Sunday, March 13, 2016

Writing and Teaching: teaching writing, writing about teaching

So, I'm back in the classroom. 

Back in my happy place being kept on my toes by reluctant 14 year old boys who can't but help stare out the window or eager girls who have so many ideas they just. Can't. Stop. Them. Bursting out and into the chaos that is sometimes our class discussions.

I'm back spending more time thinking about my students than my husband or myself or my writing deadlines. Back feeling guilty that I’m not organised enough, don't know the needs of the kids well enough, don't have enough time.

In the past, people have asked (actually still do) 'How do you/have you/did you find time to teach AND write?'

I joked then and sorta do now that I don't exercise, garden or dust. I don't play netball or golf or belong to a book-wine club. I teach and I write.

What's good about me being teacher who is a writer is that the energy and ideas and responses I get from my students FUELS me. I write mostly with the YA world in my head so, while I was out of the classroom for two years finishing my degree, those voices, that attitude, waned to the point of almost invisibility. Now, it's back in Technicolor discordant wonderfulness. I've easily found the right name for some character who has popped into my story. I've overheard and stolen snippets of intense and important conversation; I've been reminded of what is really like in Feb in a hot classroom in New Zealand, at the beginning of the year when teachers are trying to set the tone but the boys just want to sleep or go out and play rugby.

What's good about me being a writer who is a teacher is that I'm taking a senior English class focused on writing and reading, another class is 'doing' creative writing, I'm taking a junior writing club and overseeing a Theatre Sports club. These feed my writer soul too because while I'm teaching the students better ways to write, I'm reminding myself; when I look for blogs or places with helpful hints and tips (I always start at this blog first), they help me too.

 my manic board work trying to teach the importance of logical sequencing in action and NOT doing the overkill in dialogue

I have done a lot of research for the novel I'm working on now. It hasn't been easy because there isn't a 'book' on the topic (The occupation of Bastion Point). I've had to read through screeds of old newspapers, bander copies of notices from the occupiers for their supporters. I've interviewed some key people and sent follow up emails. I've watched film footage and documentaries and listened to radio interviews. The more I've read, the more I've spoken to people, the more I've seen evidence that people do what historians know: they miss-remember, they self-edit/self-censor; they make mistakes.

Which brings me to how I connect both my working worlds of teacher and writer:
I have to teach research skills to my Year 10s (14 year olds). I could do a literature based one and I'm sure the girls would mostly be into this. But, I've been looking at doing something which really engages the boys as well. 
 I guess it's NOT poetry, then.

Years ago, I used to do a really successful unit called 'What happened on the day I was born?' This was before Google and YouTube. The students loved it: it connected them with their parents/grandparents in a way that delighted all generations; it was special to them - it was THEIR day after all so learning about who were the leaders of the world's countries, what was popular etc., what was news, what was going on at the moment that THEY entered the world was of enormous interest. 

So I have great buy in.

I'm hoping the same this week with my two year 10 classes. This time, I'm going to introduce them to the idea of research via the work I have been doing on Bastion Point. I will show them some clips from the news, my time line wall chart, 

and explain the process - the highs and lows and the reason for it. Then I will give them their own research assignment. To find out what happened on the day they were born: in their family, in their city, in their country, in the world. What was cool? What were the global concerns? What movies? Songs? Books? People?

I want them to learn how to map out a research task. How to go about gathering information (primary and secondary sources); how to evaluate that information for reliability and usefulness; how to 'translate' data and use it to make judgments about the information; how to interview/talk to people (a biggie for teenagers these days); how to present their findings in a way that is of interest to others and easy to understand.

I'll let you know how we all get on.