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 took 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


This informative afternoon provided many ideas and opportunities for working with students and teachers. Claire began with thought provoking questions and references regarding our post-national space: how do we read the region as opposed to reading the ‘nation’, and discussed defining regions for place within our literary imaginations.

How does our literature map places? Consider the pedagogical benefits of students reading their place on the page and making personal connections, for example, teaching Cloudstreet in Perth schools.

How are we required to read? Current syllabus documents suggest Australian literature is primarily studied as a cultural artefact. How do works of literature challenge or naturalise ideas about Australia? How might literary works help us recognise ourselves as Australians?Has history, as a function of nation building, distorted or limited our understanding of the past? If we link texts to deep time and space, there are more broad opportunities.

Jo provided a more practical approach, and discussed examples in using the free downloadable app ArcGis. She introduced the concept of ‘ground truthing’ that allows students to develop their own connections before ‘teaching’ a text. This is line with my preferred teaching of a text: we read the text individually, then together as a task, before reflecting and discussing student interpretations, understandings and connections. We then consider a more traditional perspective of context – both authorial and textual. Similar pedagogical ideas were discussed in a post from 2015 The Literature Classroom through a Cognitive Lens.

Any teaching act requires a moment of creative encounter.

Jo also mentioned the ‘walking/writing’ phenomenon, suggesting influential texts in this field include:

Jo outlined her ‘Transitory Brightness’ presentation at the TATE conference in 2016 that showcased her work based on Ross, Tasmania where she uploaded writing stimulus, including music, before participants walked and wrote during their time in the historical town. This involved our downloading of the ArcGis app, which we then used to spend time on the Swan River waterfront.

I intend to experiment with this app and method of sharing stimulus, information and writing during the Moss Vale High School student writing retreat at Q Station in December.

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