Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Adult dyslexic creative writing workshop

I'm just back from a giving workshop on creative writing for a group of adult learners. These were mostly people who have difficulty with reading and writing. A good proportion of them were dyslexic. (Presumably that is why I was invited to give the class - because of my own dyslexia.)

I could certainly relate to the anxiety of some of the students on being given a form to fill in at the beginning of the session. Also the fact that the class was in a different room and at a different time from their normal workshops.

And then a third anxiety - I was going to make them write, wasn't I? That was the first thing I had to make clear. I don't get students to do much writing - even when they want to! I certainly wasn't going to ask this group to put pen to paper. My workshops are more concerned with imagining and understanding. We imagine scenes. We understand how stories work. We think ourselves into different places and times.

Today we used photographs of real people as a basis for creating imaginary characters. Then we used keys and mystery packages to help us imagine places. And we made up stories.

I was also told some true stories by one person - which were certainly more amazing and horrifying than anything I could have made up. Quite frankly, I am still stunned by them. And astounded by the fortitude of the person who told me.


Mary McCallum said...

Hi Rod - like you I teach creative writing as well as write novel(s)- I am interested in the way you use objects to stimulate the imagination. I have heard they are especially useful for people writing memoir - you know the sort of thing: bring along the sunlight soap used to wash clothes back in the 1950s and you unlock wash day etc. What are in your mystery packages?

Rod Duncan said...

That's a really interesting question, Mary.

Objects can be a good way of getting people involved in creative writing activity - as I am sure you will have experienced.

They can also chage the pace and mood of a workshop. If I have a lot of dry stuff to tell a class at any stage, I'll try to mix things up by throwing in something more purely sensual - such as bringing in an object to touch, or to smell, or even to taste. Sometimnes it is as simple as cutting a lemon and handing it around for people to smell and asking them to write the first thing that comes into their minds when they do.

It really depends on the individuals in the class - what they are finding easy and what they are finding hard. I'd use different stimuli because different people have different styles of learning and will respond to different kinds of activities.

Actually, this is quite a big subject now I come to think about it! I'll put it on the list for things to write a longer blog post about.

I'd be interested in any of your experiences on this.

Thanks for the comment. It is much appreciated.


siobsi said...

For the same reason, I try to bring in props into my performance of poems - a Saami hat, a rope for lasso, a brass lamp. To ground myself and audience in the physcial 'reality' of the world we're imagining.

When I did a primary school gig recently, I picked out kids to go on the journey and props to carry for me - a torch, ski-poles, binoculars. I wish we'd been given time to let them write something from the experience. I love the idea of getting food in there, Rod! Wonder if I could get hold of dried stock-fish snacks ...

Rod Duncan said...

Taking food into schools - my guess is you'd have a heap of health and safety to clamber over if you wanted to do that. Shame.

But to smell - sounds good.

I went to a poetry workshop once where the poet had brought some sweet dried fruit for us to eat. She said the experience of writing could have a 'sweetness' to it - and invited us to share these tastes to physicalise this thought.

I really liked that.