Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Near The Home Straight

This week I had a visitor in my Creative Writing Class. We have to do this, it's compulsory.

We read Wild Africa, by Justin D'Ath before going on to the writing. The learning intention was ""To learn from reading".  It really is a good idea to do this, because they can discuss the good and bad points of someone else's story before going on to their own.

I asked the class's lowest student to do another outline, which is all he is capable of doing.  Next week, which will be the second last session of this subject for most of the class, I will see if I can persuade him to write an extra sentence with each of the questions. But that's about all I can get out of him. He has missed a lot of classes anyway.

I rejoiced when one student finally finished her story, but it needs a LOT of fixing of punctuation, spelling and grammar. I began by pasting it into a Word document. I spent at least an hour on editing, but it's nowhere near finished. I might ask her to begin by doing a spelling and grammar check. That won't do all of it, but will help.

Still - it's finished! This student has been slow but steady. Only one story, but she got on with it.

The others got something done, anyway, though not complete.

I think I'm learning as much as they are how to do this and how NOT to do it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Two Classes ...

A double period yesterday of Creative Writing, another, today, of EAL.

I wanted to give my Year 7 EAL class a break from the grammar folders through which they're working - you can't do a double period of grammar worksheets anyway and they get restless doing the same sort of stuff every week. Lily, their regular teacher, agreed. She had suggested some spelling exercises from a book she is checking out, but hasn't gone very far with it yet and it's a "course" you're supposed to do weekly. It also, as I found when I opened it, has references to "your rules booklet" (what rules booklet?).

In the end, I used her ESL Games book and a literacy exercise on syllables. They picked up the syllables very quickly - some had already done syllables in their home countries, but even those who hadn't done it before got it right once I put the rules up on the board.

The Games book included a vocabulary exercise on transport and a game board using the vocab. They played the game and seemed to enjoy it.

The second half of the lesson we went online to do Freerice, a vocabulary game in which for every right answer 10 grains of rice are donated to charity. They all got decent scores and enjoyed the game, learning new words as they went.

Next week, back to grammar exercises, but with some extras.

I only had four students in Creative Writing yesterday. That gave me the chance to sit down with each individual student and discuss what they were working on. Two of the boys admitted that their stories were just not working for them. One of them said he was working on a story in his literacy class - he had just begun and it was about a puffer fish, a la Finding Nemo. We went through the outline together and broke it down till he had an outline from beginning to end. I begged him not to make it more than a few hundred words.

The other boy had actually started his replacement story, but wasn't sure where it was going. Again, we discussed it and wrote out an outline, beginning to end. He came up with some ideas as we talked and became quite excited about it. Fingers crossed!

The next student refused to admit the story was too much for him, said he liked it - but has only done a few paragraphs. So we discussed it and I wrote the outline and just as I was writing "and he goes home" my student said, "Oh, but that's not the end, Miss!" Finally, I suggested - firmly - that he write the story to the ending we had done so far and, if he had time, he could do a sequel, "The Return of ..." . He won't, of course. But if I can get him to finish this one, I will heave a sigh of relief.

Inaam, the only girl, was bogged down in her horror story. She told me what she had in mind for the ending and we worked out how to get there. Hopefully, the outline will help her. She is the only one who hasn't been weaving from past tense to present and back again - most of her errors are punctuation and lack of capitals at the start of sentences.

I think that class worked well - let's see if those individual discussions made a difference.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Creative Writing yet again

So, last week, we read The Leather Jacket at the start of the period and that went over quite well. The story involves a boy following a girl around. She asks him to run naked in front of a gold game to prove his love for her - and then nicks off with his expensive leather jacket which belongs to his brother. The kids were highly indignant about it, but it made for a good discussion before they went back to their own stories, about how well it worked as a story.

