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Alumna of the month - April 2010

Frances Dickens
Bachelor of Education at South Bank Polytechnic, 1982

Frances Dickens
There is no way that I am solely responsible for the success I have achieved, a good teacher learns lessons from everyone around him/her.  It is a two way process.  All my tutors, colleagues, parents and children were my teachers and their support and response informed my own learning and enriched it.  For this I have much to thank them for.

This statement from our Alumna of the Month expresses the persona she portrayed in 19 years of teaching after obtaining her Bachelor of Education at South Bank Polytechnic in 1982.

Frances has used her experiences to recently publish ‘The Story Maker Motivator’ an essential guide for encouraging creative writing in the classroom.

Frances takes us on her journey in education and the many successes achieved on route.

Student life in 1978

‘The prospect of entering the academic world and studying to be a teacher was incredibly exciting, especially as I had not enjoyed school in my youth. 

I was full of enthusiasm and anticipation.    But it wasn’t easy.  I had no idea how to write essays, believing that the reader only wanted to know what I thought, so the grades were poor to begin with.  However with the help from my tutors, I began to earn merits and finally understand what was required.

I chose Art for my main topic and through the theme of puppetry explored all areas of creativity from building my own puppet theatre, to making rod, hand and shadow puppets. I wrote a story for my puppets which culminated in the production of a video film, directed by Harry Chard, and made by the E.T.S department at the Polytechnic. Janet Graham, our Art Tutor introduced us to the history of art, organised trips to Galleries and provided stimulating workshops.  She was an inspiration to us all. 

All the subject workshops were practical and illuminating.  I easily incorporated elements from particular workshops into formats I could use for my teaching practices.

Despite having a young family, I was able to balance my role as a mother, and that of a mature student with ease.  One activity complimented the other.  I was energised by everything I learnt at the South Bank.’

The Story Maker Motivator

‘Retirement from teaching in 2001 gave me the time I needed to review my educational work.  A colleague, Kirstin Lewis, a literacy consultant agreed to become co-author for my book project.  Together we produced a book that was taken up by Speechmark Publications and published in 2007 entitled ‘The Story Maker’.  It was my daughter who came up with the title and this initiated the development of other ideas within the book. ‘The Story Maker’ has done remarkably well and is now due to be reprinted with some exciting additions:  Narrative Planning and new games to promote the understanding and usage of language.  It has also been translated into Italian and is called ‘Il Fabbricastorie’ and into Swedish ‘Berätta tillsammans’. 

In 2006, I decided that this idea could be developed into a book ‘The Story Maker Motivator’ for secondary schools and during the course of two years worked with years 7, 8, 9 and 10 in Graveney School in Tooting.  I could not have accomplished this without the kind help and assistance of Helen Gray, an extremely gifted English teacher at Graveney.

As this book is directed at an older audience I was able to experiment with many ideas and also examine the needs of any teacher, parent or student who would use the book.  All these ideas were trialled and tested with the classes at Graveney School and the students produced some outstanding pieces of creative writing, some examples of which are included in ‘The Story Maker Motivator’. 

I showed a draft to Roger Mason, retired Head Teacher of Backwell Secondary School, in Bristol. Roger was also Head of English and Teaching English, so his opinion was extremely relevant.   He really liked the project and made a few useful suggestions which enabled me to finalise the book.  I then sent him the final draft, and was thrilled to receive his comments:

‘If I was Head of English now I would definitely use it. It is packed with ideas.  There are so many lessons a teacher could get out of this book.  It is different from anything I have seen. It is clear and comprehensive.’

The Green Kid Gang

‘During my lunch periods I developed a green environmental club, called The Green Kid Gang.  Our work consisted of paintings from the school and of their immediate environment and their comments on the destruction of the Rainforest.  The children wrote letters to the Council with their suggestions for environmental improvements and to the BBC to include environmental issues in popular soaps.  They wrote to the producer of ‘Eastenders’ and received a response and changes were observed in the soap. 

Their work was shown in a slide show at an important Green Environment Business Meeting chaired by David Bernstein, a major figure in the advertising world.  David also showed slides of the school and after the meeting people commented upon the power of the children’s work.  The audience was made up of people from Corporate Affairs, Marketing, PR Managers, Communication Organisations, Environment Media and other Environmental groups.

The Green Kid Gang raised money for various concerns, a sponsored walk for the rainforest, a jumble sale for Blue Peter’s Rumanian Appeal, a sponsored walk for the dolphins.  They initiated a recycling scheme for cans, and submitted their comments to Lambeth Council regarding a Litter Bin project.  The gang had their own T shirts with the Green Kid Gang Symbol and the school was awarded a shield for The Green Kid Gang’s environmental work.’