Showing posts with label creativity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label creativity. Show all posts

Thursday, 19 November 2015

The Art of Dedication


Anaïs Nin


Dedications, like Prefaces, are a neglected field in the study of book construction and creative composition. But they can reveal quite a lot about power and politics; authorship and authority; celebration and bitterness.

In critical terms deconstructionists would argue that a preface displaces and defaces the text that follows, perhaps (humorously?) tripping it up, or tying it up in precursor knots.Often Jacques Derrida never got past the deconstruction of the preface, or a footnote therein, in order to make his 'point'.

And you probably recall all the levels of ludicrous entrapment that Jonathan Swift employed in A Tale of a Tub (1704) ?



Have dedications grown shorter and more ironic (or bitter) since the decline of aristocratic patronage? Are they still a zone of praise or insult?

What about this one, taken from Herman Melville's Israel Potter: His Fifty Years of Exile (1854)

TO
His Highness
THE
BUNKER-HILL MONUMENT

(Discussed in detail in Edgar A. Dryden's Monumental Melville: The Formation of a Literary Career, Stanford University Press, 2004; and in Ian S. Maloney's Melville's Monumental Imagination, Routledge, 2006).

America repaid the 'compliment' on a 20c stamp.(See below)

Recently, I came across a polite call to action from the late 1960s.

In those days dedications offer a different diet for democracy:


This book is dedicated to sensitive Americans.
 May they create a sensitive America.

- Anaïs Nin, The Novel of the Future (1968).

If you're interested in this topic a good place to start is Alasdair Gray's anthology and commentary: The Book of Prefaces. (I started reading it backwards, beginning with the cleverness of G.B. Shaw and the haunting words of Wilfred Owen).

Have you come across any memorable prefaces or dedications? Let me know if you have!


Herman Melville postage stamp

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Association, causation and the purely random: ideology and astrology in the classroom



Since the replacement of the octagonal mahogany dining tables with pine benches you can never be quite sure who you'll end up sitting down beside during the lunch break in the Senior Common Room.

Yesterday, Dr Ptolemy Macrobius, Reader in Paranormal Psychology, was expounding some of the key advances that had taken place in reaction to the limitations exposed in Theodor Adorno's dialectical materialist debunking of the topic in The Stars Down to Earth and other Essays (1952-3 / 1994).

Yet this work deserves a little respect! I responded:

“It pretends to a higher level of scientificness than the supposedly more primitive forms of esoteric wisdom without, however, entering into the argument itself: the lack of a transparent interconnection between astronomical observations and inferences pertaining to the fate of individuals or nations… Astrology attempts to get away from crude and unpopular fatalism by establishing outward forces operating on the individual’s decision, including the individual’s own character, but leaves the ultimate choice to him… Astrology undertakes the constant encouragement of people to take decisions, no matter how inconsequential they may be. It is practically directed towards action in spite of all the lofty talk about cosmic secrets and profound meditation. Thus, the very gesture of astrology, its basic presumption that everyone has to make up his mind at every moment falls in line with what will later come out with respect to the specific content of astrological counseling: its leaning towards extroversion.”

--- I said --- reading from the Amazon site on my iphone, 'Still relevant?'

In fact, looking at this topic from another angle, I've always considered the curious micro-narratives of astrology as an artful shorthand that repay close critical scrutiny, especially during those yawning intervals in cultural studies seminars, when the grand narrative theories have come crashing down, and one needs to begin the creative task of rebuilding - scaffolding - from more experiential and pragmatic foundations.

And the role of the aleatory in creative foreplay has long been accepted in postmodernist circles, has it not?

Although there's not much on astrology and pedagogy in the research literature, I was curious to discover that the scientists are still conducting their own research in this field:

 Treating astrology’s claims with all due gravity.
Steven K. Lower

“I teach an introductory science class at my university, which typically enrols many non-science majors. During a lecture on the gravitational force, I imply that if planets such as Mars exert a force on any object, including humans, then perhaps there is something to astrology’s idea that celestial bodies exert a force of influence on our lives. I encourage my students to undertake a test I have designed for this notion.
I present the students with 12 randomly numbered horoscopes from the previous day, with the corresponding signs of the zodiac removed. I ask each student to record the horoscope that best describes the day she or he had, and the astrological sign (for example, Aries) corresponding to her/his birthday. My scientific hypothesis is that planets may exert a force on our bodies, but it is purely random — 1 out of 12 (8.3%) — whether a horoscope foretells the events of one’s life.
I am pleased to report that, as Shawn Carlson has noted, “astrology failed to perform at a level better than chance” (Nature 318, 419–425; 1985). The results from my classes are: 8.0% (n = 163 students), 8.4% (n = 155), 7.0% (n = 143), 8.0% (n = 138) and 8.0% (n = 100). In other words, as John Maddox has commented “astrology is a pack of lies … There is no evidence that the positions of the planets can affect human behaviour” (Nature 368, 185; 1994)./”

Nature 447, 528 (31 May 2007).

