Creative Writing with ESOL students…

Sorry for those of you expecting a personal blog containing some juicy gossip but this just isn’t it. Unless you’re a teacher or writer it probably won’t interest you… Soz.

 

The use of Creative Writing in ESOL!

 

There are many genres of creative writing – such as prose, poetry and drama. Creativity helps students to deploy their skills within human roles that various societies have created. For example, if students focus on dialogue when writing fiction, they have the opportunity to utilise the dialect they have experienced in society. This allows students to demonstrate how the English language is used colloquially. It also helps students to understand dialect when out of the classroom.

Teaching creative writing can develop language, storytelling and the use of anecdotes, all of which are beneficial to ESOL students struggling to use the English language intelligibly. Although literature is used in some ESOL courses, it is largely neglected in most. Using literature as part of teaching can achieve many goals for a wide range of ESOL students, including reading and writing skills.

Although it might be interpreted that creative writing is just writing, writing cannot be achieved without reading. Research suggests that the most successful readers are ‘bottom up’ (they can read a text and translate it to the information it presents) and ‘top down processers’ (‘they can relate information to their own knowledge and interpret it’). Therefore, when teaching creative writing to ESOL learners, it is important to choose texts that meet the levels of their needs. Personally, I would suggest that texts a little above the level of the students would also benefit them and introduce them to new vocabulary and content to which they can adapt to their own writing. This would stretch and challenge the abilities of the learners.

Most would argue that creativity cannot be taught, & I might be inclined to agree, however, a good creative writing teacher does not attempt to teach creativity, they seek to expose it. They should then teach the techniques involved by embedding these into reading and writing activities. Too many subjects and activities are ‘uncreative’. Teachers, fundamentally, should understand multiple-intelligence in order to identify the importance of effectively embedding creativity into their lessons. An example of this could be asking the students to write a short story using past simple sentences.

Reading and writing tasks provide opportunity for students to explore the creativity embedded within them.

As a trainee teacher, I found anecdotal stories helped me to understand the subject being taught by listening to examples in context. This is something that lends itself beneficial to creative writing in an ESOL classroom. It is an opportunity for students to use their own experiences and share them as stories. This, after all, is how most authors discover character and plot in their own writing. They draw from personal experiences and start to build a narrative.

It might be proposed that literature also provides ESOL students with independence to their own learning. They are able to create their own schematic structure (allowing them to build up their knowledge) and learn at their own pace. This also builds confidence with learners. Reading and writing can be a daunting prospect; however, if the teacher shares their stories – as discussed above, it becomes an easier and more enjoyable process for students. This also provides opportunity for students to discuss the books they read as a child. It is important to note here, that it should not be assumed that ESOL learners all come from the same country. There are many students from Albania, Iran, Russia, Syria, and more, all of whom have different experiences of growing up. This is a fantastic opportunity for students to learn about each other’s countries and traditions, to explore traditional stories and get to know each other whilst participating in intercultural activities.

As creative writing carries the importance of progression in reading and writing, the enjoyment of the lessons is vital. Exploring creativity and feeling comfortable to share one’s thoughts and ideas can be quite liberating, but equally intimidating. It is important for a teacher to create a relaxed atmosphere and promote the importance and relevance of creativity. Creative minds are often disregarded but should be paid equal attention to linguistic and logical intelligence. Once students recognise creativity as a quality within themselves, as a person and learner, they start to feel pride in their work and more confident to read and share their work with others.

Creative writing in ESOL enhances intercultural understanding. Whilst creative writing is beneficial to a student’s writing and reading skills, it is most beneficial to their self-esteem and pride of where they have come from. It provides cultural enrichment, allowing students to know that where they come from and their experiences matter. However, it must also be taken into consideration that some learners will not want to discuss their experiences in their own countries as this can be quite traumatic. However, as an advocate for creative writing, it could be suggested that writing is an outlet. If we strip away grammar and the many techniques that come with writing, it can be used as a platform to express one’s feelings. Therefore, allowing students to write about their experiences without necessarily having it to discuss them with others. It is a potent agent for change, growth and healing.

