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Thanks everyone who attended and contributed to my recent lecture on teaching creative writing at Natur och Kultur publishers. Upwards of fifty teachers attended in person, while a dozen or so watched and chatted online from elsewhere in the country. Natur och Kultur themselves had about six people on hand –– working late to help students around the country by helping their teachers get new ideas.

My long-term goal is to improve the quality of English education in Sweden; working with creative structures is a vital part of that improvement.  If you were (or weren’t) in attendance and have questions or comments, please feel free to contact me at: kfrato@yahoo.com.

I’ll be finishing my Swedish lecture tour on Wednesday, May 10th at the Natur och Kultur building in Stockholm, talking about teaching creative writing at the high school level. The lecture starts at 5 p.m. (refreshments from 4 p.m.) and the sign up is here.

I’ll be discussing the benefits and challenges of using creative writing in the English curriculum, how to grade creative writing and the workshopping process, teaching the theory of what creative writing is, teaching narrative structure and mechanics, and finally describing the workshopping format and its dos and don’ts (extremely important for protecting students’ integrity, and where my Echo Main Issues books differ from others).

I’m planning to cover a lot of useful material during the evening.  Please bring your ideas and questions, and I hope to see you there!

High school English teachers in Sweden sometimes ask me why they should buy the Echo books for their classes.  My answer is in two parts –– firstly, why we English teachers should invest in textbooks in general, and secondly why the ones I wrote might be a better investment than the others.

Firstly, why invest in textbooks at all?  It’s a fair question.  I myself taught for years without textbooks, and now that my students have English textbooks, we still don’t use them every lesson.  But I’ve grudgingly come to understand that the right books are worth requesting funds for from your department head or principal.

Why are high-quality textbooks worth purchasing?

Develop a common understanding: I support students’ freedom to choose novels to read (this increases their interest in reading them); however sometimes the whole class benefits from reading and discussing shorter texts together, to help develop a common understanding.

Help for both struggling and bored student: Both struggling and bored students benefit from having textbooks to turn to, struggling students because the book serves as an extra resource, bored students because the books serve as intellectual stimulation when they have already grasped concepts.

3  Students trying to catch up appreciate textbooks: For students trying to catch up with coursework, textbooks help.  It’s helpful to be able to refer them to a specific chapter or resource section first, and then answer any questions they might still have afterwards.

Textbooks are designed to fit course goals: Textbook authors and editors spend months, sometimes years, planning, writing, editing and fine-tuning texts and exercises to fit the national curriculum’s course goals –– which means that if we use textbooks (or parts of them) efficiently, we spend more time teaching, and less time scrambling to meet curriculum goals.

Why buy Echo: Main Issues, specifically? 

1  Designed and written for Gy11  My editor Åsa and I designed every aspect of the books with the current course goals in mind. (Other books still on the market were originally written for the old curriculum!).

2  Purpose-written texts.  I’ve designed the texts in each book to be psychologically engaging and offer a complete reading experience –– unlike the extracts or adaptations to be found in other books.  (Yes, I myself wrote all the texts in Echo Main Issues 5 & 6, as well as a few in Echo Vocational, even if they appear be be written by other people.)

3  Integrated linguistic exercises –– I wrote the exercises together with the texts, so they are fully integrated with one another.

4  Respectful writing workshops: Other books encourage students to criticize each other’s text in a peer-response process.  Unfortunately this leads to poor textual analysis –– and hurt feelings.  Echo: Main Issues follws the same guidelines I use with my college students: analysis of how a texts works for us, structurally and linguistically, without any value judgments or helpful suggestions. And the author remains silent and listens, in order to avoid unnecessary apologies, explanations, corrections, or arguments.  It’s a tried-and-true method, and very helpful.

4  Natur och Kultur’s democratic mission: Natur och Kultur Publishers is a non-profit foundation whose mission is to work for peace and democracy.  Thus the stories and other texts I wrote have a democratic purpose –– they deal with issues like bullying, football hooliganism, racism, poverty, gun violence, women’s rights, etc.

5  Professional experience. I bring professional experience to these books.  I’ve been publishing professionally since I was seventeen –– working for newspapers, magazines, as a translator and editor, and as a fiction and non-fiction author since 1987.  I also have a double-masters in English Literature and Education, and I’ve been teaching since the 1990s.  In addition to high-school English, I also teach creative writing at a college in Stockholm.  So for intance the reference sections of the books that deal with various types of texts and writing feedback –– these are issues I’ve been working with professionally for decades.

I’ll be giving free talks in Linköping, Sweden on the 25th of November, and in Östersund the next evening as part of the publisher Natur och Kultur Echo-series talks.  My subject will be working with fairy tales and fantasy with young readers and writers.

On the 11th of December I’ll be giving the same talk at Natur och Kultur, Karlavägen, Stockholm.  (Last spring there were hors d’oeuvres, books, and cotton tote-bags; I’m hoping for the same this time.)

Giving talks is something I love doing, though it does also makes me nervous.  For me, the feedback I get from the audience is the best part.  Last spring in Umeå, for instance, I got the chance to talk to people dealing with similar questions and problems as the ones I face.

This fall I’ve decided to focus more on integrating novels with textbooks, taking advantage of young peoples’ natural interest in fairy tales and fantasy, and new ways of working with reading and writing.