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You are here: Home > Writing in Education > Writing at University > Writing in Practice > Previous Issues > Writing in Practice - Vol. 2 > “Just because I’m not a published author does not mean that I’m not a writer”: Primary Trainee Teachers’ Identities as Creative Writers
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“Just because I’m not a published author does not mean that I’m not a writer”: Primary Trainee Teachers’ Identities as Creative Writers
Author: Tom Dobson
Tom Dobson analyzes data from the Community of Writers project, exploring the impact both on trainees’ perceptions of their identities as writers and their creative writing pedagogies. Sponsor: St Mary’s Horsforth Teaching School

Abstract

This paper analyzes data from the Community of Writers project, which saw 15 final year undergraduate trainee teachers teach creative writing and write creatively in a primary school for a period of 10 weeks. Taking as its starting point the research-informed understanding that effective teaching of writing involves the teacher writing for their class (Dombey 2013), this paper explores the impact of the project both upon trainees’ perceptions of their identities as writers and their creative writing pedagogies. Engaging in theoretical discussions as co-researchers, a paradox emerges in the trainees’ reflections: on the one hand, the trainees perceive their unstructured teaching of creative writing as being threatened by neoliberalism; on the other hand, discourse analysis of their reflections reveals that they are often dependent upon neoliberalism’s structured approaches when it comes to actually writing both with their class and outside of the class. This is conceptualized as resulting both from the trainees’ own neoliberal education and the low-status “positional identities” (Holland, Lachicotte and Cain 1998) afforded to them as writers by societal discourse, as demonstrated by Foucault’s “author principle” (2001: 214). Though the research project is small-scale, the key recommendation is that, if we want our teachers to teach creative writing in more creative ways, then it is vital that universities continue to play a key role in teacher education.

 

Key words: creative writing, identity, neoliberalism, teacher training, primary school, discourse analysis

 

Introduction

The new national curriculum for English at Key Stages 1 and 2 (DfE 2013) requires pupils to have mastery over elements of spelling, punctuation and grammar (SPaG) by the end of each year of study. The demands are high with, for example, “the passive voice” coming in at year 6. To ignore these requirements is not an option for teachers, as SPaG is a key mandatory test to be taken by all pupils at the end of Key Stage 2.

The obvious danger here is that, as the national curriculum for English becomes more prescriptive, so too does the teaching of writing. Bernstein (2000) talks about prescriptive pedagogical approach as “strong framing”: test-driven teaching which limits pupils’ choice and voice by focusing on the product of writing as opposed to its process. 

The wider context is one of an education system driven by a neoliberalist free market ideology where money and power is channelled to those schools that achieve highly in their test results and, conversely, taken away from those schools that are deemed to be underachieving (Ball 2012). As Cremin and Myhill indicate (2012: 1), the importance of testing means an increasing focus upon technical rather than compositional aspects of writing. In line with genre theory (Martin, Christie and Rothery 1987), texts become discrete, commodified and predictable “types” governed by rules that teachers are to transmit through learning objectives and success criteria.

In contrast to this threat, a recent review of global writing pedagogy reveals a consensus amongst educationalists that “weaker framing”, through writing for a real purpose and laying bare the process of writing, constitutes the most effective approach (Dombey 2013). This is in part a continuation of the ideas of Graves (1983), who advocated a process approach that saw pupils choosing their own topics and genres for writing with teachers “conferencing” with individual pupils to scaffold writing. 

Dombey’s review also highlights the effectiveness of the teacher taking on the identity of the writer within the classroom in order to model the writing process. Recent action research projects like Writing is Primary have outlined the benefits of teachers writing as they develop both an understanding of the idiosyncratic nature of the writing process and the ways in which this can inform their pedagogical practice (Ings 2009). Similarly, a research project which formed and explored the nature of teacher writing groups (Smith and Wrigley 2012) outlined how quickly teachers’ attitudes towards writing can be changed for the better through collective engagement in writing and how the teachers’ insight into the process leads to a productive empathy with their class. Indeed, it is this notion of positioning pupils and teachers equally as writers in the classroom that clearly resonates with Bernstein’s notion of “weak framing” (ibid.) and that informs Cremin and Myhill’s advocacy of a writing “community” (2012).       

