Writing Stories with Feeling

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Writing Stories with Feeling An evaluation of the impact of Therapeutic Storywriting groups on pupils’ learning Pilot Evaluation Report for the South-east Region Special Educational Needs Partnership by Trisha Waters Educational Consultant Brighton October 20045 Executive Summary Introduction In April 2004 the South-east Region Special Educational Needs partnership (SERSEN) commissioned this pilot evaluation study into the impact of Therapeutic Storywriting groups on the emotional, social and academic learning of pupils at Key Stage 2. This evaluation is a follow-up to the SERSEN Autumn 2003 Therapeutic Storywriting Initiative which involved a 3-day training delivered to more than 50 teachers in eight education authorities. Pupils are referred to Therapeutic Storywriting groups because of concerns about their emotional, social and behavioural difficulties (EBSD) and most are on the Special Educational Needs (SEN) register. Methodology The methodology adopted was predominantly qualitative although some quantitative measures were used where appropriate. Specific methods adopted were: · Group and individual interviews with twenty-one pupils who had attended a ten week course of Therapeutic Storywriting · Interviews with teachers running the storywriting groups · Case portrayal of three individual pupils, drawing on a content analysis of a selection of their stories · Quantitative analysis and display of key issues. Major Findings The evidence from this evaluation suggests that Therapeutic Storywriting has had a number of positive effects on pupils’ emotional, social and academic learning. In particular it has: · Enabled pupils to use the medium of story writing to process emotional experiences · Helped pupils move through difficult feelings · Encouraged pupils to develop co-operative and trusting relationships with peers · Supported listening and speaking skills · Fostered an interactive relationship between the teacher and group with respect to story writing skills · Increased pupils concentration and motivation to engage with story writing · Improved pupils’ self-esteem as writers This pilot study suggests four areas for further research: · Testing of the major findings of this report over a broader sample, possibly including pupils at key stage 3 and professionals from other agencies such as mental health and social care. · An exploration of whether pupils are successful in transferring emotional and social skills developed in the group back into the main classroom and the impact this might have both on pupils’ wider academic progress and reduction of exclusions · Teacher based assessment of the impact of the approach on literacy skills · An assessment of the ability of Therapeutic Storywriting to address specific Speech, Language and Communication difficulties6 Section 1 Introduction 1.1 Aims of the Project Therapeutic Storywriting is a process that addresses emotional issues through the metaphor in stories written by both pupils and teachers. Pupils are referred because of concerns about their emotional, social and behavioural difficulties (EBSD) and most are on the Special Educational Needs (SEN) register. This report is the result of a pilot evaluation commissioned by the South- east Special Educational Needs Partnership (SERSEN). The prime evaluation aim was to assess the impact of Therapeutic Storywriting groups on pupils' emotional, social and academic learning and identify outcomes which would benefit from further assessment using a broader sample. The main methodology adopted was interviews and analysis of stories of Key Stage 2 pupils who had attended a course of Therapeutic Storywriting groups in mainstream schools. Research methods aimed to establish the impact of Therapeutic Story writing on pupils' emotional, social and academic learning. Specific research questions are detailed in the methodology section. 1.2 Background to the project In 2003, SERSEN invited me to lead a Therapeutic Storywriting Initiative that provided training to more than 50 teachers across eight education authorities. At the end of this training the teachers, who had set up groups during the training period, were asked to assess the impact of the training on their teaching. The results of this teacher evaluation are available on the SERSEN website (www.sersen.uk.net). The findings were positive and indicated that teachers found this approach effective in supporting pupils with EBSDs in mainstream schools. This current evaluation takes the evidence base a step further by asking the pupils themselves about their experience of Therapeutic Storywriting groups and what they think they have learnt from attending the sessions. As part of the 2003 initiative, SERSEN also supported the writing of the book Therapeutic Storywriting (Waters 2004) which outlines the theoretical background to the model and also acts as a training manual with detailed exercises given at the end of each chapter. Readers of this report seeking a more comprehensive explanation of the approach may wish to refer to this book. 1.3 The educational context Therapeutic Storywriting is a Special Educational Needs (SEN) intervention which has been designed to support pupils with emotional, behavioural and social difficulties (EBSD) at Key Stage 2. Over the last decade the government’s inclusion policy has been to support these children in mainstream schools whenever possible. The recent green paper ‘Every Child Matters' and the government’s 2004 strategy for SEN ‘Removing Barriers to Achievement’ emphasise the need for early intervention and the importance of addressing mental health issues in mainstream schools. Both these papers acknowledge the need for professional development at this interface between