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Grade-free Spaces

While working for the charity Brainfruit, I led creative writing and poetry workshops in British schools. These workshops aimed to engage young people and help them express themselves through the written and spoken word.

I employed a range of activities: stream-of-consciousness writing, exercises to develop metaphor, cutting and reordering of well-known poems, and teaching poetic forms such as the limerick.

Prior to running the workshops, I was sceptical of how a group of teenagers would react to some strange poetry-pusher stepping into their classroom and nagging them to write; but somewhat surprisingly, the workshops were a success!

One of the main reasons the students enjoyed these workshops was that the activities were not marked and did not directly affect their GCSEs, A levels, or other qualifications. I was told by numerous teachers that students are under constant pressure to produce work which will affect their final grades, and thereby their futures.

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The notion that everything should be graded was so entrenched that students struggled to believe that what they produced in these workshops was neither right nor wrong, nor would affect their grades. But once this was understood, anxieties stemming from having to ‘make the grade’ were temporarily suspended, allowing the students to engage in a way that was free, relaxed, and highly conducive to creativity.

I am not arguing for the death of examinations: while young people are currently subject to excessive examination, some form of testing is necessary. However, with pressure on young people only increasing, we must integrate ‘grade-free spaces’ into their education, and not only for light relief.

As anyone involved in the arts will know, it is vital to create an environment in which you can experiment, play, and make mistakes without the fear of dropping a grade or jeopardizing your future. It is in these spaces that creativity flourishes.

Alex Crumbie

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