Tag Archives: PTLLS

Inspiration

Blackman Street by John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-1893)

So I have officially completed my PTLLS course! I finished off all my outstanding assignments a few days ago and sent it off. It’s a good feeling, knowing that I have that qualification under my belt. It will definitely open up a few new possibilities for me. I don’t mind sharing my theory assignments on this website, if people are interested – I could add them to the shiny new ‘Free Resources‘ page.

In other news, I am trying to re-established some sort of momentum for my novel. I have been watching Jeremy Paxman’s series The Victorians: Their Story in Pictures on DVD, which has been incredibly interesting and inspiring. I definitely respond more to filmic non-fiction resources than written resources when it comes to finding inspiration for my novel. Some interesting facts:

  • London was considered ‘broken’. It was the largest city on earth, but completely divided: the East End was known as the ‘Land of Endless Night’. It was the only major city that wasn’t improving its slums; Glasgow tour down its slums and rebuilt them.
  • Labour was seen as ‘heroic’ and there was a great ‘moral dignity’ in work. The rich were seen as idle. The Victorians were all about improvement, and self-improvement. It was considered that if you were poor, it was your own fault.
  • In London, there was 1 prostitute for every 25 men!
  • Many people sold their babies due to poverty, thinking that they would be placed for adoption. Instead, most of these babies ended up drowned in the river.
  • In the 1880s, Victorian women began to rebel against the uncomfortable clothing fashions of the time (The Dress Reform Movement).

Just look how atmospheric that painting is by John Atkinson Grimshaw (above). You could almost step right into it. The warmth of the lamplight is made sinister by the mass of indistinguishable dark figures roaming the damp streets. The buildings stand tall and proud against an ominious sky. I want my writing to be as vivid as this painting.

So my aim is to make more time for my writing, and just get some more words down. I was reminiscing with one of my MA friends last night about how I miss the structure of our workshopping sessions, and the propultion it gave to my writing. In reponse to this, she made me promise that I send her 4,000 words by 1st May.

Creative Writing Micro Teach (PTLLS)

As part of my Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector course, I had to present a twenty minute lesson on my chosen subject. Deciding what to teach was a difficult task. The hardest part was planning the mini lesson into the short time frame. My orginal ideas were far too long, and I had a feeling that the lesson I prepared would over-run, too. Eventually, I just had to go for it, realising that it was as much a learning experience for me as it was for my pretend students. I wanted to use the opportunity to test out a particular notion on a group of students, so I went for the idea: What is ‘Good’ Writing?

My lesson aim was:

To develop a discussion around what constitutes ‘good’ writing and help students realise there are subjective and objective ways of analysing creative writing.

I thought this would be a good way to start any writing course as it helps students realise that there is no ‘correct’ way of doing things when it comes to creative writing, but that there are some criteria that are used in a more objective sense to assess creative writing. Therefore it (hopefully) relaxes students who fear judgement on their writing, and also helps them understand how their writing might be marked.

Now, I had a few hiccups the morning I was meant to present. My printer is out of ink so, knowing this, I aimed to be at the college an hour early to give me time to print my resources in the library. Unfortuntely, the usual fifteen minute drive took me an hour due to exceptionally bad traffic (I think there was an accident somewhere, which caused a lot of people to re-route). I still arrived with twenty minutes to spare. I dashed to the library and started printing – and then the fire alarm went off!

We had to evacuate the building. Fifteen minutes later and I was grabbing my print-outs and rushing to the classroom. I had planned to re-arrange the tables into a ‘U’ shape to provide a more discussion-orientated layout, so did this quickly with the help of my peers. All in all, I had everything prepared just in time.

The chaos actually distracted me from my nerves. The relief I felt in overcoming all the obstacals thrown into my path before the lesson seemed to help!

I started with a brief introduction to the lesson, then launched straight into the first task. I had printed three extracts from novels and, after asking for volunteers to read them outloud, got the class to pair up and rank them in order of preference, emphasising that there was no right or wrong answer. I moved around the class and listened to the types of things being discussed. Once everyone was finished, I opened it up to a group discussion and noted the various criteria people had used to judge the extracts on the whiteboard (subject matter, language, genre, accessibility, etc). I only revealed the novels the extracts were taken from after the discussion was complete (more for the sake of curiosity).

I used a slideshow presentation to structure the lesson, and after the task I talked through the differences between subjective and objective ways of assessing writing, using the presentation as a focal point. Then I issued a mini three-question quiz and asked people to volunteer the answers before revealing them.

As expected, the lesson over-ran a little. But that was okay. I knew that, really, the topic needed longer as discussion always needs as much time as possible, and creative writing is such a discussion-based subject. I recived really good feedback, with the main criticism (other than I over-ran on time) being that I should have focused more evenly on the subjective/objective split and provided a more engaging task to involve students in the objective element of the lesson – I knew this would be the case, and I would have definitely done this if I’d had more time.

If anyone wants to use and/or adapt my power point presentation, feel free to do so but please leave the credit on the first slide. It would also be nice to hear if anyone finds it useful, so please leave a comment below. Click the link to open the presentation in Microsoft Power Point.

Power Point Presentation: Introduction to Creative Writing – What is ‘Good’ Writing?

Preparing to Teach Creative Writing – Planning the Micro Teach

As part of my course, Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector, which I’m undertaking in order to give me a foundation in teaching skills, with the eventual goal of becoming a Creative Writing tutor, we have to deliver a micro teach. This is a 15-20 minute lesson in which we have to use all the strategies we have learnt throughout the course.

