My uncreative writing experiment is coming to an end… a new beginning

the original and my uncreative interpretation

It has been a fascinating journey. What a challenge. I didn’t really think I would get so much out of “uncreative writing”. We have been experimenting with “ncreative” or conceptual writing, I can relate more to the second term… as part of the MA in Creative Writing and the experimental module I am doing this term. Looking back, I remind myself of my youngest, who when he was little used to say “I don’t like it? What is it?” or the other way around, I can’t remember now.

How can “uncreative” writing ever be a feature of creative writing? This did sound dodgy, but actually, my immersion into different forms of uncreative writing through authors who have done a lot of work in this area (especially Goldsmith but also others) and my peers on the course, progressively I started becoming less skeptical. It just didn’t make any sense at the beginning and often “uncreative” writing pieces looked random, random arrangements, random radical and unconventional representations that just didn’t make any sense. It seemed that yes, the new output was a new form but why? Well, there is a why and this is key, I think, in “uncreative” writing. A deep and critical and imaginative engagement with an existing text can produce a new form of creative output that stands well on its own. That has been detouched from the original. In a way, the process reminded me of translation, but it is something very different. But it is a translation or an interpretation perhaps. A focus on certain seeds we find in an original, that speak to us in a unique way and we, the “uncreative” writers, conduct a study or inquiry into these and what they could mean, or what they do mean to us. This study leads us to some findings, like any study does and it is really fascinating.

So basically by not being creative one can be really creative. It does sound strange, but I have experienced this myself…

I decided to study “uncreative” writing on the picture book Pandora (Turnbull, 2016). My final output is Pandora’s, an artifact in a box.  Both are shown above in the picture. I have reflected in detail on the creative or uncreative process, step-by-step, my dilemmas and ideas and how it all came together, as well as the features of the box and what is within it.

What I would like to do here is reflect on the whole experience, what I learnt from it and how such an approach could perhaps be used in practice… do I dare to say, my creative writing practice as well as my academic development practice.

What did I learn?
Well, uncreative writing really exists and it can be a really powerful vehicle for creative writing and I suspect development more widely. We almost never start with a blank canvas. Our ideas have their roots in other people’s work… many, often don’t want to admit this as they think it is a weakness… well, it isn’t. It is important where ideas come from. Making novel connection between ideas is being imaginative and resourceful that will drive creativity and innovation in whatever we do. This is no different in uncreative writing. I felt that my initial resistance had perhaps more to do with the perceived randomness of outputs, from my side. But, I didn’t step away from it. I was patient and open to strange ideas, ideas I wouldn’t really consider. And I think this is key. Especially when we are critical, especially when we are dismissive, we may miss valuable learning opportunities. I have seen this so often in the context of my work. As a playful and creative academic developer, I have experienced resentment when modelling more unusual approaches to learning and teaching. I know that we need to listen especially carefully when we disagree, when we dismiss, when we don’t understand something or somebody. I did stick with it and the conversations we had in class and the readings I have done, also helped,  but most of it the experiment itself. Doing it myself. Learning through making, literally. And writing through making. It could be that it came naturally to me to turn a flat 2 dimensional book into a 3 dimensional adventure. I often use objects and models in my teaching. I suspect I was influenced by this, but also I felt that the digital tools I was using did not help me connect with the same depth with the story and my study. So I soon distanced myself from these. It has been fascinating. Working with our hands, thinking with our hands is still, and will always be a powerful medium. To be critical, we also need to be creative at the same time and that requires a portion of experimentation and play. Play with ideas, play to make novel connections, play to get it wrong and start again, play to change direction, but also play as a creative pleasure. I feel that I did all this as part of the project. I actually think that my own playfulness was the driver of this study. Initially it didn’t lead anywhere, I felt lost and just couldn’t get it. But then something happened and I broke free from flat paper… that was truly liberating. Originally, I tried to stick far too close to the original idea, the original text and the images, but when I conceptualised my interpretation, I could start seeing the path I would take. My wings started growing. I had no idea from the outset where this would lead me, but I have also been flexible during the process and did not ignore my inner critical voices to make decision and have to acknowledge that some of my ideas were rubbish. But they did help me better understand what I didn’t want to do, so the experimental and playful part of giving them a go was extremely useful.
I also learnt that uncreative writing enabled deep engagement with a text. I suspect this could be any text. In my case it was a picture book. Turning the story into an(other) artifact using specific uncreative writing techniques, opened my eyes and my mind to new possibilities.

