Aura Parker Visit
Most people can still name at least a few of the books they read at school and parents often roll their eyes upon hearing that their daughters are still studying the same texts they did over thirty years ago. In today’s classroom though English has changed, it is about so much more than reading classic books. Today’s English teachers are charged with crafting a love of literacy that goes beyond literature. The study of English is about how and why texts work in order to gain a rich and nuanced understanding of the world we live in. More than that it is about teaching students to communicate in multifaceted ways, they need to be creators and communicators of content.
One of the ways the English department seeks to teach rich multimodal skills is through activities as varied as creating trailers for books and storyboarding tasks. Last Friday Year 8 enjoyed a visit from author, illustrator and designer Aura Parker who worked with them on storyboarding their idea for a short film around the trope of the lost child. Aura spoke with Year 8 about her creative process and in particular about the value of rough drafts along the road to a finished product. She reiterated a lot of what we talk about at Loreto in terms of moving away from perfectionism and instead encouraged students to find their own process, whether it was scripting their four key scenes first or using quick stick figure drawings to visualise key moments in their imagined film. A particularly heartening story for the students was about a silkworm character who accidently got written out of the story but who is now the central figure in another book. The take away message for our students was that nothing is lost in learning. What may initially appear as a setback or a mistake can actually open the door to something else.
The students appreciated the chance to get expert advice from a ‘real-life’ published author and illustrator and we know this is important There’s a saying that gets used in girls’ education a lot to the effect of ‘you cannot be what you cannot see’. Young women in particular need to see other women in action, they need to know that it is possible to carve out a career for yourself in the creative arts or computer science or aeronautical engineering for that matter. Perhaps more importantly they need to be able to ask those women questions about how they got there and the choices they had to make along the way. It was wonderful to hear Aura speak so candidly about her work practices, her studio and even the ways in which being a parent had led to creative opportunities for her.
One of the other special features of the day was the opportunity for an extended period. Rather than the usual 55 minute period the Year 8s worked in two cohorts across four periods. They gathered to listen to Aura and then they applied her suggestions in a hands on workshop. Aura was generous with her time and moved around providing expert advice and many handy Photoshop skills for those students who elected to do their storyboards digitally. Additionally, the students critiqued one another’s work. Many students remarked on how much they enjoyed having the time to work on their storyboards and reported that they would have liked even more time to simply engage in the creative process. We know that a traditional model of schooling doesn’t work for all of our students and occasions like this, as well as the myriad of other opportunities Loreto offers, are about working in different ways. They are about offering experiential learning opportunities that take students out of the everyday.
The feedback from our students was rich, from the Year 8 girl who said that as a budding artist she felt excited that in a few short years she could be doing what Aura does to the student who said that “creativity isn’t about being able to draw like an artist.” So while not all students are emerging Picassos or even necessarily interested in illustrating they were all learning vital English skills around how images can create meaning. When you and I were at school English might have been about the meaning derived from an esteemed piece of literature, today students will often deconstruct visual texts to understand how meaning is made. Neither method is superior to the other, they are simply two different ways of communicating. We are not forgoing traditional literacy, there is still a place for the so-called classics but being literate in today’s world means being able to create and communicate across a variety of platforms. It is our hope that our students become powerful storytellers regardless of how they chose to tell that story.
Aura Parker is the illustrator of My Magnificent Jelly Bean Tree and the author and illustrator of Twig due to be released in November this year.
Ms Elizabeth Green
Knowledge and Learning Strategist