Wednesday, December 02, 2015

The Year Winding Down... Year 7 EAL

This year I've had an EAL(formerly ESL) class, once a week while the other students are doing Italian and Vietnamese. It's a good opportunity for them to focus on their English while the others are doing something there's no point in their doing.

The EAL teacher asked me to do grammar and even supplied a folder earlier in the year. That, of course, ran out and I borrowed some of her grammar books and taught them about everything from nouns to conjunctions and finished classes with a speed spell or a board test to see how they were going, played as a game.

But the year is nearly over. And the kids have different reading levels, from the girl who is with me in the decoding literacy class to a student who is in the Grade 5 literacy group and has read and loved my YA novel! (Yes, it's a YA novel, but a readability test showed that kids with a Grade 5 reading level can still enjoy it). No point in trying to read something together unless there's a follow-up. The second half of the class we go to the library together and watch Behind The News, for which the teacher has provided worksheets at their different levels; I hand those out, but the students don't use them till her class on Friday. They just watch and discuss.

So, what to do this late in the piece? Only one more session together, next week.

I have learned a lot from Creative Writing. I also learned something from doing a workshop with eighty primary school students the other week. That is that there are some things that can be done, and enjoyed, in less than an hour.

We did acrostic poems. First, I gave a demonstration on the board. They liked the word "Summer", so I invited them to think of words connected with summer. After they had suggested quite a few, we did the poem on the board together. I even had one protest at the last line. "How can you ride boats? Make it bikes!"

Then I handed out paper on which to write their own, telling them they could do them in pairs or alone. There are three girls whom we have had to split because of their bad behaviour. They complained, but they did their own.

And you know what? When I put the poems up on the wall later, one of the badly behaved students asked if she might take hers home. I said yes, at the end of the day, as I wanted everyone to see she could do this. She doesn't know how she delighted me by that request!

The work was not exactly professional standard, but it was important to me that they enjoyed and learned something. Acrostics are good because most people can do them. I did have to go around the class and help those having a bit of trouble finding appropriate words. I think it I were to do it again, I might make it a bit more organised - there were some who had a bit of trouble with it. I would lay out coloured pencils to give them a chance to decorate before putting them up on the wall.

But in the end, everyone produced something, which was the main thing. Some produced two or three poems! On the whole, fairly successful.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Year 12 Formal!

I don't normally do Friday nights. It's Shabbat. It's family time. Usually the Year 12 Formal is on a Thursday, sometimes a Wednesday, the last day of exams.

But the school was late in booking and that was what they could get. And I had to say goodbye to my students. There were a lot of my favourite students who graduated this year. Okay, I say that every year - and to be honest, my all-time favourite class graduated last year. But this was a very good class, with only one student who was a bit difficult and even he was only a bit naughty - I use the mild word for a good reason. Naughty, not impossible. And he handed in his work and did some good stuff during Literature Circles.

And there he was, a young man with a beard, a gentle smile and a twinkle in his eyes! That twinkle reminded you of his past, but it had become something positive.

We have our formal (the Senior Prom to my US readers)at what used to be the Hilton on the Park. It sounds swish, especially for a poor school like ours - and certainly the students have to pay quite a lot to dine there, but they're given a chance to pay it off, and on the night, the boys hire suits, the girls dress up stunningly and get their hair done and they arrive in shared stretch limos. We go there because it gives us the best deal - believe me, we have been to other hotels, one of which, a big chain I won't name, but which you'd know if I did, made things difficult for the SRC students who were making the arrangements at the time.

I go to say goodbye to kids I've known since they were in Year 7, and taught in Year 8. It's always just a bit sad for me, though for them it will be exciting - the whole world is about to open to them!

One of the students I hadn't taught, but whom I knew fairly well, through his siblings, was dancing joyously on his own on the dance floor. He didn't think he'd done well in the exam and so I told him that even if he didn't get what he wanted, there was always the next best thing and sometimes you can use that as a back door to what you do want. His family has had a very hard time, so I'm not surprised he was distracted this year, but I have no doubt he did his best.