Further information, prior to reaching a tentative conclusion and provisional predictions

"... Multivariate analyses of results based on a random sample of individuals support the medical
encounter and postmodern hypotheses and show that the set of postmodern values, in
comparison to dissatisfaction with the medical encounter, is by far a better predictor of attitudes ..."
See: Siahpush, Mohammad. "Postmodern values, dissatisfaction with conventional medicine and popularity of alternative therapies." Journal of Sociology 34.1 (1998): 58-70. 
'This condition implies a new form of cybernetic control, governed by the aleatory play of the code.'
 See : Clarke, David B. "Consumption and the city, modern and postmodern." International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 21.2 (1997): 218-237.
'He embraced multiple serialism, aleatory technique and electronics, but he is best known for his pioneering explorations in music theatre, radio play, film and mixed media.' See:
Heile, Bjorn. The Music of Mauricio Kagel. Ashgate, 2006.

Conclusion?

I confidently predict that we have not yet witnessed the terminus of astrological pedagogies and aleatory methodologies, nor the sublime of big data, nor the sinister predictability of the commercial algorithm that perpetually haunts each keystroke of social media participation.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

The Eight Openings and the Blank Page Trauma

Are you familiar with the terror of the blank page in the exam room?
Do you experience a sense of writer's block in this situation?
Are you just unsure about your technique in starting an essay?

In fact, there are many tried and tested openings that will get your writing off to a confident and winning start. Although there are infinite possible ways of leading into an essay, blog, or news article, there are some common opening gambits that writers rely on (as in a game of chess). After a strong opening you will be ready for a winning middle game.



Before outlining the Eight Openings, here are some points to think about:

Is your aim to engage the reader by being relevant, creative, and original?
Are you trying to arouse curiosity or to meet expectations?
Are you explaining what’s on offer (like a menu), or offering a taster session?
In a promotional sense you want to encourage the reader to come through the door: to enter your mental world. Some readers are reluctant, suspicious people who need to be coaxed into your space.

Remember that your aim is a happy relationship between writer and reader; not a divorce.

Sometime it is helpful to signal or summarize what your topic is, and how you will be approaching it (methodology). In academic essays there is often a well-crafted thesis statement that encapsulates the main argument in one sentence.

1. The Quoted Opening

"As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect." Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis (1916). My transformation happened over three lazy weeks, but it was not any less wonderful... Begin with an impressive quotation from someone who will be recognised by your reader. A well chosen quotation can also have the advantage that it provides an unusual angle on your content. Also, it may hint at the tone and approach you are taking to your topic. In academic essays marks may also be gained for evidence of research. Disadvantages: quotations can be over used (clichés); you are relying on someone else’s work at the outset.

2. The Story Opening

"I write this sitting in the kitchen sink."  Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle (1948). A story has a universal appeal and everyone wants to know what happens next if there is an element of intrigue. This opening plays on the art of the unexplained: look where I am; how did I arrive at this point. This approach also involves the art of delayed resolution (ending) that we find in jokes or anecdotes. A story that is relevant to the reader also plays on empathy.

3. The Headline Opening
The Times Of India: “We saw the sea coming, we all ran. But God saves little”

This approach keeps coming back to the essay title or the newspaper heading, but offers more detail or clarity. Again the emphasis is on focus and relevance. This technique works well where the eye-catching headline is not a ready-made statement, or the solution to an issue. 

4. The Shocking Opening

Shock tactics may fit well with an eye-catching sensational opening. Often the trick is to reverse normal expectations, turning the world upside down. The element of surprise can be very effective, but it may be difficult to sustain after the initial impact.  Build your special effects using rhetorical drama (pattern, pace, rhythm, alliteration) and memorable literary devices (such as simile or metaphor).

5. The Interrogatory Opening

This opening relies on asking questions that engage the reader. This may involve empathy (Don’t you just hate daytime marketing calls? Why do we want to laugh in a moment of crisis?); or it may interrogate the title/heading in a curious or surprising way (Why do most disasters happen on Thursday mornings?). But too many questions leave the reader frustrated or perhaps impatient to hear the answers. Avoid this problem by asking unusual, thought-provoking questions.

6. The Summary Opening

This opening offers a preview of the remainder of the essay. It’s rather like a menu that explains what to expect and offers an insight into your approach (how the steak will be cooked; is the food spicy). The risk is that you give away all the surprises at the outset. So try to avoid going into too much detail at this stage. Better to give a sense of the general scope of your project, rather than trying to tick every box.

