The International Writing Project
The International Writing Project (IWP) has been encouraging teachers to develop their own skills and write for enjoyment for nearly 30 years. Apart from being fun, there is an underlying pedagogical rationale: the research suggests that better writers become better teachers of writing. Co-founder and Co-Director, Elly Tobin looks back.
I can hardly believe it has been nearly thirty years since Allen Koshewa and I designed our first course when we were both teaching in Tokyo. When we taught that course in Thailand a year later it was an astonishing three weeks long! People must have had more time in those days . . . .
Over the years we honed and trimmed, and now IWP is offered as a bespoke course, lasting from between 2 to 5 days Our largest group one year was for 76 people – far too many, really, but they seemed to have fun. 28 years later on, there must be literally hundreds of teachers who have participated and though it has changed considerably, Allen and I like to think that the impact has remained consistent.
The writer in all of us
“I am not a good writer” or “I never write except for work” are common responses at the start of the IWP workshops. Despite these protestations, writing produced by the end of the course is always of such a high standard that there is no doubt that, given time, encouragement and the right subject, there is a budding writer in most of us. Authors and writers ultimately need to be published and to get a reaction from their readers, and at the end of the course the writing that has been produced is collected and read by the group. I am always astonished and moved, year after year.
I have felt my throat tighten with emotion listening to a writer reading about the birth of a seventh sibling at a time of extreme poverty when she was growing up in northern China. I have laughed for hours afterwards at the antics of one brother taking his dog fishing and at a mother-in-law’s loss of her false teeth, after vomiting over the handrail of the luxury liner on which she was meant to be enjoying the cruise of a lifetime. These, and many other stories were worthy of publication, but more importantly they meant a lot to the authors who were proud of what they had created. That pride in what we produce in writing, whether it is an academic essay, an analytical report or a piece of creative or anecdotal writing is surely what we hope for in our students.
Developing participants’ confidence in writing is all part of the plan in the IWP workshop, which aims to encourage teachers to engage more positively with writing in order to develop their students as writers. We know from experience that the reactions they have will be there for young writers in the classroom and in the end, improvements in the quality and content of the writing will emerge too.
Practising this vital skill clearly improves academic performance too. Younger students gain confidence in their ability to express complex thoughts and emotions, while essay writing at the upper end of the school becomes more organised, analytical and focused.
Participants experience how writing can be a strong and positive tool for learning and a way not only to engage curiosity with subject matter, but also produce higher levels of academic achievement. Our younger students will find ways to express themselves that reveal their talents and strengths and often lead to a joy not only of writing but of reading too, since the connections between both skills become ever clearer to them.
For teachers working with exam classes, some of the writing strategies practised in the course provide an effective method to gauge what their own students are learning, in a way that is more manageable than having to correct endless ill-written essays. Certainly, in our international schools, the development of better writing skills also improves the level of English proficiency for the EAL students in the classroom.
Key to success
That writing is key to the success of all students in the standardised tests and exams they will sit in their school years is clear. Helping students achieve better results is just one of the gains from the course. IWP teachers, like hundreds of others before them, leave the programme with a renewed enthusiasm and confidence in their own writing and for many, that will mean the development of a lifelong love of the written word.
Elly Tobin is a Senior Consultant with Consilium Education. Formerly Director of Studies at the International School of the Sacred Heart, and Principal of the Joseph Chamberlain Sixth Form College in Birmingham, she specialises in the teaching of EAL and supporting the establishment of new International schools.
For more about the IWP see http://www.iwp.co.com/
If your school is interested in hosting a future edition of the IWP programme for a bespoke course of between 2 and 5 days, please e-mail info@IWP.org .
FEATURE IMAGE: Geralt – Pixabay
Support Images: Kindly provided by Elly