Another student, who had always had his nose in a book when he was in my class, told me he was still researching and considering his options for next year. I suggested librarianship or at least an Arts degree, which he would handle well. This boy discovered the joys of ebooks when he was in Year 10, so he's still reading, he's just doing it on his Kindle. I remember when his group was doing Dragonkeeper in Literature Circles and the other students asked me if I'd mind asking him to read something else till they caught up with him, as he was way ahead in the novel. He didn't mind a bit! We were in the library and he cheerfully headed for the shelves. Needless to say, this boy is now towering over me.

I saw a young couple who were already an item  when I taught them in Year 8, still together and very sweet they were.

I saw some of my most faithful Book Clubbers. I barely recognised them, so grown up!

I will be looking out for what tertiary courses they have been offered, in January. Can't wait!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Saying Goodbye to Year 10

This week is our last with Year 10. I was hoping to have a farewell party for my Year 10 Book Club members, but they will be doing a robotics activity in the library until well into lunchtime. Still, I've decided to bring some goodies anyway. And I've spoken to some of them already.

I remember most of them as Year 8 students - not all, because we've had new students come to us, but most. That was the last time we were able to do our Year 8 Community Project. They still have something by that name, but it doesn't involve fundraising for charity. It doesn't involve any community outside the school.

I will be sad to see them go. They're great kids!

And today was my last class with my Year 10 Creative Writing students. I still have the Year 9 kids for another couple of sessions. But I'm sad to say goodbye.

Because it was their last session, I skipped the usual group story reading and tried something else. I printed out a bunch of folk songs that had stories to them, read and discussed and pointed out that some of them had already been used in fiction, eg "Sweet Polly Oliver"(Terry Pratchett's Monstrous Regiment) and "Tam Lin"(Pamela Dean's novel of the same name). They're a great place to go for story ideas. Not a bad thing when you're suffering a bit of writer's block!

After we'd read and discussed some, I asked them to go online and listen to the songs on YouTube. Then I asked if they could do a story outline using one of those folk songs as an inspiration.

It was an interesting business. I fully expected Marwa to be interested in "She Moved Through The Fair", as it's a ghost story and she's a ghost story writer, but she chose the murder ballad "Lily Of The West", as did Tez, who so enjoyed the tune that she was bopping away to Joan Baez as she wrote her outline. Mind you, Tez being Tez, the murder didn't quite happen. Not as it did in the ballad, anyway.

Tamar went for "Sweet Polly Oliver".  She in fact listened to several versions before deciding she liked Kate Marshall's best.  She and Marwa were discussing the various versions and which they preferred.

Anthony chose "The Twa Corbies", which apparently he and Marwa had studied in English and I pointed out the difference between that and "Three Ravens".

He did fizzle out and asked if he could do something else, as I had suspected he would, but it was late in the session and I said, "Next week."

All in all an interesting session and the kids enjoyed it, I think.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Thinking back on the round robins

So, today I typed up all five round robin stories from last week, ready to post on the blog. I can invite the students to check them out.

Typing them told me some things about the writers. There was one story I started as a romantic comedy, which ended with the characters from the date gone wrong knocked over and killed by a car. Another story which began, "Be nice," said my father. "He's your brother," told me that the authors - all of them - had pesky little brothers and had strong feelings about them. One that I finished started with a ghost eating a peanut butter sandwich, led into a memory of a childhood friend(the ghost) and went on to a scary other spirit. I finished it off with the "ghost of peanut butter sandwiches past" and suggested that the child ghost had died from anaphylactic shock.But I think it was going there anyway.

The kids had fun and they learned something - so did I.

I think they were able to relax and write because they knew they wouldn't have to write the whole thing. In some cases they would never have finished the story they started, it would have fizled out, but this way - yes, they could use their imaginations and just have fun.

It's not something you can really do more than once, but it's worth thinking about for small groups.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Round Robin Story - It Worked!

This week we did a round robin story session.

Last week, I had to go to a colleague's mother's funeral and by the time I got back, there wasn't time to run a formal class, so I sat down with them individually to talk about work they had done. But clearly, some had run out of ideas.