Basically, be creative. Allow your students to be creative.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Baby Hogs and Characters

My blog is my back up plan. A place I come to when I feel torn between my creativity and assignments.

Since starting this PGCE I have put my writing on hold because I know what it does to me. My characters become a part of my subconscious – which basically gives them a free pass to eff my career up. Not happening.

It has been 6 months since I last created a character because I know if I do, I’ll get attached, and I know they won’t leave me alone! Instead, I am forced to listen and speak to real people, everyday! Do you know what that is like for someone who likes to be alone with her thoughts? Difficult. (And I know teaching means I have to talk to people but there isn’t much small talk in the classroom!)

Although I am finding the lack of writing difficult, I get to dabble a little on Thursdays. For almost six months now I have been teaching and working with first year undergraduate students. They have become my little babies and I don’t ever want to leave them! We spend hours talking about writing stuff, reading stuff, listening to stuff…etc. It’s pretty good. One student, I won’t name names (confidentiality and all that) read her script last week and had me blubbering. As she read, the tension built and the lump in my throat grew with it. Not just because of her script but because I realised that this student had actually listened to my advice – that in itself was an incredible feeling – realising that I knew what I was talking about! It also really made me want to write! Although I love teaching, I do come away feeling exhausted. I have (no shock here) sometimes cried. It is incredibly difficult talking about writing, thinking about it and not doing it.

Anyway, I reached a low point last week. Not just because I had ‘banned’ myself from writing but the lesson planning, assignments, people – everything just got on my wick. I became impatient with everyone because I needed a break from them. I feel like I have to say that Jayden isn’t included in any of this. As stated in all of my blogs, he’s the one that keeps me going.

So, last week, I cut myself from everyone and before you know it I started tweeting one- liners, jotting down parts of speech and texting myself bits of internal monologue. Listen, it just happened. It isn’t writing, I’m not writing a story, they’re just little sentences…

I now have a little portfolio of waffle gathered from my twitter account, my notebook and ‘Me’.

Here is some of it:

Twitter – She closed her book, then her eyes. Not even the words on the page could save her this time.

Twitter – She was desperate for adventure but didn’t want to leave and be out there, with them.

Twitter – Letting go of him wasn’t hard, but letting go of the idea killed her.

Text – I’m here, but I’m not. I can see you and I know you’re watching my body language. The way my knees are bent up to my chest and arms crossed, resting on top of them. You want me to ‘open up’, you want me to talk to you, really talk to you. But you’ll never know how much I don’t want you here. You think you do, but you don’t. I’m sat like this for a reason.

Twitter – The belligerent crunch of the leaves satisfied her as she walked towards him, little did he know…

Notebook – He thought he knew the way to her heart. He didn’t. He never did. And as she looked up from the jewellery box, she knew he never would.

And there you have it… I have a character. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to shove them back into that little box, lock them up and keep them there till you’re ready, they just don’t give a hoot. They push their way out, fight their way to your consciousness, wave their arms and shout, ‘Nice try, bitch.’

Thus; I am now writing a blog. Blog writing suppresses my urge to write, helps me to justify procrastination (because I am talking about teaching – clever, aren’t I?) and it just clears my head a little. Which at the minute feels like it’s been taken over by a litter of baby hogs fighting for the best teat. I am constantly aiming for the best, it’s excruciatingly exhausting but it’s paying off.

Although this new character is niggling her way through the hogs, she’s going to have to wait just a little bit longer. I might write the odd line here and there but the full story will be written after I have received my certificate awarding me of my new teacher status. Then, she will have my full undivided attention, well… kind of. In return, she is going to provide me with a truly amazing novel that no publisher will dare refuse, with my millions I’ll move to a house by the sea in North Carolina. You heard it here first.

 

 

 

Honesty…

I haven’t written a blog for a while, thought about it but haven’t. Right now, I have a lesson plan minimised, so that probably explains why. I’m going to attempt a very honest blog, because everyone needs to be more honest!

