Sitting in a quiet house on a wild stormy day and knowing that school does not beckon is such a wonderful and productive feeling. It is when I fully realise the privilege of being granted a scholarship to research writing. It is also when I realise how large this idea and project could become, which is why the time and space to read, plan, interview and write is so productive. There are no interruptions (unless of my making) and the only changes to my day are those of my choosing when I am able to follow a lead or thought process down a spiralling path.
The weather made it unsafe to travel early in the week, which meant interviews were sometimes conducted over the phone, yet this meant I began with thinking and reading, rather than the talking and writing I had scheduled.
Earmarked journals, articles, books and quick notes that had been gathered as part of the application and months of planning needed annotating and reviewing. Some were quite familiar, while others offered a different perspective – much like rewatching a film and noticing something new. This impacted on the questions I had planned to ask and the information that now became more interesting. I had always intended to learn more about teachers who write and how this affects their students, as well as how these teachers could best be supported, but now I’m also intrigued by writers in residence and different delivery models for residencies within schools.
This literature review also provided a more intimate connection to those academics and teachers I spoke with – Susanne Gannon, Felicity Castagna and Marilyn Omerovic-Legg. Despite some time since Gannon’s work reported in 2007-8, she still favours affect theory and the collection of qualitative data when trying to understand how students writing of teacher writers has improved. Notions of confidence and a willingness to write count for more than standardised text scores or HSC (Higher School Certificate) results. The assessment regimes, or ‘high stakes’ environments mentioned in several articles tends to influence teachers into binaries of teaching writing in often conservative and formulaic ways as opposed to writing for pleasure and as experimentation – despite the marking guidelines and BOSTES information for English Extension 2 promoting originality mentioned by Castagna.
In my discussion with Omerovic-Legg, she outlined her current class of refugees, and students that require support, who chose Australia for its education and the ability to become ‘pilots, doctors … anything’. Yet in studying the ESL (English as Second Language) course for the HSC, there is no provision for creative or imaginative writing which effectively ignores their personal voice and ‘magical turn of phrase’ that finds it way into the analytical extended responses. This led me to share some of the writing experiences that are planned as part of my study trip – a workshop for growth and healing, as well as interviewing a counsellor who uses writing as therapy. We agreed to meet up again to discuss future writing opportunities for these students.
The week finished with a drive to each of the ten primary feeder schools in the Moss Vale Community of Schools to deliver thumb drives and hard copy resources from the English Textual Concepts Transition Writing Project.
These schools are geographically distant and vary in size which poses an interesting challenge for the provision of future writer in residence workshops and programs. In my brief discussions during the day, I became aware that some activities are shared across the sites, including athletics carnivals and music, yet there are no writing activities. The transitions writing project had several objectives, such as introducing the metalanguage of English as a discipline and associated conceptual terms for use in both primary and secondary schooling, as well as creating resources and supporting student writing in different forms. This project, to some extent, favoured formulaic teaching strategies with the hope that the focus on literacy skills in junior high school will be less important as students enter senior English courses with deep conceptual understanding which would (hopefully) allow for a more original and sophisticated writing voice.
This returns us to the perceived dichotomy of teaching writing for marks – annotation, deconstruction, analysis, essays and extended responses – and teaching writing for self fulfilment and pleasure.