After reading the National Literacy Trust’s tenth annual literacy survey, published earlier this month, First Story’s programme manager for the East Midlands, Jess Tickell, reflects on the relationship between creative writing and social and emotional learning.
The past few months of lockdown have spotlighted the incredibly vital (and until recently, often unrecognised) role that schools and teachers play in supporting the social and emotional wellbeing of their pupils. From our extensive work in secondary schools, we already knew that social and emotional learning is often a large part of the job of teachers; and that the small-group creative writing experience of a First Story workshop provides a safe, creative space to support such work.
We now know, thanks to the National Literacy Trust’s recently published literacy survey, that during lockdown, more and more children and young people have been writing regularly as a way to make sense of the extraordinary times they are growing up in.
Given the evidence, the role that creative writing plays in supporting social and emotional learning ought to be an important consideration for schools as they re-plan their curriculum offers and review core provision, in light of the challenging circumstances they face.
The First Story model brings students, staff and professional writers together to create a supportive community that meets regularly over the course of an academic year. Together the group experiments with multiple forms of writing, from haikus to memoir to scripts, developing the skills and confidence to express themselves in writing.
First Story pedagogy focuses on personal experience, on drawing on the stuff of our lives in our writing. This offers a valuable space in which young writers are able to make sense of their own experiences and listen to the experiences of others.
The Education Endowment Fund has found that, “on average, Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) interventions have an identifiable and valuable impact on attitudes to learning and social relationships in school. They also have an average overall impact of four months’ additional progress on attainment.”
In line with the EEF’s recommendations, First Story groups:
- Expand children’s emotional vocabulary and support them to express their emotions;
- Develop social awareness by using stories to discuss others’ emotions and perspectives; and
- Support crucial relationship skills through the development of communication and listening skills.
We know this because our teachers tell us so. Here’s Kate Rowe, a teacher at the Hampstead School in London, where journalist and poet Bridget Minamore has been their First Story Writer-in-Residence:
One of the biggest impacts of running a First Story programme at our school, which none of us could have predicted, was the positive impact that it had on student confidence and wellbeing. Our wonderful writer-in-residence, Bridget Minamore, began every session by asking students how they were on a scale of 1-10 that day, and to our amazement, these numbers got steadily higher over the course until in our final sessions students reported feelings as high as 11.
The First Story group quickly became a supportive community where our students truly felt heard, perhaps for the first time in their school careers. I noticed quiet students who became increasingly confident in sharing their opinions and other students who became more open to discussing their personal thoughts and feelings. All of this was achieved without any undue pressure ever being placed on the students themselves. Instead, such a warm and welcoming environment was created that eventually, every student felt so safe and supported that they wanted to read their work regardless.– Kate Rowe, a First Story lead teacher at Hampstead School in London
At a time when schools are rising to multiple challenges and students are seeking ways to make sense of the extraordinary times they are living through, First Story will continue to provide a vital space that supports the social and emotion well-being of students and staff through creative writing.