Shannon Wong-Nizic is a primary school teacher and uber-blogger over at Oh! Creative Day. She is an advocate for creativity and literacy in children and she walks the talk, with hundreds of creative ideas and book reviews for kids, parents and teachers on her blog, Facebook and Instagram. She has also just written a book that comes out in May.
Shannon was one of the first to use my new Young Writers’ StorySchool program, aimed at improving the writing of 9-14 year-olds, in the classroom, and is the first to share her experiences, including how two of her students developed their stories through a lunchtime StorySchool group and won writing awards!
How has StorySchool been received by your Year 5/6 students?
With much enthusiasm! We have 8 Stage 3 classes at our school. Over 90% of our students come from a Language Background Other Than English. Most of our students are operating in English as a second or third (or fourth!) language. In order to join StorySchool, students expressed interest with their classroom teachers to join. This is an extra-curricular activity, so the students who turn up are giving up their playtime to attend. At no point did I promise stickers, awards, fame or fortune. They are simply keen and committed, and the lure of you and your videos has them returning each week! We are two terms in to StorySchool and I still have Stage 3 students sidling up to me asking if there is any space to join StorySchool.
The hype that has been created by our StorySchoolers, has seen the Stage 3 Teachers discuss the possibility of using it in classrooms as a part of their teaching programmes.
Do you introduce it at a certain point in the school day? Is there a particular reason for that?
The week is extremely busy for Stage 3 students. There are sports trainings, dance troupe practice, public speaking and debating. StorySchool runs every Thursday at Break One. Partially because this is the only time that doesn’t conflict with another extracurricular activity, but also because it’s the only spare break when I am not on Duty.
Are you able to identify aspects of StorySchool that are useful for writers in this age group?
I believe that the most invaluable aspect to StorySchool is the personalised access to an author and an authentic insight into a writer’s creative process. So much of teaching children to write, from a syllabus perspective, can end up feeling formulaic.
I believe that the syllabus doesn’t give teachers much scope or space to teach the skills of brainstorming. I adored the way StorySchool equipped students with an artillery of brainstorming tools and techniques through the “Hatch” modules. At first, students found this stage a bit confronting. But the videos showed them how there is no wrong or right way to develop a story.
Editing is a really tricky skill for students in this age group to apply. It requires a level of critical reflection that can be uncomfortable for young writers to practise. So the “Supercharging Your Rewrite” module was so valuable for my students to participate in. I believe it was incredibly valuable for them to hear about how an author undertakes several rewrites before arriving at a finished piece of writing.
From a pedagogical perspective, having you model how you use a certain skill or a tool in this process and then, handing control over to the students to experiment with the skill or tool, is fantastic.
Is there a part, or parts, of the program that could be improved as it develops? Anything you’d like to see added?
Due to the stop/start nature of how we could run StorySchool (ie some weeks were cancelled due to athletics carnival/ high school orientation etc), it was difficult for students to sustain focus on one piece of writing. I initially encouraged them to use the brainstorming process to come up with an idea that could be worked on through the rest of the modules. Next term, we are going to attempt to produce a school zine, featuring short stories applying the skills we have learnt.
Could you talk a little about your two students who recently won the WestWords writing competition?
StorySchool gave students the confidence to share their writing with a wider audience beyond our school gates. We recently entered the WestWords writing competition. Students independently developed their stories around the competition’s theme and applied what they had learnt from StorySchool to develop and finesse their entries. They worked on their stories at school and at home. We only get about 25 minutes per session to work together each week, so this really shows how proactive and inspired the students were. Two of our students took out first and second place!
Soon after this, I accompanied two StorySchool members to interview Kirli Saunders and Emily Rodda at the Sydney Writers’ Festival for the Premiers’ Reading Challenge. StorySchool has not only made students excited about the world of words, but it has opened their eyes to the possibilities of writing as a career.
Following on from our success with the WestWords competition, nine students entered the recent writing competition held by Sydney bookshop, Better Read Than Dead. They are so excited by the prospect of their writing being published in the resulting anthology. We regularly reference you as though you’re an old friend. “Remember how Tristan said to play with perspective and think about tense…”
StorySchool has turned my students into published writers!
Thanks, Shannon! To try out the free first lesson at StorySchool including activity sheet and teachers’ notes, visit www.youngwritersstoryschool.com and create a login. (And don’t forget to check out the new Oh! Creative Day book.)