"Stefan completely revolutionised my teaching of writing - not an understatement!"
Sarah, Deputy Head & Literacy Leader, Leeds

"I believe I have seen a genuine correlation between children involved in the ARTiculate workshops and target children making Age Related Expectation (ARE)...Every child benefited with progress, clearly evident in their school books."
Simon, Y4 Teacher, Leeds

"Very inspirational and creative - lots of new ideas to improve writing and unlock children's imaginations."
Nadia, Year 4 teacher

Friday, 13 October 2017

An author way: a shift in the pedagogy of writing (TES)

I wrote the following article for publication on the TES online 'Subject Genius' blog series.
The original article can be found at: www.tes.com/blog/author-way-a-shift-pedagogy-writing

An author way: a shift in the pedagogy of writing
A recent report by the National Literacy Trust into child attitudes towards writing indicates that the number of children who write for pleasure is on the increase. This is undoubtedly a cause for celebration for those of us who write for joy, work or for any number of assorted reasons. However, for many pupils aged 8-18 years – almost half of those surveyed in fact – writing is still an activity that fails to capture the imagination and for some remains an unenjoyable slog. I can empathise with both the joyful and the joyless.

I often wonder how my former teachers who cajoled, bullied and dragged me by the pencil tip to produce writing of any quality might now feel if they knew that I enjoy writing as an adult. The laying down of words is no longer a chore, the need to write comes often. An author of articles and a book, I could even go as far as to call myself a writer.

I wonder how different it might have been for them and for me if I had been more willing to let those teachers fill me with relish for penning adventures of harvest mice in freshly-cut fields (I don’t like mice) or for dreaming up the recollections of a London child during the Blitz (I wasn’t there). It may certainly have been a more enjoyable experience for both parties.

For me now as a primary teacher and someone who specialises in the teaching of writing, enthusing a child to put pen to paper for the simple pleasure of being a storyteller is like hitting the professional jackpot. The memory of a young girl coming into class clutching a collection of stories that she’d written for her younger brother has stuck in my mind long after the details of her end of year assessments faded.

It is also not a surprise to realise that children who enjoy being creative with language outside of the classroom are generally better when writing in it. Indeed, the National Literacy Trust’s report found that children who write at home are seven times more likely to be above the age-related expectations in that subject. While the report recognises a rise in the number of children who write for fun, large numbers of children – notably boys of white British background – still have low levels of enjoyment and achievement when it comes to writing. These findings shouldn’t come as a surprise to teachers, and the National Literacy Trust deserves praise for highlighting the need for this gradually growing trend to continue. After all, writing is a ubiquitous and essential skill of adult life, one that ultimately allows access to society.

The aim now is for schools and practitioners to recognise the part they can play in developing children’s writing: one that will have benefits for the child in later life but will undoubtedly also improve children’s performance in school. But how can this happen when teachers’ desks are already groaning with the burdens of planning, marking and paperwork? How can classroom teaching most effectively guide children’s lives as writers?

To achieve this, a subtle shift needs to occur in classrooms, one that is achievable without great demands on school budgets and timetables. The teaching of writing – creative and otherwise – needs to evolve to allow children to recognise themselves as authors. Not just storytelling but someone with the skill to write for a real audience. The focus of teaching needs to shift from a pedagogy centred on form to one designed around purpose.

Writing form means, of course, the treadmill of writing staples that punctuate a child’s year in a classroom: a letter, a diary, a factual report, a story, a recount and so on. The first aspect of this pedagogical shift is for practitioners to judge whether this is still a relevant approach. The purposes for writing – to inform, to entertain, to instruct, to remember – if put first, frame writing in a context and give it a sense of direction. Discussing with our classes about whether a letter or a story is the more appropriate response to a text gives ownership of writing to pupils. When working with children, I often describe them as my publishing team – they are the writers and I am their editor – and our writing is always going somewhere: a script for a film; a story that will be recorded as an audiobook; a printed book for our school library; a parcel of stories sent to a pen-pal school in another country.

