The rise of DIY culture has been steady over the last ten years, from humble home renovation to historic barn conversion, master chefs to junior chefs, from shark tank entrepreneurship to Lord of the Flies-esque survival in the wild. We have a national appetite for so-called regular people knee deep in creating. But there’s something else happening in public libraries and public spaces, the Maker Movement is gaining momentum and it’s bringing individuals and groups of individuals together to create and sometimes market viable products. The movement isn’t just about making a buck though. Increasingly young people and families are spending their Saturday afternoons learning how to do ‘stuff’. I often wonder whether the Maker Movement is a reaction to an educational system that has too long privileged learning in the abstract over learning by doing, so much so that millennials (like me), Gen Xers and Gen Ys are flooding youtube with homespun ‘how to’ tutorials– be it how to crochet a doily or how to program an arduino. The willingness of libraries to turn over floorspace to these enthusiastic tinkerers has inspired many school libraries to follow suit and bring more ‘doing’ into educational philosophy, or perhaps more fittingly back into educational philosophy.
The Loreto Normanhurst staff recently undertook professional development with Gary Stager who reminded us that it was Constructivist educationalist Jean Piaget who said that knowledge is a consequence of experience. Perhaps he might have foreseen the trend towards people learning by doing or perhaps he simply had the common sense to think that if we offer children the experience of doing something they will surely construct knowledge in the process. With this idea in mind the Loreto library ran Write a Book in a Day on Thursday, effectively creating a school within a school where 116 students gathered in the library to be writers, illustrators, editors and team members for the day. We had a total of five Primary School teams and nine Secondary School teams totaling fourteen books produced in the one day.
Watching the students resolve creative differences, act on one another’s ideas, communicate (and sometimes fail to communicate) was an absolute delight. The library was abuzz with high intensity but it was the students who brought the intensity. When Stager spoke to the staff he spoke about tapping into the intensity and passion that young people have by offering them real world opportunities to create. While they had a set of parameters to adhere to the stories, illustrations and creative decisions were entirely the students’ own. Once published the books are packaged and sent off to children who, for a multitude of reasons, are confined to hospital beds and are therefore confined to experiencing the world outside through the magic of books and storytelling. Moving away from what Stager termed ‘fake problems’ to engaging with the real world is crucial in making learning meaningful. A moment that brought this home to me was when a group reached 6:30 pm and realised that they were about a thousand words shy of the minimum word limit. Their disappointment was palpable upon hearing that they would be disqualified from the judging process. When they were reminded that the kids would still receive and read their books it was like watching a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde transformation– it really wasn’t about the accolades but the altruism of creating joy for someone they will most likely never meet.
The day was as much a pastoral exercise as it was an academic one. On the one hand, giving students more than a 55 minute period to experiment with and execute an idea led to what psychologists often call flow, a positive feeling of being completely immersed in a task or an energised focus. The flip side was the collaborative aspect. We know that soft skills such as emotional intelligence and empathy are essential in workplaces of the future and an activity like Write a Book in a Day brought the necessity of collaborative skills to the fore. Not only do all students gain from shared expertise where each individual plays a role but also from the sheer difficulty of working under stressful conditions with a variety of personalities.
The books created will be delivered to the Kids’ Cancer Project and also made available in the library. We will also endeavour to get some PDF links out for the broader community. Donations and sponsorship officially closes on the 31st August. If you would like to sponsor a team the link is included here.
Affirming and valuing the experience of young people and particularly young women is also firmly on the agenda of the Loreto library. To this end we took a group of Year 10 students to a writing workshop at the NSW Writer’s Centre entitled Girls Write Up on Tuesday. It was a daylong event that encourages empowerment through telling stories and expressing opinions. A number of outstanding women facilitated the event including feminist writer Clementine Ford, Triple J journalist Amelia Marshall, radio journalist and writer Heidi Pett and writer/actor and Gamillario/Torres Strait Islander Nakkiah Lui.
In keeping with the maxim we have been pursuing at Loreto it really was ‘less us, more them’ as the girls were invited to choose a workshop where they were encouraged to put pen to paper and write about issues that were important to them. Ella Gray attended a workshop on radical writing and reported back that she was impressed with novelist Emily Maguire who reminded students that “young women are often taught by society that their stories are not universal, and this often makes them question whether or not they’re worth sharing”. The validity of women’s voices and women’s stories was a thread that ran throughout the day, most powerfully through the idea that the act of female writing is itself a political act because people are politics. The girls were encouraged to see their voices and their stories as powerful political acts and that these stories are worthy because while no story is truly universal every story is important. It was great exposure to a variety of means of self expression from comics and zines to novels and stories to television and podcasts.
Finally, I would like to thank all those people who have made these events possible. The library team for their organisation and support of Write a Book in a Day, most notably Rowena Curtis who ran weekly writing workshops in the lead up to the day. Tricia Allen and the Learning Enrichment team who ably supported us on the day and who managed the emotions of the girls seamlessly. To Kelly Cahalane who brought Girls Write Up to the library’s attention and who supervised on the day.
A special thanks also goes out this week to Patti Taaffe for cheerfully giving up her Friday night to help supervise The Premier’s Reading Challenge Sleepover in the library. I am again reminded of something Gary Stager said on the staff development day about making school viable. Children spend an inordinate amount of time at school and it’s our job as educators to provide rich and engaging experiences that make them want to show up each day. I hope that for the participating students the sleepover, the writing workshops and Write a Book in a Day provided something out of the ordinary, an introduction to something or someone new. After all, you can never quite anticipate what students don’t yet know they love.
Ms Elizabeth Green
Knowledge & Learning Strategist