Writer in Residence

Becci L Fearnley is Slough and Eton’s new Writer in Residence. Although she has a background in teaching, Becci has been working as professional writer for the last two years. She publishes poetry under the name Becci Louise and her debut collection of poetry, ‘Octopus Medicine’ was published by Two Rivers Press in September 2017. She is also writing her first novel for young adults under the name R.L. Fearnley. Becci has performed her poetry across the country, from London to Edinburgh, and was Roundhouse Resident Artist between 2012 and 2014, where she performed her poetry play ‘A City of Foxes’, which was supported and funded by the Arts Council. Becci also runs a range of projects, from school-based workshops to museum residencies, and writes on a range of subjects and in several genres.

At Slough and Eton, Becci’s role is to engage students in all areas of the curriculum and improve both academic and creative writing. She has worked with year 11s to improve their understanding of poetry, year 13s to help develop academic writing and year 7s to create and tell stories. She is in school every Wednesday and spends her lunchtimes in the library, where students are welcome to come and find her to ask questions about being a writer, improving their writing and request feedback on their stories. Becci is also working with the English department and the Sixth Form to develop literacy across the school and improve academic writing in all Key Stages.

Review of 2019

Key Stage 3

Key Stage three engagement has taken place exclusively in English lessons and has covered a range of topics from engaging in the story of A Christmas Carol through Ghost Stories to developing an understanding of LGBT+ rights through spoken word poetry. The students have produced their own creative responses to stimulus and learned to engage with the craft of a writer by transforming into writers themselves. Year 7, for example, learned how to understand the building of tension in a ghost story by creating and writing their own. This has provided students with the opportunity to experiment with their own writer’s voice, understand the range of tools and techniques employed by a writer to create a story, develop a greater knowledge of their own creative process and learn some of the basics involved in editing and redrafting. These skills have enabled them to understand the processes of other writers more thoroughly and to engage critically with the texts they are studying.

In addition to classroom involvement, the project has also been involved in the organisation and delivery of five literacy days, including two aimed at year 7, two aimed at year 8 and one aimed at year 9. The literacy days have engaged with each year group in its entirety and consisted of a whole-year presentation and a literacy workshop delivered either to half the year at a time, or to individual classes. These literacy days have focused on:

-          Impressing on students why literacy and oracy skills are key for their academic and professional futures.

-          Impressing on students why literacy and oracy skills are key for their personal futures, mental wellbeing and social skills.

-          Encouraging students to engage more readily in reading as a way of developing literacy.

-          Demonstrating to students how literacy skills can be employed on a day-to-day basis.

-          Providing space for students to practice literacy and oracy skills.

-          Allowing students time to evaluate their literacy skills and set goals for themselves.

Each year group has also been provided with a literacy passport, designed by the writer in residence, that the students have been required to complete during the year. To demonstrate the use of literacy across all subject areas, subject teachers have also contributed example tasks to show students how literacy is utilised across the curriculum. Students have engaged well with their literacy passports, using them to test and develop their own literacy. Though in its infancy, the literacy day programme can be further developed and built into the infrastructure of students’ learning experience, meaning they can see the importance of developing their literacy to every subject they study.

In future, the project aims to expand and engage Key Stage 3 students across a range of subjects.

Key Stage 4

Key Stage 4 involvement has occurred mainly (though not exclusively) with year 10. In terms of creative writing, lessons have been delivered to whole classes with a focus on English Language Paper 1 Question 5, which requires students to write a narrative or a description, and English Language Paper 2 Question 5, which requires students to write an article or review. Lessons have been delivered in workshop style, encouraging students to take creative risks and examine their own writing process. Students have learned:

-          How to engage with a stimulus and ‘find the story’ in an image.

-          How to balance their narrative with fine use of description, action and emotional engagement.

-          How to balance their argument through use of rhetorical devices, skilled paragraphing and control of tone.

-          How to structure their work effectively through use of paragraph structure, sentence structure and organisation of ideas.

-          How to critically examine their own writing in order to redraft and edit.

Students engaged with a single idea over the course of five lessons (with regard to the creative writing task) in order to understand how writing works as a continuous process and to examine the progress of their own work. Students were able to examine how their own style might be developed and honed to create a thoughtful and skilfully executed story.

More recent focus with Key Stage 4 has been on supporting their engagement with poetry. Students have learned how poets approach the construction of a poem by becoming poets themselves, using techniques such as imagery, metaphor, rhythm and line breaks to create a symbolic poem with the aim of creating a specific emotional  response in the reader. Using this knowledge, students have engaged critically with set poems and focused on how to draw out their technical understanding of poetry in order to construct a critical essay. Students have also learned how to structure their ideas effectively, balancing use of reference with close analysis in order to demonstrate a deep and detailed understanding of the poetry they are studying.

Key Stage 5

Key Stage 5 engagement has occurred mostly on a small-scale level, providing one-to-one intervention to students, or teaching small groups. It has focused mainly on the development of academic writing skills across all subject areas and involved providing detailed feedback to students on their work and the provision of remedial tasks as a result of given feedback.

There has been some teaching on a whole-class level, both in ICT (to support the Cambridge National Exams) and in English (to support the English Literature A-Level), where the main focus was on developing students’ understanding of how to construct a piece of critical writing, whether for a report, evaluation, marketing pitch, critical essay or other analytical writing task.

The project has also supported A Level students taking part in the Extended Project Programme, providing critical feedback for their writing and general advice about how to construct essays on their chosen subjects. It has also included some support with referencing (students are required to use the Harvard Referencing System) and how to successfully construct a literature review to support their projects.

The project has engaged the entirety of Key Stage 3, the majority of year 10 and some Year 11, and many classes and individuals in Years 12 and 13. The ability of the Writer in Residence to navigate the entire curriculum and to adapt to the timetable in order to support students where needed means that the project has great scope to tackle areas of need and support staff in the teaching of key writing skills, which will serve students in good stead throughout the rest of their lives.