7. The Strange, but True, Opening

This is also known as the newsworthy or factual opening. ‘In Great Britain in 2012 it is reported that 3,678 babies swallowed an iPhone. All but one survived. This is his story...’ Common features of this approach deploy data, or statistics, but also develop a human angle on the arithmetic. Again, eye-catching news reverses expectations: the "Man Bites Dog" Rule.

8. The Connoisseur Opening

This opening does not fit any of the above categories, or it is a hybrid strategy that deploys several styles of opening. Sometimes it is a low-key opening that marks the innovator. In 1913, Marcel Proust began his epic novel sequence, "For a long time, I went to bed early." Swann's Way. (tr. Lydia Davis).

Tips to Develop Your Style:
Use a notebook, or simply cut and paste opening sentences and paragraphs which in your view are engaging and appealing. Also note down why you think they are effective. It’s also useful to make a list of your own categories of opening. For instance, what are the differences between factual items and literary fiction? What else is required in an essay for school or college? Why are some openings longer than others?
It is worthwhile examining existing models of great writing, but with practice you will craft engaging openings that bear your personal stamp of creative genius.



Dr Ian McCormick is the author of
also available on Kindle, or to download.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

The Art of Connection: The Social Life of Sentences


Do you find that you waste time wondering how to start the next sentence?
Do you find yourself lost for words when you are required to link your ideas coherently and persuasively?
Do your sentences flow together and support the larger structure?
Do you want your writing to communicate more effectively and efficiently?

The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences is an innovative practical book that explains the Nine Arts of Connection: Location, Timing, Comparison, Contrast and Difference, the Supplement, Disputation, Sequence, Example and Illustration, and the Summary.

By following the easy to use guides and examples provided in this book, writers can learn how to write fluently and begin to enjoy the process of composition.

Whether you are a student or learning English for the first time, this book will assist you to write successfully to achieve your goals. By dividing the common words and phrases used to signal transition and connection into nine categories this book guides the writer through the principles of effective writing and outlines everything that you need to know about the Nine Arts of Connection. Two thirds of the book are devoted to tried-and-tested examples of practical usage. This approach enables the writer to identify the value and effectiveness of connectvity as an active principle in composition.

A thought-provoking critical introduction also outlines in detail how effective writing employs a balance between creative flow or spontaneity, and the need to provide coherence, logical and structure.


 The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences (2013) Also available on Kindle, or to download.

Contents

1.0 Introduction

1.1 The Social Sentence
1.2 The Use of Connection
1.3 Understanding the Psychology of Transition
1.4 Style, Oratory, Elegance
1.5 The flow of spontaneity and passion
1.6 Power, Rhetoric and Repetition
1.7 The Philosophy of Association
1.8 Beyond the Logic of Connection
1.9 Écriture féminine
1.10 Openings: the genesis of this book

2. The Art of Location
3. The Art of Timing
4. The Art of Comparison
5. The Art of Contrast and Difference
6. The Art of the Supplement
7. The Art of Disputation
8. The Art of the Sequence
9. The Art of Example and Illustration
10. The Art of the Summary
Further Reading


About the Author

Dr Ian McCormick served as a Professor at the University of Northampton until 2009. He holds degrees in English Language and Literature (University of St Andrews (M.A.) and a doctorate awarded by the University of Leeds (Ph.D).

Ian's published work has been featured on BBC Radio and TV; in the Times Literary Supplement, The Observer, The Guardian, TimeOut (London), and in several academic journals. Awards and Prizes include the King James VI Prize (1989); the Lawson Memorial Prize (1985); British Academy Studentship (1990-93). Ian has also published and edited books on Gothic literature and Romanticism; sexuality and gender studies; modern and contemporary literature; teaching and learning strategies; drama education; and literary, critical and cultural theory.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Bonnell's list of topics for debate in class (1867)




In A Manual of the Art of Prose Composition: For the Use of Colleges and Schools (1867), John Mitchell Bonnell explained the value of Extemporaneous Composition;  Debating by the Class; and proposed a list of topics for debate. This is an extract from his book.


The following list presents a few of the questions that afford good fields for debate.

Does wealth exert more influence than intelligence?

Should a criminal be capitally condemned on circumstantial evidence?

Are banks more beneficial than injurious?

Ought military schools to be encouraged?

Should colleges be endowed?

Did the French revolution advance the cause of liberty in Europe?

Is there any real danger of the over-population of the globe?

Is country life more favourable to the cultivation of virtue than life in a city?

Is history a more useful study than biography?

Is ambition more destructive of personal happiness than avarice?