Aravinthan finally completed his autobiographical outline, about all I was going to get out of him. I think Miller managed one more paragraph. Derby and I sat down to discuss what her next story will be(zombies) but she has to see the doctor tomorrow and will be off in New Zealand the week after next, for a family event. Inaam was still having trouble with the Internet at home, but got some more typed up. One student was absent. The others had - yet again - forgotten to bring in the USB sticks with their stories, and did I mention more Internet troubles? And writer's block... sigh! I wish I hadn't told them that term.

 "I have writer's block, Miss!"

"Okay, we'll have a look at it and see what we can do."

"Um... I forgot to bring my USB stick and I'm having trouble with the Internet connection at home."

"Well, can you write an ending for it and fill in the rest?"

"I'm having writer's block about the end..."

AAARGH! And this is a perfectly nice student who does write quite a lot when he has his story with him.

I have prepared another outline for Aravinthan, on sport, on the recommendation of our integration aide head honcho.

When he's filled in the current one...

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Creative Writing - again!

This week's Creative Writing class was somewhere in the middle of finishing things off. I had a lesson plan all worked out, which involved reading a good short story and discussing why it was good, or if they thought so. We have already had a look at the Hero's Journey through film trailers and KISS - which was what a short story should be, because some of them are overwhelming themselves with stories that could end up as novels, and there just isn't time for that, especially because the stories need editing - and the end of this term is the end of the course for most of them. And being Year 10, they all have work experience to attend the last two weeks.

Last week's lesson was chaotic; we couldn't book the library and when we returned to the room we have been using for a classroom - not having our own, as the room we were allocated is, in fact, a staffroom - we found that another class was occupying it and using one set of laptops. The other set was being used by a full-sized class. Fortunately, I was able to coax six laptops from the other teacher, whose class was smallish like mine.

That's the trouble with having a small class: you don't feel you should have the cheek to book a computer room and if the laptop class sets and the library are unavailable, what can you do with a writing class? I need some emergency activities. If I hadn't had access to the computers I probably would have gone straight into the Hero's Journey class story - but I really wanted them to get on with their own stories.

Last week, Inaam was having trouble with writer's block. I suggested that she write the end and fill in the rest. It worked; the story is complete - but she needed to type it, because the dear old-fashioned girl starts everything in longhand.

James had told me he was finished with his first story and had begun another, but admitted this week that the first one wasn't quite finished. He had writer's block too and unlike Inaam, he froze near the end!

Ricky, who joined us late, had barely started his tale of alien invasion, having only gone as far as the Australian heroes being taken from an Arctic base and walking towards the alien HQ.

Two students were absent and one had other commitments, though she joined us near the end (and, o joy, emailed me her complete, edited story! It is on its way to the school anthology.

Anyway,  they all grabbed a laptop and started writing before I could do more, so I left it till the last half hour, when I read with them two short pieces of slush I had kept for them since early this year, and invited them to work out which we had allowed to go to the next round and which we had rejected. They got it right, and for the right reasons. One was a story outline, with very little actually going on and way too complex for what it was. The other had only two characters, a problem to solve and was complete in itself. It worked. They remembered my talk about KISS!

I've started reading a story with them each week - next week we'll do the one I originally had planned for this week. It's a nice, humorous story from the Trust Me! anthology. I'd like, if possible to compose a Hero's Journey story outline with them, to help give ideas to those who are ready for their next story.

Wish me luck!


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Term of Creative Writing ... Some Reflections

This year I started a new subject. Well, two if you count EAL, but the EAL teacher has been supplying me with material to use and so far it has been straightforward parts of speech. Yesterday we did adverbs, using the worksheets she had supplied and ending with a spelling race (adverbs, of course). In general I think they are getting it and I might do a quick test to see how much they have absorbed in the parts of speech, but it will have to be after we've covered the material the teacher wants covered for that period. It does make things easier for both of us - she can focus on other things when she has them and I have somewhere to start.

Creative Writing, though - I'm currently teaching seven Year 10 students. Well, six, really. The seventh student has turned up twice the whole term and written a single paragraph. And that was his autobiography because on a test to see what he could do I concluded he was not capable of so much as a story outline, let alone a story. I did learn from that first paragraph that he has a brother who is a Bollywood actor! But then I didn't see him again. And he didn't seem to feel that he was obliged to tell me more.

