The Art of English AATE/ALEA National Conference, Perth: pre-conference institutes

A beautifully sunny day in the west and two cracking workshop sessions started my 2018 conference experience today.

  1. Creating Creative Writers – Teachers as Writers with Dianne Wolfer

Dianne is an award-winning author of 18 books for children and young adults, and delivers workshops at schools and festivals across Australia, Asia and the UK. I had the pleasure of speaking with her before the session and shared some student work from when her multimodal picture book, Light Horse Boy, was the Kick off with Reading choice for students and staff at Moss Vale High School.

In the first half, Dianne generously shared her ideas for promoting writing in the classroom, as well as a range of drafts, drawings and research as a way of sharing her writing process. She strongly recommends that teachers model their own reading – actually read when you program student reading – as well as discussing interesting books and articles to declare your passion for reading.

Her process begins with

  • ideas: come from everywhere, from an article, from simple things. Jot ideas down – start an ‘ideas book’ – gather ideas (written on scraps of paper or shopping dockets) and paste into a book

  • after an idea, start writing
    • begin with an opening sentence
    • write or take notes for an end scene – it’s a draft! It doesn’t matter if it changes …
    • have a rough idea of plot – think about the narrative or character arc: what are the problems that increase in complexity? Is there an idea of the climax where either the problem is solved, or there is acceptance that the problem cannot be solved
  • research is fun – aim for quirky facts, do a trip if possible to smell and feel and be part of the place
    • consider the value of primary and/or secondary sources
    • can include ‘quirky fact/s’ as an element of character motivation or behaviour
    • BUT research will only ever be a small part of the final story – drop in a line or small reference to a ‘quirky fact’ rather than attempt to justify the detailed research in a paragraph

After morning tea, we tok part in a mini writer’s bootcamp. Our warm up was to take a deep breathe and let it out audibly. We didn’t make enough noise, so we had to repeat this exercise three times! Then we were ready to participate in a number of timed writing activities. Usually, Dianne would allow longer for students to complete each of these – it does make sense to keep things moving and have something on your page. I love the implications of the term ‘wild writing’ instead of ‘free writing’!

  • write about the ocean without using the letter ‘e’ – 3 minutes. Share with your writing buddy – 2 minutes. This could easily be adapted to include constraints: without verbs, without adverbs …
  • write about feeling safe – 2 minutes; write about anger – 2 minutes. Share both with your writing buddy – 2 minutes. Share with the whole group – volunteers only: read or outline your writing.
  • draw a line on your page (works well with landscape orientation) and write a zero at the left, or beginning, and a 10 or 20 at the right, or end. Mark out intervals, say half and quarter way. This is you life’s timeline.
    • Use symbols or sketches to note three important memories. Share these with your buddy – 2 minutes.
    • Choose one memory and write – 3 minutes
    • Consider whether your memory was written in first or third person. Re-write the memory in the opposite point of view
    • Share with buddy, then whole group. Which was more interesting? Why?

Keep up to date with her work and publications at Dianne Wolfer.

2. Reading the Region – place based pedagogies with Claire and Jo Jones

oops! this will have to wait until after the informal opening session … please check back later

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