Is it the duty of good men to discountenance the theatre?

Is the Bible more essential to the spread of Christianity than the living ministry?

Does poetry demand a higher order of genius than oratory?

Does military life tend to qualify men to become good civil governors?

Has Mohammedanism produced more evil than good?

Is it ever right to deceive a rational man?

Should the chief end of civil punishment be the reformation of criminals, or the prevention of crime?

Ought the state to provide for the free education of all children within its borders?

Is it expedient to form colonies of convicts?

Would a congress of nations be practical or beneficial?

Was the field of eloquence in ancient Greece or Rome superior to that in our own country?

Are novels more injurious than beneficial?

Is it expedient to unite manual with mental labour in an educational establishment?

Which exerts the greater influence on society, the teacher or the preacher?

Which controls public opinion more extensively, the ministry or the newspaper press?

Does a natural proclivity to crime diminish the guilt of the act?

Should a member of the American House of Representatives be bound by the will of his constituents?

Do savage nations possess an exclusive right to the soil?

Should the right of suffrage be co-extensive with resident manhood?

Is a lawyer justifiable in defending a cause that he believes to be bad?

Ought the Protective Policy or the Free Trade principles to prevail?

Ought gambling to be suppressed by law?

Which is the better for the development of good character, poverty or riches?

Ought the liberty of the press to be restricted?

Ought imprisonment for debt to be abolished?

Should corporal punishment be allowed in schools?

Ought religious institutions to be supported by law?

Should infidel publications be suppressed by law?

Should atheists be eligible to office?

Has government a right to suppress Mormon or Mohammedan polygamy?

Are all mankind descended from one pair?

Is man responsible for his belief?

Can any of the moral attributes of God be proved from the light of nature?

Is a scholastic education preferable to a private one?

Are the principles of the Peace society practicable?

Should the course of study in college be the same for all pupils?

Are monastic orders favourable to the cultivation of true piety?

Are inequalities of rank in society favourable to social progress?

Was the influence of Jefferson upon his age and country beneficial?

Was Bonaparte greater in the field than in the cabinet?

Have the United States the right to forbid European interference with other American governments?

Does morality keep pace with civilization?

Which has done the greater service to the cause of truth, philosophy or poetry?

Is the cultivation of the Fine Arts conducive to virtue?

Has sectarianism done more to advance or retard the interests of Christianity?

Is a "little learning" more dangerous than ignorance?


Further Reading

On Extemporaneous Composition and Debating by the Class... here.

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(Quibble Academic, 2013)

 

Thursday, 17 January 2013

52 Creative Writing Activities


Beyond the apostrophe!

In this blog I appear to have sketched out fifty-two creative writing methods, strategies, and some pedagogic principles. Please add your suggestions and ideas to the comments section at the end of this blog.

52 Creative Writing Activities

1. The Forked Paths

This was a group exercise which was created on a large whiteboard. This game involved writing a story. At the end of each short sentence there are multiple pathways to carry on the story in different directions.

2. Adaptation

Work with the children to adapt the activities described in this list. When a child says, But Can I Do It This Way, that’s music to my ears. But remember that this approach only works if teachers and learners are constantly thriving on new inspiration, outgrowing their comfort zones, and moving beyond dull repetition.

3. Bite Size Steps

We create a three word poem. We can write the words anywhere on the page. The words can be small, medium or large. They can be hidden in a diagram. We are thinking about how they look on the page and how they relate to each other. This activity is very good for younger children; but also expect some surprises with the older ones.

4. Word Monster

We stick words together and deform our writing so that the result depicts a text-monster. Serpents are good for joining words, but we can also use long words for arms and legs and shorter ones for eyes, ears, noses, mouths, fingers and toes.

5. Rap, Rap, Rap

This activity involves writing songs, using music, creating funny tunes and rhythms based on real life situations. But don’t become too technique-obsessed: let this evolve. Re-writing serious songs in a comic vein ... lowering the tone. Humour is a great tool in teaching. Why not let the students choose the tunes?

6. If person A were an X, what would they be?

Starting with a list of characters, or real people, make a list of their equivalent ‘quality’ in terms of weather, plants, fruit, vegetables, animals, flowers, colours. This approach helps to build skills in metaphor, symbolism and personification.

7. Subject Ransack and Pillage

Each school subject/field/special topic has its own jargon, terminologies and discourses. Specialised or technical words can really stand out if you create a poem drawn from the language of a car repair manual, a biology casebook, a theory of physics article, an engineering study guide.

8. Surgical Cut and Entitlement

Take a story and cut out everything except the best phrase/sentence. The result becomes the new title for the story, which could then be retold in fewer words than the original, modified, or improved according to your taste preferences.