My (un)creation itself in the shoebox looks a bit rough and rustic, definitely messy!!! … handmade and it is. It also looks unfinished and not refined… and it is. I have no problem with this looking back now, while originally I felt this needs to look and be perfect, polished. It isn’t. It is messy and chaotic. And when I freed myself from perfection and tolerating imperfections and mistakes (even celebrating them?), it is when the study started growing.

Is it a re-connection with the ancient myth of Pandora’s box? I did find hope… like Pandora did in the ancient myth but also Turnbull’s (2016) Pandora. Now the box belongs to everybody.

So how could I use uncreative writing in my own practice?
I am on this course as I have a special love for picture books. Using and writing or better, creating picture books in an unconventional way is appealing to me. And  I think it would be for publishers too but most importantly for (young) minds who engage or we want to engage with picture (book) stories. Increasingly, it is recognised that picture books are not exclusively for children who often can’t even read… I have started exploring the use of picture book stories in academic development and my story about feedback that I also turned into a board game was perhaps a starting point for this. Using uncreative writing approaches when working conceptually with picture book stories that are relevant to my work, could be a way to engage academics more deeply and help them think and reflect and change? There is no point in reflecting just to reflect. It is the doing that matters, the change that reflection can bring.

Furthermore, I would love to work with children in primary schools and run workshops using uncreative writing approaches to put their imagination on fire and let them experience the power of reading and learning through making. Even to use “Pandora (Turnbull, 2016) and my (un)creation. How could this uncreative writing study be used in a workshop setting? What about all the broken items within it? What conversations and debates would it generate? There is definitely also scope for using such an approach  in secondary schools but also in higher education I feel, where often playfulness is not harnessed (enough)… and it is seen as childish… we are all about stats and metrics in higher education, (often) not by choice… very sad and disappointing, disheartening actually.

… I started by using “uncreative writing” but nearer the end it became uncreative writing… I felt it was wrong to correct this. It also shows the distance I traveled, from something that was out there, far away from me, to something I did and now can relate to, it is something that is becoming part of my writing process… it seems.

Thank you Scott, Judy and my peers.

References

Goldsmith, K. (2011) It’s not plagiarism. In the digital age, it’s ‘repurposing’, 16 Sep 2011, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Vol. 58, Issue 4, https://www.chronicle.com/article/Uncreative-Writing/128908

Turnbull, V. (2016) Pandora. London: Quarto Knows.

It does look and is messy… not sure the photo helps

… and then I found this…

… and this

… as we said almost no ideas are new ideas 😉

Uncreative writing is actually creative!

I had a eureka moment. I have to admit that I did struggle with the concept of “uncreative writing” or “conceptual writing”. Maybe the term conceptual writing is actually closer to what it really is and “uncreative writing” is a provocation but a confusing one as I felt that I need to suspend my creative juices (not easy…) and become just a copier to say this mildly. It also doesn’t feel right to copy somebody else’s work and not acknowledge where ideas come from. This has always been a no no for me and now I was challenged to actually do this, not even accidentally but deliberately.

During the week we went to a six-form colleague. There were some art students there. One of them was working on the following. A copy of a photograph to which she added layers. Was this “uncreative art”? Seeing it happening in front of my eyes, really helped me make the connection to “uncreative writing”. And while I struggle with this term, I seem to prefer it from “conceptual writing”… very strange.

For the current module, experimental practice, “uncreative writing” is at the heart of it all, to challenge us, to stretch us, to make us feel uncomfortable… all things that I am doing in another context of course… so now it is my turn to actually feel it in my body and my soul.

Being organised and strategic (yes, strategic), I wanted to start early working on my assignments. I also don’t have that much time! Another factor that is important to mention as it defines my engagement and using every minute that I have is important so that I get the maximum out of the course and learn something useful that will help me become a better writer. There is only limited time we all have… how can we stretch it so that it goes further?

