Sunday, July 19, 2015

A Writing Enrichment Day That Enriched Me As Well!

Last Friday I went with a small group of students to Footscray Park campus if Victoria University, where they were to do writing workshops with people who are professional writers and also teach there.

I went to Fiction A with a student who was on her own - the others had all been allocated Fiction B. The tutor said that she expected teachers in the class to take part in the workshop, and she herself would be writing.

We started with two short stories which we then sat down in groups and discussed, using questions she had given to go with them. After reporting back to the group, we were given slips of paper pulled from a jar to get us started. She said she didn't mind if we swapped or even wrote our own stuff as long as we wrote something. I personally prefer to limit myself to what I have been given, so I stuck to what I had been given: Flinders Street Station at 2.00 am, a bright burst of light.

Here's what I wrote in the 15-20 minutes we were given:

I'd just missed the last train home. And the last tram. There were no Nightrider buses around and not much left in my wallet to pay for one of the cabs waiting at the taxi rank outside the station; I 'd spent it all at the fan auction that afternoon, buying an autographed photo of Harrison Ford. I had to have it! It was signed back in the seventies when he  was young and gorgeous. If I'd gone to an auction in the US or bought it on eBay, it would have cost four or five times the price I'd paid.

The street wasn't empty; there was music coming from Young and Jackson's pub across the road and a few drunks staggering along. But I felt alone. Should I head back to the hotel and see if James would let me crash on his room floor? He'd say yes, but for the wrong reasons. Still, I couldn't stay here. There was always the hotel foyer if he was a pain.

Shivering in my Princess Leia costume, I sighed and started back up Swanston St. Started, but didn't get far. Something came out of the sky with a flash of light and landed in the middle of the tram tracks outside St Paul's. It was smaller than the smallest flying saucer I'd ever seen in any movie, about twice the size of a van. Nobody else even glanced at it. Hey, Melbourne!

Someone stepped out. He was shorter than me, much shorter. His skin was green and there was a comb on his head instead of hair, but otherwise, he could pass for a human male. Pulling something out of his pocket, he gestured at me. It was a flyer for Continuum 12, the science fiction convention I was attending.

"Mm?"  he squeaked. "Ah, aah, mm?"

He was asking directions, I guessed. Stunned, I pointed towards the other end of Swanston Street.

"Thx!" he said.

Thanks?

"Uh, you're welcome."

As he started towards his tiny spaceship I called, "Wait! Can you give me a lift?"

He seemed to understand me, because he grinned and waved invitingly at the ship.

I climbed in beside him. It was squashy, but I couldn't help grinning myself. Wait till James saw me arrive!

The End

Not brilliant, but hey, 15 minutes! I don't expect kids to do even this much. I think I can use these ideas in my own class. It will make them feel they have achieved something. Last semester's class was mainly students who love writing and do it in their own time. This term I have one of them back, but of the rest, one wants to learn how to finish a story to help with her literacy class, the rest aren't quite sure. It just seemed a nice thing to do. So their needs will be different. And this seems like a good way to get them going, because they won't be wanting to do their own stories to publish online.

After lunch - when I chatted with writer Michael Hyde, who was doing a life writing workshop in the afternoon - I went to a poetry workshop with another student who was on her own. It wouldn't have been my choice, but I wanted to keep her company and her face brightened when I told her I was going with her.

And in the end, it was good. The tutor was Sherryl Clarke, who visited our school last year, compliments of YABBA. She started it off with getting us to cut up bits of newspaper, choosing words which we then had to use in a poem. I ended up with a sales catalogue! Still, I had a go.

An open letter to a millionaire philanthropist (newspaper cutouts)

Dick Smith,
Please do more
To save the reef
From dynamite and mines.

Take action now!
40 per cent of marine species need you!
Call Mac
And talk about marine life NOW!


We finished with a poem using three words chosen at random from a pile everyone had created, with adjectives - say, turquoise rather than blue - nouns, senses. The deal was, you had to use each word at least three times in the poem. My words were shopping centre, japonica and taste.  I suspect japonica was written by one of the other teachers! Still, I wrote my poem. Here it is:


The Senses of Home (take three words, shuffle around)

Exhausted by Boxing Day sales,
I sit in a cafe at the shopping centre food court,
Sipping, the taste of camellia leaves
On my tongue,
And think of the japonica waving
Outside the window of a home long gone,
Camellia Japonicas also grow in tubs
Everywhere in the shopping centre,
The smells from the food court,
The shopping centre bustle,
The smooth table under my hands,
Even the taste of the tea in my mouth,
Leaves of the camellia plant,
Or taste of chocolate mud cake
Cannot match the sight of flaming red japonica,
The sight that speaks of home.

And here's the one we had to do with no more than three lines:

Joyfully,
I watch my class at work,
Promise of tomorrow.

Not bad, three poems in a session after having written none since university!

This session might also find its way into my Creative Writing classes...

So it was as much a professional development for me as for the students.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Farewell Creative Writers!

So, last week I said goodbye to my Creative Writing class for this semester. They were all Year 10 and though we were supposed to have one more class this week, an exam was slotted in for this afternoon. No more.

Everyone finished something. There was still some editing to do for most of them. Derby managed to finish a second story, though she was in New Zealand for a week. In between preparing for her role as bridesmaid at her family wedding, she was writing a story about a girl who wants revenge for her brother's death and then realises he wouldn't want that. We sat down and edited it and then it was ready to go up on her blog.

James had actually finished a short piece at home. It needed light editing, but was otherwise okay. Certainly better than the long thing he was working on for most of the semester and that overwhelmed him. Next semester I will not let my students write stories more than a few hundred words long and I will be making them plan out their stories. I may be a pantser, but for the purposes of this class, they will have to be planners.

Miller was given his editing, but spent the period writing yet more of his story! And not editing it.

Aravinthan copied and pasted his autobiography into his blog page as one piece of writing. Not exciting, but finished. He missed a lot of classes.

Ricky and I sat down and edited his silly but fun little story about the adventures of Puffy the Puffer
fish.

Inaam was working hard on her horror story. She hadn't finished the editing at the end of the class, but is reliable enough to finish it in her own time. She has been a pleasant surprise, working slow but steady this year.

What will next term be like? I will miss them.

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!