9. Choices and Combinations

We could try out different tasks, rather than having them chosen for us. Sometimes we combined three or more short  activities in one lesson. This approach allows learners to experiment with learning styles and to express their own preferences.

10. Morph the Limerick

Starting with a traditional limerick we replaced words one at a time in order to create a new poem. Students progress to explore ideas of the absurd, the bizarre, and the grotesque. You might end up with something more weirdly funny than the original. They key is to have fun with words and to relish their transformative power.

11. Acting Out

Acting out short stories (NOT learning lines) helps with confidence, spontaneity and improvisation. A sense of humour helps. Try picking random roles and characters rather than predictable ones. Why not add sound effects using your home-made instruments?

12. Ball of Wool

Working in a circle, we passed the ball of wool to the person who must supply the next sentence of the story. Stories are tangled webs! This activity is a brilliant way to demonstrate the intricacy of narrative in a kinaesthetic interpersonal fashion.

13. Superhero Job Advert

Write an advert designed to recruit a superhero. The task is to outline the most appropriate skills, qualifications and experience needed for the role. This activity leads naturally into storytelling.

14. Role Transformations

In this activity we invented a basic story but then made some major changes in the characters, e.g. male to female, young to old, human to animal, hero to victim etc. This approach encourages children to think outside their comfort zone.

15. Secret Instructions

These poems can be discovered or created. Secret instructions are hidden in a metaphor or a simile, on in highlighted words. This activity helps to build skills in skimming and scanning for key information.

16. In the Middle Game is the Opening Gambit

We start by writing a 3 or 5 part story as a ‘real time’ sequence. Then we re-write it, starting in the middle. This activity helps children to understand complex sequences and also flashback or foreshadowing techniques.

17. How Did I Get here?

As above. This means that your opening is rather weird, so you want to find out how you got there. ‘Here I am, writing this, covered in green paint, on the church bell-tower ...’ Dodie Smith’s novel, I Capture the Castle, began with the words: ‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. That is, my feet are in it, the rest of me is on the draining board.’

18. New Locations

An old tired story can be renewed. Produce a new story by  giving it a more exotic location. Pictures from Google maps and images also helped to make this transformation from the local to something more exotic and strange. The new environment  presents innovative challenges for the actors in the story.

19. Animation

Use animation software, sound effects and text, in order to create our own animated short stories. This activity helps children to understand storyline or plotting techniques.

20. Superhero Job Application

We wrote a letter, and filled in an application form, explaining our relevant superhero skills. (See also activity 13.)

21. Word Magnet

These are the plastic words that you stick on your fridge, or on a metal surface. You re-arrange the words to make a poem, or to tell a story. Playing with words in this way functions as an effective warm-up exercise that promotes children’s creativity. It also prompts learners to work within the resources available.

22. The Land of Infinite Possibility

We used a sample of text by a published writer and started to deform/reform it using search and replace on a word processor. Persist in this process until the original has almost disappeared. Curiously, the bizarre results sometimes stimulate a new creative departure.

23. Comic Strip

Images and text are combined in order to create your own storybook. There are several companies online who will publish your book as print-on-demand publication that can be sent to your friends and family.

24. Riddle Poems

Read some riddles and then create your own, by working backwards ... from the answer .... to the questions and the clues.

25. Picture Captions

This could be a picture related to football, or some other sport, or cars, or games. Make a caption for the picture to give it maximum impact. Then writing the title for the newspaper story associated with it.

26. Sharing questions and answers as we write

What if? How? Why? When? What next?

27. Between Two Images

Choose two photographs and then wrote a story about the missing image that makes sense of the other two.

28. Recommendations / What next

Older boys/girls showed their work to younger children. They explained which activities they had enjoyed most, and why. There was a Q&A and a critical discussion afterwards.

29. Ekphrastic Writing

This involves writing a poem or a story based on, and inspired by another art work, such as a painting or a sculpture, or a piece of music

30. Detective Writer as Character

This activity involved reading a short story. But then the child  turns up in the story as a detective ...

31. Upright Creativity

Writing standing up or composing while you are walking around. Writing does not have to be sedentary. Some of our most prodigious and creative writers such as Charles Dickens were great walkers. And didn’t Virginia Woolf write standing up?

32. Chaos Notebooks

Many artists don’t have tidy notebooks. In fact, you can scrawl any crazy ideas in any way. Tidy writing and full sentences are banned. You can start writing in the middle of your book, or work backwards. We can stick in any pictures that we find. We make weird diagrams of machines and inventions. Creative notebooks are a space to be messy.

33. Secret productions

We use codes to keep an idea secret. This can involve pictures and symbols. This makes our writing feel precious. Its revelation is a gift to the world.

