A Writers Festival: A school community sharing and celebrating writing

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1 A Writers Festival: A school community sharing and celebrating writing By Lynne Bury The Literature strand aims to engage students in the study of literary texts of personal, cultural, social and aesthetic value. Texts are chosen because they are judged to have potential for enriching the lives of students, expanding the scope of their experience and because they represent effective and interesting features of form and style. Learning to appreciate literary texts and to create their own literary texts enriches student s understanding of human experiences and the capacity for language to deepen those experiences. It builds students knowledge about how language can be used for aesthetic ends, to create particular emotional, intellectual or philosophical effects. VCAA, AusVels Curriculum How do we support students to engage in the writing process in such a way that it enriches their understanding of human experiences? Too often students will write because they have to, they see little purpose in the writing and no one who they can share their writing with, no audience to read their work. Sometimes students may share their writing with teachers, sometimes other students but rarely does it go further. How can we support students to become writers if they have no real purpose and no real audience? How do we encourage students to write for authentic purposes and in doing so engage them in the writing process? As teachers we need to find appropriate ways to support our students and encourage them to share their writing not only with their classroom community but also with the wider community. We want students who write with a clear voice and who write for a variety of purposes and a range of audiences. One that has proven to be engaging, provides authentic purpose and audience and has proven successful across whole school communities is the Writers Festival. A Writers Festival provides a clear purpose for student writing and an eager and appreciative audience. I have been lucky enough to be involved with a number of schools who have taken on the task of celebrating their student s writing by creating their own Writers Festival. I was lucky enough to be actively involved in the development of the first annual Writers Festival at Coolaroo South Primary School and it was an exciting, exhausting and very rewarding experience. What started off as a school wide focus on writing turned into a school- wide celebration of writing and writers! Writing was seen as an area of concern, students were writing when they were asked, some students were engaged and enthusiastic however many were not. Many students saw writing as something they had to do, something they only did at school and something that had little

2 relevance to them inside or outside of school. Writing held little significance or importance to many to them as learners and as individuals. We weren t happy with this, we wanted our students to be engaged writing. Our goals for our students were for them to see writing as being importance and purposeful in their lives and we wanted to provide them with an appreciative and responsive audience. Students needed to own their writing; they needed to learn how to write with an audience in mind and most importantly they needed to write about things that were important to them, share with others what they re thinking and feeling. Staff decided to take this challenge on board with enthusiasm, they wanted students to care about what they were writing, be proud of their writing and they want students to happily share their thoughts and ideas with others. Teachers were committed to exploring, learning and sharing their ideas on literacy and writing in particular - in depth. Teachers started to look at writing in more depth, they shared professional readings, discussed student writing in- depth and reflecting on their teaching and their student s learning. They started to focus in on individual student writing and look closely at what they could do, what strategies they could trial to best support them and ways to engage and encourage students to write. They were supported and given a range of resources, teachers took time to reflect on their learning, their teaching and their student s learning. Professional learning sessions were run around the area of writing, including; the writing process, genre development, the importance of surrounding students with quality literature. All teachers were involved in a range of high quality professional development within the school, professionals were bought in to provide professional learning for teachers and to work side by side with them in the classroom. Teachers and students were focusing on improving writing and the students were starting to see themselves as real writers. As writers, students were starting to look closely at their work. With their teacher s guidance they started to look at the importance of vocabulary when they were writing and what a difference even one word could make. Students were starting to focus on grammar and developing ways to refine their writing at a word, sentence and text level. They started to look at sentences and develop ways to combine simple sentences into complex sentences that engaged their audience. They looked at whole texts and went from writing pages of text to knowing what a paragraph was and using them competently and confidently in their writing. Students were proud of the writing they were producing and wanted to share it with others, not just friends and their classroom teacher. They now wanted to find a wider audience to share their writing with. They wanted to celebrate their writing with the whole school community. And so an idea was born. A school wide Writer s Festival was suggested and there was no stopping the enthusiasm, the suggestion blossomed into a community wide celebration of students as writers. The 2011 Writer s Festival Letters from the Heart was an amazing school community celebration of the wonderful, heartfelt and engaging student letters resulting from this focus on writing. The school was transformed into a compelling, creative gallery of student s letters that moved members of the community to laugh out loud, shed a tear, and for students and their