The most challenging aspect of this task is that the class will have a mixed ability and a mixed level of interest in regards to the subject taught. How can I deliver a short Creative Writing class to such a diverse group?

I’ve been thinking about this for a few weeks. At first, I considered tackling one of the major foundations of Creative Writing: what is a story? I had planned to teach the basic structure of a story (that it must contain a beginning, middle and an end, and have a conflict and sense of change) and provide the group with a series of short examples, including examples of what a story isn’t. I was then going to get the group to write their own one paragraph short story.

However, I think this might been too big a concept to deliver in 15 minutes, and it might be too daunting to get students to write a story – even a short one – if they have never done any Creative Writing or have no interest in it. I thought the lesson sounded a little bit dry.

I thought about exercises I had enjoyed, and remembered one called ‘101 Uses for a Button’ (or something like that), which I read in The Five-Minute Writer Margaret Geraghty. It encourages you to think creatively, outside the box, and come up with as many different uses for the simple button. An interesting task to start a lesson with, I think. Something easy and fun.

But how could I build on this concept? ‘Thinking outside the box’ can be interperated in a different way: avoiding cliche. Cliche often creeps into writing, especially for beginner or unconfident writers, and it is something that most people are familiar with, even if they are not a writer. So I would then provide the class with a few examples of cliches, writing them on a flipchart, and ask them to contribute some more. I might incorporate an exercise here, asking students to re-write a cliche or two.

Faces made of toilet role tubes! Characters created by ‘thinking outside the box’.

I would then develop this theme into a discussion on characters and stereotypes, including a little theory on flat and round characters (E. M. Forster), which would lead into the main writing task. I would provide photocopied photos of a variety of different people and ask each student to pick one. They will have five minutes to write a character sketch – I would provide a handout of prompting questions to help them if they are stuck. Then I might get the students to pair up and describe their characters to each other, or ask for volunteers to read out their character sketches to the class – I’m not sure which, yet.

I would end with a summing up.

These are just my inital thoughts for the micro teach. Over the next few weeks, before the micro teachings beging, we will be looking at course and session planning, so hopefully that will help. At the moment, I have a feeling this lesson is too long for a 15 minute slot, so I’m going to have to think about it some more.

Any feedback/suggestions would be welcome!

Preparing to Teach Creative Writing

I’ve just started a new course entitled ‘Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector‘ (PTTLS or ‘Petals’, as it is sometimes referred to). It is one of the most basic qualifications often needed before becoming a teacher of adult education. I’ve been seriously considering becoming a Creative Writing tutor for a while now, and though I probably have enough expertise on the subject after studying it at BA and MA level, obtaining a handful of publications, running my own literary magazine, and generally just being obsessed with the theory of creative writing, I felt crippled by my lack of teaching experience.

I was discussing this with someone and they suggested ‘why not go on a course?’ It’s strange – I’d never actually considered it. I didn’t know anything about such courses. The only one I was aware of was the year-long, expensive university-based course, the PGCE, that prepared you for teaching in a school environment. I had no idea about more basic courses, or courses specifically geared towards adult learning. So I did some research and found some testimonials online from people who had become Creative Writing tutors after completing their MAs, and the PTTLS course was mentioned a few times.

Hoping that it was just the stepping stone I needed, I researched local courses. I found one a few town’s over, and I enrolled online three weeks before the course was due to start. I didn’t hear back for a while so assumed I’d missed the boat, but two days before the course began, I got a phone call saying I had a place. The website said there is usually an interview, but the person on the phone asked if I had GCSE English, before realising that I had an MA in my subject area – and those were the only requirements. Unfortunately, the course also cost me £329 – though that’s nothing when you’re used to university fees. Often, if you are already employed as a teacher, your institution would pay for this.

The course is eleven teaching weeks with one week for half term. It is held in a college – seeing all the sixteen-year-old students around makes me feel obscenely old. There are about twenty students in my class – a lot of them are from the same music school, so I’d say there is roughly an equal split between people who are already teaching and those who are hoping to teach in the future. Everyone seems really nice.

The course is a very broad overview of teaching skills – from record keeping, understanding your role, planning lessons, etc. The assessment is based on weekly assignments that are collated at the end of the course to form a portfolio. There is also a ‘micro-teach’ that we have to perform at the end of the course.

You can aim for a Level 3 or a Level 4 qualification. Level  3 is roughly the equivalent of an A Level whereas Level 4 is roughly the equivalent of the first year of an undergraduate degree. I think quite a few people in the group are aiming for the Level 4 qualification, myself included. The assignments are all the same, but they require a slightly higher level of depth and a few references to established theories. We’re asked to analyse methods, with reference to theories, but we aren’t asked to analyse the theories themselves.

Each week there is a three and a half hour lesson. I’ve had three lessons so far. The content seems pretty simple and mostly common sense, but I appreciate that it is encouraging me to think about all aspects of teaching, and the assignments allow me to go into further depth and think about how I would apply the concepts to my own teaching, which is useful. I don’t think I’m going to learn anything particularly crucial, but having the grounding will hopefully increase my confidence and prove to myself that I have what it takes. The qualification will also (hopefully) help me establish my first teaching position.

Creative Writing is such a broad subject and it is taught in a variety of ways at a variety of levels. I’m using this opportunity to further research how Creative Writing is taught so I can build a clear and informed vision in my head of how I want to teach it. Though I think ‘teach’ is almost certainly the wrong word… But more on that another time.