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What are your thoughts on the new A-level Creative Writing?

Discussion in 'English' started by VeronicAmb, Jul 1, 2012.

  1. VeronicAmb

    VeronicAmb Occasional commenter

    So guys, i was checking on the aqa site for updates, and i came across a new a-level spec in creative writing! I was really surprised by this; simply because there hasn't been an a-level like this one and it just generally excites me! I think this a fantastic opportunity for students who liked the creative writing CAs at GCSE level and students who don't particularly like english lit or lang, but in fact will be studying what they haven't studied in depth opposed to a Shakespeare text at GCSE etc.

    But, yeah... so what do you guys think about this new A-level? Do you think it's gonna go well with the students, or do you think, this possibility be a mistake?

    Personally, I am so up for teaching this at a-level next year!!
  2. GloriaSunshine

    GloriaSunshine New commenter

    Words fail me.
  3. That's not very creative. ;)
  4. I love the idea- I would have taken it myself! But I can see a lot of argument against it- it's not academic, not "useful"- would many schools offer it?
  5. sleepyhead

    sleepyhead New commenter

    I intend to but probably as an enrichment activity for the most able, at least to begin with.
  6. anteater

    anteater New commenter

    Is it any less academic than Drama? Art? Other creative subjects?
    I suppose it will depend on what appears in the spec, which is not coming out until September. I'm sure it won't be all writing poetry and short stories. There could be studies of different genres, authors, styles, all sorts of things. I do hope my school will embrace it, as I would love to teach it (with reservations, until I've seen the actual spec, of course)

  7. Ah, sorry- I can see that there will be arguments against it, not that I agree with it!
    (Just thinking of myself at that age battling to do drama and sociology; and my stepsister who did media studies and endured a lot of "it's not a real subject")- and with the current politics *ahem* looking towards a more academic approach.

    I can think of loads to DO with it though!
  8. Let's get real here. I am Course Director of Cambridge University's first Masters degree in Creative Writing. (This is by way of introducing my interest, not trying to pull any kind of weight - we're all comparative novices here.) We're currently recruiting students for the first cohort in this programme.

    VeronicAmb's posting is not to be dismissed (e.g.. 'words fail me' - though I quite understand and sympathise with where that response came from) - it's clearly the product of an enthusiastic teacher who wants something to offer creative students who are bored rigid with what's currently on offer.

    Them being bored rigid is partly to do with their expectations (probably wildly optimistic, or thinking this is an easy option), the curriculum (your own thoughts, please) and a sense that they are only ever passive receivers of all the lovely writing we put in front of them.

    The thing is, we shouldn't be offering CW primarily as a path into a career in writing. That would be mad. There's very little room at the top and we'd be cultivating a generation of disappointed people. CW should be approached, certainly, as a path for the very very few who might make it as writers, but also as an enriching activity, like proficiency at playing an instrument, which can give you pleasure throughout your life, AND giving another string to your professional bow - for example, any kind of course description is always better when written by a 'writer'. There are a huge number of opportunities in corporate, academic or other kinds of career paths where someone who has actually thought about how words work is an asset to their institution. If anyone thinks this is not a valid aim of education please make your case below. I think (and it's maybe an unfashionable view) that we should be able - or at least aim - to pick our way through the stringent requirements of the National Curriculum and somehow still make the important things count. We should all be creative writers.

    The only thing I would take issue with in this posting is: 'this a fantastic opportunity for students who liked the creative writing CAs at GCSE level and students who don't particularly like english lit or lang'...hang on, they really need to love writing. They need to have got caught by something in the Eng Lit or Lang programme. If that left them utterly cold, what is the basis from which they want to write? The thing which will redeem/prove the worth of Creative Writing at this level is a passion for the medium and an interest in the craft.

    So, while I am broadly in favour of the new emphasis on Creative Writing, I am pessimistic about the ability to deliver this. Many students (teachers) come to my classes clearly in search of ideas or strategies to use with their own students. That's fine, but it's also sad. It shouldn't be up to me to share successful strategies for teachers whose schools are prepared to pay (or, indeed, most admirably, teachers who just fund themselves on these courses). The government should be providing this training.

