Creative writing has gained tremendous importance in many education systems around the world today. In countries like Singapore, an entire mini industry of teaching institutes offering enrichment and supplementary classes exists; with each offering to develop creative writing competency in children, at various price points. These teaching centres typically put together a “creative writing” focused syllabus and develop a set of teaching tools they deem suitable for teaching the skill to their target age group of students. Some may have designed their programs around the methodologies of renowned authors in the field while others may have designed unique teaching methods on their own.
Challenges : Choosing The Right Educational Institute
“Creative writing” as a concept is ill defined at best and the effectiveness of any teaching method is highly dependent on several subjective factors like the educator’s competency and the child’s readiness to tackle this area of language development.
An educational institute may have the best of intentions in developing a teaching program in a specific way but their defined scope may be incomplete or their teaching methods may not be suitable for all young children.
What Makes A Good Creative Writing Class ?
So when parents do decide that they want to enroll their children into a creative writing class, they have to consider several factors before deciding on a suitable educational institute to invest their money and their child’s time on.
1. Does the teaching institute check the child’s English proficiency level before accepting students?
Creative writing is a slightly advanced skill and without a good foundation in basic English, no teaching institute will be able to teach this area effectively. So it must be expected that any institute or centre will not accept a student without first making an assessment of the child’s readiness. If any school is ready to accept a student without first making an assessment of the children’s current grasp of the English language, that is a big red flag about the seriousness of the school to actually deliver on the creative writing objective.
2. Is there a well articulated syllabus or is the organisation trying to sell itself with a charismatic pitch?
Every organisation or company has a story – some practical and some very inspirational. Parents sometimes get convinced about the genuine intentions of a school after reading a well written narrative or video explaining how the school really just wants to help all children grow and develop into the best versions of themselves. Unfortunately, genuine intentions alone will do little to actually develop any actual writing skills in a child. A school must be able to back up their claims with a well articulated syllabus that details the topics that will be covered during their creative writing course. It must be obvious to the parent that the educational institute has put thorough research effort into developing a teaching framework designed with the best intentions to work, instead of cobbling together a program simply littered with the latest buzzwords in the industry.
3. Can the teachers in the school elaborate clearly on the teaching methods used?
Many teaching institutes and enrichment centres will attempt to cut costs on the teaching staff they hire. These are businesses after all. What this means to parents is that although the particular centre may have already built a strong reputation – the teachers who built that reputation may no longer be with the school and may have been replaced by inexperienced or less passionate individuals (cheaper) who are not as excited about teaching your child. Parents have to speak with teachers directly and make an assessment of his/her passion to teach and familiarity with the teaching centre’s syllabus and methods. Of course, there is no objective way to make such an assessment, but at the very least it will be obvious in extreme cases – for example if a centre tries to pass off a part-time, inexperienced and uninterested University student as a qualified teacher for your child’s class. If the parent knows more about the syllabus than the teacher, it is best to take your money elsewhere.
4. Do the teachers in the institute/centre have any writing experience?
Many adverts for anything related to teaching tend to focus on the fact that the private centre is run by trained teachers or trained teachers have had some contribution to the design of the syllabus or the way the school is run. For example in Singapore, ads for tuition centres often mention “NIE trained ….” This is definitely as plus point – but in a creative writing class the big question is “Does the teacher have any actual writing experience?” One would expect a driving instructor to be able to drive well or a mathematics professor to have published a few papers in the field. In the same vein, the teacher in any creative writing class ought to be able to show parents his/her own creatively written works. If the only thing a specific teacher can offer as proof of competence in this area is “I am trained by so-so…,” that assurance should be taken with a pinch of salt and may not really mean much at all, especially if the centre is charging a premium based on this “benefit”.
5. Do the teaching methods aim to build foundations or do they focus heavily on quick wins?
Any creative writing teaching syllabus should focus on developing fundamentals and experimenting with quick-wins.
- Fundamentals are things such as teaching the use of advanced sentence constructs and pushing grammar rules.
- Quick wins can be as simple as introducing the use of an idiomatic expression in a piece of writing.
Several schools will focus on quick wins because these show some form of results quicker. Yet, unbalanced development through a focus on quick wins limits growth in the child’s creative writing capabilities in the long run. In order for the child to progress into more advanced levels of creative writing over the years, a strong set of fundamental skills designed for creative writing must be instilled from the very beginning. Otherwise the child will eventually start to write simplistic essays with a whole bunch of idioms, synonyms and “big words” thrown in. This is not creative writing.
6. Is the teacher-student contact time sufficient to expect results?
An hour a week ? Parents should expect progress to be slow. It will be slower still if the school does not expect the child to do some homework before every lesson. In such a scenario, it is very likely that the child will simply be taught a series of quick win techniques that give the illusion of progress. Creative writing should be thought of as a subject on its own so the teacher to student contact time should reflect the level of commitment needed to develop this skill. We would recommend at least 2 hours a week of purposeful contact time as the bench mark for “sufficient”, or 1 hour a week with some work being done at home.
7. Does the teaching institute focus on teaching just 1 creative writing style?
In a heavily results driven economy – the easiest way for any creative writing enrichment centre to deliver results is to teach 1 style of writing with absolute focus. The draw back of this approach is that the chosen style may not suit your child and create disinterest. For a young child learning anything, disinterest is a powerful de-motivator. Teaching centres should ideally offer a syllabus that encourages experimentation and gives the child exposure to various writing styles. This increases the chances that the child will find a style that is suitable for him/her.
8. Is there any focus on developing the child’s vocabulary and grammar?
A big part of creative writing is learning to use new words, old words in different ways and advanced sentence constructs to deliver experiences more effectively through the written word. So if a creative writing class does not have any element of focus on teaching students an expansive vocabulary or advanced grammar rules – parents should question the long term effectiveness of the program. Remember, “quick win” techniques may be employed by institutes to create the illusion of progress. So parents need to look at the centre’s syllabus and make an assessment whether the school is going to really teach their child how to write creatively with consistency or if the school going to teach the child to write with templates that will undoubtedly improve the quality of writing but not actually develop the child’s real ability to write creatively without resorting to writing prompts and aids all the time.
Brought to you by the KidsEnglishCollege™ Editorial Team.
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