34. Creating our own Newspaper

Taking on different newspaper roles each day, we created a daily newspaper covering the celebrity gossip and gang warfare between the Montagues and the Capulets. The ‘Mantle of the Expert’ approach usually involves the taking on of a professional role that is acted out in an evolving ‘process’  drama.

35. Funny Character Names

We invented ridiculous, absurd, and memorable names for our characters. This approach also helps children to understand that characters are sometimes symbolic or allegorical, rather than attempt to create real-life people.

36. Character Catchphrases

We invented a catch-phrase for a person in a story. This activity helps children to explore and challenge clichés, or to think about the main quality/ruling emotion of a character.

37. The Living and the Dead

This was an opportunity to think about crazy ways of killing off characters and then bringing them back to life. These became our new stories. Gruesome and miraculous. Children love this rather brutal activity.

38. Word theft and remix

We cut up all the words in a poem and then remixed them to make shorter new poems.

39. Finding You way out of the Maze

This is a found poem. In this activity  we highlighted the words contained in someone else’s writing in order to create our own poem. Sometimes writers don’t know that they have a little  poem lurking in their prose.

40. The Espionage (Spy) Poem

This poem is written with invisible ink, so you can choose who you want to read it. It was also fun to hide poems somewhere in the classroom, in the school, or in the playground. Some have still not been discovered.

41. Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle

We make words and sentences disappear, and put new ones in their place. We experimented with turning sentences and ideas into their opposites. Reversal of expectations can have amusing and unexpected outcomes.

42. Parallel Universes

These verbal universes are like our known world but with very slightly different structural or theoretical principles, or arcane and odd rules. The game involves guessing or inventing the rules for the parallel universe. For instance, all words with double letter are banned in the World of Og; ‘in the World of Og ... they have forks but no spoons, windows but no glass.’

43. The Obstacle Challenge

Working in pairs, one of us maps out a character’s journey. The other person has to invent obstacles at each stage of the journey. These challenges test the strength and intelligence of the character. A map and pictures help to visualise/structure this adventure story.

44. Conflict role play

In pairs we tried out our skills in creative arguments. E.g. dialogues or conversation battles between father/son, mother/daughter, hero/villain, human/animal, hero/monster ...

45. Poems and Pen knives

We enjoyed carving words in wood and cardboard. Wordcraft.

46. The Flyting Match

This activity involve the use of insults and counter-insults in the form of a contest. This is a cruel and wicked creative game, but rude/offensive words are banned. ‘Flyting’ started in Scotland, but exists in many oral cultures. Basically it’s the art of creative quarrelling.

47. Sculpture poems

In this activity we learned that poems are shapes like sculptures, and that these can be made from any objects, and stuck together; they just have to be eye-catching. Think of this activity as three-dimensional writing.

48. Spray cans / Paint spray

This was a bit messy, but it was fun to create gigantic poems using lots of shape and colour and images. Creative vandalism at work? Don’t try this activity in your living room or kitchen unless you want a permanent record of children’s creativity.

49. Voting with our friends on our best creative work so far

We were a bit nervous about this at first, but everyone has one thing that’s their best work, and as it’s your friends deciding on what they liked best it’s not the same as the teacher stepping in and marking your work. Usually you know what your best work is, but sometimes there are surprises and something that did not start very well turns out to have a life of its own.

51. The Essential Gadget Show

We invented and described the gadgets that our characters can use on their adventures. Words come with a diagram and/or a picture, or a user manual.

52. Sharing and Valuing Our Work

We showed the younger children our work, and explained some of our tricks-of-the-trade. We took pictures of our works or scanned them to make an online resource and record of our achievements.


Further Information

Thanks for reading: I look forward to hearing about your experiences and to reading your views.

© Dr Ian McCormick 2013

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(Quibble Academic, 2013)
This recent Guardian Education article is also worth reading.


Creative Writing: 5 Old Problems and 14 New Principles

Why are boys underperforming in English classes?

I am frequently dissatisfied with the resources on, and approaches to, Creative Writing in the Classroom.

Five of the Problems:

1. Traditional writing exercises are predictable and dull:

e.g.

Describe an interesting encounter
Make a story based on an overheard conversation
Write on a topic chosen by the teacher
Do a 60 minute exam essay.

2. Negative criticism from teachers just makes us feel embarrassed and reminds us of our sense of inadequacy. None the less, some creative productions are better than others, and children can be trusted to see this for themselves!

3. The disobedient curriculum. The creative activities outlined were exercises in being grammatical and were not a spelling test. It's so easy to pick on the tick and the cross, the right and the wrong. We need quality of expression rather than quantification of results.