For this module we have to do two assignments, both have a very open brief and this can be a good thing, as we know but also feel disorientating… I think I sort of know what I will be doing for the second one, a hybrid piece I decided, but the first one needs to be submitted at the end of November and the pressure is on. Not much time to be creative or uncreative? But that can be a good thing. We need to use the time we have. My original idea was linked to Brexit tweets (#brexit), to curate everyday two until the end of October (I even had a special hashtag #cn_uncreativewriting…) when we suppose to break up from the EU (avoiding to use break free, as I feel that this is an illusion, anyway). But it has been far too painful and soul destroying to even curate the tweets. So I gave up after Day 4, I think. Also there were some indications that it might not have been a useful project… The good thing is perhaps that I went in a circle and came back to picture books and after some initial experimentation that was very close to the little stuff we tried in class, I think my ideas are growing into a specific direction. The discussions in class were really fundamental to find that direction and feeling less lost and unsure what I could do. These discussions helped me realise that “uncreative writing” is not that uncreative. In the contrary. It is a deeply conceptual process, one that connects the author-curator, if you like with the original author in a very special way. When that link, hook, is not there, not sure if we can talk about “uncreative writing” or “conceptual writing”. But are we always aware of this link or hook? I don’t know.

I went back to one of my favourite picture books “Pandora” by Victoria Turnbull, which I also used in one of my earlier modules but in a very different way. What I now had in mind also reminded me of what I did in my last module where I used the same heart of the story in three different ways: 1. picture book (with images I created) 2. longer story, just text 3. board game I developed based on the story. Were these acts also “uncreative writing” activities? I am wondering now. When I did them, I sort of felt that I was self-plagiarising… but maybe I wasn’t.

Pandora goes back to the ancient myth of Pandora… we all have heard it and it is about hope. But also a box… the box or the idea of “Pandora’s box” gave me an idea about the book Pandora and what I could do. I will break free from the idea of a picture book as a something that is flat and predominantly two-dimensional… yes, I will be re-creating or (re-)conceptualising this book in a box… and specifically a shoebox… now just need a box to get started. Feeling that my “uncreative block” is disappearing and I feel eager to start working on this. I am very excited!!!

I am now on a hunt for a shoebox. The right shoebox. Got one on Saturday but I felt that it was too big (for shoes size 41!!!). Now looking for a kid’s shoe box…

Other good news>>> I was accepted on The Golden Egg Picture Book Programme to start in September 2020.

 

typing like mad… but don’t know why… creative writing course, year 2 starts

After successfully completing the Pgcert stage of the MA in Creative Writing I started last year at the University of Salford, I am now ready for year 2. Feeling very excited but also worried that I won’t have that much time as I would like to… so need to be really organised and use the time I will have available wisely. Started doing this and looked at the assessment already but still a bit in the dark exactly what I will have to do and the first assignment will be in at the end of November (a big conference then in Milan so need to be super organised!!!). Hopefully things will become clear(er) in my first class this week and I will be able to make a start with that assignment at least. I do sound very strategic…

We got a few tasks too to complete before this week’s class. BTW, I am doing the Experimental Practice module this term. I love the fact that the modules are 30 credits and not tiny ones. You actually feel that you do a good amount of work and get something for it.

I have to admit that I had to read the first task a few times to make sure I was doing the right thing… we have to type a text by anybody, any subject, that I guess interests us a little bit at least without changing any of the language, anything. I spend some time finding the right text. Was I too picky? We haven’t been given any more clues about what we will do with the text, so in the end I picked a few shorter articles from a recent magazine Adam bought be about knitting. I have been knitting since last winter but am still unable to make anything else beyond scarves…

I found it very boring to just copy the text and type it in a word document. Now imagining how it would be to type it on a typewriter… I didn’t think of changing anything but because I picked texts that were of interest to me, it did help me keep going. But as time progressed I became lazier and lazier… I have to admit. It worried less and less about any spelling mistakes.  And about half way through I did question if I need the text to be single spaced… I would need to type in so much text…  I needed a shortcut! So I decided to switch to 1.5 space and instantly I was almost done. Relief! Typing was over soon. I was amazed at the speed as I was copying and almost written completely blindly without looking. I sprinted towards the end and was typing faster and faster… Now thinking that it may be a (nice?) exercise to write blind folded. Don’t know why but this idea just popped into my head.

