Saturday, 5 July 2014

I'm Back...

          Where were we?

          I see that it was February when I closed this blog because I just couldn't keep up with things.
          The major reason for that was the training course I was taking with the Royal Literary Fund (RLF) to be an accredited RLF Writing Consultant.
          Which I now am - pause for parade, flags, brass-band, 21-gun salute and RAF fly-by - but it was hard. At the recent celebratory weekend, all the brand new consultants agreed on that. But then, I suppose, it should have been.

         The RLF has, for over ten years now, been placing professional writers in universities all over the UK, with their Writing Fellowship scheme. The writers are paid, by the RLF, to be on campus two days a week, and to provide one-to-one, free advice on writing to any student who comes along.
           The scheme has been a great success, and I thoroughly enjoyed my three years as an RLF Writing Fellow.

          The RLF decided to build on the success of the Fellowships, and see if they could train some of their ex-Fellows to be consultants who would go into universities, colleges and schools, and give workshops on such things as Academic Writing, essay structure, basic writing skills (something which many university students badly need) and many other things. 

          I signed up for the training for two reasons - one, my experience as a Fellow showed me that although I knew a lot about writing, I knew very little about teaching - and two, I was interested in joining forces with my cousin on his Stories4Learning reading strategy, and to do that I also needed to know more about teaching.

          The consultancy training course was a prototype, to see how well it would work, and how it could be improved. We were asked for feedback at the celebratory weekend, and one of the questions was: What would you like future trainees to know about the course?
          I would say: Don't, whatever you do, think it is going to be a stroll!
          I made that mistake. Well, it wasn't that I thought it would be easy, exactly... I suppose I've got used to picking up things on the fly. As a writer I've done that most of my life. Talk to someone about automatic rifles for half an hour, and you can give the impression, in a book, that you know an awful lot about armaments. In fact, you picked up just enough to give that impression.

          But the RLF course was a teacher-training course in miniature. I had to pay attention. For hours at a time. And to things I wasn't really that interested in. I'm not good at any of this. My style is more: work concentratedly for 10-15 minutes, go and do something else, come back and work for another 15 minutes, wander off and do something else... and so on, into the small hours of the morning quite often.

          The course was broken up into three parts. First, over a weekend at Aston University in Birmingham, we were bombarded with stuff about teaching styles, university organisation, how to arrange classrooms, the psychology of learning... We each had to do a ten minute 'presentation' before a bunch of students who'd been bribed by the RLF with vouchers. Later, we got feedback from the mentors and trainers. Always a joy.
          Then, early this year, the whole shebang moved to London. First came a training day in a Royal Plaza Hotel. Here we had to do another ten minutes solo presentation to the trainers, mentors, and other trainees. More feedback, and more lectures.
          The following day, we moved out to London University, where we had to team up with another trainee and do a joint presentation to another group of students, bribed with more vouchers and free lunch. More feedback. (To be fair, I have to say that my mentors, Katherine Grant, and Max Adams, couldn't have been kinder, more positive and helpful if they'd gone into training for it.)

          Next came the work-experience section of the training. We each had to plan a three-hour workshop - which could be a single three-hour session, or broken down into shorter sessions. This had to be hosted by a university or school, but the RLF paid our fee and expenses. I did two sessions, of two hours and one hour, at an RSA Academy.
          While planning this workshop, we had to keep a journal, and write a 'reflective essay' on the experience - why we chose to do what we did, what we'd learned, how our attitudes had changed, and so on. The essay had to have at least 6-8 academic citations and a reference list.
          The workshop(s) were observed by an RLF observer, who gave feedback later - and the 'client' and the students also had to fill out feedback forms.
          It was hard. But I passed.

          I've been 'giving talks' for forty years, and I've become rather good at it. But this course made it very clear to me that there is a huge difference between putting together an hour or 45 minutes intended to entertain - which is essentially what I was doing - and constructing a 'workshop' of the same length which is intended to teach something.
          I have never been one to think that teachers have a cushy job - I've seen too many of them at work, and known too many of them ploughing their way through marking and timetabling to think that. Despite appreciating that it was a hard job, though, this course has increased my respect for the teaching profession hugely.

          As for the RLF - I don't know that anything could increase the respect I have for this amazing organisation. With typical generosity, they not only came up with this opportunity, but paid us for our 'work-experience', paid all our travel and accommodation, and put us up in very nice hotels. And gave us gifts - I got a gift voucher for taking part, and another for passing.
          For last weeks 'celebratory weekend,' they put 20 of us up in the Royal Plaza Hotel, Westminster Bridge, hired a fifteenth floor suite for the meeting, and held a champagne reception for us on the terrace overlooking Waterloo Bridge. Then they took us all out for Italian.

          They have set up a new website featuring their new  consultants, and will be launching it at an educational conference next week.

          It was a blessed day, I think, that I first heard of the Royal Literary Fund - even if I am a republican.


Sue Bursztynski said...

Sounds great! And yes, be very glad you don't have to do this for kids who aren't necessarily interested in what you have to teach! :-)

Joan Lennon said...

Congratulations in bucketsful - and welcome back, Nennius Blog - we've missed you!

Susan Price said...

Thanks to both of you for coming back to this sad, abandoned blog!

And Sue, yes, I am very glad indeed that I don't have to teach the classes that regular teachers have to teach! - So glad! Like I said - I never have believed that teaching is a cushy job. Far from it!

Penny Dolan said...

Both you and Nennius have been missed but congratulations on slogging the hard slog and on all the success at the end.

Susan Price said...

Thank you, Penny!

madwippitt said...

Hurrah! Good to see you back, and congratulations too! :-)