Pre-service teachers and creative writing

At the Art Gallery of Ballarat, a group of secondary school students, pre-service teachers (PSTs) and English teachers spend two-and-a-half days writing together in order to encourage creativity and improve students' writing skills.

It's all a part of a program called Artful Writing, which was developed by Amanda McGraw, the Master of Teaching Coordinator at Federation University Australia, with the support of Kate Gorman, education officer at the gallery. The collaboration between the gallery and Federation University Australia saw the first Artful Writing program held in 2018.

The program involves 50 students in Year 8 or 9 from five secondary schools in the area, who are split into table groups of 10 (with students they've likely not met before) and are joined by one writing mentor (a PST) and one experienced English teacher.

‘We wanted to bring those people together and the aim was to really ignite a special interest in writing and particularly creative writing in young people in secondary school,' McGraw tells Teacher.

Involving pre-service teachers

‘It's important to involve the PSTs as it is part of their practice as well,' Gorman says. ‘So, not only do they impart their knowledge onto the students that they're working with, but they're also building their knowledge as well.'

The table that the students, PSTs and English teachers are seated at is designed to enhance discussion and creativity amongst the group. There is a journal for each person and an easel for the group to use. Images of artwork are also provided alongside pieces of poetry to encourage students to see some of the connections between artwork and writing.

The new staffroom at Macgregor Primary School

‘The [English] teachers come in and they are teachers here, they are also writers, too,' McGraw explains. ‘So, they go through the activities, they have a journal and they write with the students.

‘So the PSTs are actually the ones who are the writing mentors and they are the ones who facilitate discussions around writing with the students. So it's a fantastic opportunity for them to develop their teaching strategies, their teaching skills and their use of questioning.'

Building confidence in teaching

Pauline O'Shannessy-Dowling, a PST involved in Artful Writing, says the program presented an opportunity to extend her capabilities as a teacher in a supportive environment.

Having someone to refer to, and seek encouragement (particularly through non-verbal gestures) while you're working, she says, made participating in the program a really positive experience.

‘I can actually see the other PSTs getting really excited about the way they're working as well,' she adds. ‘It gives PSTs a chance to really be exploratory with the way that they teach; and to have that bit of individual creativity as well, I think, is really important in building your own confidence in teaching.'

Writing creatively with students

‘We are all encouraged to write,' O'Shannessy-Dowling says. ‘I think it's really important for the students to see that you are willing to do what we're asking them to do, because it's very revealing – you know, writing, and writing down your own thoughts.

‘It can be very challenging and I think that we need to show that we can open up and expose that part of ourselves as well, and role model that for them.'

The experienced English teachers are writing throughout the program, too, which culminates in a sharing session that parents and carers are invited to attend.

‘Our final session is a celebration session and we think that it's important that throughout the program the students begin to share their writing with each other,' Gorman says. ‘They start to share with some peers from other schools [and] we find that it's important that they also get an opportunity to share with their family and carers as well.

‘Over the two writing sessions, the willingness to share increased and we could've spent a whole half-a-day with students sharing their writing,' she adds.

As a pre-service teacher, have you ever completed the same task you assign to students during a practicum experience? How did this enhance your understanding of the lesson?

As an English teacher, how often are you giving students the opportunity to write creatively outside a classroom setting? How does this enrich their learning?