    Once again, a good idea (valuing creative writing) may easily become quickly devalued because it won't be (can't be, under current plans) well delivered. However good an English teacher is, it can't be assumed that they can teach writing. It's taken most of us writers years to learn all on our own. We need specialist training for teachers of Creative Writing. It's not something that just arrives, magically, to English teachers. It's a craft and an art, and you can't just busk it.
  9. This is Blairite waffle about nothing. In your position as 'Course Director of Cambridge University's first Master [sic] degree in creative writing', don't you think that the definition of your "'course' as a 'path into writing" contains a crippling reductio ad absurdum? I mean, if someone like Famous Seamus or Walcott or somebody offered to teach you how to make money from 'creative writing' then you might think that there was something in it; but to advertise it as a way to 'corporate, academic or other kind [​IMG] of career path' immediately raises suspicions. It reads like an advert apropos the sort of 'novel writing' courses one saw advertised in the literary magazines of the 1930s. You don't mention your name. Who are you? What are your publications? And if you have ascertained the golden key to unlock the prose and poetry of the human mind, then why aren't you just writing? And how many people who have paid good money and taken your 'courses' are now actually making a living out of 'creative writing?' Names please, and lists of publications. How many folk are in paid positions at good universities and are now teaching your 'methods' of 'creative composition?' Or are you, perhaps, as your advert says, just 'busking' it?
  10. Underachiever

    Underachiever New commenter

    I think you'll find she's Dr Sarah Burton. Welcome to our forum Dr Burton.
    And, although I don't agree wth everything she says (I don't regard myself as a 'passive receiver', for example, just because I love reading, but don't write), I have studied creative writing. I found it worthwhile and it has certainly informed my appreciation of literary texts.
  11. My name is Sarah Burton - it's not a secret and you can easily find out what I've written. I'm surprised at the tone of your response. I'm not a Blairite but you can call my views waffle if you like. I didn't talk about golden keys. I'm not quite sure what you're angry about and don't see why you see my post as an 'advert'. I thought this was somewhere people could discuss things. What is the nature of the nerve I've touched? Are you for or against the teaching of Creative Writing? I don't fully understand your post and would like to.
  12. wiemaranerlover

    wiemaranerlover New commenter

    I'm going for an interview today where I will be begging to teach this A-level. I want to study it myself from September then offer it to the kids the year after, so I'm a year in front of them do to speak.

    Fingers crossed! Even if I don't get the job, I shall be studying it anyway at my current school as a couple of staff want to do if.
  13. seaviews

    seaviews New commenter

    It sounds brilliant but I'd hate to teach it. Have you seen the specification? Assessment is via coursework - 3500 words at AS and 6000 words at A2 - which for me as a sixth form teacher with 25+ students in a class would be an impossible additional workload. Plus, at a guess it wouln't attract as many students as say Literature or Lang/Lit so who would internally moderate the work if there is only one teacher teaching it in a school/college? Nightmare!!!
    Once again, AQA is leaving the teacher to do most of the work on their behalf.
    And how can you possibly know/check that the student's work is original?
  14. Absolutely: "All really great writers don't have a qualification in creative writing". BUT I'd take issue with 'Great writers are born, not made.'
    A lot of great writers' works would never have seen daylight if they had not had the benefit of fantastic tutors, who at the time happened to be called editors. Consider Maxwell Perkins, who mentored Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Wolfe... He helped these writers turn their unpublishable evidence of brilliance into novels the world would read and admire.
    Many writers have other writers they would thank for doing the same kind office for them. Very few writers do it all on their own.
    Why do we resist the teaching of creative writing, when we do not flinch at the idea that art school is a good plan for budding artists? Artists benefit from learning about technique - whether sculpting, painting or whatever. What's so awful about helping talented writers become better writers by sharing what people have learnt the hard way - doing it all on their own?
    There's no reason this should produce a sausage factory of identical writerly ambitions, or 'turgid and predictable' novelists. (Although I have to agree, there are probably cases where it does. But that's not the only way. I would appeal to you not to judge everything by regrettable examples.) Good creative writing teaching should nurture the individuality and originality of the student, and help them bring out the best in themselves; recognise and realise their nascent talent. A good creative writing tutor should aim to emulate the likes of editors like Maxwell Perkins: identify and encourage what is quality; be a critical friend; and certainly not try to make your own students writers like you, but writers like themselves.
  15. anteater