Recently, we were joined by Ricky, who decided to drop out of his other subject to do this. I was told he couldn't afford the fees, but the welfare teacher told me later that when she offered to help him out on the fees he said that no, he was happy to do Creative Writing. He has begun a story about an alien invasion and a task force sent to the alien HQ somewhere in Russia to fight back. We did have some discussions about the inadvisability of dropping from a plane near enough for the enemy to see them and he rewrote. As the good guys were Australian I did have to ask if he was sending them all the way from Australia to do this and he decided they would be coming from a base somewhere in the Arctic. And he got out Google Maps to do some checking. He hasn't gone very far, but he's only been with us for two sessions so far.

Tez was writing a story about having been kidnapped by a gangster to whom the father owed money, but it was too positive - the girl was given a nice room and happily bounced up and down on the bed. I suggested that someone kidnapped would be terrified, not giggling, and that if she was planning a romance here she would have to make the kidnapper at least a bit sympathetic. She took my point and had a go, but last week told me she didn't feel that story was working and she had started another one. That was okay, but I haven't seen it yet. She did show me her blurb, which sounded rather depressing, but hey, teenage girls...  The others all saved their stories into our Public Share and I've sent them to myself to read, perhaps over the term break.

James is still in the middle of a fantasy tale about a thief who got into trouble and was on the run when he picked up a magical glove that did nasty things. It's promising, but still needs a lot of work. And the hero is currently in a prison cell with not much idea of where it is or how he got there and the story is not properly begun.

Inaam made a promising start to a horror story about a bunch of girls on a sleepover who suddenly find themselves out in the cold woods. I must say, Inaam's story was a pleasant surprise, though the punctuation was all over the place. We went through it together and she spent a period fixing it because, as I told her, there wasn't much wrong with the story itself.

Miller has managed about three paragraphs. In a term. The last one finished abruptly in the middle of a sentence. Sigh!

Derby's story has turned into a version of Snow White, seen from the Queen's viewpoint. It has some nice touches of humour in it, but she has suddenly realised that Queen Ivana isn't much older than Snow White and Snow White's parents put a curse on her and there are no dwarfs, because the Queen accidentally killed her before any thought of doing it on purpose. I like the humour, but this really doesn't look like it's going anywhere as yet.

I did find one thing that worked was the story template. Well, it worked for those of them who are willing to even consider the ending of the story. Derby says it has helped her to break the story down and look at it again.

Another things that works - or would, if I could get them to post during the holidays - is the class blog. They have begun to comment on each other's stories and they are doing so politely and I like that.

Thing is, I am wondering if ANYTHING will be ready and edited by the time they finish. And I was hoping for three stories each!

I have been doing this as a writer trying to share my own writing habits, but it doesn't seem to be quite working. And I'm not prepared to turn this into English Extensions.

I'm hoping to be able to get the school to give us some money for a writing workshop that will cross two campuses. That might inspire something. At this stage, most of them have eight sessions left!

Rats!


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Creative Writing, EAL And Me

I've had two classes each - a double period - in Creative Writing and Year 7 EAL. So far so good, but I'm still learning.

The Year 7 EAL I'm doing in co-operation with the regular EAL teacher. Last year a couple of colleague had the job of teaching the students while the rest of the class was doing Italian or Vietnamese - no point making the poor kids do those when they haven't even mastered English yet! It did happen one year when the timetable had problems, but not now.

So what do you do? Strictly speaking , it's called "Cultural Studies" and there is a colleague on another campus who has prepared a whole year's classes on it as such. But I asked the EAL teacher what she would prefer me to do. She said she would prefer that I complete activities she is doing and vice versa. She gave me her lesson plans for the term. That has helped so far, but we have a hard time getting together when she has six period days before I take the class. And her lesson plans are really intended for herself, as aids to memory; she has been doing it for so long, she knows exactly what she means. Unfortunately, I don't, so have to ask, when she can spare a few minutes. Or else work it out and add my own bits, which I did.