mental health and education. Therapeutic Storywriting is a curriculum based approach which uses the medium of story writing to address children’s emotional issues and as such supports current policy in this area.7 1.4 The Therapeutic Storywriting Model The model was initially developed by myself in 1999 as part of an MA project at Sussex University. Over the last few years it has been introduced to over 70 schools in south-east England. In order to run a Therapeutic Storywriting group, teachers are first required to attend a 3-day training course which usually extends over a period of 6 weeks. The teachers are asked to set up a group after the 1st day and bring the work from their groups to the 2nd and 3rd days of the training. Teachers attending the training are primarily school-based special educational needs co-ordinators (SENCOs) or teachers working for one of the external agencies such as a Pupil Referral Unit or a Behaviour in Education Support Team (BEST). The theoretical model presented in the training focuses particularly on the relationship between emotional and cognitive development and makes particular reference to Bion’s (1984) theory of thinking that states that anxiety needs to be sufficiently contained in order for thinking to take place. The training also looks at different models of the self and draws on Assagioli’s (1965) theory of subpersonalities. The workplace counselling skill of active listening is a core aspect of the training. Teachers practise using metaphor in their own story writing to address emotional issues and are also trained to keep reflections on pupils’ stories within the story metaphor. In this way personal issues, which may be overwhelming for the child if discussed directly, do not need to be brought explicitly into the session. (For more details on the content of the 3-day training see www.therapeuticstorywriting.com) 1.5 Structure of a group session Groups run weekly and have a maximum of 6 children. The groups are described to parents and pupils as an opportunity to explore different feelings through story characters. Teachers decide on the name of the group for the pupils. Each session lasts about 1 hour and includes: · Feelings check-in (ten minutes) · Review of previous week’s stories · Suggestion for new story theme · 15 min when children and teacher both write stories · Time to share stories and draw pictures · A listening game to finish At the beginning of the session, each child is given the opportunity to say how they are feeling before writing work begins. This is called the Feelings Check-in. After this, a suggestion is given for the story theme although children are given the choice of using this suggestion or using an idea of their own for their story. A key element of the Therapeutic Storywriting model is the Teacher’s Story, which the teacher writes while the children write their stories. The teacher chooses the theme of her story to reflect emotional issues perceived within the group. She asks the children for suggestions for her own story before the silent writing part of the session and as she develops her story, it is used to provide further points for discussion about pertinent emotional literacy issues. The engagement of the teacher with her own story is also intended to help establish a focused writing environment. After 10-15 minutes silent writing each member of the group has time to share their story if they wish. Other members of the group are asked to provide constructive feedback on each story and children can ask for ideas for the next part of their story as modelled by the teacher. The teacher’s role is to ensure that all members of the group8 feel comfortable during these group interactions. The session usually ends with a short game designed to develop listening skills. 1.6 My perspective as the researcher It will not escape the reader that I was both responsible for generating the model of Therapeutic Storywriting and training the teachers. For any qualitative researcher, familiarity with or engagement in the field under scrutiny has the ability to either enhance the understanding of the topic under investigation (Simons 1996) or to predispose the researcher to seeking positive results. In conducting this evaluation, I took the following steps to minimise bias relating to my position as the person who both developed the Therapeutic Storywriting model and led the SERSEN training. First, throughout I have aspired to impartiality in the collection and analysis of the data. Secondly, a proportion of tape recordings of interviews was transcribed by an external agency and compared with notes I took in interview. Thirdly, a leading academic in the field of qualitative research has supervised my methodology and approach to analysis. Fourthly, I checked my perceptions of the children' s development with those of the teachers who worked with them. It is also important to note the positive benefits of a deep knowledge of the programme. In this case my intimate knowledge of Therapeutic Storywriting meant that teachers were keen to discuss their groups and the pupils' stories with me. My experience of the type of emotional, social and academic difficulties that pupils brought to the group also helped me to formulate appropriate research questions and to manage the group dynamics when conducting the group interviews. 