4. There is a gender gap in English studies that needs to be addressed urgently. Writing exercises often fail to resonate with the boys. We must change this situation.

5. Writing tasks are too safe. We need to aim for risk rather than rules and restrictions.


My Fourteen Principles for Action

1. Work Out

We need to fry our brain, then take a break to recharge our batteries. Making full use of words is like doing a work-out.These outlines are based on short, intense activities, not week long topics and term-long programmes.

2. Locksmiths

Having fun with words is like having lots of keys to unlock the imagination. If we design our own keys we create poetry locksmiths rather than prisons.

3. Play


By having lots of different games and varieties of stimulus we turbo-charge our creativity. The play element is at the core of these activities, rather than performance in curriculum-specific, examined activities.

4. Aesthetics

The children work out the principles of success (good and bad rules) after they have seen for themselves what the best feels like. This approach involves trusting the child’s native, natural capacity for aesthetic delight in great creative work!

5. Freedom

Activities will not be based on the tedious repetition of skills; rote learning; copying; complex techniques; rhetorical jargon. These have their place, but not here.

6. Teacher's roles

Children are far more effective critics than teachers. But teachers can help by fostering creative environments based on diplomacy, decency, fairness, positive tone and pitch, timekeeping, and by helping to develop and manage critical and creative frameworks.

7. Brevity

Writers tend to work in multiple ways across time, and across the writing process. They seldom sit down and write 90-minute exam answers. In my creative activities, the “warm-up” IS the activity. In my view, multiple short tasks need to displace longer concentration-heavy solo activities. In my experience most writers (creative, critical, practical or academic – all sorts) work best in 10-15 minute bursts.

8. Randomness and Risk

Adopting risk means moving away from safe predictability to a capacity to embrace randomness as a starting point. This strategy runs against the grain of the current orthodoxy that builds on strict lesson planning, schemes of work, hard rules, tight instructions etc. I’ll be writing a longer, more theoretical essay on modernism and aleatory creativity at a later date. Suffice to say for now that in my view creativity is Empedoclean: between chaos and structure.

9. Pataphysics and Nonsense

 To become more liberated we had to risk taking a few steps away from sense towards nonsense. This is a paradigm shift. Edward Lear and King Lear have more in common that we imagine. Or, following Alfred Jarry, start to think with pataphysics

10. The Tools

Technology helps in many ways, but remember that it is only a tool, not a displacement activity. Shakespeare was not a genius because he had great hands.  Human interactivity is infinitely more subtle and varied than mechanical reproduction, and iterative simulation is always just what it is: a second hand experience.

11. Screens

Likewise, remember that we spend too much time looking into screens. The screen can become a prison house; recall that the screen/veil blocks out other forms of interpersonal encounters and experiences.

12. Unmaking

Turn the world/word upside down and back to front. Creativity is the power of making and unmaking. Worlds make words and words make worlds.

13. Age of Discovery

We have become obsessed with activities designed for a specific age or ability range. The Genius is a Child at Heart, and the reverse is also true. Some of the activities that I used I classes worked just as well with 5 year old children as they did with students in their final year at University.

14. Trust

While there’s quite a lot for the teacher to do as an experimental facilitator and inspiring guide, a high degree of responsibility, ownership and trust is ideally passed back to the creative learners.


Further Information

In the next blog in this sequence, there is a work in progress that outlines 52 Creative Writing Activities.

See also my blog on The Myth of Writer's Block.

Thanks for reading: I look forward to hearing about your experiences and to reading your views.

© Dr Ian McCormick 2013

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

The gentle art of reading and writing blogs


Because there are now millions of free blogs we have the opportunity to dip into lots of different kinds of writing and to sample quite different approaches to recurring topics or themes. Doing this kind of reading randomly can have wonderful results. It's called serendipity which involves surprise discoveries and unexpected connections.

Serendipity is, of course, an eighteenth century word (1754). While we may consider that the period of the Enlightenment was obsessed with reason, system, order and process, the variety of different kinds of topical, fictional and journalistic writing offered many opportunities for fluid expression by creative people and mercurial personalities.

Serendipity is also a useful strategy for broadening your interests and for avoiding the so-called writer's block.

I believe that all great writers are also intelligent critical readers. I despair when I hear people saying that they want to write, but then proceed to say that they are not interested in other people's work. Sometimes it's a good idea to imitate or parody writers that you like or dislike. (Imitation is not the same as copying.)

Part of writing is a craft, and it's good to learn the rules before you start to break them creatively. There are plenty of style and grammar manuals on the market.