The first week I took the students' photos and printed them out for a poster "about me" that was to be put up in the classroom. She had prepared a template for them to use. Yesterday they had to do work on nouns. She had supplied a work sheet, but there were other things to do, such as find a text they could use to highlight the nouns and work out what kind they were. And she hadn't brought that to work. So I went on line and found a fairly simple folk tale, which was still not quite simple enough; I had to adapt it. And because this was a double period, I knew the work sheet alone was not going to be enough to keep them going. I prepared "noun cards" for them to sort as to type, in groups.

In the end, with the help of the volunteer from the Ardoch Foundation, I was able to keep it going for two periods and we each took a table of students. The noun cards didn't get used until the next period, when the regular teacher used them as a warm up before proceeding to verbs. I did wonder if they would remember the noun types, though they seemed to have got it in my class. My colleague told me that they had; she said when they came into class, "So, you're now experts on nouns. Tell me about them!" and asked questions which they were able to answer. Success!

Creative Writing has the potential to be a huge success or a complete disaster. So far so good. The first lesson was introductory. My colleague on another campus is doing a very structured class, starting from the beginning. She has a larger class than mine and doesn't know them, having been moved from her other campus, so that's understandable; I have shared some of my material with her, though, the story starters, and she is happy with them.

If I asked my students to do basic writing exercises I suspect they would rebel. They know what they are doing, or believe they do; they just need my support.

So the first week I did an introductory class, beginning with showing them books by teenagers and telling them that just because you're young doesn't mean you can't succeed in this area. I talked about writers who plan way ahead and writers who write by the seat of their pants. I'm a pantser, but it would work better for them to be planners.

I prepared a set of story starters. On one side of the sheet were story starters taken from the Melbourne Writers' Festival student competition, Write Across Victoria, including one that had won a prize for a student from our school. On the other side, as a form of "differentiation" for the students who might need something simpler, I placed some much simpler story starters of my own.

Amazing how much I learned from this. It wasn't only the less capable writers who chose them, it was some of the good ones as well - it inspired them as the others didn't. Lesson number 1, Sue: don't make assumptions.

We went through the complex story starters first and I invited them to think about what kind of stories they might be, eg one was clearly Steampunk. Amazing the range of ideas that came from a single story starter that began with "I remember the day they came for me" and went on to describe fighting and clash of steel on steel. Everything from totalitarian state to ninjas! And one of the students, who is a huge Steampunk fan, nevertheless started with this one, writing a gruesome tale of slave takers killing parents to take the daughter.

Anyway, I got them started and Tuesday this week, they were continuing on. I learned another lesson I should have understood last week, preparing a story template with a basic "who is your hero, where does it happen, who are her friends/enemies, what is the problem, how is it solved" format. I thought it might help one girl who is having trouble getting started (and I came into class to find that she had decided her first page and a half just wasn't working, so yes, it did help her). Two others also used it, including one who had stuck fast on "I blacked out" with no idea where to go from there. We discussed her story, which was about an evil queen who didn't want to be evil but was under a curse. Then I offered her the template to enable her to break it down and she said that yes, it did help, very much, looking at it that way. Lesson 2, repeat of Lesson 1: don't make assumptions!

Another student I had thought might not do much last week had brought in a plan every bit as complex as the J. K Rowling one I had shown them the first week. She was typing away happily. Apparently her sister also writes and had shown her how to do this.

So that's working and when at the end of the period I asked them whether they were enjoying so far, they all agreed with huge smiles.

Only thing is, how do i gently persuade most of them we need some sessions when they read out their stories to each other? One of them agreed before class that she would read out hers and I wrote a Steampunk story using the story starter, so the two of us read our stories out and the others were gently critical of mine and I praised them. But they look like deer in headlights when I suggest they might do the same.

I have to think about it.