This isn’t another blog about writing, just a bit of a ramble really. I need it.

Life, at the moment, is probably the hardest it’s ever been. I’m also the happiest I’ve ever been. It’s so weird. The PGCE is really taking it out of me. I spend Mondays and Tuesdays in a tiny classroom learning things – such as morphology, phonology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics…(yes I know!). Wednesdays, I write assignments and lesson plans, which take hours! I’m on placement at The University of Bolton on Thursdays with first year Creative Writing students and on Fridays I teach ESOL students in Great Lever. This means a 4 hour lesson plan for a Thursday and a 2 hour lesson plan for a Friday, doesn’t sound like much does it? But break those lessons down into timing, activities, differentiation, extension tasks etc, it’s exhausting! Not to mention the paper work. Then you remember you have an assignment to write, but it isn’t just one assignment, it’s an assignment split up into a million sections, 1500 words on this, 1500 words on that, 500 words on this, appendix A, appendix B! I won’t butter it up, the course is draining me. I’ve cried so much, sometimes for no other reason than being completely exhausted. Some days, I can be driving along and all of a sudden I have tears rolling down my over caked, trying to hide wrinkles, face. Juggling university, assignments, 2 placements, childcare, a pain in the arse car and housework is proving difficult.

There isn’t a week goes by that I don’t think about quitting – I won’t – but I’d be lying if I said otherwise. I’m not saying this because it’s the right thing to say’ but the only thing that keeps me going is Jayden. I have been a single mum for 7 years now and in those years he has pulled me through so much – an access course, my degree and now this course. Every day, I thank him, but I don’t think he quite realises just how special he is. He will look back one day and know.

In between the courses I have also struggled financially. Admittedly, that has been the hardest part. I know it isn’t the ‘done thing’ to discuss finances but I’ve seen what not talking about your problems can do to people and I wish people would talk more (be honest). I don’t usually, I’m a complete stubborn arse but it isn’t doing me any good. It’s okay spending years in education and having people tell you, ‘It’ll be worth it in the end,’ I get that, it will, but what about now? There are times I’ve had to go for tea at my mum’s/nana’s/uncle’s, etc because I’ve been too skint to manage. I’ve cried myself to sleep wondering how I’ll get through the week, feeling like I’m failing as a parent. What about people who don’t have the support I do?

It’s still hard sometimes but not to that extent. I hold it in too much, though (like a lot of people) and then one person asks if you’re okay and you just know you could break at any moment. Yesterday, for example, I had a flat tyre so I was late dropping Jayden to school, late getting to my placement, I hadn’t slept a wink the night before and I was just shattered. When I walked into the classroom, my friend who volunteers where I teach gave me a hug and asked how I was. I knew the students were watching and I had to swallow the biggest lump that had invaded my throat but I just wanted, and needed to cry.

I’m so sorry if this has depressed anyone, it isn’t my intention! As mentioned above, I am also the happiest I’ve ever been! How does that make sense? Because, I have the most wonderful son. He is beautiful in every aspect. He makes me laugh every day, tells me he loves me sooooo many times a day and helps me to remember why I’m doing what I am, every day. I USED to think I needed a relationship to make me happy, and that Jayden needed a male role model, but I was wrong. Plus he has a great dad. There have been happy times in a relationship but I don’t think I was ever myself, because I was doing it for all the wrong reasons. I’m just not ready to let someone into our lives, it’s too lovely just the two of us!

So, yes, I’m happy. Because I’ve got to where I am, on my own; and I know that it’ll all be worth it! I have 6 months to go before I am a qualified teacher! In those six months I’m probably going to cry – a lot! I’m probably, at times, going to feel like quitting, but I won’t! However, I’m not going to pretend that everything is okay all the time, so be warned. If you ask me how I am, (unless I don’t know you) I’m probably going to blub and make you feel awkward as hell.

I thank my lucky stars each and every day that I have Jayden, because without him I would never be where I am now or have experienced this love that we share.

I also want to thank my lovely friend, Samaya, who wrote a very honest couple of blogs this week and inspired me to do the same.