 

The Community of Writers Research Project

In light of this tension between policy and research, the way in which creative writing is approached in school becomes even more crucial as a strongly framed, product-driven, technical approach jeopardizes the creative and compositional aspects of writing such texts. The Community of Writers (CoW) research project sought to prioritize the notion of trainee teachers adopting the identity of the writer by engaging them in personal creative writing pieces through the setting up of supportive writing groups like Smith and Wrigley’s (op. cit.). The project also sought to encourage the trainees to reflect critically upon the writing process in order to inform their classroom pedagogy. 

CoW was a small-scale project sponsored by St. Mary’s Horsforth Teaching School, which involved a partnership between my higher education institution (HEI) and a local two-form entry co-educational comprehensive primary school. In school, as a senior lecturer in English and Education, I worked with 15 final year undergraduate trainee teachers who had different levels of experience and expertise in writing but who had all elected to specialize in my level 6 module, Creative Writing. Over a 10-week period, I led one-hour morning sessions in school where we (the trainees and myself) discussed our writing in groups and where we engaged with theory and research in order to think about the writing process and its relationship with effective creative writing pedagogy. Following my input, the trainees then spent the rest of the morning working in groups of 2 or 3, teaching creative writing to pupils in years 2, 3, 5 and 6. The end of the project saw all of our community’s writing (the pupils’, the trainees’ and my own) published on an external facing website.

During my sessions with the trainees, I was keen for them to develop a critical and theoretical understanding of creative writing. In line with weak framing, we considered the Vygotskian (1986) model of learning through interaction and collaboration and the need, therefore, to allow for child-centred stimuli, discussion and engagement with drama to “generate” ideas for writing (Andrews 2008). 

In contrast to this position, I was also keen to challenge the simplistic notion that “creativity” is spontaneous and that, therefore, creative writing should be taught solely through a weakly framed pedagogy. We looked at Weisberg’s research (1998), which makes a good argument for apprenticeship (the learning of the craft of writing) as the necessary precursor to creative achievement. Weisberg looks at a range of poets and measures the time it takes for them to become considered significant to the literary canon (Weisberg quantifies this achievement as the poet having been included in a prestigious anthology). The study reveals that it is only after a considerable amount of writing time that poets achieve this kind of quality work. The implications for creative writing pedagogy are clear and in tension with a weakly framed pedagogy – in line with T. S. Eliot’s emphasis on the importance of “tradition” (1997), the craft and technique of authors should be studied and then applied over a period of time for a writer to make progress. 

Seeing creative writing teaching as a movement between strong and weak framing, we discussed two spheres of literary criticism – structuralism and post-modernism – in order to provide theoretical underpinnings to our practice.

For structuralism, we discussed Aristotle’s analysis of the Greek tragedy (1996) and the pattern of the hero who unwittingly causes their own downfall.  We also discussed Propp (1968), who, in studying the Russian folktale, identified a limited range of storylines and character functions at play.  Pedagogically, we critically discussed strategies to develop characters and plots with pupils, such as the use of profile and story-mountains.        

For post-modernism, we considered the idea that all the stories that could have been written have already been written and that what the writer ultimately produces, therefore, are copies or “simulacra” (Baudrillard 2001).  Pedagogically, we evaluated the “read-analyze-write” approach adopted by the Primary National Strategy for Literacy (2003) and the ways in which the “write” stage could be structured through the use of tightly controlled and differentiated learning objectives and success criteria.        