In order to establish your own voice and style it’s essential to compose regularly. It is also correct to say, in my view, that improvements come slowly over a period of time. In the art of writing there are few miracles that manifest themselves overnight. And genius is 90% effort and training. Learning to write fluently and effectively can be as difficult as learning to play an instrument such as the piano, violin, or guitar,

It is crucial to be self-critical, but you should avoid becoming self-destructive. Think about how you would the improve blogs that you wrote 6 months ago. Reviewing past material should also build your confidence by giving you a sense of progression.

Also, ask yourself how you are responding to an issue, and think about the kind of reader that you have in mind - this is also something that you can research. These days, writers tend to know who they are writing for.

I would also say that blogging is a genre in itself. This means that you will need to write differently when you turn your blogs into a larger article, essay, or book. Typically, the most popular blogs are very personal, or they offer lots of tips in bullet points. That said, there are REALLY no fixed rules or expectations for this genre. My own blogs have a variety of styles, and I see them sometimes as experiments, and as work-in-progress.

Another positive aspect of blogging is that you can break a larger project down into smaller components, or event fragments that do not fit together as you compose them. After a period of time you start to see links between the pieces, and new patterns of significance are established.

Finally, one of the most valued aspects of blogging is the opportunity for dialogue and what we have come to term interactivity.

In our time, writing is a bit more collaborative and a little less solitary.

Quote from Wiki:

"Although not a must, most good quality blogs are interactive, allowing visitors to leave comments and even message each other via GUI widgets on the blogs, and it is this interactivity that distinguishes them from other static websites. In that sense, blogging can be seen as a form of social networking. Indeed, bloggers do not only produce content to post on their blogs but also build social relations with their readers and other bloggers."



Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences (2013) ... 
also available on Kindle, or to download

Sunday, 12 August 2012

The School Shakespeare Newspaper / Activities


In recent years we have moved a long way from teacher-led Practical Criticism Q&A. As learners we are always searching for fun ways to explore texts. Experience demonstrates that allowing children to be creative is an excellent way to build critical engagement. Fun means deeper learning, and in my view, play cultivates questions.

So let's have the courage to allow our students to play with plots and create their own interpretations of them. This approach need not displace traditional literary/critical writing exercises. Rather, it serves as a way of incubating enjoyable and engaging point(s) of entry to the text.


How does this approach work? I'm not going to write up a detailed lesson plan, but you will find a short case study below. The newspaper model can be adapted to any text. (I recently worked with this approach using Charles Dickens's Great Expectations.)

The project briefly sketched below will also help the learners to be more aware of style, tone, and the target readership. These are key skills and competences for any professional writer. And for the GCSE Exam.

Project Summary

I was asked recently how one might develop a school newspaper based on Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream


Skills involved

The task outlined employs writing and literacy, ICT, visual analysis, and both individual research and collaborative team work.

Allow plenty of time to research the stories, to design the newspaper and to master all the technical skills. It's also an excellent way to examine professional roles and expectations, and to engage in practical group work.


Knowledge

Essentially, the key to any news story is answering these questions:

Who? What? Where? When? How? Why?

Opportunities

Creatively, maybe you could attempt one or more of these 'treatments' as a part of your newspaper

(1) write in the style of a celebrity gossip column and fill in the characters' background, hobbies and status

(2) provide a map of the happenings, or photo of the forest, and other key locations

(3) use images of the key characters to go alongside your text

(4) provide eyewitness reports of strange happenings and weird sightings of fairies etc

(5) parents' perspectives on their missing children with quotes from them

(6) have a legal expert explaining that those who disobey their parents will be put to death

(7) employ an astrologer to predict what will happen next

(8) record the views of trained psychologist

(9) print a statement from the police

Try to use different writing styles for each of these in order to gain a top class mark. You could also record short video clips, inlcudingh the latest news and interviews. Let me know how you get on!


Further Information on the author of this blog
Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(Quibble Academic, 2013) Also available on Kindle, or to download.
Ian's most recent publications include chapters on romanticism and gothic in The English Literature Companion, edited by Julian Wolfreys  (Palgrave Student Companions 2011). 'Teaching and Learning Strategies' which featured in
The Eighteenth-Century Literature Handbook,  edited by Gary Day and Bridget Keegan (Continuum, 2009) is available for free online (download the pdf) but you will need to complete a very starightforward and short registration.

Ian's book on Shakespearean Tragedy will be published in December 2014.A chapter on Sex and Death in the Eighteenth Century  was published by Routledge in May 2013. Ian is currently working on a book about the grotesque in the eighteenth century, based on his doctoral thesis. Another related project will consider the treatment of cancer in the eighteenth and nineteenth century.

Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligence Theory Applied to Shakespeare

First World War - 1 Study Day: Applying Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences



Practical Software Guide
 
Newspaper Wiki

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(Quibble Academic, 2013)