Yesterday, we began with a story reading as usual. The story, "Andromeda" by Jenny Blackford, was a version of the Greek myth with a twist. Andromeda IS the sea monster when she gets angry. And poor Perseus is unable to rescue her because of what happens to him. It occurred to me that maybe they didn't know the myth, so the twist wouldn't mean anything and we started by talking about myths and which ones they knew. Anthony, the sole boy, did mention "Medusa" so I was able to use that as a starter. After reading the story, I told them that this was an example of a classic story that the author had been able to play with and make her own, just as they, the class, had made fairy tales their own a few weeks ago.

Then we started the writing. One of the students had something to finish editing, but everyone else just couldn't think of anything, even with the prompts I'd given them.They've done well so far, but exhaustion hits us all and the Year 10s have a lot to do before their final week of classes, then exams.

"Right," I said, "we're going to do a group story." I had found some prompts written especially for round robin stories and gave them the choice of prompt. Each of us wrote for five minutes, then passed on the paper to the next person to continue.

And you know what? It worked! Students who had had no ideas scribbled away furiously. When we had finished, each of us picked up a story to read. In fact, there were five group stories on different themes. Tez, the one who had had difficulties with ideas for the last few weeks, cheekily killed off the characters in her last slot and happily wrote "the end."

There was much laughter when the stories were read and afterwards I promised to type up the lot and post them on our blog. The kids had a ball yesterday and everyone actually wrote something! And, silly as the stories were, they were actual stories, not the equivalent of a game of Consequences.

Such a pity the subject has been given one year and dropped for next year. I have learned almost as much as the students and could have done a wonderful class next year. I have treated my students as adults and assumed they were all writers. I've kept my promise that it wasn't going to be "English extensions."

C'est la vie!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Trying Everything! Poetry in the Creative Writing Class

I forgot to post about the other week when I got the students to write poems, using the web site. It's a very useful site designed for teachers. I've used it in the past to get my class to break down their persuasive essays, but one of the other staff used it with her Year 7 students, who had to write poetry for English, and it's very good. It has some templates for different types of poems, such as acrostic, haiku and theme.

Most of the problem my students have is producing something finished. Oh, they can all do it, eventually, but I thought that doing this as an exercise would make them feel good about themselves, that would be fun and would mean that everyone could do at least one piece of finished written work by the end of the session.

Really, all I had in mind was about twenty minutes early in the class, that would get the juices flowing and help them focus on their works in progress. But somehow, after we'd read a short story together, discussed what had to be done and they had got stuck into the poems, it ended up taking most of the session. And all of them did at least two or three pieces, which we read aloud before we left. And that was fine. Sometimes you can't do everything you planned and just have to go with the flow.

I wrote some samples, myself, to show them before they started(exemplar work, to give them an idea what they had to do).
For example, my diamante poem:

                                     Thick, thin,
                            Exciting, amusing, expressing,
                                 Read them and rejoice,
                                  Brooding, thinking, amazing,
                                      Sad, funny,

Okay, not brilliant, but it followed the template and gave them some idea. I did a theme poem on the sun(they give you a theme and a shape to use with it.

I did an acrostic with the letters for BOOK;

Old, smelling of leather,
Open with a rustle of cool pages,
Keeping joy for me.

When the Year 10 students were watching Romeo And Juliet in the library, I wrote this haiku:

Darkness, Romeo,
Nightingale or lark? The lark!
Lovers say farewell.

I know, it's supposed to be on nature and I did one of those too, but this worked well enough to show my students as an example. None of them ended up writing a haiku anyway. They did acrostics, theme and diamante. And they had fun! And they all learned that they could write something. They were happy to take away their poems with them.

I don't think this is something you can use more than once in class, but I did suggest to them that if they had a bit of writer's block this might be a way to shake up the brain cells.

Anyway, this worked, though I doubt if any of them has used it to fix writer's block.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

This Week's Creative Writing Class

It's not far from the end of the year and the end of this subject at my school. The electives have been rearranged to make room for one more period of science and that means scrapping most of the electives and arranging the remaining ones differently. And my Year 10 students only have a very few weeks before they do their exams and leave us. Between now and then, there is at least one Year 10 excursion on a Tuesday, when I have this class, and Cup Day.

