Releasing Creative Writing Magic
It is a terrible thing. It can inflict bouts of frustration on school students and professional writers alike.
But English teacher, Heather Blakey has found a way to make writing more stimulating for students. Mrs Blakey unlocks the creative juices in her students by using visual aids.
"It provides students with a reason to learn. I sprinkle a bit of magic into the learning process," Mrs Blakey says.
"For example, I'll bring in a box of shoes cut out from magazines and each student uses it as a visual trigger to stop writer's block."
"We get the mannequins and we decorate them and arm them to help with the study of text."
Mrs Blakey has been a teacher for more than 30 years and is in the perfect position to know how students work. Her website not only helps unlock creativity in students but anybody who is having trouble finding their muse.
A number of primary schools have invited Mrs
Blakey to teach her methods to students.
Writing to reach a rich inner life
Making daisy chains or singing the Vegemite song are just part of the creative process for one year 12 English class. La Trobe Secondary College's Heather Blakey says the education system has become so prescribed and competition based that children are given little opportunity to use their imaginations and often lose the confidence to do so. Much of her teaching is devised around "quirky teaching methods, which attempt to distract the critic that tells them that they can't do the task''.
Mrs Blakey's aim is to instil a love of writing into her students at La Trobe Secondary College. She believes we can all use an "incredible reservoir of information that we don't use on a daily basis'' if we approach thinking and writing from different angles.
Even by the age of 11 or 12 most of us have inhibitions that restrict our imagination - Mrs Blakey's goal is to get her students to "tap into the collective unconscious'' and lose their inhibitions. This can be difficult, she says, as "sometimes students can feel very threatened. It's easier to be told what to do.''
Students must develop a strong awareness of their emotions in order to write creatively, Mrs Blakey believes, and tries to help them achieve this through the sensory system,with strong emphasis on "tuning the senses''. Students do face painting and drumming or are sent outside to walk barefoot and "rediscover what it's like to feel grass beneath your feet''. Often she'll sit a year 12 class down on the floor and read them a children's book such as The Velveteen Rabbit and encourage them to write about the memories inspired by this journey back to childhood.
Visual imagery is another technique Mrs Blakey uses that can help students confront powerful issues. When she asks students to visualise going into a seashell, many tell her that the experience is "quite trippy'' and they "discover that they use words, images and phrases in their writing that they aren't accustomed to using''. Year 12 student Breanon Brisetto, 17, describes the exercise as "making you look deep down within yourself, at what other people don't see''.
Many of Mrs Blakey's techniques were inspired by autobiographies of people who have endured extraordinary hardships. After reading Elie Wiesel's Night (about Auschwitz) and Terry Waite's Taken on Trust (about his 1762 days of solitary confinement), Mrs Blakey realised that people who deal with hardships commonly have "rich inner lives'' that allow them to cope with harsh treatment. Given that many of us lack a rich inner life, Mrs Blakey encourages students to increase their self awareness and to confront issues in their lives.
Many of her students do in fact face hardship on a daily basis and she teaches them to view writing as a way of dealing with this. The year 12s at La Trobe Secondary College are working on mannequin dolls this year. Every student "dresses'' a doll with things that are important to them and will inspire them during times of difficulty and stress. Tania Stancombe, 17, says she has learnt that "writing can help you to access your inner self. You realise what would give you armour and strength if you were going through a time of horror''.
Principal John McIntyre says that efforts are being made to integrate Mrs Blakey's teaching strategies into other areas of the curriculum. Mrs Blakey emphases that teaching is all about "discovering what button to push to get students to achieve''. Heather Blakey's website www.dailywriting.net has tips, techniques and writing exercises.