Writing Workshops – Author Profile

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Cambridge University Press has put author profiles on the educational site for its new English GCSE resources, including the Writing Workshops, and you can check it out here or, if interested, read below – I had forgotten information had been requested, and it is interesting to read what was said and judge if you still agree! Well, I do, and I am still very proud of the resource written with Martin Phillips:

Author Spotlight

Mike Ferguson – Writing Workshops

1. Could you tell us a little about your background?

I taught English for 30 years in an 11-18 comprehensive; 18 years as Head of Department. I write regularly: have had poetry published in a wide variety of journals [book and on-line] as well as anthologies and one collection; educational textbooks, especially focusing on poetry and creative writing, and blogging, both about music and English as a subject [though separately!]

2. What do you enjoy most about working in education?

I am retired from teaching, but always loved the engagement with students and colleagues. As an English teacher my greatest privilege was to work with students of all abilities and encourage them as writers, especially creatively, and to experience their joy in discovering a talent for being imaginative as well as expressive. Some of the best writing I have ever read – and I mean ever – has been that from my students over those 30 years.

My work now in education, whether writing about English for textbooks or blogging, reflects my continuing desire to share experience and support both teachers and students to engage fully in this subject, especially in developing an enthusiasm for and expertise in writing widely.

3. What inspired you most as a student?

The humanity, kindness and support from teachers at my secondary modern school in Ipswich: a Head teacher who encouraged my political and other radicalism, as naïve as it was at the time; an RE teacher who allowed me to explore issues and express opinions without ever correcting or belittling; a Physics teacher who always complimented my effort and illustrations in exercise books whilst I was clearly out of my depth with knowledge and understanding, and an English teacher who praised and encouraged my early poetry writing [a la Ginsberg] despite the fact it was naïve and pretentious. Their encouragement and care was forever a model to which I aspired as a teacher.

4. What advice would you give to teachers at this time of significant educational change?

English teachers need to be writers and readers themselves, especially the former.

If we are entering a period with less testing and targeting as the core culture in which we work – which seems possible – English teachers should, in my opinion, celebrate the creativity in our subject as much as possible. The whole school curriculum has over the years become increasingly literal and in English we need to celebrate metaphor and all that is slippery and elusive, especially when it comes to monitoring!

5. What’s your favourite book and why?

This is that question which cannot be answered finitely! However, I would single out Ray Carver and his short stories as a favourite in being so memorable to read, but also in guiding me as a writer: keeping it simple. I know I very often do the complete opposite, but what I hope my best writing achieves is to be honest and straightforward. Unless I need to be outrageous.

6. How do our new English GCSE for AQA resources support teachers and students?

With fellow author Martin Phillips, we wrote the ‘Writing Workshops’ to adhere passionately to an ethos where we treat students as writers to help them improve as writers. The new GCSE terminal exam for Writing is a reality that I would never characterise as ‘easy’ [especially its totality as an end-of-course exam] but it is straightforward and if we have encouraged students to write as writers – more meaningful than it sounds – over the two years of the GCSE study, and to engage with and respond to extended ‘real’ writing tasks rather than endless exercises, then they will be as prepared as possible for that exam. We also hope they will have enjoyed the writing process of getting there.

I think the digital resources that accompany our text and many others in this significant new collection of resources to teach English Language and Literature from 2015 is genuinely exciting in its breadth and focus. From a Writing perspective, well-known and full-time writers talking about their craft directly to students has to be a goldmine of engagement and illumination.

7. Cambridge University Press has set up a Brighter Thinking Forum to engage students and teachers in what we do and to give something back to them as well. It also represents a mission statement for our new publishing. What does ‘brighter thinking’ mean to you?

Keeping my focus on writing, ‘Brighter Thinking’ in this context is about exploring and engaging and being imaginative. It is also about being creative, and it is about being prepared to take risks. There are rules and conventions and one needs to know these as well as when and how to use them, especially where such a norm is the best method to apply. However, ‘Brighter Thinking’ should be about having had the practice to explore alternatives and the confidence to brightly step outside the box in using these to make a real impact.

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