To build a classroom where writing is seen as an enjoyable exercise is to present it as relevant and useful. Producing writing that won’t be read by anyone other than a teacher, robbing it of purpose, is the first step to disengagement. For writers, seeing your work in print ready to be read still retains a certain magic, even for those with many years’ experience. As the traditional focus of writing in classrooms is the form rather than the purpose, is it any wonder that so many children still don’t find writing enjoyable?

This is not only a pedagogical shift but a mental shift, too. Many of the children I have worked with have already stumbled down the path to disengagement: turning to the dark side, if you will. For them writing is boring, a waste of time, not for them. “It doesn’t mean anything though does it?” one child said to me of writing as we met for the first time. I had a hard time convincing him that the stories we were writing were not for me but would be printed in a book for his school library so his classmates could read his suspenseful adventure of a man lost at sea. He still didn’t quite believe it until he was holding the book in his hands and the look on his face was unmistakable. His name inside the cover was proof: he was now an author.

The clincher for this shift towards seeing children as authors is that the revised national curriculum, much maligned for the premium placed on grammar and spelling, is actually well suited to supporting this approach. In the later years of primary education, children are expected to learn sophisticated tools of authorship to manipulate or influence a reader - the passive voice, using a range of punctuation, a flowing narrative and so on. Only children who see themselves as authors, as part of the process, can genuinely apply these skills.

So when you’re thinking of ways to get your class writing, let go of the traditional dynamic and try seeing yourself as the editor in front of your team of writers. By putting purpose first, sense and experience should tell us that engagement and enjoyment will follow, with independence not far behind.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

New Training Courses for Spring 2018!

All courses are priced at £140pp (includes lunch and resources) at a high-quality venue in north Leeds.

Early Bird offer - book one of the first six places on any course for only £100!
 12 January 2018 - Using quality texts in primary literacy, Leeds, full day
26 January 2018 - Using film in primary literacy, Leeds, full day

  2 February 2018 - Supporting creative writers (for primary TAs) - Leeds, full day
  9 February 2018 - No fear Shakespeare for primary schools, Leeds, full day
 *Dates may be subject to change.

To see more, see details of my training packages here or find out other ways to work with me.

For booking details, please email Stefan at articulateeducation@gmail.com

Friday, 1 September 2017

ARTiculate Interview - Amy and Nicola talk about working with me last term

Last term I worked with teachers Amy and Nicola from Leeds on a creative writing project. Designed around 'The Island' by Armin Greder, the theme of the project was immigration. If you like what you see, click here to see how your school could be involved or choose 'Work with me' from the nav bar.

See what Amy and Nicola had to say about working with me!

Watch the trailer for the film we made here:


Thursday, 10 August 2017

Star Wars: Return of the Shadow Saber!

Star Wars: Return of the Shadow Saber (2017)
 The Star Wars saga continues with Star Wars: The Return of the Shadow Saber produced by ARTiculate Education and Trinity Vision. 

In this continuation of the sci-fi epic, the Sith, the Jedi and a group of vile bounty hunters are on a quest to reclaim the legendary Shadow Saber - a weapon of unspeakable power. Who will get their hands on it first and claim the ultimate power in the galaxy? This film was written, designed and performed by twelve children from Little London Primary School and Pudsey Lowtown Primary School, Leeds.

May the force be with you!

Friday, 21 July 2017

The Island - a movie trailer!

The Island - Trailer (2017)
 On the day the man arrived, the lives of the islanders were changed forever. This video was the culmination of an ARTiculate Education creative writing project with two Year 5 classes in Leeds that explored the issues of immigration, identity and belonging in modern Britain.

If you would like this workshop in your school, email me at articulateeducation@gmail.com and let me know.

The Island movie will wash ashore in September 2017 - enjoy the trailer!

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

ARTiculate winners at Pudsey Art Exchange 2017!

