Saturday, 25 October 2008

Writing Workshops

I was at Lower Meadow Primary all day Friday. I was originally booked in Spring, but had such a terrible cold, I lost my voice for 5 days! I'm amazed I am still healthy at the moment, as I almost always catch something off the children in October.

The day began in the hall, with over 100 KS2 children. The Head told me they were doing a big push to promote reading stories (including a 'bedtime story' idea, in pyjamas with hot chocolate!) so I kicked off by reading Rocky and the Lamb. I've never read to such a large number, but it worked surprisingly well. The school is also a Deaf Centre, so I had to wear a mike and a signer stood beside me throughout (I wonder how you get across the silly voices?)

I then talkied all about how picture books are created. PowerPoint is so brilliant to illustrate a talk - so much easier than the dreadful slides we used to have to use. When I was teaching at the Sheffield College, there was one faulty slide carousel that used to fire the slides high into the air, one at a time!

I had individual classes then, for two writing workshops: a nice change. There is a lot of effort going into raising writing standards in Sheffield schools at the moment. I decided to adapt an idea given to me by Cliff McNish recently (see To Wales and Beyond!). He's the author of the wonderfully scary Doomspell Trilogy, and though he's not an illustrator, he said he often starts workshops with drawing, then gets the children writing about what they have drawn.

We designed a creature on the flip chart and assigned it a personality trait by brainstorming possibilities and pulling one out of a hat. The Y6 children created an ugly creature who was sad and lonely with no friends, whereas Y4 wrote about a three-eyed chocolate obsessive. Although we all started with the same ingredients, the stories quickly diverged. We had a lot of fun and I was delighted to see how enthusiastically the children wrote.

There were different levels of ability, but every single child wrote something and they were all very keen to read out. It was especially nice to see how children helped one another: if someone was struggling to read aloud, a friend discretely prompted and encouraged them.

I always leave a school with lots of drawings and signed posters, but I like to leave a few books too, so the school can follow up and build on the visit, while the enthusiasm is still bubbling. But the Head and Literacy Co-oridinator at Lower Meadow decided to buy a copy of every book I had in stock - 15 different titles! That level of backup and committment to storytelling is fantastic. They are all working so hard at Lower Meadow to help the kids improve their reading and writing, and hopefully all those books will help to make it as fun as possible.

So a big THANK YOU to all the teachers and kids at Lower Meadow. Keep up the good work and finish off those stories!

By the way, I am running low now on 'schooly' illustrations, so hurry up and send me your photos of visits, or the 'best of' children's finished drawings, so I have something to jolly up these blogs!

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