As I wanted to develop this critical enquiry approach with the trainees, I invited the trainees to join the research project not as participants but as co-researchers. Those who wished to take part gave their informed consent and their positioning as co-researchers strengthened the egalitarian ethos that permeated the CoW project, in which each of us was also a writer.  Accordingly, as practitioner researchers and writers, the trainees kept detailed research journals that they submitted for assessment at the end of the Creative Writing module. The journal included theoretically informed reflections upon their own writing, their teaching and pupils’ writing as well as a final draft of their own creative writing piece. Obviously, the fact that this data was also assessed shaped the way it was collected and presented. On the one hand, it could be argued that using assessment as data would mean that trainees would present their reflections in a more positive light, but I do not feel this was the case as I continually stressed to them the importance of criticality. On the other hand, it could be argued that the use of assessment as data would ensure that trainees would enter into their roles of co-researchers, as the assessment taxonomy used by HEIs for final year undergraduate students requires “synthesis”, “research-informed criticality” and “theoretical understanding”.       

As I also wanted them to think about their reflections in relation to their identities as trainee teachers and writers, I wanted them to consider their current perceptions of their previous experiences of writing, and with this in mind I required students to undertake more structured journal entries at the beginning and end of the project. This allowed me to pose them particular questions around previous writing experiences and their own self-perceptions as writers as a result of CoW. 

Due to my conceptualization of identity (outlined below) I also positioned the trainees as participants. Once they had completed and submitted their journal reflections, as well as valuing the content of what they had to say as my co-researchers, I also analyzed how they phrased their reflections, using discourse analysis to think about the ways in which they constructed their identities throughout the CoW project. In this sense, the trainees’ identities were multiple and complex: both writers and trainee teachers; and co-researchers and participants.

 

Conceptualizing Identity in the Creative Writing Classroom

In line with my previous work on identity construction in the classroom (Dobson 2014, 2015), I draw upon Holland, Lachicotte and Cain’s concept of “figured worlds” (1998) as a way of thinking about identity. More nuanced than Bourdieu’s “habitus” and “field” (Grenfell and Kelly 2001), “figured worlds” are context-specific cultural constructs which assign individuals discoursal “positional identities” to perform. Amongst the examples of “figured worlds” outlined by Holland, Lachicotte and Cain are Alcoholics Anonymous and the ironically named Campus Romance: the former is perceived as a context in which alcoholics assume positional identities where they tell stories that devalue their pasts; the latter a context were females always lose as they are either labelled as “frigid” or “easy” depending upon their responses to male students’ advances.  

The power at play in figured worlds and the positioning involved in participation means that figured worlds should not be thought of as pre-existent, discrete entities. Rather, participation is seen as always already refiguring, albeit imperceptibly, the nature of those figured worlds. Whilst the macro powers of gender and neoliberalism can be seen at work in the structuring of individual performances in the literacy classroom (Dobson 2014), those individual performances will always already contain the potential for agency and, therefore, the refiguring of worlds.

The underpinning reason for this potential for agency is that language (discourse) is the medium for the assignment, negotiation and performance of identities. Building upon the work of Saussure (2001) who identified the arbitrary relationship between the signifier (word) and signified (concept) in language, Derrida (2001) established the concept of “différance” as the operating principle for discourse, whereby it is not only the signifiers that can change in relation to signifieds but also the signifieds themselves that are subject to contextual and historical change. What this implies is that, in communication, meaning is always already deferred and that, in this instance, identity through language is never fixed or stable – signifieds shift depending upon perspective, context and history. 

Having said this, an individual’s agency to refigure worlds and reposition identities is not only held in check by the bounding of macro powers, such as the aforementioned neoliberalism and patriarchy, but also restricted by the nature of discourse itself and what Foucault terms its “internal procedures” (2001: 210). Interestingly enough, one such internal procedure that Foucault identifies is the “author principle” (ibid.), which positions readers of texts as being in awe of the author, who is perceived to be the originator of that text. It is a discourse, then, which gives power to the author and obfuscates any ideas around post-modern “simulacra” (Baudrillard op. cit.) or reader response theory, which sees the reader and not the writer as central to the meaning-making process (e.g. Barthes 1992). 

In line with this and as indicated in the previous section, I also position my co-researchers as participants by using discourse analysis to analyze their critical reflections. The signifiers the trainees adopt at different stages of the project can go some way to indicate how they negotiate their dual identities of trainee teachers and writers in the primary classroom in relation to policy and the internal procedures of discourse.

