Today I hosted a version of the The Kids Cancer Project Write a Book in a Day for some year 9 and 10 students of Mount Alvernia College. I asked the English teachers of year 9 and 10 to supply the names of students they thought might be interested in participating in the event. 40 invitations were sent, 26 said yes. I called the event the Mount A: Book in a Day competition, and the final products will be judged by our Heads of Department of English, and Art, as well as having a People’s Choice award. Categories and rules included:
Category 1: Novel
– Must be between 3000 and 5000 words long
– Will need to be fully edited
Category 2: Graphic Novel
– Must be 22 pages long
– Must include illustrations
– Can be digital or paper
Category 3: Picture Book
– Must be 11 double page spreads
– Must be fully illustrated
– Can be digital or paper
Students were given the following rules for their stories:
- Genre of the story must be Romance, inline with our theme for Literacy Week: Love is in the Air
- Must be set in Australia
- Must be written for 10-16 year olds
In the end we had 5 teams writing a Novel, and 1 team working on a Graphic Novel. The diversity in the stories produced was amazing, and showed just how creative the girls are. Each team worked really well together and the energy was great.
To get their creativity flowing, they were provided with the following templates:
- Setting template – allowed the students to design the perfect setting, complete with place, time of year, weather, buildings, scenery, and textures.
- Character template – designed to help students create their characters, including name, age, gender, physical appearance, wishes, hates, relatives, interests
- Story template – a chapter by chapter layout to assist students in plotting out the story, as well as allocating tasks.
Many of the students said they really appreciated the templates and the structure; no one said that it stifled their creativity (which was one of my concerns, but apparently I’d forgotten just how much students like structure…).
So, what did I notice while the students were working?
1. There was a great deal of effective collaboration happening
I don’t know whether it was because of the students that were invited, the task they were asked to do, or both, but all of the groups collaborated really well. Ideas were freely shared, there were equal contributions, and when it came to the writing time each student did their part perfectly. There were no arguments, although there were some healthy debates which ended in better solutions. I think what impressed me the most, however, was the fact that there were no power plays! Each member of the group had a role and a voice. I was very impressed and more than a little proud.
2. There was a diverse range of stories
No two stories were alike. We had a…
- Fantasy story, complete with witches, ghosts, and many other unusual characters
- Tragic romance, Romeo and Juliet style
- Mish-mash of history and current events where Australia was not colonised by the British but by the French and what that means for the current day
- World War Two story of lost love
- Version of a “sick lit” story in the style of John Green – but with a happy ending.
- Murder mystery with the lovebirds on the run
Each story was well thought out, and the characters diverse. There was a depth to each of the stories that showed their creativity and just how widely read the students are.
3. They had so much fun!
I don’t think there was a bored student throughout the entire process. Many commented at just how fast the time was flying because of how much fun they were having. It was great to see just how involved everyone was in the process. I watched as students that are normally very reserved and quiet in a classroom setting engaged fully with the process and their peers. It was heartwarming to see the connections made throughout the day, not to mention the learning that was happening!
4. Their skills grew
And I don’t just mean their collaborative skills… The fact that each group had to carefully plot their stories, create their characters, and ensure that there were no plot holes was an interesting experience for them. The skills developed and practiced will hopefully serve them well with creative writing tasks in the future. Not to mention that this experience also highlighted some high achievers that had so far been flying under the radar and allowed for me to point them in the direction of other writing activities that would challenge them.
5. Publishing their work to the wider community was a big deal
As part of the event the final products will be “published” (meaning, in this case, printed) and shared with our community via two channels. The first being a display in the iCentre where students, staff, and a parents can come and look through the work and vote on their favourites. Parents of the participants were emailed an invitation to view their daughters’ work over the course of the week, and many are very excited to see their achievements. The second channel that I hope to make use of is the iCentre Website. I hope to be able to publish the students’ work on our Blog so that our wider community can see it. This has certainly raised the bar for our students and I know that that small amount of pressure has helped them all to focus and produce their best work.
6. For myself = the risk was worth it.
On a personal level, I was somewhat hesitant to try this event out because of my recent failure with another risk I took (read all about it in Sometimes it just doesn’t work). However, I had learnt from that experience and brought those realisations into my planning for this event. I’m proud to say that my risk paid off. The encouragement of my iCentre team was invaluable, as was the support from the College Leadership Team, without both of whom this event would never have happened. Thank you also to the Teacher Librarians of Waverley College for the idea, and to Penny Warring, acting head of Library at St Rita’s College, for helping me work out the finer details.