The Fears of Writing

For quite some months now I have had a character tormenting my every hour. She mostly keeps me up during the night. She finds waking me up at around 2am is most beneficial to her. It seems to be the hour in which my mind is able to outline and sketch her journey. The trouble is, she doesn’t seem to know how much I love my sleep, and I do love it – dearly. This has been happening for quite some time. I find my subconscious saves me most days – whilst in the midst of conversation, knowing how important and polite it is to make eye contact when someone is talking… but what does that matter when I’m not listening? I don’t mean to be rude but this character doesn’t care. She wants her story written and I am not delivering. And when I’m not delivering I write a blog to rid some of the guilt for not writing! I’m quite aware that I need to write it soon, but first I need to eliminate the fear that is withholding me from putting pen to paper. The fear of disappointing my character, and myself.

I know my character, she is strong, sassy and independent. I know the obstacles she needs to overcome and what the outcome of her journey needs to be. The finer details, the ones that matter, the small steps that develop my character are the ones that keep me from doing what I so clearly need to do.

To help me – inspire me even, I have opened each notebook I own and asked myself how I started the stories I have written so far. I came to discover that I am the most disorganised writer in the history of writers. With each story, it seems I randomly start writing something/anything. From that something, I develop a character, and by the fourth or fifth draft I have a completely different story (I’m not saying that this approach is wrong but for this particular character it won’t work.) There are no sticky notes, plans, sketches or timelines. I carelessly throw myself into a story not knowing exactly where it is going. It was then that I realised that not only do I do this as a writer, but as a person. Planning seems to scare me, the possibility of a plan failing causes disappointment and the fear of disappointment prevents me from planning.

As a result of this I can be quite impulsive and stubborn. If I decide I want to do something, I know I have to do it before I change my mind and therefor become quite stubborn with reasoning. It’s a trait my mother both loves and fears. Especially if I tell her I’ve decided to move house…again. ‘She’s moving again, the bloody gypsy!’ She knows once I decide to move I won’t budge, she also knows she has to drive the hire van.

I think I’m making myself sound far more exciting than I actually am. I can assure you that I am actually quite boring; depending on your definition of that word.

Anyway, this impulsive attitude and approach to writing obviously isn’t working for me at the moment. SO… I bought sticky notes! And I am going to use them! The very thought of them being stuck around my bedroom (my writing place) and making it look messy fills me with dread but I am going to do it! I will even post pictures to my next blog to prove that I am changing my writing ways! I truly hope that this new approach helps to eliminate my fear of failing my character, with more planning and organisation I am determined to do her proud. Time will tell 🙂

Breaking Up with Stress

stress

I have a lovely little life, I have my graduation in just over a week, and I feel happy. Ridiculously happy. I have a degree! Me! I also have a very wonderful son; he’s eight and talks a lot. He’s special, and makes me laugh more than anyone I know. He is, and always will be my favourite human. Together, we have a lovely home. It’s cozy. Two cats also live with us. They are without a doubt the naughtiest cats in the world, especially Frankie. This cat is fed a daily dose of, ‘How to piss my mum off as much as I can today.’

She cries to go outside. You put your cup of tea down, get up, walk over to the window, let her out and then sit back down. Thirty seconds later, she returns, paws on your nice, clean windows and cries to come in. She literally stares at you and meows until you put down your cup of tea (again), get up, walk over to the window, open it –  then what does she do? She sits back down on the window sill and point blank refuses to come in. Once you’re sat again, she starts to repeat the process. By this point I decide to leave her out there for being a silly bugger. Then bedtime approaches and I just cannot go to bed until I know she is home safe. Queue the lemon who stands at her back door in her dressing gown, freezing her tatas off at daft o’clock making the ridiculous ‘ch’ noise that doesn’t work.

Our other cat, Luna isn’t quite as bad. She likes to bite if you stroke her without making eye contact first and her favourite trick is to jump down behind the book case on purpose so you have to pull it out to get her out. She also likes to jump onto your knee if you’re sat having a wee. In fact, her previous owner informed me that he accidentally pi**ed on her once when she ran across the toilet. Other than that, she’s cute.

