Guest Blogger: Alan Wright: First We Need to Rehearse

Alan currently works as an education consultant, and is based in Victoria, Australia.  He works across public and independent schools in both primary and secondary school settings. From 2001 until 2006 his consultancy work was based in New York. Alan is a co-director of ALVIC Educational Consultancy with his wife, and fellow consultant, Vicki Froomes. Prior to his work as a consultant Alan was a school administrator, and before that, a classroom teacher. He is currently working on his first book on writing. He blogs at Living Life Twice.

Greetings from Australia where winter’s grip is firm…

As teachers in America embrace the summer holiday break, Australian teachers are savouring the mid year term break. Irrespective of where one is situated there is a common understanding of the opportunity such breaks present to allow the weary and the worn to replenish, renew and reflect.

This is a time to read that long awaited book; to slow the pace of our lives, to explore new horizons with travel, to catch up with friends and family and attend to a myriad of things that have been stalled for way too long. The days are precious.

From a personal perspective, it represents an opportunity to spend more quality time across the pages of my writer’s notebook. The fog and fatigue of the working term gradually clears and writing time increases.

Term breaks create opportunities to harvest writing ideas! Whether travelling, or just out and about sharing a coffee, opportunities present themselves. I begin to clip and capture those observations from my life.  The pages of my notebook begin to fill with collected artefacts and memories. I know these harvested items have much potential to feed my writing. In time they will sustain my teaching of writing. I just have to be ready to receive them. My notebook gratefully receives jottings, excavated memories, poems, news cuttings, photographs, maps, brochures, my very ordinary drawings, extracts and quotes from books I am finally getting to read, postcards, snatches of conversation, lists and assorted artefacts.

I’m not suggesting spending every day, collecting and writing, but without fail, do it when you can. -Quarantine some time. Push back the ten reasons why you haven’t got time. You need just one reason to write. That reason is that you owe it to the writing teacher within you to devote some time and thought to envisioning potential writing ideas.

-Ideas to share with your students in the new term.

It takes time, energy and commitment to write and to gather writing ideas, but it has the potential to be transformative. A different teacher emerges. -A teacher who better understands the challenges and delights of writing.  It is the spark of electricity teaching needs!

Recently, I have been working with groups of teachers, searching for the writer within. Many loved to write at some stage in their lives but now find themselves in a place where the only writing they engage in involves report, memos, and little else. Somewhere along the journey they abandoned their inner writer. They just need a little support to develop the perspective of a teacher who writes. Together we have been exploring those things writer do in the pre-writing phase…

One such pre writing strategy is rehearsal. It represents a breakthrough in the development of the student writer when they consciously rehearse their writing ideas. As a classroom teacher my heart sang when students entered the classroom some mornings and announced ‘I know what I’m going to write about today.’ Their words conveyed a deliberate and considered awareness of writing intention, well before the act of writing. Those young writers had taken their writing beyond the four walls of the classroom. They had engaged in preparation and thinking about writing prior to filling the blank page of their notebooks with wondrous words.

I fully understand how important rehearsal is to the writer. I find myself continually in its grip. Words bounce around in my head. Phrases and ideas form and reform continually as I go about this critical pre-writing phase. My head is like a tumble drier.  I am preparing to write. I am sorting ideas. How does that sound? What about this? This process takes up a significant amount of time. Eventually, these ideas will spill onto the page and from there further reshaping will occur.

One of my writing mentors, the late Eric Rolls writes about rehearsal in his wonderful little book ‘Celebration of the Senses. Eric writes:

From the time I begin to plan a book, phrases sing in my head. I write most of them down at once, stopping the car, the tractor, getting out of bed…

The phrases I like I do not write down. I say them to myself over and over. I say them when I wake up at night. I say them in the morning. I know where the phrase is to fit in the book. I will sing it over and over…

This is how it goes -the recursive nature of rehearsing your words. Word play that largely retains it invisibility until ready to be revealed on the page. Non writers won’t appreciate this. They won’t understand.

Mulling over possibilities in one’s head is important to all writers- constructing, reviewing or rejecting ideas. It is what Mark Tredinnick calls ‘think before ink!’

Rehearsal doesn’t live In classrooms where teachers exercise control over topic selection. The teacher is not expecting it and students are not aware of its potential to assist the writing they produce. In this situation developing writers have no forewarning about the teacher’s expectations. They merely wait. When the teacher owns the topic choice, or provides questionable sentence starters, ownership and rehearsal are effectively eliminated.

Young writers deserve to know that rehearsal is an integral part of writing. They need encouragement to think about it as part of  pre-writing. -A strategy they may add to their expanding repertoire.

Before we share such insights, we need to experience it ourselves. I urge you to notice your own ‘rehearsal’ prior to the writing you do. Embrace it, enjoy it. When you return to class in the new term, you will have something tangible and worthwhile to share with your student writers. -A strategy to further assist writing development. Happy holiday, happy times writing.

“Every piece of writing… starts from what I call a grit… a sight or sound, a sentence or happening that does not pass away… but quite inexplicably lodges in the mind.” —Rumer Godden

Visit Alan at Living Life Twice.