1.7 What is meant by emotional learning? As Weare (2003) points out there are many terms in use in the field of emotional development. The term emotional learning is used in this report to refer to the development of emotional literacy or emotional intelligence. Emotional literacy, popularised by Goleman (1996), is generally defined as, ‘the ability to recognise, understand and appropriately express our emotions’ (www.FEEL.org 2003). Reference is also made to Gardner’s concept of emotional intelligence. Gardner (1993) considers emotional intelligence to be made up of two aspects; the intrapsychic intelligence and interpersonal intelligences. Intrapersonal (or intraspychic) intelligence is concerned with our own internal unconscious feeling world, whereas the interpersonal is concerned with relationships with others in the external world and overlaps with what is referred to as social intelligence.9 Section 2 Methodology 2.1 Research questions The overall aim of the evaluation was to assess the impact of Therapeutic Storywriting groups on pupils' emotional, social and academic learning. The following questions were formulated to address this aim in more detail. 1. In what ways does Therapeutic Storywriting impact on pupils’ emotional learning and in particular their ability to: · access and articulate their feelings · process feelings through story metaphor 2. In what ways can Therapeutic Storywriting be considered to impact on pupils’ social learning and in particular their ability to listen to and empathise with others. 3. What impact does Therapeutic Storywriting have on pupils' academic learning and in particular their · motivation to engage with writing · imagination · self-esteem as writers 2.2 Methods The evaluation adopted a predominantly qualitative methodology although some quantitative measures are used where appropriate. With particular reference to assessing the impact on pupils’ emotional and social learning, the topics under investigation i.e. the child’s own intrapsychic and interpersonal feeling states (see 1.6), are by their nature subjective. The method of interviewing the pupils themselves was therefore an appropriate way to investigate these topics. Specific methods included: · Semi-structured group interviews with five groups of pupils who had attended at least ten group sessions of Therapeutic Storywriting · Individual semi-structured interviews with individual pupils · Semi-structured interviews with teachers leading four of the groups · Semi-structured interviews with class teachers of pupils in my group · Case portrayal of three individual pupils, drawing on a content analysis of a selection of their stories · 2.3 The Sample The research focused on twenty-one pupils drawn from four schools in which teachers who had attended a 3-day training in Therapeutic Storywriting had run a Therapeutic Storywriting group for at least ten sessions. The schools were chosen mainly on an opportunistic basis in that they were those which replied first to the request to take part in the project and which the researcher could reach within one and a half hours travelling time. The four schools were located in two Local Education Authorities. While some teachers had run more than one Therapeutic Storywriting group, just one was selected in each of the schools. The schools Special Educational Needs Co-10 ordinator (SENCO) ran all of these four groups. An additional group was run by myself in one of the selected schools in order to trial before and after assessments of Therapeutic Storywriting groups giving five groups in total. (The results of these trial assessments are not included in this report.) Discounted group Interviews took place with a sixth group but these were discounted after interview responses indicated that the pupils had finished the group more than three months previously. More importantly they were confusing the group with a subsequent literacy support group. Age and gender balance The sample consisted of twenty-one pupils made up of thirteen girls and eight boys. Thirteen pupils were in Year 6, four pupils were in Year 5, two in Year 4 and two in Year 3. Pupils’ ages are indicated by their year groups: Year 3 pupils are 7-8 years, Year 4 pupils are 8-9 years, Year 5 pupils are 9-10 years and Year 6 pupils are 10-11 years old. Reasons for pupil referral Of the twenty-one pupils interviewed, fourteen were on the SEN register, with the remainder being monitored for possible inclusion on the register. Ten pupils were at School Action level and four were at School Action Plus. (Details of these levels of need can be found in the DfES 2001 SEN Code of Practice). Three of the pupils had previously been temporarily excluded from school. All had been referred because of emotional, social or behavioural difficulties. For a majority of the pupils these difficulties were preventing them accessing the curriculum and/or forming constructive relationships with peers. For a couple of the pupils these difficulties were expressed in a tendency to self-harm. Eight pupils had been the subjects of child protection concerns and 2 were currently on the child protection register. About a third (6 pupils) were identified by teachers as silent and withdrawn, a third (7 pupils) as having particularly aggressive behaviour and two-thirds (14 pupils) as having friendship difficulties. A more detailed account of the group composition and reasons for referral in each of the five groups is given in Appendix 1. Academic ability Teachers responsible for referring the pupils were asked to categorise them as Below Average, Average or Above Average in academic ability in relation to their peers. According to the teachers 33% (7 pupils) were below average; 54% (11 pupils) were average and 14% (3 pupils) above average. 