So I have to make the best of what time is left. I think my policy of stories that are short is working. There's less chance of someone starting off a story that just can't be finished. One of the girls has started one that looks like it might not work because it will be too long and never finished. She isn't sure where she is going with it and won't take my advice to write the last scene. I will have to sit her down and get her to plan it out, or ask her to drop it and try one of the story starters I have supplied. She has been doing quite well so far, but this isn't going to work.

I must think about this some time today and leave some instructions, because next week, I am the one who is not going to be there, at least till the second half of the session - there is a funeral to attend, alas! Fortunately not too far away and there will be other staff going. I might grab everyone when I return and set up a round robin story we can all write together. I will need to keep the theme simple.

Two of my other students have proved to be a pleasant surprise - nobody in this class is ever going to be a professional writer, but they have come up with the goods regularly.

But so far, there is only one student who has not quite managed to produce anything publishable - not finish, anyway. However, this week, I persuaded her to go back to her first piece for the semester and take a section of it to expand. It worked, sort of. She did finish something, that needs editing, but she finished it. Unfortunately, she has been a bit distracted recently and sneaked in some time doing on line job applications when she should have been writing.

Still - she managed some poems the other week, when we went to an education web site that does templates, and read them aloud to the class. I think that worked. It was very exciting to see her write - and read out - completed poems. That told me that even a student who is distracted can manage something if it's structured enough. It's not that she can't write, it's just that she starts stories and can't finish them and then won't drop them as soon as she realises this. She did tell me that she writes in Wattpad(I don't have her details) and I believe her, but Wattpad encourages the authors to break everything up into short chapters, so they simply keep writing till they run out of steam and call it a chapter. Not good. And there just isn't time to encourage her to break that habit. We have one session a week and she doesn't have the Internet at home, so doesn't update her work there.

What can I do now? Any suggestions?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Today's Writing Class: it worked - yay!

This semester's class is smaller than last; partly that's because some students who wanted to join us left it till too late. I wouldn't mind, but the rolls are being updated to be marked online, would you believe! Changes at this stage will make some headaches.

Anyway, I have four lovely students, one of whom had left me for music last semester and returned this semester - clearly she made her change on time. She wrote me one lovely piece on the first day back and hasn't done much since then, due to one thing and another. Today she wasn't there, unfortunately. Another student, the sole boy, had handed in a delightful, funny short piece about a library and a ghost. That's going to be published in the school anthology.  A third student did a gorgeous, touching story in second person, about the memory of a young cousin being accidentally burned and having to be rushed to hospital. That one has been handed over to the teacher editing the anthology. The fourth student, who was in my history class last year) was struggling.

So I decided to do something that everyone could have a go at and, hopefully, succeed, even the young lady who was struggling. I have prepared her a template for autobiography, but left it for another week.

We talked about fairytales. They all named stories they quite liked and said why. We discussed those - I pointed out, among other things, that "Cinderella" is the basis of just about every YA romance ever written - that made them giggle.

Then we read "Kate Crackernuts". In fact, one of the students said, "Miss, what's your favourite fairytale?"

"I'm glad you asked that, because we're going to read it!" I told her with a smile. And we did. Then I asked what differences they could see from other fairytales of this kind - the stepsister is not mean, the girl rescues the boy, etc.

I finally asked them to simply retell their story of choice, simply to get them going, giving them twenty minutes to do it. The idea was that when this was done, they could start to think about retelling from the viewpoint of another character. I also urged them, when they could to read the story written last semester by one of the class, in which the story of Snow White was seen from the viewpoint of the Queen. (This is something the school calls "exemplar work")

All I wanted them to do today was the first retelling, but they were having such a good time that one of them completely rewrote "The Three Little Pigs" as "The Three Big Humans"(and the cannibalistic wolf) and the student who'd been struggling wrote an entirely original fairytale! And finished it! Oh, it's not brilliant, it will need plenty of editing, but she finished it! Editing next week. Hopefully this will have broken some of the block she's been experiencing. The other girl commented that it was a pity their other classmate hadn't been there. I agreed that she would have enjoyed it.

Fingers crossed it all continues to work out, but for today - it worked! Yay!

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.


"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:

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

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!


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.