Igniting a love of writing

Issue: Volume 97, Number 6

Posted: 6 April 2018
Reference #: 1H9iDb

The Writers in Schools programme has been running for more than 40 years, inspiring thousands of students to develop a love of words, but some schools are yet to use the service and the Book Council wants to ensure that all schools get the opportunity to participate.

Creativity, compassion, hope and joy: these are the messages I hope to share through my writing, and also through my work in schools.”

This is how author Mandy Hager describes her mahi. She is one of 200 writers participating in the New Zealand Book Council Te Kaunihera Pukapuka o Aotearoa’s Writers in Schools programme, which has been running since the 1970s and seeks to do just this: encourage creativity and joy in our students.

The Book Council’s overarching goal is to ‘grow a nation of readers’ and has on file more than 200 of Aotearoa’s best novelists, journalists, poets, playwrights, non-fiction writers, storytellers and illustrators registered as part of the programme.

In 2017, the Writers in Schools programme involved more than 40,000 students, 5,000 teachers and 500 schools. But the Book Council wants to ensure that all schools get the opportunity to participate.

Each writer or illustrator selected for the programme has personal stories students can connect with, and is available to come to your school, either in person or through a Skype session.

Available writers span the length and breadth of the country. Every school’s need will be different, depending on its location, size, demographic and current learning areas.

Book Council programmes manager Kathryn Carmody carefully tailors each visit to suit, and says early booking is important. Bookings are welcome at any time, but there are a limited number of free or subsidised visits available each year.

When it comes to nurturing a love of storytelling, reading and writing, she believes personal contact with an author is powerful.

“I think it’s something to do with a real person turning up to the school – someone who has written or illustrated a book they might have been reading in class, and it’s quite a special experience,” she says.

Kathryn is often able to match a writer with a particular student learning experience. One class was studying a play and the playwright was able to join a lesson via Skype direct from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Another was reading a book by David Hill and students were able to grill the author himself.

Some schools join forces for an author visit. Last year, writer Fleur Beale visited Gisborne and several schools in the region gathered to hear her speak. Communities of Learning (CoL) have also arranged shared sessions.

“The format of the session will depend on the writer or illustrator who visits, and a school’s requirements,” says Kathryn.

“Usually, the session will start with a mihi and a reading from a recent work, and be followed by a ‘q and a’ session and a workshop where students are encouraged to write their own stories.

“The fun stuff is getting the kids to interact with the writer’s work.

“Visiting writers want the kids to engage with their work and then get inspired to make their own.”

Writer and illustrator Fifi Colston loves visiting schools because it allows her to directly connect with her audience.

“What I see in them is me, as a young person, wondering about how I fit into the world.

“I try to convey to them that whatever good thing it is you love, if you explore it and find some meaning for yourself in it, practise it, immerse yourself in it, explore it until you surprise and delight yourself, then you’ll make sense of your life somehow,” she says.

“This is what I’ve done in my life and I hope it works for at least some of the kids I see. And if they find that through reading, writing, drawing and making things, then I have future allies!” 

Teacher voices

“This scheme is so valuable to schools such as ours. It is good for our students to be exposed to these types of experiences.”

“Writers in Schools is a very valuable resource and we are extremely fortunate to have quality authors available to speak to, and interact with our students.”

“Classroom teachers who are giving out every day crave nourishment, and you provided it in spades.”

Student voices

“I really enjoyed the sessions and since then I have a notebook in my room. I will write really interesting stories now. I also liked how you said a writer’s brain is like a blender.”

“It was inspirational and we should do more arty things like this at school.”

“I learnt not only a few writing techniques which will help me immensely in creative writing – like expressing thoughts of characters, descriptive texts and ‘show don’t tell’ – but I also gained confidence in writing.”

Interested schools can book a session by visiting the Book Council website(external link)

This year, there is a campaign(external link) to bring 80 more writers into 80 more schools: 

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 10:55 am, 6 April 2018

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