A Little Moderation Goes A Long way

Word Cloud

When pre-accredited writing classes are funded in community houses the teachers are moderated to gauge how effectively the course develops employability skills.

The moderation process allows teachers to think about what they are teaching and how they can improve. How they can deliver the course better, and improve the content. Moderation involves showing a lesson plan example, discussing how a session is organised, and hearing any feedback from students.

Students are asked what skills they have learned, where else they can use those skills and if the course meets their needs. If not, what can change to ensure their needs are met.

DSC_4690-1

Governments, regardless of what level (Federal, State or local Council) want accountability for their investment in education. Community wellbeing and life skills are important, but it is the economic value, aka employability skills and the bottom line decision makers (read bean counters) consider when spending taxpayers’ dollars.

Moderation is usually done by managers or high level trainers, but in pre-accredited courses it can be peer to peer collaborative appraisal. There is examination of quality indicators and employability skills to ensure consistency of teaching and outcomes, and there’s been good use of the money government has invested.

Moderation is about:

  • standards and values – improving where necessary
  • accountability
  • demonstrating an outcome
  • preserving the courses so they are relevant

Teachers share their

  • passion
  • faith in their methods
  • clarity of purpose
  • desire for continued professional development

After moderation, if necessary a new improved session plan is submitted along with the old plan e.g.. increased time for computer skills, more time in computer room, or excursions – maybe introduction of guest speakers, short films; learning outcomes may be revised; different employability skills may be introduced  like written English for a specific job, writing a monologue or short play…

Reflection by the teacher and moderator focuses on:

How effective were the strategies used to achieve the desired outcomes
eg. Did role play improve written dialogue? Did a specific project develop team work?

wordleKeywords

The sessions I teach cover all types of writing with some focusing on specifics (Writing for Pleasure and Publication, Life Stories and Legacies, Memoir to Manuscript, Writing and Editing, Creatively Writing Towards the Future)

Skills developed include:

  • Written and spoken English – constant communication with each other, in class and beyond.
  • Planning and organising – whether an ‘outliner or pantser’ – planning a short story or organising a poem takes a variety of skills
  • Problem solving – working out plots in creative writing, character biographies and developing their place in story
  • Team work – in class we often work in pairs, but every session we listen and give feedback on each other’s writing as we workshop various pieces
  • Research skills – using traditional means from books in libraries to online ‘Googling’
  • Interview techniques – particularly relevant for those writing life stories, family histories and biographies

Some of the techniques we use to improve our creative writing and our creative non-fiction are:

  • Character questionnaires – this may involve personality tests on self, other classmates, online tests
  • Clever use of the computer – the functions of word processing software and search engines
  • Typing skills are invariably developed – the world of writing in the 21st century necessitates computer skills
  • Each session we splurge – writing in class to a prompt to trigger memory or ideas. This encourages ‘thinking on your feet’ plus use of imagination and digging deep for memories
  • Sometimes we do role play to improve dialogue skills – this encourages conversational skills and public speaking
  • Reflection activities – for editing, feedback to others and self, clarity of vision

The collaboration in class involves listening carefully to other students, sharing stories and expertise – an important aspect of learning, but also because observation and attention to detail imperative for writers.

10665141_563762980422374_2094606888335546582_n

Students learn differently. The lesson plans and any supporting information is photocopied and given to each student – this saves copious note taking and avoids lapses in memory or misunderstanding regarding what the class covered and the homework.

Sessions are tackled differently too – prompts not always written, some are visual, others tactile, or involve listening to a CD.

Some classes like to write with classical music playing in the background, others prefer silence. Objects may be brought in to act as story starters, short videos watched, photographic or word prompts distributed, often a combination of all of these.

Exercises to improve grammar or spelling, the understanding of metaphors and similes, the crossover of poetry and prose, and various other hints and techniques regarding the craft of writing incorporated as the sessions progress.

10660349_884278724924452_485134867638548661_n

Explanations and discussions about E-books and the fast changing digital technology introduced, the ability to insert graphics, the portability of equipment available to write and save work.

Session plans must be altered to suit various groups, but at all times quality indicators and employability skills are addressed. Each year, it is not so much ‘reinventing the wheel’ but ensuring what I teach reflects the changing face of creative writing and publishing and my teaching is effective and relevant. Both student and teacher must be clear about their purpose.

One of the gifts I give my students is to collate class work in an anthology so they have a record of their achievements in edited, polished pieces. The book also serves as an historical record of their time in class, the friends they have made; writing and socialisation skills learned.

These anthologies are evidence that students not only attend classes, but have produced a piece, or several pieces of writing and understand the most important tenet I teach – writers write!

Unknown

Several years ago there used to be bumper stickers declaring “If you can read this, thank a primary school teacher.”

I know there have been many debates about the value of writing courses, but as one writer observed, some of the most famous painters we know studied under a master painter or attended art classes, so why should writers expect to learn their craft in isolation.

I believe writing classes are here to stay and I’m happy a moderation process exists to always encourage improvement from teachers and courses.

Have you had a good or bad experience as a writing student? How do you think courses could be improved?

Happy Birthday Rabbie Burns! And Thank You Mum and Dad – In Praise of Reading and the Value of Books.

