Building literacy through creativity

When: 19 Aug 2022

For all children, developing reading, writing and comprehension skills takes time and practice – but their creativity and imagination is boundless!

Ardoch’s Writer in Residence program is helping children harness all their creativity and imagination and channel it into a published story book, thanks to a collection of Australian authors dedicated to making a difference in communities facing disadvantage.

With a focus on building literacy skills in an applied context, the Writer in Residence program places accomplished authors into the classrooms of our partner schools. There they work with the class over several weeks to develop story ideas, draft a written piece and eventually publish a book.

Children’s book author, Heather Gallagher is one of our wonderful writers sharing her skills in the classroom. At the time of writing, Heather has been inspiring Grade 3 students in Greater Geelong. With this being her fourth school to work with, Heather has plenty of her own stories to share!

What inspired you to get involved in Ardoch’s Writer in Residence program?

I love sharing my enthusiasm for books and writing with kids. I found out about the program from author Emma Bowd who I met at a meeting of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Emma spoke to our group about her experience with Ardoch and I chatted to her about it over afternoon tea. She passed on my details to Ardoch and it went from there.

Can you describe a typical session?

I start off by sharing my experiences as an author with the kids and how I got inspired to write each of my books. Then I talk about what we’ll be doing during the program. The kids are super excited to get started making their own books.

Each week we move a little closer to our end product. We start out by working out a theme and then brainstorming ideas around that.

In the second week, we work on planning and then sizzling starts. By the third week, I’m ready to give the kids a crack at completing a draft. The fourth week is for editing and making sure the kids are on board with the next step – which is illustrating their work.

What is the response from the students?

When I tell the kids I’m an author and that they’re about to become one too, they’re pumped! It’s lovely to see them get so excited about the writing process.

What progress do you see from the first session to the last?

I must admit there’s a little bit of panic (from my part) at the start, that we’ll never get finished stories by the end of the four weeks. But from experience, I’ve come to learn to trust in the process and that things will come together. I think that’s a learning curve for both me and the kids, that we can set a goal and achieve it.

What do you believe a program like this achieves?

I think it’s so encouraging for kids to see that authors are just regular people too. I hope that it inspires them to write more and enjoy reading more. Stories are magic.

Can you share any standout story ideas from any of the children?

One child wrote about a Space Monkey that stole some cheese but left a trail of bananas as a clue. So funny and inventive – I loved it!

Can you describe your current Writer in Residence experience?

My first session was great. The kids were super excited and had loads of ideas. We had to have a vote to agree on a theme. Once we’d decided on our theme, everyone was excited to take the next step. Doing an anthology gives everyone the space to do something that really appeals to them.

What challenges have you encountered?

One thing that I’ve found a bit tricky (and I guess this is a perennial teacher problem) is that there’s a huge gap between kids who are accomplished, confident writers and those who struggle to communicate their ideas on the page. I’ve found the anthology format works well for this because if kids are really struggling, I can help them to work on a short poem – so they’re still contributing but within their own comfort level. The flipside of that is the more advanced writers can really go for it.

What do you see as the value for children in reading and writing fiction?

There’s so much enjoyment to be had in reading and writing fiction. Books are always there for you in a way that people sometimes may not be. Also, basic reading and writing skills are infinitely transferable across workplaces and can be used in multiple roles. Throughout a varied career I’ve worked in a number of roles including as a junior lawyer, community development worker, journalist and bookseller. Reading and writing have been crucial skills in all these jobs.

What book from your childhood had the most impact for you?

It’s a little-known book called Tubby and the Lantern. It’s about a boy called Ah Mee who lives in China with his parents who make paper lanterns. He just happens to have a pet elephant called Tubby (I don’t think you’d get away with that these days!) On Ah Mee’s birthday, Tubby decides to make Ah Mee the biggest, most beautiful paper lantern in the world. And he does. But then he lights it and it starts going up. Tubby and Ah Mee fly away on it. I think the exotic location, the adventure and the lovely bedtime ending were what drew me to the book.

Ardoch Writer in Residence programs are currently in progress at a range of partner schools, inspiring children to dream big, develop self-expression and build confidence in their own voice. You can learn more about this program here: Writer in Residence.