Monday 11 November 2019

The Blank Page - Kelly McCaughrain

As I’ve mentioned before, I work with a creative writing group for teens and I’m enthusiastic about giving kids opportunities to be creative as their academic life becomes more exam-focused. My new role as Children’s Writing Fellow for Northern Ireland has given me a bit of freedom, funding and support to work on the things I’m passionate about so I’ve taken the opportunity to do something I’ve always wanted to and spread the gospel of assessment-free, non-classroom-y creative writing via a project I’m setting up!

I think it’s a little crazy that there’s only room in the curriculum for things that can be marked and measured, with the result that creativity either gets squeezed into a narrow, measurable format or it’s left out of the curriculum altogether. Writing was the only thing I was particularly good at in school and, as well as being important for personal development and mental health, it would have meant the world to me to see creativity as something that was valued as much as exam results.

I’m not a teacher but I’ve had many conversations with teachers and parents who feel the same. This seems to be a trend in education that’s only getting worse, and we’re seeing a decline in the uptake of arts subjects in secondary education as a result.

I don’t think creativity should be graded or corrected or used as a vehicle to teach spelling. Creativity is a personal thing. It comes from who you are, not what you know. Grading that work essentially tells kids that who they are can be ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’, or not as good as the person sitting next to them. That’s not only unhelpful, I think it’s harmful.

So I’ve created a blog! (Yes, another one. Can’t get enough, me.) It’s called The Blank Page and it’s going to provide support and resources for anyone (but particularly secondary school librarians and teachers) who’d like to run a creative writing group for teens but is maybe a bit daunted by the idea of coming up with writing exercises and lesson plans and all that stuff.

My whole message is that you don’t have to do all that. In fact, it’s better if you don’t. What I’ve learned from my writing group is that all you need to give a young writer is time, space, freedom, trust, encouragement (exactly what an adult writer needs, funnily enough. Why do we assume kids are any different?). None of which involves the group leader trawling the internet for writing prompts, publishing anthologies for Parents’ Evening, planning One-Act Plays for assembly, or even being a writer themselves. 

I’ve seen this work. I’ve seen my writers come back week after week, year after year, developing both as writers and as people and it’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I’d love to spread that around. Wouldn’t it be amazing if all secondary schools had creative writing clubs as well as debate clubs and football teams?

It’s really not hard to provide this, and I’ll be posting loads of helpful info and resources on the blog so if you would like to take a look or if you know of any school librarians or teachers who you think might benefit from it, please do pass it on! 

This is the link: The Blank Page Blog

My fellowship is technically a Northern Ireland thing, and I will be visiting creative writing clubs in NI, but the beauty of a blog is its reach, because actually any school could use it and it’ll still be there when I’ve finished my term as CWF so it could still be useful years from now!

As well as resources and advice I’ll also be blogging generally about creativity and young people so if you enjoy my blogs at all, please check it out! (There will be memes, obvs. I debated being super professional but unfortunately my personality won out.) You can ‘subscribe’ to get email notifications of new posts.

And on a personal note, I’d like to say thanks to all the Sassies and Scoobies who read my blog posts and Like/Share/Comment. Your support and feedback has been a huge confidence boost in tackling this project.

Wish me luck, and I hope you enjoy The Blank Page!

Kelly McCaughrain is the author of the Children's Books Ireland Book of the Year,

She is the Children's Writing Fellow for Northern Ireland #CWFNI


The Blank Page Blog


Sue Purkiss said...

This sounds like a fantastic project! I do agree about people in writing groups just needing time and a space to work - I run an adult one, and basically I set them a very simple prompt, they go off and write something, and in the next session, they read it. In the gaps we may do little bits of writing, and there's a lot of chat and discussion - but really, it's just about giving them a framework and letting them get on with it.

Kelly McCaughrain said...

Thanks Sue, and your group sounds great. Maybe The Blank Page would work for adult groups too!

Joan Lennon said...

Excellent stuff!

Kelly McCaughrain said...

Thanks Joan!

Penny Dolan said...

This is such a positive residency idea, and an excellent way to promote it!
(Oh dear! You won't stop posting on ABBA though, will you, Kelly?) :-)

Kelly McCaughrain said...

Are you kidding, Penny! No way! And thanks, it's been a really brilliant opportunity to do something special.

Enid Richemont said...

There's an unforgettable song sung by Danny Kay in the long-ago Hans Christian Andersen film. It's the 'Inchworm' song, and it goes like this: Inchworm, inchworm, measuring the marigolds/ don't you ever stop to think/ how beautiful they are?

Says it all, and Gove would hate it.

Kelly McCaughrain said...

Enid that's so weird - I'm watching Danny Kaye on TV right now in White Christmas! (It was on, can't resist) And anything Gove would hate is my new favourite thing! Thanks!