Showing posts with label play. Show all posts
Showing posts with label play. Show all posts

Thursday, 17 January 2013

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

Monday, 8 October 2012

Witty Will-power and Bardic Gender Politics

Shakespeare in Love with Puns

The second part of my exploration of rudeness in Shakespeare couples Sonnet 135 with a discussion of his work written by Dr Samuel Johnson in 1765

In this poem 'Will' is punned in a variety of senses: (1) willpower; (2) Will Shakespeare; (3) a bequest; (4) the penis; (5) future/s. Sense (4) is the one that you are least likely to encounter in discussions that want to shield readers from the reality of the eroticised encounter with the male genitalia. 

Whoever hath her wish, thou hast thy Will,
And Will to boot, and Will in overplus;
More than enough am I, that vex thee still,
To thy sweet will making addition thus.
Wilt thou, whose will is large and spacious
Not once vouchsafe to hide my will in thine?
Shall will in others seem right gracious,
And in my will no fair acceptance shine?
The sea, all water, yet receives rain still,
And in abundance addeth to his store;
So thou, being rich in Will, add to thy Will
One will of mine, to make thy large Will more.
Let no unkind, no fair beseechers kill;
Think all but one, and me in that one Will.

(As Michel Foucault pointed out, the erotic "gaze" resulted in "perpetual spirals of power and pleasure"...)

In Johnson's discussion below,  Shapespeare's tendency to pun (or quibble) is presented in sexualised terms as a undesirable temptation and procreation of meaning. Johnson then proceeds to deconstruct further the risk of vulgarity and triviality. There is the sense of a downward motion (stooping/falling) beneath bardic dignity. But Johnson's preface also plays on the idea of bulky and swelling wit/will and seems to me to provide a scandalous  reconstruction of the mine/treasure of erotic discovery and exploration. And so at every turn the witty willpower hints at a risky grotesque quality that offends decency.




Preface to Shakespeare

Samuel Johnson (1765)


  It is incident to him to be now and then entangled with an unwieldy sentiment, which he cannot well express, and will not reject; he struggles with it a while, and if it continues stubborn, comprises it in words such as occur, and leaves it to be disentangled and evolved by those who have more leisure to bestow upon it.        

  Not that always where the language is intricate the thought is subtle, or the image always great where the line is bulky; the equality of words to things is very often neglected, and trivial sentiments and vulgar ideas disappoint the attention, to which they are recommended by sonorous epithets and swelling figures.          

  But the admirers of this great poet have never less reason to indulge their hopes of supreme excellence, than when he seems fully resolved to sink them in dejection, and mollify them with tender emotions by the fall of greatness, the danger of innocence, or the crosses of love. He is not long soft and pathetick without some idle conceit, or contemptible equivocation. He no sooner begins to move, than he counteracts himself; and terrour and pity, as they are rising in the mind, are checked and blasted by sudden frigidity.
           
  A quibble is to Shakespeare, what luminous vapours are to the traveller; he follows it at all adventures; it is sure to lead him out of his way, and sure to engulf him in the mire. It has some malignant power over his mind, and its fascinations are irresistible. Whatever be the dignity or profundity of his disquisition, whether he be enlarging knowledge or exalting affection, whether he be amusing attention with incidents, or enchaining it in suspense, let but a quibble spring up before him, and he leaves his work unfinished. A quibble is the golden apple for which he will always turn aside from his career, or stoop from his elevation. A quibble, poor and barren as it is, gave him such delight, that he was content to purchase it, by the sacrifice of reason, propriety and truth. A quibble was to him the fatal Cleopatra for which he lost the world, and was content to lose it.


   The work of a correct and regular writer is a garden accurately formed and diligently planted, varied with shades, and scented with flowers; the composition of Shakespeare is a forest, in which oaks extend their branches, and pines tower in the air, interspersed sometimes with weeds and brambles, and sometimes giving shelter to myrtles and to roses; filling the eye with awful pomp, and gratifying the mind with endless diversity. Other poets display cabinets of precious rarities, minutely finished, wrought into shape, and polished into brightness. Shakespeare opens a mine which contains gold and diamonds in unexhaustible plenty, though clouded by incrustations, debased by impurities, and mingled with a mass of meaner minerals.
           
  It has been much disputed, whether Shakespeare owed his excellence to his own native force, or whether he had the common helps of scholastick education, the precepts of critical science, and the examples of ancient authours.     

  There has always prevailed a tradition, that Shakespeare wanted learning, that he had no regular education, nor much skill in the dead languages. Jonson, his friend, affirms, that he had small Latin, and no Greek; who, besides that he had no imaginable temptation to falsehood, wrote at a time when the character and acquisitions of Shakespeare were known to multitudes. His evidence ought therefore to decide the controversy, unless some testimony of equal force could be opposed.   

  Some have imagined, that they have discovered deep learning in many imitations of old writers; but the examples which I have known urged, were drawn from books translated in his time; or were such easy coincidences of thought, as will happen to all who consider the same subjects; or such remarks on life or axioms of morality as float in conversation, and are transmitted through the world in proverbial sentences.

© Samuel Johnson,


© Dr Ian McCormick