This relationship between a teacher identity positioned by neoliberalism and a writer identity in the primary classroom has elsewhere been depicted as a dynamic of “struggle” (Cremin and Baker 2010). Here, of course, I focus on the identities of trainee teachers rather than qualified teachers – trainee teachers who, because they are not yet qualified, are often positioned with low status in the classroom. Indeed, what becomes particularly interesting is the extent to which their lower status positional identities as teachers would play out compared to Cremin and Baker’s teachers’ “struggle”. 

Another key difference between my research project and that of Cremin and Baker is to do with the ways in which we conceptualize identity. For Cremin and Baker, identity is seen as being negotiated across both intrapersonal and interpersonal axes. Whilst I do see identity as having a contemporary interpersonal dimension as well as a past intrapersonal dimension, I see both of these axes as figuring of trainee teachers’ participations in worlds through discourse. For the purpose of simplicity, I am calling these figured worlds Teaching and Writing. In the figured world of Teaching, the trainees are taking on the role of teachers who teach creative writing in a primary classroom. In the figured world of Writing, the trainees are writers who are developing their own creative writing pieces outside and, at times, inside the primary classroom.

A final difference between my project and that of Cremin and Baker is the epistemological approach to understanding intrapersonal factors. For Cremin and Baker, the past experiences of their participants become a means of understanding their current behaviour; for me, my co-researchers' evocation of past experiences are seen as being symptomatic of the present and, therefore, their participation in figured worlds. In this sense, my stance is post-modern, as the co-researchers' pasts are always already mediated by their present participation (Lather 1991).

 

Neoliberalism and the Figured World of Writing

By the end of the 10-week project, each of the 15 trainees had completed a piece of creative writing. The nature and genre of this piece of writing I left to them – about two thirds of the trainees chose to develop pieces of writing that they had been working on with their class; the rest wrote pieces that were separate from their teaching and aimed at an older audience. These pieces of writing were started at various points in the project and underwent a redrafting process similar to that undertaken by pupils in their classes. Trainees formed their own writing groups and each group gave feedback on each member’s first draft. At a later stage I too became a member of these groups, providing feedback on each piece of work and asking for feedback on my own writing.

An obvious drawback to my participation here and the reason why I delayed my participation until towards the end of the module, was to do with my own positional identity within the writing groups – a positional identity that was heightened by the fact that I would ultimately assess the trainees’ creative writing and reflections in the form of an assignment. This meant, of course, that I had to be careful not to dominate writing group discussions, allowing others to feed back first. Despite this, there was still clear evidence in the trainees’ reflections upon redrafting that my feedback had held a higher status than that of the trainees' peers. For example, in Jane’s (I use pseudonyms for trainee names) reflection she titles her redrafting: “Changes after second draft and meeting with the subject specialist”. Not only had she given me the high status position of “specialist” in the figured world of Writing, but she had also only taken on board my feedback.

Another difficultly that some trainees experienced was around how to give feedback on each other’s creative writing and, by extension, how their piece of creative writing would ultimately be assessed by me. In line with the school’s assessment policy and our discussions on the need to adopt some strong framing in the teaching of creative writing, all trainees had used success criteria in their planning and teaching as the key way of asking pupils to feed back on each others' work.  Due to the fact, however, that I had given the trainees more freedom than they had given their classes in the choice of their creative writing piece, I was keen not to use success criteria as the basis for feedback in the writing groups. I was equally sensitive to the idea that criteria-based feedback was not always specific enough to the piece of writing under discussion and I really wanted the trainees to immerse themselves in the reading of their peers’ work and respond accordingly. In line with the weak framing of feedback that I was adopting, I also wrote assessment criteria for the creative writing component of the module with deliberately vague phrases such as “good stylistic control” and “excellent stylistic control”. This vagueness unsettled some trainees, as on several occasions I was asked, “What are you looking for in our writing?”