Summer is here again and so too is the Art Exchange - a community art project run by local artists in Pudsey, West Yorkshire. I have been working at Pudsey Lowtown this year as a collaborative English consultant and art teacher and this exhibition was the perfect opportunity to display some of the fantastic art work created by children at the school.

We even had three winners! A third place prize and two special commendations. Well done to those children! But prizes aside, this was the perfect way to end a year's worth of art teaching - the end of a process; and the idea of process is central to the way I have tried to teach art.

In what seems a growing trend, many schools choose to showcase art by holding a Creative Week or similar - a one week art frenzy where children take daily art lessons to develop their skills. Whilst it is great to see schools celebrating art by awarding it special focus, this approach is usually borne out of the lack of time to teach art regularly; children's understanding of the time-consuming but rich and rewarding processes by which art is created suffers as a consequence. Thus, creative skills become stilted and appreciation of art is diminished - victims of an education system obsessed with core subjects and metrics.

It was a rewarding opportunity therefore to be offer the chance to work with children weekly on art projects which gave the time to develop skills and examine the process of creating art rather than simply 'making' a finished piece. From Picasso to Magritte, to Chinese calligraphy to posters for Hamlet, this year's work at Pudsey Lowtown has been as rewarding as it has been varied - for the children and for me.

Pictures from this year's art work will appear in my Gallery this summer.

Most exciting was the work I did with Year 2 on surrealist Belgian artist Rene Magritte. Exploring the nature of abstract art, this project allowed the children to experiment changing and merging images and exploring symbolism in art. It was also a lot of fun!

We recreated Magritte's famous work The Treachery of Images featuring the famous line This is not a pipe (Ceci n'est pas une pipe) by using photographs of ourselves, replacing the face with an object that defines or has meaning for us.

Also a favourite among young visitors to the exhibition was this collaborative effort recreating Magritte's Golconda; rather than raining bowler-hatted men, this time it was raining us over a Leeds skyline. Everyone had fun trying to spot someone they knew!  

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Pulling the strings - children as authors

Being an author is not just about writing a story - it is about telling a story. I often tell the children I work with that they are like magicians or puppet masters: they can cast the spell or pull the strings of the reader. How they navigate the reader through the story is in their hands.

Over the last few weeks I have been working with a group of children at Valley View Primary School on a topic exploring immigration and the voice of both migrants and those who receive them. The work is based on The Island by Armin Greder, a tale of a man washed ashore and the community who decide what to do with him.

The key stylistic element I have taught these children is the skill in which they manipulate the reader. Whether it is dropping subtle hints as to what will happen later or using the weather to signal the worsening mood of a story (e.g. the sky getting darker, the rain getting heavier), these tools go a long way to developing the children's voice as authors.

Coupled with the fact that these stories will be used to make a short film next week, the children have found the purpose and power of this writing project an exciting prospect. They have enjoyed pulling the strings like a real author should.

See our story plans and our drafts below.   

The Dragon Boat's afloat! Art with Year 1

This half term I have been teaching art with Year 1. Far from just being an art project, this work has shown how vital DT in helping children apply what they have learned in core subjects.

For this art project, our topic has been the Chinese Dragon Boat festival, celebrated by Chinese communities around the world in early summer. We even had one here in Leeds!

Our challenge has been to create a dragon boat that will float on water. The children drew and painted 3D dragon heads to attach to the scaly bodies that will make the floating part of the boat.

The trickiest part was attaching the corks to the inside that would help the boats float on water. It took a lot of trial and error using a water tray to get it just right. The children did a fantastic job and have really enjoyed it.

It just goes to show how vital art and DT are to children's learning - not only do they draw in creative aspects of learning, completing a project like this requires knowledge of science, maths and personal skills such as creative problem solving and resilience.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Check out the trailer for our Star Wars film: Return of the Shadow Saber!

Courtesy of the media wizards at Leeds Trinity University's Trinity Vision, this is the first teaser trailer for the Star Wars film scripted, designed and starring twelve fantastic primary school children from two of my Leeds writing groups.

Enjoy and may the Force be with you!