But I do prefer writing my own words instead of copying. There is natural flow and freedom. I felt restricted by this activity and like a robot who would just copy what was there already.

So the five pages are now ready and I can’t wait to see what we will do with them this week. Need to remember to print them but not double sided, I suspect. There are loads of things you could do with these texts and I guess, as this module is about experimental practice that is exactly what we will do. Will take a pair of scissors with me and some colour pencils. Just in case. Often inspiration for a story comes from an experience, something emotional we connect but maybe this will show us that inspiration can come from anywhere, even a text we have no connection to beyond a tiny interest perhaps in the topic.

Looking forward to seeing the new group. Most of the people I started last year, will have finished the full MA by now as they were doing it full-time. I am going slowly… I have no choice.

Already thinking of one of the assessments and as it is a creative piece, I have a picture book trilogy in mind I started writing and editing (no polishing yet!). I hope this will work so that I can progress this project and become more experimental in my creative writing approach.

Also need to watch the following http://www.ubu.com/film/goldsmith_sucking.html No idea what it is about yet. Watched it now, in advance of the session and it is fascinating. A valuable introduction into Kenneth Goldsmith’s work and perspectives on creative or uncreative writing and the claim that creative writing is far too conservative, still. Looking forward to the session today. Will also get his book about uncreative writing. Will be facinating reading.

#ILTA192 week 5 pizza day… our little secret

Our last week, our last session. Today. This morning. I wanted my colleagues who are also my students, to experience a student-led session, a session fully directed by them, as students. I felt that emptying the room even of furniture would help. Create an open space. An open space for thinking. For ideas. For exploration. Can’t wait to see everybody’s reaction. I did start writing this post in advance of the session…

There is always the temptation, as we get excited with what we teach, to orchestrate everything for the students. But learning to let go and not control the process is equally important, if not more important. I will only make some suggestions and then step back. Resources around assessment and feedback, the topics for our session, will be on Moodle and anything can be used what is there or elsewhere. I can’t wait to see what happens, how learning will happen in the first two hours. I do trust them all.

The no tables/desks approach seemed to work. I don’t know what my colleagues did expect from today but they were warned. I think the student-led approach used today really showed that freedom can be liberating but also disorientating. But we got there. Two groups were formed and leaders emerged organically that took others on a journey, an exploration. I did really enjoy listening into their conversations and could see that my colleagues were focused and on task. They shared experiences, practices and ideas across disciplines.

The microteach preparation part showed that my colleagues had concrete ideas for their sessions. I was hoping our Manchester city centre game helped them with this. And I think it really did help them. The questions they had today were mainly around the paperwork and the level of detail required in the forms. They were asking about examples of work too.

I wish I had gone with my original idea of paired microteach sessions. It would have been a completely different experience for all of us and so so useful. We would also have larger groups and safe time as well? Peer learning through team teaching can be invaluable. Thinking beyond observing teaching in somebody else’s classroom or being observed by somebody external to a unit or programme just opens up new possibilities. My recent experience of team teaching a postgraduate unit with a colleague in nutritional sciences as invaluable for both of us and I wanted to give others the opportunity to experience something like this…I hope it can happen one day…in the not so distant future.

My feeling is that the unit is too short. Relationships need time to develop, more time than we had. And trust. Trust develops and grows over time, it doesn’t happen over night and it is so so important in learning and teaching. When we trust, we become more open, more experimental, more tolerant of each other, of ideas and stuff that we would otherwise not consider. I hope in the next iteration of the programme, there will be more time to develop relationships and trust and grow pedagogic experimenters.

This is the end for now. I miss you all already. Keep questioning. Our curiosity drives us forward.

See at least some of you for the microteach sessions later this month.

#ILTA192 week 4… inclusion and trust

This was a high energy session, with unlimited laughter, a plethora of diverse ideas and questions, yes, more questions, loads of them, explorations but also discoveries.

After we closed the feedback loop from last week and I used the image I created and added to week 3 about how I see things in learning and teaching, linking to theories, I think we had a few eureka moments that helped us get over some of the challenges we may have experienced in the previous weeks. I think colleagues have now a better understanding why I do things the way I do them but also got a better flavour of how some of the learning theories and teaching theories link to what I do and why.