Despite most trainees being unsettled by the openness of assessment in the figured world of Writing, they were more than able to critically reflect upon the problems of adopting strongly framed assessment practices in the figured world of Teaching. Jessica, working with a year 6 class on science fiction, felt that her pedagogy had relied too heavily on success criteria (“I can use the language of science fiction; I can create suspense; I can describe an alternative world”) to guide pupils in their writing and feedback. Indeed, one of Jessica’s targets for her future teaching of creative writing was to rely less on “success criteria” to allow for “more individual engagement in writing”. For Joshua, working with a year 2 class, the use of success criteria had limited pupil choice and meant that “most of the children came up with the same story ideas”. 

More broadly, all trainees in their critical reflections were able to recognize the ways in which they were positioned by a neoliberal education system that directed them towards strong framing in the figured world of Teaching. In her reflection, Carly equates creativity with self expression and it is interesting the way she switches from talking about her own practice to the practice of “teachers” in general: “I enjoy teaching writing as it gives children a chance to express themselves – however from a teaching perspective, I feel the curriculum stifles the opportunities teachers have to allow children to write creatively.” In part, this distancing between “I” and “teachers” could be explained as symptomatic of Carly’s position as a trainee teacher who is yet to become qualified, but it could also be read as a way of Carly stating the individuality of her perceived teacher identity. Either way, it is revealing how the “curriculum” occupies the subject position in the second clause and how the teachers are passively acted upon by the use of the transitive verb “stifle”.

For Andrew, rather than the curriculum it is the associated testing that presents the threat: “I think it is difficult to set targets for your own teaching of writing as so many school-based targets are based on pupil achievement and NC levels. However, what is more important to me than levels is a lifelong enthusiasm for learning and an enthusiasm for creativity.” Similar to Carly, Andrew finds a way of distancing his practice from the clutches of the neoliberal education system and, through the use of the adverbial “however”, he rather more idealistically suggests that he will remain impervious to its limitations throughout his teaching career.

In terms of the trainees’ neoliberal critique in the figured world of Teaching, the only apparent blind spot in their reflections relates to their written feedback on pupils’ writing. Again in line with the school assessment policy, trainees gave feedback relating to the extent to which success criteria had been met.  The problems arose, however, when pupils appeared to have met all of the success criteria. For example, Melissa, working with a year 2 class, gives positive feedback on one pupil’s use of description (the success criterion for that piece of writing) and goes on to set the target of using “full stops and capital letters”. This fallback position of setting targets of a technical rather than compositional nature was one adopted by many of the trainees, and it indicates the extent to which the prior delineation of success criteria through strong framing can serve to blind the assessor to other aspects of the compositional process, thus limiting the quality both of teacher feedback and subsequent pupil redrafting.

This aside, all of the trainees’ reflections generally demonstrate a keen critical awareness of the usefulness but also limitations of strongly framed assessment in the figured world of Teaching. The question then becomes: why were the trainees less able to critically reflect upon my adoption of weakly framed assessment in the figured world of Writing? One way of explaining this apparent paradox is perhaps to do with the ways in which the trainees themselves have been educated both in school and university. None of my undergraduate co-researchers were mature students and all were in their early twenties at the time of CoW. It can and has been argued (Rowland 2006) that the unease at the removal of success criteria when it came to their own writing was to do with a deep-rooted dependency that had been built up through their own neoliberal educational experiences.

Thinking back to Cremin and Baker (op. cit.) and the “struggle” they identify between teacher and writer identities in the classroom, a key difference emerges here around the very nature of that “struggle”. Whilst for the qualified teachers in their study the struggle seems to be caused by participation in the figured world of Writing opening up a freedom that is at odds with the restrictions put in place in the neoliberal figured world of Teaching, for most of the trainee teachers in my study the freedom opened up by participation in the figured Writing becomes itself the cause of the struggle. When viewed as products of a neoliberal education system, the trainees are able to meet the demands of final year undergraduate work by reflecting upon that system in the figured world of Teaching, but at the same time they are in the paradoxical position of being unwittingly dependent upon the system when it comes to the figured world of Writing. 

