westword

10 February 2009

New year, new resolution!

Welcome back to westword and the second year of the Western Sydney Young People’s Literature project.

I was a bad blogger last year, and I am determined to update westword far more regularly in 2009. I will be adding posts soon about some of the highlights of 2008, and will also start listing forthcoming events and plans for the project.

I also plan to use this blog as a bit of a resource hub. In the past few months I have finally got myself organised with google reader, and have now added more than one hundred blogs, most of which deal with children’s and youth literature, literacy, publishing and related topics. (Also I am also now on Twitter, using my personal blog name (misrule_au) and am using it to post links to articles I have read of interest (as well as other bits and pieces of sense and nonsense). But I will also be putting those links here, starting with this post.

First of all is this interesting article  from new Zealand about a new approach to literacy that is having enormous success, especially with Maori students:

In the first South Auckland study, involving seven schools, each child’s reading leapt ahead by an entire year. The technique also pushed far more children into the average or above categories – 40% made these top slots before the study started, and in three years that jumped to 70%. Maori children again did particularly well. The second group of seven different schools showed similar results.

The article doesn’t go into enormous detail about the program, but it’s been written up in Reading Research Quarterly, which I was able to access through ProQuest via Blacktown Library’s database.

Over in England, the battle is on to save the school library. Spearheaded by authors Philip Pullman, Alan Gibbons and the wonderful Michael Rosen, the campaign is against closures of school libraries as well as changing their name (and focus away from books) to “learning resource centre”. Frank Cottrell Boyce, author of the brilliant Millions, has also had his say on the matter:

Mr Cottrell Boyce said: “When I visit many schools, I see a big, fat, glaring, expensive anti-reading for pleasure signal.

“It stands where the library used to stand and it’s called the learning resource centre. To turn your library into a learning resource centre, you generally have to chuck out a bunch of valuable, durable assets – books – and replace them with sub-prime computers which will quickly date.”

From time to time I hear people say similar things are happening in Australian school libraries: can anyone comment? Are our school libraries in danger of refocusing away from books? Are we losing teacher-librarians from our schools? Please add your thoughts to the comment section. (Ditto public libraries, by the way—are we losing specialist children’s and youth services staff from our public libraries? We need to be really vigilant that we protect our libraries and the specialist support they offer young readers.)

Speaking of supporting young readers, and of the delightful Mr Rosen, read this article about Michael Rosen working in a school in Wales to encourage a love of reading. The BBC has made a TV show out of it (here’s the link, but we can’t watch the video outside of the UK), a la Jamie’s School Dinners. What do you reckon the chances are the ABC will screen it here? Should we start a campaign?

(And before I forget, I found this when I was looking for links to Frank Cottrell Boyce. Liverpool, where he lives, did one of those whole city reads the same book things with Millions. Isn’t this fantastic? If we did a Sydney Reads (or even a Western Sydney Reads), what book would you choose? And if you’re looking for resources to accompany Millions, don’t forget this official site from the publisher, which also happens to be very entertaining.)

Also from the UK is this rather scathing assessment of the way secondary school crush creativity, especially in boys. This is author Joe Craig speaking:

 

I’ve visited over 200 schools in the last couple of years, which means I must have run workshops for over 40,000 boys and girls between the ages of 8 and 13. By the time the students reach Year 8, I can predict almost word for word what their story ideas will be, from any given starting point. Even if they think they’re being subversive, in fact especially when they think that, the older the student is, the more predictable the ideas.

The biggest change comes in Year 7, which statistically is also when there’s the biggest drop off in reading – especially in boys. Now, it perhaps seems obvious that the withering of originality is greatly caused by reading less. But I think it’s also the other way round: they read less because their creative spark is consistently doused. Their connection with stories, with ideas and imagination, is stifled by the school environment. If the fun has gone from stories, why read?

I imagine if I were still in the English classroom that I’d be a bit affronted by this article, but I actually suspect there be more than a grain of truth to it. We hear stories from time to time of boy students getting into trouble for things they have written—I think it’s partly teachers’ reasonable concerns about their legal responsibilities to report potential threats or child endangerment, but I do think that Craig is spot on when he suggests that boys’ “wacky ideas” need to be celebrated. Girls’ too, for that matter. (The stuff this article raises about gender as it pertains to reading, writing and classroom practice are, I think, fascinating.)