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All noted. Digesting and making informed changes, as discussed together. Image source

We were in the fresh air, colleagues had the opportunity to focus in on how to make their forthcoming microteach session more inclusive and make it stick. It was about inclusion this week. Colleagues were invited to read the Moodle resources, and explore further the work of Prof. Christine Hockings and Prof. Jutta Treviranus in this area (you may find the following interview with Jutta useful. Click here). Two colleagues were invited to create a quiz that we could use at the beginning of the session to recap the basics about inclusion. Again, modelling what students could be doing as they would have the opportunity to learn so much more through putting the quiz together themselves > Learning through making in action.

Working with one of their peers from another discipline seemed to work well as it increased diversity in perspectives but also helped identify commonalities and support each other in coming up with a creative idea that would be used.

Organising the task and seeing colleagues engage is always such a privilege. And the ideas are always original and surprising. Colleagues were asked at the end to vote for their favourite ideas based on specific criteria they had to formulate. After the task… exactly, I know. But I wanted them to experience exactly that and link to our next session too which is about assessment and feedback… But also what was useful is to experience creating the criteria as students and then carrying out peer-to-peer assessment using an approach they put together, with dots and stars. I didn’t get involved at all. Just provided the opportunity and some stickers (stickers have become popular, I think, and they are always fun, versatile and reliable).

Below, I am capturing my learning from this activity using photographs and captions.

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It does open. We can look outside and also be outside. Learning happens everywhere. Image source

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Ups and down but being with somebody can make a real difference, also help us create new tracks… move beyond the known… what we see. Image source

What is in your teaching basket? Is empty an option? Image source

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Taking off… together. Image source

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Is anything possible without it? Image source

See you next time for our last session. You will be in the driving seat.

#ILTA192 week 3 Questions?

I just knew this would be a challenging session and I didn’t listen to my own suggestion. I think I failed to bring clarity which I hoped would come through engaging everybody through questioning and a variety of activities. It was too much and perhaps disorientated some. The mid term term feedback may also indicate this as so far, I have been avoiding to give answers but use questioning to get responses from the class. Even if they are ambiguous, I was hoping that these would generate an appetite for further exploration outside the classroom depending on own questions and interests. I hope this can still happen.
The mid-term feedback, not all managed to provide a response as we did this at the end of the session and some had to leave, generated the below. Additional comments were added at the beginning of week 4.

I thought to use Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development…

ILTA_zpd

Responses from week 3 and 4

And then also the stop, start, continue strategy…

ILTA_stopstartcontinue

with additions in week 4

I ask so many questions. I didn’t know what to think about this initially and started blaming myself that I do use far too many questions in my teaching. But then I wanted to come to the root of this approach and perhaps I should have shared this in week one. I think I should have done this together with my creativity manifesto,when I invited my colleagues to think about their educational autobiography and their learning and teaching philosophy as who we are defines what we do, how and why. But the comment doesn’t say I ask “too many questions”…

As I said earlier, I wanted to better understand after the session my own position and why I do things the way I do them. I reached out to some basic concepts within a range of learning theories which I feel provide some insights into what I do, how and why. While there are many many learning theories, older and newer ones, what does help do some kind of sorting depending on relevance or usability depending on what type of teaching approaches we are using in a particular situation. I also linked back to key theories of teaching to illustrate the links see that directly relate to my practice. I am adding below my visual representation. I can see now, how something like this would be useful to share at the beginning of a programme like ours. This would provide a clearer explanation and the rationale for why I do things the way we I do them and help our colleagues to get taste of how some of the theories live within us and define who we are, what we do and why. It would help also help them to start synthesising their own visualisation around learning and teaching.

cn_pic_learning and teaching theories

A quick visualisation of my learning and teaching world… dynamic and evolving

We were lucky. The sun was shining. It was too nice and too warm to stay in the room so we went in the park. We could have gone much earlier, maybe even spent the whole session there. It could have been more productive and focused as the activities we did to model Problem-Based Learning would have worked better if used for longer. Looking back now, I do feel that this activity could form the basis of the whole session and I didn’t really need much else. It is definitely something to consider for next week. All I needed would a link from reflection and learning theories to approach to teaching and then invite colleagues to explore some of these using the scenarios. What I feel would help is a longer unit. The team is planning to address this in the near future and I hope that there will be more time and space to engage colleagues in a wider range of experiences and approaches and in more depth so that they can consider some of these for their own practice.

