Updated: Feb 2
“So how do I fit in creative writing class? I’m stretched to the max and I have students who can hardly get their work done. I just don't think I have time to get this done too!”
I often hear this as I chat with teachers about creative writing. I understand your dilemma. I have been there as well. I’m hardly reaching around. I have students pleading for more explanations on a lesson or complaining about having too much to do already. There just always seems to be a valid reason why I can’t get creative writing done.
The short answer for fitting creative writing in is to prioritize for it. Now I know that is not as simple as it sounds. Your school requires you to teach all the regular subjects so you can’t just kick one out and add creative writing. Also, I don’t mean that you need to make yourself believe it is the most important subject. I’m just saying that we need to prioritize creative writing to the place where we at least care if it gets done or not. (I could argue that it is the most important for middle and upper graders but I’ll leave that for another blog.;-)
Here are some possibilities for your consideration.
We teachers need to become masters of our craft and part of that is time management. As teachers we often manage to accomplish some extra things in the subjects we love. The rest of the subjects get the bare minimum. This extra time beyond the basics is your discretionary time. Not much, but still some. You get to decide how to use this time to help your students learning experience. Find a way to turn that into creative writing class.
Another place discretionary time shows up is usually in your annual schedule. There is this little urge in many teachers to get a subject done as early as possible. It does have its place but I’m not sure why we laud it so highly to finish English by the first of April. I find teachers skipping CLE's suggested writing assignments and then complaining about keeping students occupied until the last day. Spread out your work so it fills the whole year. If your school year is at least 170 days it’s most likely that your English curriculum will not take a full lesson every day to complete. In my experience with CLE, R&S, and Abeka English I can gain at least twenty days for creative writing classes by scheduling my English out to the end of the year. That’s more than one every other week by doing nothing more then resisting the urge to beat your co-teachers in getting a subject finished. Your situation may be a little different, but do the math and find your discretionary time across your year to come.
Create a spare class period in your daily schedule. I have discovered that it is beneficial to schedule a small portion of the afternoon for the "things-at-hand". This becomes my time to practice for upcoming programs. I also use it on days when a particular subject needs extra attention. This spare class time may hold some regular weekly things too like art or music classes. Sometimes when English class time gets crowded I use this spare class period for creative writing. On days when nothing is pressing the spare class period is left open for study time.
Ask someone to teach Creative Writing for you. You may have a mom or youth person would would love to volunteer for a little something in the school. I have already scheduled a second grade teacher to teach it for a middle grade classroom while her students were out for recess with some other classes. Peripheral classes like creative writing, art, and music can all work well with outside teachers.
Hold a Creative Writer's Week. In January or February when all is dull have a special week were you skip some other subject like English and do some fun little writing activities every day. Most students enjoy the change and will become quite enthralled if you plan well and put some energy into it.
Let’s suppose you have beat down every wall and still just don’t have enough time in your day to add another class. Remember our main concern is that creative writing is happening. Perhaps it doesn’t always need to be done in a special class. We always think and write best when our minds are full anyway. Do some creative writing within your other subjects. No one says you must do every blank and assignment in the book. Cut some out and have your students write while their minds are full.
Here is how it’s done. You’re having a history class about the ancient central American populations and the lesson includes how the losing team in the national sports would get sacrificed to their gods. Amid wildly waving hands and fantastic faces the reality soaks in.
“So if you lose, you’re dead?” one asks.
“Correct, you don’t just drop out of the tournament, you become the next sacrifice!”
“Wow! I would play terribly hard!” says one.
“No, I wouldn’t even play at all!” says another.
And on it goes. This is the time to do some creative writing. Your students want to point out to the world how bizarre and cruel this religion is, not just fill in three blanks with a few facts. Give them eight minutes to write down their thoughts and give them some application questions to think about.
“What if we had to sacrifice the losers of school picnic games? Would these practices make you secure in your religion or would you start thinking about finding a new religion? If you were a player, how would you play?” You may even switch gears a bit after they have vented their fury on the unjust system. “So do we ever sacrifice or kill the losers of our games in some way? Can we kill their self-image? Can we kill their ambition to play? Ahhh… ouch, can we cast the first stone at those ancient people?”
We don’t want to moralize every situation, but these are times when learning is happening through thinking and wrestling through an idea. Yes, it took ten minutes of your history class time, but you can cut out “Section B” of the questions or some other pieces of the lesson. The end goal of every class should be to make so the students could articulate the lesson. Here they did just that.
Let’s suppose it’s a student’s workload issue. The approach I just described would help with that as well, but let’s say worked out time for a special class and assignments but not all of your students have time. You need to stretch students but still each has his unique God given talents and limits. You do well to make space in each student’s workload when adding a new assignment. It is reasonable to vary assignments between students. A fast student may need to write three paragraphs while slower students may only need to write one. Maybe not every student needs to take the class. Maybe you have a student whose creative bend is toward art or music. Have them do that instead. Another student who has a creative bend toward writing may skip art or music. I have had students whom I did not require to finish after class was over, whether they had finished the lesson or not. I know a teacher who introduced the class as only for those who had extra time. It worked well in more ways then one. Before he knew it, several other students were trying to finish their work earlier so they could join the class too.
In whatever way you choose to make it happen, try to have students writing at least twice per week. Once per week is okay, but writing is an art and is only learned through regular practice. Turn those little bits of discretionary time into a little creative writing. The handy thing about creative writing is that the subject matter doesn’t matter at all so it fits anywhere. If students are processing thoughts into articulable statements you are accomplishing your goal of fitting in creative writing.