There is no doubt that the past two years have been a challenge for everyone. No matter what age, what job, what stage of life, the pandemic has affected us all and will continue to for the foreseeable future.
While that sounds doom-laden, there are cost-effective and evidence-based strategies that we can employ in order to support, nurture and progress the children and young people in our care. Regardless of what the term ahead brings, we can edge those most in need further towards a more positive place in which to live and to learn.
One such strategy is Therapeutic Storywriting. Therapeutic Storywriting Groups use metaphor in stories in order to support children with their learning, in particular those for whom emotional and behavioural difficulties are getting in the way. They combine support for literacy with support for emotional wellbeing.
Teachers who have used Therapeutic Storywriting Groups report very positive impacts. One teacher saw a child who found writing a challenge grow in confidence as an individual, another reported the benefits of such a practical and proactive way of helping children to address their own needs, another was impressed by how much children developed their storywriting skills through the focussed interest of the group, and another became much more aware of how story writing can provide a healing tool to help children to deal with their emotions.
The Groups are for pupils aged 7-13 years and run for 10 sessions. Each session lasts for one hour. Running the intervention over ten weeks allows pupils in the Groups to have 2 or 3 weeks to become familiar with the routine of the session. Once established there follows several weeks where the intervention runs with everyone knowing what to expect. This provides a sense of emotional containment - there aren't going to be any major surprises. Children begin to see the sessions as part of their usual routine and look forward to the next one. There are then 2 or 3 weeks for the completion stage of the intervention. Pupils attending may have previously experienced difficult loss and abandonment in the past and so giving thought to finishing, including a celebration of what has been achieved - models a healthy way to deal with endings. On a practical level the 10-week programme also fits in well with the term length in most schools and thus makes timetabling of rooms and staffing easier.
The Groups work by giving children the opportunity to express feelings through writing stories. They work with the metaphor in stories written by the children themselves to address emotional issues that are getting in the way of the child’s learning. For example, a story about Robbie the Rabbit sitting outside his warren feeling miserable can give children a chance to project their feelings onto the character and to think about the implications of feeling that way.
Dr Trisha Waters developed the Therapeutic Storywriting model as a result of her experience as a teacher working with vulnerable pupils in primary schools. She explained, “Pupils with emotional difficulties, who may find it hard to stay on task in the classroom, can suddenly become completely focused and motivated when story writing. By playing with different characters, scenes and plots of which they are the creators, story writing seems to provide a way for the child to explore who they are and what they feel within the protected world of the imaginary. Therapeutic Storywriting supports emotional resilience while developing pupils' literacy skills.”
Associated, but separate from Therapeutic Storywriting Groups, is the Story Links intervention. This is a parent partnership intervention for vulnerable pupils that is a more specialised extension of Therapeutic Storywriting Groups. Story Links includes parents and carers of vulnerable pupils to help to build positive home and school relationships and support children whose emotional difficulties due to attachment issues are getting in the way of their learning.
Story Links also combines supporting emotional development with supporting literacy and is solution focused. It is delivered over 10 weeks in sessions which include the child, the child’s parent, the teacher or teaching assistant working with the child, and the Story Links facilitator. Research which was conducted by the University of Chichester found that Story Links “improves parental engagement with their child’s learning, reduces exclusion from the classroom and improves pupils’ reading.” (Source: Evidence-base | Story Links Training)
The need for such emotional support and academic support for reading and writing is undoubtedly there. Interventions such as Therapeutic Storywriting Groups and Story Links just might be the powerful evidence-based strategies to help children to thrive, both academically and emotionally, that we need.
Find out more…
Virtual 3-day Story Links training is taking place on Tuesdays 1st February, 1st March, and 22nd March 2022.
Virtual 3-day Therapeutic Storywriting Groups training is taking place on Tuesdays 15th February, 8th March, and 29th March 2022.
For further information: admin@TherapeuticStorywriting.co.uk
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.