Looking forward to week 4 in the centre of Manchester.

#ILTA192 week 2 Reflective habits and theories?

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Theories… where do  they come from? Image source

There are no guarantees when we try something different that it will work, but we do need to trust the process and others but also ourselves. I did and voila. Our padlet filled with a wide range of contributions (see post linked to week 1). The responses may have come in last minute, most of them, and created a challenge to read these in advance of the session (yes, it was a challenge), but they did come in. When I saw all the responses my face lid up and I was so so happy that I felt the need to share my happiness with a colleague. And I did. The experiment did work and as a group we decided, well it was my students idea, to swap papers and read another one from the same issue. This time discussing it face-to-face just before we start our session three. Amazing! Who said we can’t engage our colleagues in academic literature around learning and teaching? I think the appetite is there. We just need to find a hook to make this work. There will be multiple hooks, I am sure. And different things will work for different people.the “ripping the journal approach” seemed to have worked in this case.

This week we explored reflection and learning theories. Well, we did spent most of the time discussing and critiquing reflection and much less on learning theories. Always tricky… always. As theories themselves are decontextualised. My attempt to contextualise them was through the use of images, visual triggers, but also an activity to start working on the microteach session plan. While the groups did make some progress, I felt the activity did not work well. Maybe it didn’t work at all. It required students to have some knowledge already of the key learning theories. And while most of these were in Moodle and we provide related resources, I wasn’t sure how many had engaged with these in advance of the class. Perhaps I should really be more explicit in how the resources in Moodle could be used in preparation for a class. So there was a gap with the learning theories that I think did not let us progress as much or as deeply as I wished. Looking back now, I could have modeled more the key approaches or theories and turn them into a role play asking students to identify the theory used each time, or the theories that underpinned a specific approach as it is a mix, not a clear cut. Why didn’t I think about this earlier? In the past, I have done all kinds of different things, even editing specific Wikipedia pages, entries linked to specific learning theories, and we write about it in a paper published with a colleague on that course (Nerantzi, C. and Hannaford, L. (2016) Flipping the classroom using teams. A case study from Academic Development, in: Whatley, J. and Nerantzi, C. (eds.) (2016) Teaching with Team Projects in Higher Education, Santa Rosa, CA: Informing Science Press, pp. 119-130).

My plan now is to develop a new activity that could be used in a future class and maybe there is an opportunity to build elements of this into the remaining sessions. I think that would be good and useful. Maybe next time round I could model in each session at least two different approaches. I will need to think about it more to come up with a plan that would work. For now, in session 3 I will integrate an element about two contrasting learning theories using related teaching and learning approaches. Let’s see what happens.

Everybody says they want creativity and innovation but when we get it we often regret it as it is messy, experimental and will generate resistance. It is also often stopped before it happens. Are innovation and creativity just buzzwords? Within a community, there is trust. Trust in each other, trust in self, trust in the process and we are more tolerant and open to alternative approaches, alternative viewpoints, alternative ideas and processes. If there is no trust,there is very little we can do… by coincidence I just read the following article linked to recent research about engagement. And while it is not linked to learning and teaching, I can see parallels and a study like this in our context would be extremely useful. My own research with Barbara Thomas, into pedagogic innovation (#pin), paper forthcoming, does show that the individual is the driver for innovation, that the individuals is seeking the collaboration with others and welcomes and seeks the support of their institution.

Hopefully my colleagues and students understood that reflection is something we do naturally and continuously. It is not an add-on or a bold-on at the end… the true value of reflection is that we can step back and step outside our own experiences, critique these and engage in conversation with others to make sense of our experiences and identify a good way forward for us and others. Reflection is not a deficit model for learning and development. It gives us rich opportunities to interrogate practice, celebrate achievements and be positive about the future. Nothing and nobody is perfect.

See you all very soon for our week 3 session. I think I have overplanned (again) and I may ask you to help me to decide what to do in class and what to leave out. Yes, I will give you some choice and will decide what we do 😉 Are you ready for this?

I hope the sun will be shining tomorrow…