I’m delighted to share my experience of being Ardoch Youth Foundation’s ‘Writer in Residence’ at Sunshine Primary School, where I recently conducted a weekly story writing workshop for two Grade 3 and Grade 4 classes – culminating in the illustrated story book ‘Pencil Pandemonium’. The programme ran during one school term and involved 5 weeks (10 hours) of classroom workshops and many more hours of writing and editing outside the classroom.
Pencil Pandemonium reflects how a school community can come together to foster literacy – coupled with the good will of Ardoch, an author and a printing business.
Before I explain a little more about the process of how we wrote the book, here’s a joyous slideshow of our Book Launch on Friday 14th October, in brilliant sunshine (of course!). With the inspirations for our story – the six majestic pencil art installations – sharing the limelight.
The book launch also would not have been possible without the support of Ardoch Youth Foundation and Bizworks Brighton Printing. Nor would it have been complete without Rob – the school handyman. Rob works one day/week and spent a whole year making the giant pencils for the school 🙂 He was so excited to be a part of our book launch and quietly chuffed that six coloured pencils could inspire a story which is now part of the school’s folklore. The pencils all have names too – Baxter Blue, Yuki Yellow, Olympia Orange, Penelope Purple, Gilbert Green and Roger Red – and the children talk to them each day!
These six huge pencils have inspired the imaginations of a class and an entire school. The physical structures stand proudly at the school’s entrance – announcing to all the vibrancy and ingenuity of what lies within. A brilliant example of how art lives and breathes in our community and can spark great things!
I’ve conducted my story writing workshops over the past 10 years, and this is the first time that I’ve been invited to an Ardoch partner school. I’ve always provided the workshops ‘pro bono’ as part of my commitment to early literacy and to share my love of storytelling and story writing. The dozens of hugs, enthusiastic smiles and messages I got from the Sunshine Primary students about their love of Pencil Pandemonium cannot be measured in monetary terms. And I urge any writers reading this to consider being a ‘Writer in Residence’ for Ardoch or a similar literacy charity, too.
My workshops are a little unusual, compared to other authors, in that I’m very clear with the children and their teachers that I will write the story – with the assistance of the children. I explain to the children that we will put all of ‘my ideas’ and all of ‘their ideas’ into a giant washing machine, and we’ll mix them all up and put a wonderful story together. And they’re always wonderful!
I want the children to be free to imagine and explore without the pressure of punctuation and assessment, pre-testing or post-testing. I want them to learn ‘from me’ by going along the process ‘with me’ – from blank page to printed book.
I also like to professionally print the story books at the completion of the workshops to give the children a sense that their story is real and important. I always incorporate current learning units (in Sunshine’s case it was ‘machines’) so that the books dovetail with their curriculum. The end result is a true collaborative effort, where each child can clearly identify their input into the ‘whole’ project. I believe that it’s important to show the students that they are ALL important contributors to the book – irrespective of their literacy proficiency levels. For example, often some of the best ideas and ‘lightbulb moments’ during the plot-making, as well as drawings, are contributed by the students with the least strong reading and writing levels.
I’m beyond thrilled with Sunshine Primary School’s Pencil Pandemonium! It reflects the children’s genuine love and respect for their school – something that they wanted to write about. Not all students I visit are this passionate about their school!
One of my favourite memories from this story writing experience, was after we’d finished writing the story about the pencils who sneak into the classroom at lunchtime when nobody is looking – and one of the students asked me to look out of the window, and just ‘check’ that the pencils were still there . . . What if they weren’t? This is such a lovely example of how these children have not only had a hands-on learning experience of turning imaginings and ideas into a story . . . but they’ve kept the story alive in their heads . . . and that for me, as a writer, is what the magic is all about!
This quote from author, Michael Morpurgo’s speech, ‘The Power of Stories’ at the Inaugural Book Trust Lecture, Sept 22nd, 2016, Guildhall, London also sums this up beautifully:
“Let the children go home, simply dreaming of the story. Re-living it. Wondering at it. Loving it.” Michael Morpurgo (2016)