This is a very UK-centric post, for which I don’t apologise—I think it’s important we keep track of what’s happening with our colleagues, and with education and books and authors and so on around the world. Having said that, I popped over to the Sydney Morning Herald to see if there were any articles of interest in their Education section, and I got a “page not found” message. Humph.

More soon!

2 April 2008

Recent developments in the western Sydney young people’s literature project

Filed under: teaching,western sydney,writing,ya lit — westword @ 12:16 am

As has been (not so) gently pointed out to me by my colleague, Mike Shuttleworth, at the Centre for Youth Literature in Victoria, I’ve been a bit slack about my blogging lately. So here is a much-needed catch-up on what I’ve been up to with the Western Sydney young people’s literature program in the past few weeks.

I’m pleased to report that I have a number of projects pencilled- and penned-in on the calendar. Coming up in April is a zine workshop at Blacktown Council‘s Youth WeekThe ‘Burbs” festival—April 12 at Blacktown Olympic Park.

Also attached to Youth Week is a creative writing competition for 12-18 year olds, coordinated by Blacktown City Libraries. There’s 700 word limit on entries, which should somehow connect to the Youth Week theme Shout! Share! Live! Unite! I’m thrilled that Melina Marchetta has agreed to judge the finalists in the competition and will speak at the competition’s presentation evening at Blacktown’s Max Webber Library on May 5. I’ll upload the poster tomorrow.

I’m really pleased that we will be hosting the only Sydney appearance of the creators of a new picture book Simpson and His Donkey (one of the first local titles to be released by Walker Books Australia). Illustrator Frané Lessac and writer Mark Greenwood (see their website here) will present 2 “Make Your Own Storybook” workshops for Years 5 and 6 students, and will also be talking about the book to an all-ages audience at a public event at Max Webber Library. Monday April 28—contact the library for booking information in a week or so.

Then on May 20 I will chair a session on fantasy/speculative fiction at the Max Webber Library as part of the Sydney Writers’ Festival. Panellists are D.M. Cornish (Monster Blood Tattoo), David Kowalski (The Company of the Dead) and Stuart Mayne, editor of Aurealis magazine.

I’ve also been busy with the following:

I was guest speaker at the University of Western Sydney, speaking to post-graduate Secondary English Method students about the western Sydney youth lit project, about engaging their soon-to-be students (they’ll be in the classroom next year) with fiction and about teaching creative writing. A lot to touch on in a two-hour session!

Attended the Australian School Library Assocation‘s NSW conference, which was excellent. I imagine many of the librarians there were challenged and inspired by the keynote speech by Dr Ross Todd, who spoke about the importance of meeting young people at their level in terms of their engagement with technology, social networking and so on. I also attended some terrific workshop sessions looking at Indigenous writing and engaging “reluctant” writers by using the internet to develop creative writing skills. I believe the keynotes and workshops will be available on the ASLA NSW website at some point soon.

I also launched a book at the conference; Samurai Kids: White Crane by Sandy Fussell, illustrated by Rhian Nest James and published by Walker Books Australia. It’s a terrific book, full of adventure and action and some serious philosophical ideas based on the principals of Bushido—the Samurai code. Recommended for “middle school” readers, it’s the first in a planned series of books about the young warriors-in-training of the Cockroach Ryu (school), all of whom have particular personal challenges to face along with the more general challenges involved in their training. (A few more details and comments are available at my personal Misrule blog.)

And the western Sydney young people’s literature project was featured in an article in Monday’s Sydney Morning Herald. It’s a lovely article, written by young journalist Josephine Tovey, accompanied in the print version by an equally lovely photo of me with some kids from Tregear Public School in Mount Druitt. Also check out Jo’s opinion piece in today’s Herald about her experience attending a selective high school. It’s a very well argued piece which could well be used as a model for student writing.

That’s it for now. More soon—I promise!

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