Friday, 23 June 2017

From scribe to Force master - story writing with purpose

How do you craft a story for an audience? How can you encourage children to begin to think of themselves as authors rather than children in a literacy lesson? Key questions for teaching creative writing in primary schools and this week I discussed these ideas with a group of Year 5 children as we wrote the openings to our Star Wars stories.

The children agreed that a quick pace was important to writing and adventure story. Short sentences, using powerful verbs, limited descriptions - all things that help absorb the reader in a whirlwind of action.

What was trickier was knowing how to 'craft' the story for a reader who hasn't seen the planning process. How do we reveal just enough about a character, a place, a quest etc to root the reader in the story but keep them interested by what is NOT said? I call these 'suggestives' - how you suggest something to a reader without telling them. The origin of reading for inference that is taught in KS2, it is essentially writing for inference.

For example: "The young pilot gripped the controls with all her strength." - we learn our character is a pilot, a female, possibly a child and perhaps in trouble.

This approach can only really be taught by providing children for the opportunity to write for a real audience: someone other than their teacher. Publishing a book, sharing online, developing into an audio recording or film - all strategies I use and all real reasons to write. A writer can only really develop their craft when writing for strangers. Only then can the transition from scribe - one who simply writes - to a Force wielding Jedi who conjures and manipulates a narrative really begin.  

Friday, 16 June 2017

Filthy wretch or poor thing? Rethinking the Island, KS2, Week 1

A treat for the final half term - a new workshop at a delightful school in Leeds! This half term I am working with two Year 5 teachers to develop a cross-year group, cross-curricular writing project based on my favourite picture book, Armin Greder's The Island. I've done this book many times and every time the response is different!

This week, we got to grips with the facts, possibilities and mysteries of the story. What do we know about the story so far? (we only ever read up to page 6 to leave it on a knife edge...) What doesn't this story tell us and what could we infer or predict?    

We looked at the crowd of islanders who 'welcome' the stranger's arrival. As in every class, country or community, no group ever sees the world the same way and we discussed how the islanders might react differently to the man. Is he a poor thing who needs to be rescued? Is he a curiosity? Is he a threat?

We each adopted an islander and took on their perspective for a great drama session, arguing whether he should be allowed to stay or not and why. We then looked at how our perspective can colour our judgement of new people. The children developed banks of vocabulary that could describe the new arrival before writing from an islander's perspective to describe the man. 

Adopting personas to act, talk and write through is an excellent way to allow children to personalise their learning, to draw on their experiences and to ensure that all their writing is different! See the pictures to see how we got on.

Next week... how can our perspectives shape the world around us? We look at settings and how the islander's perspectives will influence how they see their homeland - a sanctuary to be guarded or a paradise to be shared?  

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

The mystery of the lost temple.... STAR WARS creative writing workshop, Year 5

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away a young warrior discovers a lost temple that will change everything....

This is the context for a Star Wars writing workshop that began this week with a class of Year 5 children. Drawing on their ability to think creatively, their understanding of how to craft an exciting adventure story and the Force (obvs), this week the children began to draw out story maps outlining how their adventure will unfold.

First we jotted down key questions to be answered: is the warrior a hero or a villain? what will they discover? what will stand in their way? What will they learn about themselves on the journey?

Some of their ideas have been terrific - especially the understanding that a great adventure story needs to have thrills and spills, a gripping opening scene and (mild) peril!

Star Wars is such an excellent vehicle for engaging reluctant writers in the classroom. They all want to shape a well known story that they love, there is lots of material to work with (characters, settings, tropes) and you cannot fail to write something exciting. For a group who in class seem to struggle to generate ideas, this writing workshop is working a treat!  

Next week... drafting an introduction. 


Happy Chinese Dragon Boat Festival! 端午節快乐! Art with Year 1

端午節快乐! Happy Dragon Boat Festival!
Art class - Year 1 (age 5-6)

Signalling the start of summer, Dragon Boat festival is a Chinese festival of colour, flavour, sound and action. An event that takes place all across China, other parts of the world also celebrate the festival with a boat race - including our fine city of Leeds which hosts a boat race on 24th June 2017.