    anteater New commenter

    A couple of you have said that you wouldn't be able to mark 6,000 words x 25.
    I am wondering how you know you would get 25 students to take the course. Or are you only allowed to run an A Level course with a minimum of 25? Perhaps you both work in 6th form colleges? If we offered it, we might have 5 or 6 students, which probably isn't financially viable, especially if it is taking people away from other English based A Levels. Oh for financial considerations not to matter!
  16. stpaul - Being published isn't the one and only benchmark by which to judge a writer. If you attended any one of the many Writers' Conferences around the country, you would soon see that a great number of highly accomplished writers are not published - not in the commercial sense anyway - because the market for literature is so commercially driven. It is all about selling the greatest number of books to the masses. A lot of drivel is published, a lot of innovative, creative, clever material doesn't see the light of day. Please bear this in mind.
  17. As a writer and writing teacher, I'd like to second a lot of what Dr Burton says. The hostility towards creative writing being taught always baffles me and I use the same analogy she does - why are we happy with people to study and practise art, yet all writers must spring forth fully formed from their father's thigh? Likewise, why is studying creative writing *only* justifiable if you can make a full career just as a novelist, while art and its various avenues are to be encouraged?

    Another aspect to consider is that this course is NOT fiction only. Prose fiction is about one-quarter of its focus. The prose non-fiction includes the kind of writing that almost every professional person needs to do in their career. As well as teaching fiction courses, I teach non-fiction writing to business people and entrepreneurs who have exactly this skills gap and are prepared to invest serious time and money into improving, because they know that makes financial sense for their company. The other two quarters of the A-level are poetry and script-writing - the latter including radio plays, tv, and film scripts. Those industries have some pretty firm rules which are not "the crushing of originality through teaching" but the marketplace that any writer will need to understand and navigate.
  18. By logic of "all great writers haven't been on courses", Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro and Anne Enright aren't great writers. Great writers are definitely made, not born - no-one is born able to write a literary masterpiece, there is hard work, lots of practice, masses of reading, and careful thought behind that. Some of which can be shared with other writers. Again, to draw the comparison with art: artists don't become rubbish if they're taught the principles of the colour wheel, of perspective, of composition - why should they have to figure that out from scratch? But nor do they become any good simply by being taught that or by following those rules by rote. I fear that we idealise creative fiction writing in a way that we don't the other arts, to the detriment of writers.
  19. Sarah,

    I've taught the subject at HE level (BA and MA) and appreciate a lot of what you're saying here. There's a really interesting discussion of the sorts of issues you raise in Richard Marggraf Turley's Introduction to The Writer in Academia: Creative Interfictions. The reality is, the economic argument also applies to those of us who teach Creative Writing at uni, insofar as numbers at many places are falling, and thus teaching those who take MA courses in particular with a view to teaching Creative Writing A Level is potentially one way to shore them up. (Cynical, but true). Plus, as Turley says, a) in future none of us at any level will be able to get away with a course that simply punts the 'art for art's sake' (or even personal development for personal development's sake) line. Indeed,I know from my own experience that many HE institutions even have modules ready to come on-stream, as part of MA courses or as standalones specifically geared to those planning to teach the A Level b) Also, we'll all have to think much more about how we justify our existence both to academic colleagues in other subjects (e.g. Eng Lit) with whom we're often competing for funding and in the wider arena, given the current economic and funding context. That said, no one would want to see the subject being taken simply for potential 'employability' reasons - not least since, as you say, there aren't that many jobs there. But I think we're all too aware of the current political rhetoric (including the term 'cultural industries' and 'cultural economy').

    As for resources, there are lots of books out there, ok primarily (at the moment) geared to HE teachers, on how to teach creative writing, many of which (e.g. Teaching Creative Writing, edited by E. Walker) contain exercises that can be easily tailored to A Level students. I'm sure once the numbers likely to take the A Level numbers and thus potential future market become clearer, publishers of school materials will jump on the bandwagon. For my own part, the best way (and potentially most lucrative) for institutions to accommodate teachers who wish to teach the new A level is on a separate module as clearly not everyone on an MA course will be in that position and is would rather queer the pitch for those who just want to enjoy writing without thinking about teaching the subject or having to have the entire programme effectively tailored to one particular group.

    In the meantime, many people fear that Gove will find a way to block this from ever happening (even at this stage) or retrospectively try to abolish it once it's up and running.
  20. I think we will trial it from September 2014 - will be interested to hear how everyone gets on this year

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