Words and Wisdom: Conference Report

Patron of Reading: Haringey Chapter held their first conference: Words and Wisdom, at the Big Green Bookshop, Wood Green on April 27th. We were delighted to be joined by teachers and librarians from schools across Haringey – some with Patrons of Reading and some seeking Patrons of Reading.

Patrice Lawrence opened the conference with an inspiring keynote speech which highlighted how authors benefit from visiting schools, and what it is that authors can bring to schools.

Patrice shared a brilliant collection of authors’ responses when they were asked why they work with schools (answer: to inspire people and to be inspired by the best audience out there – Gill Lewis).

Patrice spoke about how she wants to inspire anyone who feels that writing is not for them. She told us how important Malorie Blackman’s depictions of black families were to her personally and he highlighted how important it remains for children and young people from diverse backgrounds to see themselves represented in literature – both in fiction and in non-fiction, such as the work of Stephen Bourne.

She introduced the focus of this conference for us by discussing writing for pleasure.

Although writing is a skill which starts hard and remains difficult, Patrice stressed how writing is a uniquely valuable tool in helping children and young people to explore and develop their views – hugely important in a time of a narrowing curriculum and a complex political landscape.

Writing can inform, entertain, inspire, persuade, foster our creativity and help us refine our thinking and reshape our views. It is a highly complex activity, and unlike many other activities which are initially difficult to learn, it remains cognitively and emotionally demanding even as we become more experienced.

Teresa Cremin, Professor of Literacy in Education, The Open University

Catherine Coles picked up this theme and gave us an insight into the challenges and opportunities of a renewed focus on creative writing in the revised GCSE taught at Fortismere School. Fortismere was the first school in Haringey to benefit from a Patron of Reading and has already had two outstanding Patrons: Sita Brahmachari and SF Said. Catherine underlined the opportunities this presents for encouraging young people’s creativity and self-expression, reinforcing Patrice’s point that writing for pleasure can help them explore sometimes difficult areas. However Catherine also highlighted the potential distortions which can arise from an overcrowded curriculum and the difficult decisions teachers face in prioritising writing and giving it the time it needs. Catherine concluded that even experienced teachers can benefit hugely from the support of professional writers in inspiring their students to both read and write for pleasure.

We then introduced a panel of Patrons of Reading who described successful activities in their partner schools – and explained a little of the process of working out what works.

Tom Banks (Welborne) described some early teething troubles, but explained how he had worked with his school supporter to develop regular activities which address the priorities of the school and also support the wider school community, for example, book groups and Cookies and Bookies: a shared story session at the end of the school day.

Karen McCombie (Chestnuts) gave us a taster of her role as pet author at Chestnuts (in between impromptu book signings). Karen’s aim is to be part of the school family. As such she can be found presenting prizes, judging competitions, reading with children and more. Karen also explained how she had begun to offer writing workshops as a way to motivate children to read – teaching techniques which children can then look for in their reading, for example.

Patrice Lawrence (Northumberland Park) talked to us about workshops she has delivered on finding your voice, for example, helping young people have the confidence to write in their own voices and gain motivation through this. She also highlighted the value of helping young people explore themes such as family and belonging, and the way this can help to make links between contemporary and classic literature.

Sam Enthoven (Alexandra Park) also explained the process of refining Patrons’ and schools’ initial ideas to establish what will work best (and help most) in a specific setting. Sam’s well-established Book Doctor sessions let him use his extensive knowledge to support teachers and librarians in keeping young people reading for pleasure. Sam also outlined the very successful book group he has been running for the school.

We closed the conference with some discussion and networking time, asking delegates for suggestions about the future direction and priorities for the Haringey Chapter, which we will discuss at our next monthly meet-up for Patrons and supporters.