Monday, December 08, 2014

This Year... And Next

Each year I have had to do something different. From Year 11 English to junior ESL (or EAL as it's now known), then on to Year 8 English and Pathways, the homeroom subject. And each time I managed to learn to handle a subject - and I did very well at Pathways - I was given another challenge. This year's challenge has been teaching history.

I love history - but loving something isn't necessarily the same as teaching it. Just because you enjoy reading about something doesn't always mean that you can pass it on.

Have I done well? I'd like to think so, but the truth is, I have had to do the same as everyone else and bullshit my way through, asking for help every now and then from more experienced staff. Sometimes you have to do that. Some things have worked, others haven't.

Making iMovies worked the first time. If I had to teach history again, I would use that, but find a way to make the kids comfortable with it and learn more about it myself. For example, in English, Literature Circles, this year students were allowed to use iMovie to prepare book trailers. They had learned from me in history how to do it.

 That sort of worked, but what none of us had realised was that you couldn't get back to the unfinished task on the school iPads unless you had left it there. So some students who had made a book trailer - unfinished - on iMovie and saved it to the school's Public Share couldn't finish it. What they had done was quite good, but looked a bit silly in the blank grey bits. We - my colleague and I -accepted it anyway, because they had done their best. If I was doing this next year, I would make sure that they spent the entire double period on it, first collecting photos, then slotting them into place.

We had two classes joined for Literature Circles because mine was too small to do it without merging classes - and since we were on at the same time, we would have been competing for resources and space. Two classes together worked last year, but not quite as well as last year, because we had a larger number of difficult students and several integration students and only one aide available to help - last year we had two.

Still, we worked out as best we could which students would go into which groups and which books they could handle.

Some things worked, others didn't - and there were a few students who were given books too difficult for them, which it took us too long to realise. We did make some late changes, giving those students easier books which they were to read by themselves and produce a PowerPoint as their response - the simplest thing to do.

There were a few who had handed in very little this year and were not about to begin now, but we did what we could. I hope they'll mature next year.

We finished with a reflection by the students about what they had gotten out of it. That will help for next year.

One difficult student admitted to me "My behaviour hasn't been stellar this year, has it?" I agreed that it hadn't, but at the time I was talking with him about a story I had asked him to rewrite so it can go into the school anthology and persuading him to put his name on it, since he now had something to be proud of.

That's now happening. His story will be in the next anthology and he will be able to show off a bit. Maybe next year he will have matured? He was the student whose group messed up their podcast.

My history students did their posters and Powerpoints and booklets on the Aztecs. I've put up the posters, which are very good. I've done their last test for the year and am pleased at how well they all did - apart from one student who had been away a lot, everyone got high marks, including my most difficult student who has been improving and got full marks.

My survey of my literacy students worked well. Despite there being some who had been noisy and rude, even they ticked "agree" or "strongly agree" for questions as to how supportive/helpful,etc. I had been (and I overheard one say, "Oh, yes, she is, she really is!" And he was one who had given me a headache many times.

If I had these classes next year I would have a better idea what to do.

But I have been told that next year will be different again, with yet another challenge. . Creative Writing! I have never had writing lessons myself, so how do I give lessons to others? I have been thinking about this carefully. All I can do is offer them the chance to write and submit and the benefit of my own experience as a writer. I'm taking a little survey of students who have signed up for it, to find out what they hope to get out of it. There hasn't been the chance to get together with the other two CW teachers, though I have sent emails and spoken to one. They're both English teachers and will have to make the best of their own experience.

I will have a Year 7 EAL class, but I believe it is straightforward, just a double period a week while the other students are doing Vietnamese or Italian. I think I can handle that, if I discuss it with the EAL teacher.

I'm looking after the Year 10 Psychology students once a week, but I used to do that anyway till this year and it didn't count as part of my allotment.

And of course, there will be Sunlit (literacy class). Hopefully, I will continue with the same reading level as this year. I'm quite comfortable with this subject and actually felt left out one day when everyone else had begun and mine hadn't been sorted out yet.

I'm very tired and there's still so much to do!