Through and through th’ inspired leaves,
ye maggots make your windings;
But O respect his lordship’s taste,
And spare the golden bindings.’

Robert Burns, 25th Jan 1759 – 21st July 1796

DSC_3761-1

Today is the anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns – ‘oor Rabbie’  and my Father’s favourite Scottish poet. In many countries of the world, as well as Scotland, his contribution to literature will be celebrated at a Burns Supper with haggis piped in, songs sung, poems recited and much Scotch whisky, even Drambuie consumed. If you have an ounce of Scots blood, or lay claim to Scottish heritage, put an attendance at a Burns Supper on your bucket list!

It’s an opportune day to reflect on how my parents influenced me in different ways regarding reading as they inculcated a love of books into our family life. Both parents were strong characters with strong beliefs, but they came from different backgrounds (Dad, Scottish working class, Mum, Irish middle class) and so each had eclectic tastes. Fortunately, they agreed about issues that mattered – ethics and values to guide our lives, the importance of humanity and spirituality – and as prolific readers, both valued education.

Mum read more novels and fiction than Dad, who favoured technical manuals and non fiction books on subjects such as theology, philosophy, and politics. However, both loved history and poetry, and the classics. They kept abreast of the popular literature of the day, and the books considered to belong in an educated person’s library.

When my Dad died, I found an exercise book where he had had written stories, poems and even a short play. ‘Scraps of Paper’  so poignantly captured by Eric Bogle, who also had an erudite railwayman as a father. I realised the reason Dad nurtured and supported my love of creative writing was because it was an unrequited dream of his own. All my life, I knew, he valued the written word,  had a talent for speaking and writing, but sadly never saw his way to living the writer’s life.

DSC_3762-1

November 1962 – an image etched in my mind of Mum and Dad sitting in our almost bare lounge-room the week before we left Scotland for Australia.

Two packing cases sit in the centre of the floor, greaseproof lining protruding as if a surprise package has just been opened, but these are set aside to pack books for the hold of the ship taking us to Melbourne. Their pungent woody smell almost overpowers the musty smell from piles of books garnered from every room, drawer and bedside shelf in the house and scattered in various sized bundles around the room.

Mum sits on a cushion on the floor examining stacks –   book by book. Dad sits on a kitchen chair (the lounge suite already gifted to a needy neighbour) and he has several books balancing on his knees as he thumbs through a green leather volume in his hand.

Mum looks different, not relaxed as she usually is at night, in an armchair, engrossed in a book, cup of tea by her side, cigarette smouldering in an ashtray, and one hand twirling at her popular Toni perm.

Tonight, she’s wearing new reading glasses and a serious face. There are no guffaws of laughter (a frequent occurrence when she reads a Para Handy novel), or serious sighs (from absorption in an Agatha Christie mystery or Arthur Upfield’s Bony series), or dreamy smiles inspired by her favourite Mills and Boon author, Australian Lucy Walker.

‘We’ll take this one,’ said Dad, handing over Ivanhoe, a Sir Walter Scott Waverley novel, ‘which pile is going?’

Mum looks up, ‘Aye, all right – and this one too,’ she adds, pointing to a pile next to one of the packing cases and placing the Tartan Pimpernel by Donald Caskie on top.

‘Have you been through this pile?’ Dad leans over to check a bundle of books near his feet.
‘Aye,’ said Mum, ‘they can stay.’ She smiles as Dad picks them up to glance at their spines. He doesn’t check inside to see if they belonged to Papa, Granny, or one of his sisters and brothers, instead he mutters, ‘they’ll go.’

Mum laughs and holds up another bundle of books. ‘You decided these should stay?’
Dad nods. ‘Well,’ said Mum, ‘I want them to go.’

10177527_896005467085111_247094744192722804_n

I’m not sure if any books actually remained in Scotland. The evening progressed slowly, books Mum discarded, Dad decided to keep – and vice versa. Thank goodness even our children’s books were packed. No wonder the family home, including my current one, the bookshelves always bulge.

From my childhood, I learned to value books as prized possessions, a necessity for living. In the 50s and 60s, Sunday School and regular School awarded books as prizes – for attendance and for achievement. Books were expensive until the cheaper paperbacks were produced and for working class children like me an amazing gift to receive.

Father Christmas left children’s annuals like the Beano, Dandy, Topper or Bunty plus a popular novel, whether it was Capt W.E Johns Biggles series for the boys, or Louisa M Alcott’s Little Women series for the girls.

images

My godmother and other relatives and family friends knew to give me books as presents, were aware of my dream to be like my fictional heroine, Jo March.

No surprise I became the swot of the family and only sibling to attend university, the teacher and writer with floor to ceiling bookshelves in several rooms – the one who has happily lost countless hours of  life rummaging in bookshops.

I hear Dad’s voice, ‘I don’t care if you choose to be a street cleaner. Just stick in at school and be the best educated and qualified street cleaner there is!’ and Mum’s plea, ‘never waste the brains or talent God gave you.’

I’ve passed on the love and value of reading to my daughters. They understand that education is not the cramming of knowledge, but nurturing the desire to learn. I wonder what books will bulge from their bookshelves because despite technology they both love the feel, the weight, the smell, the comfort of a ‘real’ book! And they have both become exceptionally creative people in their own fields, including a love for the power of words.

Unknown-4