Award-winning Kiwi author encourages a love of literacy

Issue: Volume 97, Number 8

Posted: 9 May 2018
Reference #: 1H9ihK

New Zealand author and 2018 Storylines Margaret Mahy Medal winner Janice Marriott discusses fostering a love of literature in children.

The ability to read and write is about more than succeeding at school – it can also bring a lifetime of happiness, says New Zealand children’s author Janice Marriott.

The recent winner of the 2018 Storylines Margaret Mahy Medal, Janice believes the confidence students gain from learning to express themselves, as well as the practical benefits, can have a lasting impact on their lives.

New Zealand author and 2018 Storylines Margaret Mahy Medal winner Janice Marriott with students from her online writing courses.

“If they can speak well, put their thoughts into order, and if they can read and write well they feel good about themselves,” she says.

“If all that is in place then they’ve got a much better chance of being happy in life.”

In a lecture delivered as part of the Storylines Margaret Mahy Awards ceremony, Janice discussed the idea of a literacy ladder, which breaks down the steps needed for children to develop a love of language into listening, language, story, reading and writing.

The literacy ladder

“I think it’s really, really important that children learn to listen because nearly all information comes from listening and certainly nearly all relationships develop from listening. You have to learn to listen. The first thing on my literacy ladder is the importance of listening, and then from that comes language,” she says.

“It’s important that children learn, not by exercises and things like that, but they just see the importance of words, literally collecting words, building words and enjoying the sound and the rhythm of words.”

In the younger classes she works with, Janice gets to know her students by asking them to make up a name for themselves.

“It’s just a very silly thing to do but it means they’re learning the importance of words, it’s all about naming things.”

Once students understand the importance of individual words, they are able to learn to combine these into a narrative or story.

“Learning to put their experiences into a form so that other people will enjoy listening to them, learning what a story is and enjoying stories. Stories about anything,” she says.

“The most important thing of all is for the children in your own classroom to be encouraged to make up their own stories. That’s what communication is all about, being able to express yourself and being able to put your experience into some kind of story. I want to emphasise that for teachers it’s a wonderful thing to get your children to talk.”

Janice believes the first three rungs of the literacy ladder build up the knowledge needed to engage with the last two, reading and writing.

“I feel that then they’re more keen to do anything to do with words and stories. Reading and writing are obviously the next things and are very important.”

One practical example Janice gives of the earlier steps of the literacy ladder in action is having ‘news time’ in the Year 1 class she taught last year.

“We had news when I was teaching years and years ago, but I didn’t actually realise how important it was for kids to have a chance to actually describe something to other kids, and have the other kids respectfully listen,” she says.

“I’m beginning to think that the business of children telling stories, in small groups or to a whole class, to others, just in a few sentences, either what they’ve done or what something means to them, it’s hugely important for their language development.”

However, it isn’t just other students who need to exercise their listening ears.

“I think we can turn the literacy ladder around and have it facing teachers. I think it’s really important that teachers learn to listen to their pupils. They need to listen to students and really work out what it is that the pupils are interested in, what it is they might be frightened of and what it is they might be really excited by.”

By showing students that their communication and stories are valued, Janice says teachers can encourage a love of writing and reading in their students.

Thirty years of contributing to New Zealand children’s literature

Chair of Storylines Children’s Literature Trust of New Zealand Dr Libby Limbrick says the trust was pleased to honour Janice’s lifetime achievement and distinguished contribution to New Zealand children’s literature over three decades.

“The Storylines Margaret Mahy Medal is awarded annually to a person to acknowledge their lifetime achievement in the field of children’s literature and/or literacy education. Janice Marriott certainly meets those criteria,” she says.

“For over 30 years she has contributed to children’s literature and literacy education not only through writing books to enthral and engage young people but also through her work at Learning Media in producing Kiwi Kidsongs and with her scripts for The Wot Wots.

“She has nurtured new writers through her consultancy: as a mentor, an editor and manuscript assessor, and as well online writing courses. Janice achievements have thus been in the fields of both children’s literature and literacy education for young people.”

Do your students want to try writing?

Could one of your secondary students be New Zealand’s next top writer?

Entries are now open for the Smart Alex creative writing competition, which is being held by the Friends of the Turnbull Library to celebrate the centenary of Alexander Turnbull and his remarkable legacy.

Students are required to produce a piece of outstanding creative writing where they personally respond to, or interpret, an item in the Alexander Turnbull Library collection.

Submissions can be prose, poetry, or a combination of text and illustrations, such as a cartoon strip or graphic story.

Entries close on 22 July 2018.

For more information and to enter the Friends of the Turnbull Library schools competition(external link).

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 2:12 pm, 9 May 2018

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