I say "most" trainees, as this dependency on the commodification of learning in the figured world of Writing is certainly less apparent in the reflections of some. Indeed, this is particularly the case for those trainees who separated the figured worlds of Teaching and Writing by writing and ultimately submitting writing pieces that had nothing whatsoever to do with their classroom teaching. 

Interestingly, this separation of the figured worlds of Teaching and Writing tended to remove the act of writing from the bounding structures of neoliberalism, as the act of writing was viewed in a quite different light. One trainee, Jennifer, wrote a moving story about a parent dying from cancer and reflected upon the importance of “personal engagement” and how she would now turn her story into a “novel”. Another trainee, Andrew, wrote an interesting story about an obsessive boy who is able to bend time. Andrew felt his writing piece had taken “a more personal tone” than the writing he had undertaken with his class and he reflects that, “I accidentally based the main character on my 10 year old self”.

 

Becoming a Writer in the figured world of Writing

All trainees were asked about whether they saw themselves as writers both before and after the CoW project. With all 15 trainees there was a definite positive shift in perception as a result of their participation in the figured world of Writing and trainees felt that this gave them agency and was beneficial to their teaching of writing. In this sense, participation in the figured world of Writing appears to have a direct correlation with participation in the figured world of Teaching and a future project should consider this agency in relation to pupils’ writing development.

Some of the changes in perception were quite extreme and seemed to involve the trainees repositioning themselves intrapersonally in relation to their perceptions of themselves as writers when they had been pupils at school. At the start of the project, both Lizzie and Lily were clearly uncomfortable with using the signifier “writer” to describe themselves. For Lizzie, this discomfort was explained by remembering being “moved down a set” in English. It appears that the egalitarian ethos of CoW had enabled Lizzie to synthesize this traumatic event with a new perception of herself as a “writer”. For Lily, who initially professed to “dread” writing with her class, the CoW project similarly allowed her to adopt the signifier “writer” by adding valuable writing experiences to a memory of writing at school that was remembered as being otherwise blank: “I don’t really remember writing at school. It clearly didn’t have an impact on me.”

Whilst Lizzie and Lily now professed to embrace the signifier “writer”, other trainees were more guarded in the way they used language to position themselves in the figured world of Writing at the end of CoW. James, for example, was comfortable with applying the signifier “writer” to himself but interestingly made a distinction between “writer” and “author”: “Just because I am not a published author does not mean to say that I’m not a writer”. The tone is defensive, as if he is responding directly to a societal discourse – the shadow of Foucault’s “author principle” (op. cit.) – that seeks to exclude him from taking the positional identity of “writer” within the figured world of Writing.  James’ trade-off in this internal dialogue is to apply the signifier “writer” to himself but not to allow himself the signifier “author” (that signifier being the exclusive property of those writers who are published).

A similar tension is found in the way in which Jessica, the strongest writer in the group, talked about herself. Different from Jennifer and Andrew who prefaced personal experiences as central to the creative writing process, Jessica focused her creative writing piece around science fiction, a genre in which she professed to have little interest. Despite this lack of interest, the resulting piece of writing was highly sophisticated and, I believe, publishable.  Nevertheless, at the end of CoW, Jessica is only comfortable with applying the signifier “writer” to herself within the context of “we are all writers”. Unlike James, Jessica does not make the distinction between the signifiers “writer” and “author”, and despite the stylistic excellence of her writing, she affords herself a low positional identity: “To describe myself as a writer seems as though I am comparing myself to a published author and I’m not sure I would feel confident about using that title.” As with James, the “author principle” (Foucault op. cit.) appears to be operating to exclude Jessica from this discourse.

