over-reliant upon self-reporting without observational evidence to triangulate the perspectives offered (Cremin and Oliver 2016). At the same time, the Arts Council report (2010), reviewing the work of writers in schools, argued that to ‘be effective in helping young people develop their skills, writers need to articulate aspects of the writing process and the working lives of writers’ (Horner, 2010:34), and to understand teachers’ contexts. In other words, professional writers need support in making their implicit knowledge, understanding and skills, explicit, as recent research evidence also shows (Cremin, Myhill, Lillis and Eyres, 2015).

This article draws on a research study, Teachers as Writers, funded by Arts Council England, and conducted through a collaboration of Arvon, a charitable organisation promoting creative writing, the Open University, and the University of Exeter. The project set out to explore creative collaboration between teachers and professional writers by investigating the impact on teachers of a creative writing residential at an Arvon writing centre, working with professional writers, and a subsequent co-mentoring experience in their own classrooms. In the Arvon residential, teachers participated in workshops and individual tutorials led by the writers, and had the opportunity to find time and space to be writers (Cremin, Myhill, Eyres, Wilson, Oliver and Nash, forthcoming). It was hoped that teachers would draw on their Arvon residential experience and use it in their own teaching of writing: for example, workshop approaches to writing, giving time and space for writing, using freewriting, and giving focused feedback. These approaches are informed by the guidance provided in the books written by professional writers for aspiring writers, including John Moat and John Fairfax (1998) who founded Arvon, but also Stephen King (2012), Ursula le Guin (2015) and Francine Prose (2012). These approaches also have some evidence in research into the teaching of writing: for example, Elbow’s (1998) advocacy of freewriting, Calkins’ (1983) and Graves’ (1983) encouragement of workshop approaches and time and space for writing, and the more recent body of research flagging how important it is to support young writers in managing the writing process (Myhill 2012) Harris et al 2015 ; Graham et al 2016).

The study sought to understand the impact of a creative collaboration of teachers and professional writers on:
• teachers’ identity and skills as writers;
• on their pedagogic practices in the teaching of writing;
• on their efficacy in supporting students to develop motivation, confidence and writing skills;
• and on student outcomes in writing.

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