2.4 Ethics and Confidentiality Permission was given by the parents of pupils to take part in the research. The names of the schools and LEAs have been omitted and all pupil names changed in this report in order to protect the identity of the pupils. In addition, care was taken to protect the privacy of pupils both when conducting the research by not asking intrusive questions and when writing up the report by not referring to unique incidents which could either embarrass or identify particular individuals.11 2.5 The Pupil Interviews All pupils were interviewed individually and a semi-structured group interview was also conducted with groups A, B, C & D. Group E which I ran with Y3&4 pupils was not interviewed as a group because I felt that the pupils might confuse a research group session with a normal storywriting session. In the individual interviews pupils were asked a mixture of open and scaled closed questions. In the latter thought was given to using child-centred language for the different responses provided for pupils to choose from. Semi-structured group interview The group interviews took a semi-structured form with prompts drawn from the questions used in the individual inter group used as appropriate. Formulation of Interview Questions The questions used in the individual interviews are listed in appendix 2. In framing these questions thought was given to using language that would be familiar to the children. As many pupils with EBSDs do not feel comfortable in the classroom and can see educational tasks as burdensome, questions such as 1, 4, and 18 aim to elicit responses about how much pupils enjoyed being part of the group and in particular whether they had enjoyed the actual storywriting. An enjoyable and satisfying experience of writing can be considered a first step in motivating pupils to engage with a similar writing activity in the future. Another indicator of whether pupils have been engaged with a task such as storywriting is the amount they have written. This is particularly the case for those pupils with EBSDs who find it difficult to focus on writing tasks. Question 3 is included for this reason. Many pupils with EBSDs suffer from low self-esteem and this often carries over to their image of themselves as learners. While they can often feel secure performing rote tasks such as copying or handwriting, these children can easily rubbish efforts at creative writing which reflect more of themselves. Questions 5 and 16 are therefore included to elicit responses in relation to pupils’ academic self-esteem. It is an important aspect of Therapeutic Storywriting that pupils see the groups as both positive and inclusive, that is, do not see just them as groups for difficult pupils or for those who are behind with their academic skills. Questions 18 and 19 particularly address this point. As pupils had all written a number of stories, question 20 asks pupils to choose one that was particular significant for them. This removed researcher bias in the choice of stories from individual pupils and also provided a story sample of reasonable size. Recording of pupil interviews Both the group and individual interviews took place in a quiet room. The group interviews were all tape-recorded and later transcribed in full by an external agency. For the individual interview responses were written down by the researcher and also tape-recorded. The written responses were later checked against the recordings as well as one of them being transcribed by an external agency to check for accuracy.12 2.6 Teacher Interviews The SENCOs running groups A, B, C & D were mostly interviewed on the same day as the pupils. The interviews focused on three main areas: reasons for referral of individual pupils to the groups (including my group); how closely teachers had followed the suggested structure for running a therapeutic story writing group; and the teachers’ assessment of pupils’ emotional, social and academic learning from the group. Teachers were invited to speak both in relation to individual pupils and also to the group as a whole. 2.7 Pupils’ stories Each pupil was asked to choose one story that they would remember or had enjoyed writing most. These stories were mainly analysed with respect to whether they reflected individual pupils’ emotional issues as identified both by teachers and the pupils themselves and these findings are integrated into the pupil profiles. 2.8 Pupil profiles The pupil profiles draw on the whole range of data gathered. Two Y6 pupils, one boy and one girl, were selected to reflect the sample in which almost two-thirds (13) of the sample were Y6 pupils. A third pupil from Y4 was chosen to represent the younger age group. 2.9 Analysis and Validity The analysis of the pupil interviews comprised four stages: · Written records and transcriptions from the external agency were checked for accuracy against the tape recordings; · Tapes and transcripts were listened to and read several times to provide total immersion in the data; · Initial themes were highlighted from individual and group interviews in one school; · These initial themes were checked for consistency across all pupil interviews Validity The validity of pupils’ interview responses was achieved in four ways: · Themes arising from individual pupils’ responses were compared with the frequency of similar responses from the whole sample · Views expressed by pupils in group interviews were checked for consistency with views expressed in their individual interviews · Themes from the pupil interviews were triangulated with themes arising from the stories of the pupils used in the pupil profiles · Themes which arose from the pupil interviews were triangulated with themes from the interviews with SENCOs and other teachers. 