Crucially, the shadow of the “author principle” also appeared as a limiting factor in the figured world of Teaching as trainees tended to perceive the identity of “writer” as someone who occupies a high status positional identity and who writes with competence and mastery at all times. This played out in the ways in which the trainees shared their own writing with their classes. In the sessions with myself, I had modeled “shared writing” that involved me taking the group’s ideas and talking through the process of writing an unprepared piece of writing. Indeed, this process approach is, as mentioned earlier, deemed to be the most effective way of teaching writing (Dombey op. cit.). It was, however, being unprepared and responsive in writing with their classes that the trainees found most challenging. All trainees reflected on the way they tended to pre-prepare pieces of texts, particularly towards the beginning of CoW, and here Jessica describes the way she would share writing as pre-prepared WAGOLLS (What a Good One Looks Like) with her class:

I didn’t feel confident enough to write in front of the children without having prepared anything.  Because of this, the texts I shared were often used as WAGOLLS and represented a polished end product. By doing this, even though the children could see what an effective piece of writing looked like, they couldn’t witness the thinking behind it and, as a result, perhaps didn’t see me on the same level as them.

The pressure that trainees felt to perform with writerly confidence with their classes as a result of the author principle underpins Andrew’s reflection about the teacher as a role model for writing:

I think if you can place the role of an author on a pedestal as a strong creative force who is not only proficient writer, but is also someone who is able to fully transport the reader to new fantastical worlds, then you have a role that children want to step into. If the teacher themselves is a writer, the role model becomes more tangible and real, providing a strong motivation to write; a strong motivation for children to become authors themselves. 

It is precisely this, the feeling the trainees had that they should be “role models” who hold literally elevated positional identities in the classroom – “on a pedestal”, or Jessica’s not being “on the same level as them” – that acts as a barrier to a more process based approach. 

The author principle made trainees feel as if their writing for the pupils should be perfect and this meant that, despite being able to see the benefits of the process approach, in their writing with the pupils the trainees tended to use pre-prepared product texts. As a result of this, Andrew and many of the other trainees noted how pupils tended to imitate their writing rather than the compositional process: “There was a lot of tokenistic language that children seemed to have included to fulfill the success criteria”.

 

Recommendations

Whilst the consensus amongst educationalists remains that a process-based approach which sees the teacher writing with their class (Dombey op. cit.) is the most effective way of teaching writing in school, this project highlights two key barriers that can limit teacher agency and, therefore, the effectiveness of this approach. 

Firstly, whilst being able to reflect critically upon the use of strong framing in the teaching of creative writing within the neoliberal figured world of Teaching, the trainee teachers were paradoxically dependent upon neoliberalism’s strongly framed assessment practices when participating in the figured world of Writing. Secondly, whilst by the end of CoW all of the trainees expressed a greater ease with identifying themselves as “writers”, for some trainees societal discourse problematized this identification. In the figured world of Teaching, a perceived low positional identity manifested itself as a need to pre-prepare writing to share with the class – a product-driven approach that often led to pupil imitation of content rather than process.

Admittedly, CoW is a small-scale project involving only fifteen co-researchers over a ten-week period, but it is worth considering what might need to happen if we want to break down these barriers in order to encourage trainee teachers (and qualified teachers) to adopt weaker framing in the figured world of Teaching. 

The first implication is that, if we accept the view that trainee teachers are often themselves products of neoliberalism, dependent upon strongly framed assessment practices, then there is a broad need for lecturers in HEIs to challenge this dependency through the use of more weakly framed assessment aligned with critical reflection.  

In relation to creative writing, there is also the need for lecturers in HEIs to promote research informed practice that encourages trainees to position themselves as writers in the figured world of Teaching.

These points may seem obvious, but at a moment in time when the National College for Teaching and Leadership is actively moving teacher training away from HEIs and into schools, their implementation is very much under threat.  Indeed, only through the continued involvement of HEIs in teacher training can we hope to inspire the next generation of creative writers.

 

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Rowland, S. (2006) The Enquiring University. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Smith, J. and Wrigley, S. (2012) What has writing ever done for us? The power of teachers’ writing groups. English in Education, 46 (1), 69-84.

Weisberg, R. W. (1999) 'Creativity and Knowledge: A Challenge to Theories', in R. J. Sternberg (ed.) Handbook of Creativity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  

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Tom Dobson works in teacher education at Leeds Beckett University. His research focuses on developing engaging and creative pedagogies for creative writing, both with pupils in partner schools and trainee teachers.

 

 

 

 

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