With my Year 1 class this half term we are exploring the sights and sounds of the festival starting with the beautiful Dragon Boat Flags that decorate towns and villages in the build up to the race before being awarded to the competing racers.

Here are some examples of our dragon boat flags that we made this week. Using pre-cut paper triangles, the children cut the spiky trim from a strip of paper. We then practiced some Chinese characters that describe our racers - fast, good, strong, brave and the champions - before painting them onto the flags with slim brushes and black paint. A job well done.

Next week... we start to make floating Dragon Boats!


Friday, 9 June 2017

SALE! Buy my teaching resources for free!

Buy my creative literacy resources for free by using the discount code JUNE-OFFERS at my shop on TES online. Sale ends 30 June 2017!

Visit my shop at www.tes.com/teaching-resources/shop/articulate_education

Small print...
- voucher is worth £3 ($3.97) as are most of my resources
- first time buyers only
- see www.tes.com for full details

Monday, 5 June 2017

May the Force be with us - Star Wars film making project at Leeds Trinity University!

A few weeks ago, in a university not far away 12 primary school children teamed up with Trinity Vision media department at Leeds Trinity University for an epic film making project. The task: to write, script and film a new Star Wars film in four days. No pressure.

After devising several brilliant ideas for an exciting story plot, the children settled on an adventure quest to find a lost legend (no spoilers, sorry....) featuring merciless bounty hunters, an army of wicked Sith lords as well as heroes of the lightside, the brave Jedi Knights.

The children made costumes, masks, lightsabers and even robot armour with the help of the university students and staff.

After choreographing the epic battles, perfecting the script and rehearsing their lines, it was off to the woods to film it under the expert guidance of the Council of Elders at Trinity Vision.

The children arrive for filming!
The project was an excellent success. The children's fantastic hard work and enthusiasm was matched by the expertise of the university staff (and with a bit of help from me too!). It was an excellent advert for effective partnerships between schools and universities and a demonstration of how creative writing projects with real purpose can impact positively on children's learning.  

The film is due for release in July 2017 - more to follow!

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Great visit to Anfield Primary School, Hong Kong

Enjoyed a great visit to Anfield Primary School this morning - a lovely school surrounded by beautiful hills and forests in Hong Kong's New Territories.Was great to meet some of their staff and discuss potential plans for the future.

Watch this space!

Monday, 8 May 2017

Presenting at National Pingtung University on migrant learners in education

Presenting on 'Inclusion and ethnic minority learners in primary (elementary) education', with Dr Helen Hanna (Leeds Trinity University).

National Pingtung University (國立屏東大學), Southern Taiwan.

Our excellent hosts! (From L-R) Dr Lee-Feng, Dr Ya-Ling, Dr Helen Hanna (Leeds Trinity) and me (ARTiculate Education)

How to build an inclusive classroom? That was the question for our discussion today at a teaching workshop and lecture at National Pingtung University in Taiwan. Dr Hanna presented on her innovative research in the UK and South Africa about how primary schools include ethnic minority learners in their classrooms and some of the challenges and implications for practitioners.

Discussing the impact of picture books on teaching literacy
I was able to add a practical slant on the discussion by presenting on developing empathy in learners through creative literacy teaching, primarily drama to generate discussion and using picture books to generate deep thought. Using The Island – a picture book by Australian-based author Armin Greder – trainee teachers at National Pingtung University participated in activities designed to develop empathy and discussion; we also explored how this is crucial in developing creative writing in young authors. 

See below for a photo of students role-playing an argument between the islanders as they decide what to do with the strange arrival. Excellent work!  Video to follow....

Thank you to Department Chair Dr Ya-Ling for making us both feel very welcome and also to the students who took part!

Xièxiè! 谢谢!

The students role play an argument based on the Island  - should the castaway be allowed to stay or forced to leave?