2.10 Presentation of findings In this report emphasis has been given to allowing pupils to speak for themselves about their experience of and learning from Therapeutic Storywriting groups. Illustrative quotes from pupils are preceded by a summary of the key issues identified in the interview analysis. In reporting the findings sometimes only one or two quotations are given to support a point although there are more in the database. This method is used for ease of reporting and readability. In instances when one person said something particularly significant, this has been included and the uniqueness of the response indicated.13 Section 3 Analysis of Pupil Interviews 3.1 Perception of the Purpose of the Therapeutic Storywriting Groups Pupils’ perception of the purpose of the group was assessed by asking them how they would describe the group to another child who knew nothing about it. Their response was as follows: It is a place where you · write stories · can calm down · can share feelings with each other · listen to each other’s stories · can have fun · get to listen to the teacher' s story · can write about feelings · get to know other children Asked what sort of children would benefit from attending Therapeutic Storywriting group, pupils suggested children who · are shy or have emotional problems · need help with writing and help to think about what they are saying · have family problems · don’t really feel very comfortable in their class · don’t really concentrate in class and don’t listen · want to improve their stories and might want to be story writers when older · are getting picked on · may have had a few problems and need someone to talk to · are being teased Discussion with the SENCOs about the reasons for individual referrals to the groups showed that for almost all of the children their response to this question reflected their own personal needs or situation. Children’s Voices Some children like Liam, in Y4, when asked to describe the group gave an ordered account of the main events of a session: ‘We have relaxation time to get all of your feelings out – if you’re sad you can get your sad feelings out and cheer up and it can really calm you down. After relaxation time we draw pictures and write words about how we’re feeling and then we share our feelings with the group and put them on the feelings ladder. And after (that) we do stories which get you adventurous and you want to write more stories. If you look at my book - you start off with little stories and then get better and better.’ Others like Maya focused on writing stories to express feelings: ‘It’s for people who may have had a few problems and need someone to talk to. You can write stories and talk about problems but don’t have to say it is you.’ (Maya Y6)14 Here is an extract from a group discussion in which Y5&6 girls are talking to each other about they would describe the group to another child who knew nothing about it: Nina Quite exciting and friendly, because like if you make a mistake or like do something wrong... Yasmin You don’t have to worry. Rose Yes and it’s very calming for people that have problems. Nina You get to write the stories and get your feelings out, and you can get like bad moods out of your head. You get to talk to people as well. Mia Because you just concentrate on your story sometimes and just forget about everything else. Rose I think ‘concentrate’ is like too strong a word … but there isn’t another word, you don’t have to concentrate lots but it’s one of those things that you can just do easily. 3.2 Enjoyment of the Therapeutic Storywriting Group All of the twenty-one children said they would recommend the story writing group to other children and a majority (68 %) used the terms ‘fun’ or ‘enjoyment’ when speaking of their experience of the storywriting group. 86% said they had enjoyed writing their stories a lot and 14 % said they had enjoyed writing them quite a bit. No children chose the lowest categories of ‘a little’, ‘not much’ or ‘not at all’. Teachers agreed that all the pupils seemed to enjoy coming along to groups. The main reasons given by pupils for the enjoyment they experienced were: · Clears the mind of worries · Helps get you out of a bad mood · You can express your feelings · You get to know people that you wouldn’t normally · Better than being in class · You can choose what to write · You can put your feelings into stories · Writing stories is fun · Enjoyed hearing the teachers’ story · Others listen to you · It is easier to concentrate than in class. Children’s Voices Asked to elaborate, the children spoke primarily of how the storywriting group enabled them to cope with their feelings. Ira mentioned how putting her feelings into stories made her feel better about herself: ‘You can get your feelings out and write them down so you don’t feel so bad. You can just relax and let feelings out and write stories.’ (Ira Y5) Mia in Y6, like a number of other children, commented on how the relaxation and sharing at the beginning of sessions ‘Got you in the mood to start writing’. Yasmin also noted how the storywriting group had helped her concentration: ‘I think it’s really fun and relaxing because we can- like if we’ve had some problems or if we’re just not in a good mood -we can come here and relax and we’ll concentrate easily’. (Yasmin Y6)15 Some children talked about their particular worries. For Nina, as for several other children, these were often about friendship difficulties: ‘Sometimes it’s annoying when I can’t put my friendship problems out of my head and I can’t concentrate. At the beginning of the group as we go through (the relaxation) it helps. It helps me more to get them out of my head’. (Nina Y6) And for some, like Tom below, it was the highlight of their week. ‘Before the only thing to look forward to was Friday evening … but then it was like “Yes its Friday, our session for storywriting”. The only bad thing about it is that there’s only one session a week.’ (Tom Y6) 3.3 Use of Story Metaphor to Address Emotional Issues Pupils were asked whether they thought writing their stories had particularly helped them think about their own feelings. As shown in figure 1, 72% of the children replied ‘yes’ i.e. their stories had made them think about their feelings, 11% said they didn’t know and 17 % said no. The majority of the younger children replied ‘don’t know’ or ‘no’ although the story analysis showed that many of their stories clearly reflected personal emotional issues. Don't know 11% No 17% Yes No Don't know Yes 72% Figure 1: Pupils’ response to the question,’Did your stories help you think about feelings’ Comments from the 72% of children who felt a connection between their stories and personal feelings included: · You can think how you would feel if you were in the character’s place · In stories you can try out ‘cures for problems’16 · You can put your feelings on the page and this can help you feel better · You can write about things that are worrying you without writing about yourself Children’s Voices A couple of the children spoke particularly about how they had channelled their anger into their storywriting. For Laura, whose temper had led to several temporary exclusions, her anger could actually fuel her writing: ‘sometimes when I’m in a bad temper or a bit upset I write more than I usually would because like it’s all the anger coming out onto the page.’ (Laura Y5) Several of the older children, like Ira, Nina and Miles, commented on how they liked the fact they could put their own feelings onto characters in their stories but not be writing explicitly about themselves: ‘I like getting out my feelings. If you’re worrying you can write about them but not so it’s you.’ (Ira Y5) ‘You imagine your own characters and put yourself in their shoes. You think about them and not yourself’. (Nina Y6) ‘I can visualise a place- like this guy’s cornered and he’s dodging bullets and he’s starting to shoot back at them. You can think how you’d feel if you were in his place. … I really like doing that’. (Miles Y6) Many of the children mentioned that putting their feelings onto characters helped to get ‘bad moods out of your head.’ (Maya Y5) and some thought that by writing like this ‘you can try out cures for problems’ (Rose Y6). 3.4 Pupils’ Motivation to Write and Ability to Concentrate According to teachers referring the pupils, the majority of the sample (52%) had difficulty concentrating in the main classroom because of hyperactivity, ‘dreaminess’ or a tendency to become distracted. An indication of pupils’ ability to concentrate in the group and their motivation to write was sought by asking about their writing output. The majority (95%) of the children said that the group had helped them to write more. They were then asked to estimate how much more they thought they would now write in the time normally allocated for writing in a session – generally 15-20 minutes. The children were not given specific amounts to choose from but gave the estimate in their own words and the data was then categorised as shown in Figure 2. 30% of the pupils thought they wrote ‘a couple of sentences’ or ‘a little bit more’; 24% thought ‘ a paragraph’ or ‘½ page’ more; 24% thought they had written over 1 paragraph or ½ page more than before starting the group; 19 % said that they wrote more but couldn’t say how much. Discussions with teachers and an analysis of a sample of stories supported the view that for many of the pupils attending the group had helped them to increase their writing output although sometimes not by quite as much as pupils claimed.17 Reasons given by pupils for why they could write more included: · Feeling more relaxed · Not worrying about getting things wrong · Felt good to ‘get feelings out’ · Wanting to write as much as the teacher · Able to concentrate better · More interested 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0 No more Couple of sentences or Paragraph or 1/2 page Over 1 paragraph or 1/2 More but can't say how little bit more more page more much Figure 2: Graph showing how much more pupils thought they wrote after attending sessions Children’s Voices Ira, like several of the children, mentioned that she could concentrate better in the group than in the classroom and that this helped her write more: ‘It’s helped me to concentrate more- I never concentrate in class. I daydream & stare out of the window.’ (Ira Y5) About a third of the pupils, like Martha and Rose, mentioned how an increased interest and motivation to write stories was reflected in their increased output and carried over into the classroom: ‘In class I used to write 2 lines in an hour. Now I write loads when doing a story. On Tuesday I wrote 1 ½ pages and finished in ½ hr’. (Martha Y5) ‘It’s helped my spelling and the quantity I write. It’s helped my concentration. I’m excited when we write stories in class now’. (Rose Y6) 3.5 Quality of Storywriting 62% (17 pupils) of the sample thought their stories had improved ‘a lot’ since coming to the group, 33% (13 pupils) thought they had improved ‘ quite a bit’ and 5% (1 pupil) said ‘a little’. No pupils chose the responses ‘not very much’ or ‘not at all’. Number of children18 A little 5% Quite a bit 33% A little Quite a bit A lot A lot 62% Figure 3: Chart showing how much pupils thought their stories had improved since coming to the group What pupils counted as evidence of improvement included: · Increase in quantity written (see 3.5) · Improved imagination · Improvements in handwriting, spelling or punctuation · Better descriptive words · Better beginnings or endings Many of the pupils cited an increase in the quantity written as proof of improved stories. This point is covered in relation to motivation in 3.5. Improved imagination was mentioned frequently while extended vocabulary and better story structure was mentioned by a few pupils. A majority (85%) of the children said the group had helped with their spelling, handwriting or punctuation. Handwriting was mentioned most frequently, with spelling next frequent and punctuation mentioned least. Cross-correlation with teacher assessment on this point was not included in the study. Children’s Voices A number of children commented on how the group had helped them to feel more confident about their ideas for stories. Miles talked about how important this new confidence had been for him: ‘If it’s done one thing it’s …encouraged me with my ideas because before I was like ‘ I don’t know whether I should put that down’ because people could think I was being silly when I meant to be serious.’ (Miles Y6) Miles went on to say, ‘now I’m quite jammed with ideas and I’m …writing a proper book with one of my friends at the moment, out of school’.19 A few of the girls in two different groups mentioned how they had a wider vocabulary and in particular more words to describe the emotional states of characters in their stories. Laura in Y6 explained how these more ‘detailed words’ helped them to ' express our feelings even more because it’s the words that express, that tells people.’ Liam in Y4 said that sessions had helped him structure his stories and that before he came to storywriting he ‘didn’t even know how to write beginnings of stories.’ Some pupils talked about how their handwriting could be related to their emotional state. Miles said how his ‘normal comfy writing used to be… quite un-neat’ but that now he could improve it when he wanted to, adding ‘which I’ve discovered is when I’m relaxed’ (Miles Y6). However, Laura in Y6, was one of a few pupils who were clear that this had not been the purpose of the group and said, ‘this group isn’t really about punctuation, spelling & handwriting- it’s about feelings.’ Very few pupils mentioned grammar or punctuation although Andrew in Y6 was pleased that he now got his ‘66s and 99s’ in the right place. Use of drawing to extend story themes 66% of the pupils said they liked having time to illustrate their stories although 29 % said they did not and preferred writing to drawing. (5 % said ‘don’t know’). Many of those who enjoyed this activity mentioned how drawing helped extend their story themes and reasons given included: · It can spark new ideas · You can cartoon feelings of anger · If you can’t describe something in words you can draw it For some pupils like Miles, the drawings moved them back into their writing: ‘In these kind of drawings I do …I like writing about the emotions of each person’. (Miles Y6) 3.6 Awareness of Others and Communication Skills Awareness of others and communication skills constitute the interpersonal aspect of emotional literacy (Gardner, 1993). Here these are examined in relation to: · Listening and speaking skills · Degree of friendship/trust established between group members Listening and speaking skills Figure 4 shows pupils response to the question How much did the group help children to listen to each other? 61% said ‘a lot’, 29% said ‘quite a bit’ and 10 % said ‘a little’. None chose ‘not very much’ or ‘not at all’. When asked to say how the group had helped them listen or speak responses included: · Everyone gets a turn to speak · Being interested in what is being said · Giving and getting ideas from each other · Trusting that other members of the group will not tease or laugh at you · Feeling that others are interested in what you have to say · Not being forced to say something if you don’t feel like it20 A little 10% A little Quite a bit A lot Quite a bit 29% A lot 61% Figure 4: Pupils response to, How much did the group help children listen to each other? Children’s Voices In one of the group discussions pupils commented on how Andrew, a Y6 boy with ADHD, had managed his tendency to speak at inappropriate times: ‘Andrew used to be a bit like, when you’d read out a story, ‘Oh yes that reminds me of…’ but now he holds it in until it’s his turn. Andrew’s probably improved the most out of all of us’. (Y6 girl) Andrew himself agreed with this saying, I don’t talk out loud anymore’ but then adding very honestly ' I do sometimes but not so much' . Dave another Y6 boy in the same group had the opposite tendency and was introduced by another group member as ‘the quiet one’. While Dave said very little in the group discussion, in the individual interview he said that the group had helped him to speak because, ' it makes me give ideas for the other people’s stories’. A number of pupils commented that having sharing ideas for stories had given them more confidence in heir own writing and the other members of his group agreed with Miles when he said, ‘if you take an idea from someone else they won’t call you a copycat or something.’ For Lyn, another shy pupil, it was ‘knowing that you’ve got people listening to you and you don’t feel silly ’cos no one is listening to you and you’re not speaking for no reason’ that gave her the confidence to speak. Mia, also in Y6, felt confident she ‘could talk to others and they would understand’ yet indicated that she could hardly believe they were interested when she added ‘even if they weren’t listening they did well at acting at listening’21 Several of the pupils, particularly those referred because of being shy or withdrawn such as Leanne, mentioned that it was good that everyone had a turn and ‘you don’t have to wait a long time like you do in class -everyone gets to speak‘. (Leanne Yr 6) Degree of friendship/trust established between group members The benefit of the group in terms of supporting pupils’ relationships with peers was emphasised in pupils’ responses in both individual and group interviews. All the children said they had got on well with the other children in their group. The only qualification to this was from 2 children in the Y3 & 4 group who said they had sometimes been irritated by a Y3 girl in their group who disturbed them when they were writing. The girl herself thought she had got on very well with the other children in the group. Children’s Voices Ira, like several other children, said that the group had helped her make a new friend: ‘I didn’t really know Nina and things I had heard about her hadn’t been good. But as I got to know her I liked her’. (IraY5) In three of the four group discussions, pupils talked about how important the elements of acceptance and trust had been for their relationship with each other. Maya and Miles’ comments reflect those of their two groups: ' You felt you wanted to be in the group and felt the others wanted you to be there.’ (Maya Y5) ‘It’s good because you can share your feelings with one another and you can know that no one’s going to like blurt it out and dare or something to someone.’ (Miles Y6) Laura in Y6 saw how improved speaking and listening skills had helped with her friendships, saying, ‘I’m normally bossy. It’s helped me to talk and listen to other people. I’ve got a lot more friends now.’ 3.7 The Teacher’s Story Twenty of the twenty-one children said they really enjoyed the teacher writing her story and were able to readily say why they liked it. One pupil (possible ASD) replied ‘I don’t know’. One pupil said he liked the teacher’s story but sometimes it was a bit long while another said that he liked it but was’ shocked’ because he didn’t expect to be able to understand an adult’s story. Reasons given for enjoying the teacher’s story included: · Teacher uses the children’s ideas in her story · It’s like a whole group story · Stories are interesting and sometimes funny · You can picture yourself as one of the characters in the story · The teacher is doing what you’re doing · It’s relaxing because the teacher is not looking over you · Gives children ideas Children’s Voices Many of the pupils like Miles, enjoyed the way the teacher used their ideas in her story:22 ‘It’s probably the best part for me. She will write really interesting stories and she’ll ask for ideas and even if they could be quite silly or something she’ll do them and make them more sensible and correct.’ (Miles Y6 boy) What emerged from pupils’ discussion was how much they had been engaged by the teacher’s story. Miles went on to say how he could easily identify with the characters in her story: And they’re usually really possible- like you can basically picture yourself –she’s doing this one about a really nice little otter at the moment- I could really picture myself in one of the people’s place. I could really really picture just walking down this lakeside and seeing an otter with a wound (Miles Y6) Many pupils also mentioned how the teacher’s story helped them with ideas for their own stories. Maya in Y5 spoke for them when she said, ‘It was quite nice listening to her because it’s giving us ideas what to write in our stories’. One boy in my own group said he particularly liked seeing ‘how much you write because then I wanted to write as much’ (Sean Y4). A number of the pupils in different groups commented on how the teacher writing her own story made them feel more comfortable about their own writing activity. Nina summed up their views when she said, ‘It doesn’t make you feel like some big human camera is watching us.’ (Nina Y6) 3.8 Views on Choice and Marking Choice over what to write While the teacher each week suggests a new writing theme in each session, pupils are free to make the final choice over what they write. Several pupils commented on how liberating this had been. In one of the group discussions, Mike commented on how that he had really appreciated this choice: ‘there’s no restrictions – no teachers telling you you’ve got to do this you’ve got to do that… like oh this type of story has to start with this or has to do tha’t. Andrew, also in the group, supported Mike saying that he felt a sense of freedom because ‘we can always write whatever we want’. The group teachers agreed that pupils had enjoyed the freedom to choose what to write about. However two of them said they had felt a bit nervous when pupils had written a ‘true’ story as they were sometimes not sure how to respond to it. Freedom from marking In one group interview an individual pupil spoke quite passionately about how important it was for him that his stories were not marked in the group. He thought that marking ‘just puts pressure on us. I think it’s better to do the story writing like this…I still want to do it but I don’t want to be marked.’ (Andrew Y6)23 The rest of the group agreed with Andrew. Mike added that he thought that sharing ideas meant that marking was not relevant and this in turn felt liberating: ‘if everyone gives you ideas then you don’t get marked and you feel a sense of freedom’. It was clear from the pupils’ books that all of the teachers had restricted their comments on pupils’ work to those concerning emotional literacy issues in the story, as suggested in the training. Some spelling corrections were given but none had given graded marks. 3.9 Ending the Group All pupils had just ended or were about to end their storywriting group. They were asked how they felt about this ending. Figure 6 shows the response to this question. Eighteen of the twenty-one children said they would be sad, upset or miss the group and didn’t want the group to finish. Both happy and sad Won't mind as 5% will see people anyway 10% Upset, sad or will miss the group 85% Upset, sad or will miss the group Won't mind as will see people anyway Both happy and sad Figure 6: Pupils' response to the question, What will it be like when the group finishes? Most reasons given were concerned with missing one of the following: · the story writing · listening to teacher’s and other children’s stories · the relaxation · group members they wouldn’t usually see Others focused more deeply on the loss: · feeling ‘lost’ or ‘lonely’ without the group · losing something important

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