Today’s blog is a guest post from award winning Australian children’s author Jacqueline Harvey. I am honoured to feature Jacqueline who I have seen first hand inspire and engage students in my school in writing. A highly experienced former teacher and Deputy Head of Junior School, she is the author of 22 novels for younger readers and a Children’s Book Council of Australia, award winning picture book. Her bestselling Alice-Miranda and Clementine Rose series’ are published internationally and have garnered various short listings and awards.
‘I’d rather give the gold fish mouth to mouth’
Encouraging the reluctant writers
Not every child enjoys writing, creative writing, particularly. Believe me, I’ve asked for a show of hands many times in the classes I’ve taught. ‘Who likes writing?’ Usually half the hands are up. ‘Who thinks writing is so-so?’ I wobble my outstretched hand. Probably about 40 percent. ‘Who’d rather give their gold fish mouth to mouth than write a story?’ Sadly there are a few.
It’s important that teachers make creative writing tasks fun and achievable. For the reluctant writers, being confronted with a blank page and a one line stimulus may as well be like giving them an allen key and telling them to reassemble the engine of an A 380.
There’s so much to writing a successful story. You need to think about the characters and the setting, you need to know what the trouble will be – and how you’re going to make it important enough that the reader cares about what happens. On top of that we all want our students to write endings more satisfying than waking up from a terrible dream or killing the entire cast in a fiery accident.
Short writing tasks, practiced often, with immediate feedback will give children a feeling of success. Although when it comes to feedback, you have to be careful. I’ll often show classes the feedback from my editor and the manuscript after she’s been through it – resplendent with red marks, screeds of crossing out and loads of comments in the margins. Professional authors don’t write perfectly on the first draft and usually not the second, third and so on. I always tell the children that my editor is like my teacher and she’s doing her best to help me improve – and that’s what their teachers are trying to do too. It’s not personal – it’s about the work.
I like to use a range of stimulus materials from photographs and the beginning of a paragraph to the outline of a character who you might then drop into a particular situation. But as I said earlier, you will have to give the reluctant writer more information and guidance than the confident and enthusiastic writers in your class. Help children to scaffold the outline of their story and to understand that they don’t have to go into great detail about a character’s back story – they can leap right into the action and get things moving straight away. Making plans can help reluctant writers, as they can see a direction for their work and I like them to think about the ending long before they’re going to write it (saves on dreams and fiery accidents).
Set achievable parameters. Give word or page limits and help your students to come up with plausible plots. I find that talking a story through helps enormously. I know this is time consuming but if you give a reluctant writer a positive experience and some tools they can use next time to help them get started, it will be time very well spent.
It’s also important to celebrate the children’s successes and allow them to see their work being published – whether it’s displayed on the walls, becomes part of a class storybook or goes further afield onto the school blog or website. Work towards goals such as entering a competition or sharing work in assembly.
Not every child will love creative writing but there are strategies to help those who find it particularly mystifying, to enjoy it that little bit more than performing mouth to mouth on a gold fish!
Jacqueline travels widely, speaking and teaching in Australia and overseas. She is a passionate advocate for literacy with a particular love of reading aloud. Her latest titles are Alice-Miranda at the Palace, Alice-Miranda at Camp and Clementine Rose and the Ballet Break In. You can find out more at www.jacquelineharvey.com.au