3 parents to be filled with pride. The school became a gallery of written/illustrated work by each and every child from one end of the school s main corridor, to the other. Deciding to hold a Writers Festival is only the beginning, a team was organized and a focus decided upon, in 2011 Letters from the Heart was agreed upon. Teachers worked to support, guide and celebrate their students work. Teacher s met to discuss the Writer's Festival and support each other in the process. They were continually involved in professional discussion about the learning and teaching of writing. They shared what was happening in their classrooms and what they and their students were learning. Items that teachers focused on included: * Immersion - lots of reading of wonderful, rich stories that connected with students and were closely related to the focus of the Writers Festival. There were displays of great books and poems in the staff room for teachers to borrow and take into their classrooms to use and add to. The use of quality literature cannot be underestimated because it was through the literature that the students read and heard, that their language developed and expanded. * Sharing of real letters written and received * Reading/writing letters to the children and explicitly discussing the layout of a letter, the different types of letters, what makes a good letter etc. A great book for this is The Jolly Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg. * Turning and talking - lots of children talking about what they've heard, what they re reading and writing and what s important to them. * Developing, with students, Word Walls and sentence/phrase lists from great books read together. Revisit these lists; talk/question the students about why they are great words/sentences. Have the list where students can see them and use them in their writing. * Using Writer's Notebook encourages students to jot down thoughts, words, ideas and drawings that they may like to write about. These are the seeds that may grow into wonderful, moving letters to family, friends etc. * Modelling of the writing process with students using think alouds, saying aloud what we are thinking in our heads, being explicit about the editing process (both authorial and editorial) reading, rereading, changing our minds, changing words, crossing out, using carats etc. continually improving and developing our writing. Sharing the importance of leaving our writing and coming back to it the next day and polishing and repolishing it. Students listened, read, talked, reflected, wrote, edited, rewrote and illustrated their work. Everyone worked towards the school s special day. Each student hand wrote their text, illustrated it and then mounted it carefully on A2 poster card. Each handwritten letter treated with respect and care, treated like a work of art in a gallery. The day before the Writers Festival, the staff stayed behind to display the writing, the result a stunning, colourful corridor full of student writing the next morning, a lovely surprise in the morning for the students. From Kindergarten to Year 6, every student in the school community had their letters mounted and displayed. The Kindergarten student s works of art started at one of end of the corridor, all the way down the corridor year level by year level each student s work was displayed through to

4 the Year 6 students, at the other end of the corridor. The development in the writing skills of the students as they progressed through the school from Kindergarten to Year 6 was clear to see. Here was the AusVels clearly set out for all parents to see authentic writing development in a practical, personal and informative way. The day of the Writer s Festival arrived, community members came from everywhere for the opening, a special school wide assembly held at the start of the day. By the time everyone had arrived, children seated in the hall and parents and teachers standing at the back of the hall and in doorways and some even spilling out of the doorways into the playground. The principal, Karen Nicholl s, along with the author Lee Hobbs, opened the festival and spoke to the students and families about the joy and importance of writing. After the assembly parents and guests were invited to wander up and down the corridor to read, celebrate and share the student s writing. To see parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunties and uncles all reading and celebrating the writing of the children was just wonderful. Students read each other s work and shared in the pride and the delight at the work they had done. Lee Hobbs, our invited author, then ran workshops for all the students, sharing the joys of writing as well as some of the secrets of being an author. Parents all received personal invitations to the Writers Festival and were invited to join in the workshops and visit the classrooms where students could show them the process they went through to develop their writing piece. A school video of the process that the students were involved in from immersion to the illustrating and mounting of their letters on card was running in the school foyer, students developed this video and it included interviews with students as well as modelling of the steps taken in the writing process. A local bookshop was invited along to the day where they sold Lee Hobb s book, which he happily signed while chatting to the students all of this adding to the exciting atmosphere of the day. Parents and community members were also invited to write letters and space was provided for them including a table and chairs, as well as a range of papers and pens. Parents and teachers were also encouraged to display their writing because the focus of the day was a celebration for all writers. The Writers Festival was a lot of hard work and a huge success! There is no going back now; this is a process that has empowered the students and has energised the whole school community. Students clearly understand why they write and that writing is a powerful way to share thoughts, feelings and ideas with others. Our students know the importance and the power of the written word. The Writer s Festival is now an annual event at Coolaroo South Primary School, and is an integral part of how the school community celebrates the learning of each and every student. Lynne Bury is passionate about students and literacy learning and has had extensive classroom and leadership experience in Victorian government schools. She is currently working with the Australian Literacy Educators Association (ALEA) and the Victorian Association for the Teaching of English (VATE) as well as with RMIT University. Lynne has been a member of ALEA Victoria and is currently a State Committee Executive.

5 Lynne

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