So it might seem like I haven’t much to complain about, and in the grand scheme of things, I haven’t. But we each have certain aspects of our life that we find difficult. I have found adapting from university life to ‘real’ life difficult. For three years I was surrounded by the best people! We became a little family, and losing that has been hard.

Writers block has been horrendous, too. Each night has ended up with me lay on my bed, legs against the wall looking at the ceiling waiting for inspiration to whack me in the face. It hasn’t happened yet but I’m hoping it will soon.

I am getting to my point! On Friday night, I spoke to a friend from university. We discussed a number of subjects, weird ones and normal ones. He explained that when he gets stressed or anxious, he writes. I think I just assumed that he wasn’t the ‘type’ to get stressed or worked up like I sometimes do. (I’m normal after all.) It’s how we handle stress that differentiates us. Then he told me he is emigrating in a few months with his wife and children. I feel truly ecstatic for them! It is only with hard work, perseverance, patience and overcoming hurdles that they are able to do this and begin a better life. And it was at that moment that I realised I have two months to wait before I start my PGCE. It’s my last hurdle before I can start building the life I really want for Jayden and I.

I want to travel with him, show him as much as I can and see all the things I haven’t had chance to see yet. All the things that have brought stress into my life are all part of making that happen. It’s how I react to the circumstance that makes the impact on how I’ve been feeling.

Aspects such as jobs, money, university, childcare, leaking boiler and naughty cats are all things I am happy to deal with because I know I can look back and feel proud.

Stress caused by people – I realised is different. But, you can either keep surrounding yourself by those who upset/stress you, or you can break away. For me, it really is that simple.

 

 

 

The School Run

 

Since working in schools, I have had to deal with a lot of challenging behaviour and a number of students have expressed that their behaviour stems from the mood of those around them. If their day has started with someone at home being a little grumpy then that negativity is transferred onto the child – affecting their day in school. The same applies for grumpy teachers who walk into class with faces like thunder! It can be so hard when you know you have difficult class but I now try to smile as I enter a classroom and ask how everyone is. I am not saying that this works with everyone! But… if it makes a difference to that one child, kudos!

It’s no secret to anyone that my son knows how to talk. I have friends who have talked to me about how much their children chatter on… then they spend an hour with Jayden.

Every parents’ evening is filled with lovely comments about Jayden’s enthusiasm for learning and how polite he is, then the teacher takes a deep breath followed by, ‘BUT HE NEVER SHUTS UP.’ It’s true, he doesn’t.

Inevitably, at times, it’s tiring. I have now mastered the art of setting my alarm clock early, sneaking downstairs, making a cup of tea and having at least 3 sips before Jayden wakes up and tells me all about the solar system and the distance between each planet.

Then there’s the school run! What a faff! Book pack, water bottle, P. E kit… grab a banana for the journey because you know they’ll say they’re hungry on the way to school even though they’ve just eaten their breakfast!

It might not seem like a big thing, but it is. The school run is the main part of the morning with your child. It’s our job as parents to set them up for the day, make sure their teeth are brushed properly, make sure they’ve eaten enough and have their shoes on the right feet. All of that is important, but mostly, it’s how happy they are going into school. It’s really easy to end up telling your child off in a morning, especially when they’re dripping toothpaste on your lovely cream carpet because they just had to come out of the bathroom and tell you about a new game they invented at school the day before. I’m guilty of that. Then I spend the rest of my day feeling absolutely crap – longing to pick him up again, hug him so tight and apologise for not listening to him about the new game.

So now, when Jayden stops every task I’ve asked him to do to tell me something, I take a deep breath, smile and say, ‘That’s great but why don’t you finish what you’re doing then we can talk about this on the school run?’

It’s impossible for every morning to run smoothly, especially when you’re the type of person who is late for everything, but I’ve come to realise that the toothpaste can be scrubbed out of the carpet, yours and your child’s day spent feeling crap can’t. The memory will always be there.

Also, caffeine helps.