Magazine article Practical Literacy

Bringing Creative Writing Alive: From Outdoor Learning to Haunted Houses, Experimenting with Learning Environments

Magazine article Practical Literacy

Bringing Creative Writing Alive: From Outdoor Learning to Haunted Houses, Experimenting with Learning Environments

Article excerpt

Walking into the Martian Embassy you feel like you are boarding a spaceship. The wooden structures of the walls are almost skeletal as they curve up and in over your head. Books are tucked into the bones of the building and chairs and cushions surround small circular tables. This phenomenal space is the headquarters of Sydney Story Factory--a non-for-profit organisation that aims to increase enthusiasm for writing and boost student confidence. Volunteering as a tutor there, I observed how students were transformed into empowered creative individuals with unique ideas, and the adults who help (tutors) are there as a sounding board, rather than instructors. I was amazed at the way this environment changed interactions and I couldn't help wonder how, as a classroom teacher, I too could transform learning environments for my students. I loved the way the Martian Embassy created a space for language to come alive by breaking away from the more formal aspects of literacy.

In term one I ran a creative writing unit with my Year five class. Each week students were given a creative writing stimulus to inspire their stories, and each week I made attempts to bring this writing alive by experimenting with the learning environment.

The outdoor experience

At Wilkins Public School the students are lucky enough to have a huge playground which includes a vegie garden, chooks, native bees and an outdoor learning space. With this fantastic space close at hand, one morning session, twenty-five students and I left the classroom armed with writing books, pencils and the current stimulus--an old tree with a door leading into it. In Yunkaporta and Kirby's article, Yarning up Indigenous pedagogies: A dialogue about eight Aboriginal ways of learning (2011), they discuss the importance of taking time to slow down and make connections to the land in our learning. Outside, we sat around the campfire space and spoke about how the school sits on Eora land and how for generations the Gadigal people shared stories and learnt from their elders outdoors in spaces like this. Thinking about the importance of storytelling and bringing aspects of our environment into our writing, I urged the students to listen and draw from what was around them.

Unfortunately, what eventuated wasn't the transforming experience I had expected.

'Miss, I have phobias!' some children said to me when the dirt and bugs got too much.

'The chickens are too loud,' others complained, telling me they couldn't concentrate.

'Can't we go back to the classroom?' many asked.

The learning environment was 'alive' with worms, spiders, chickens and bees. The problem was that some students had trouble bringing literacy alive beside it. Reflecting on this scenario I realised the group of students had needed more time to explore and get comfortable. Instead of jumping straight into writing stories I could have asked the students to walk about, explore, have a yarn and tell their stories before trying to write them.

The online classroom

Our class also started exploring google classroom as a platform for creating and sharing information. I asked every student to use the 'share' feature on Google Docs which allowed me to see, comment and edit their stories. As a collaborator I could then bring student work up on the Interactive Whiteboard (IWB) and see what they were writing on their laptops in real time. Some students decided to share their stories with other kids in the class and I was delighted to open up stories and see they had commented on each other's work! One Sunday I went to my google drive and noticed that three students had written more of their stories over the weekend. Another student figured out that he could share it with his parents and was 'totally freaked out' when he was typing up a story in class and saw his mum, at her workplace, had logged in and could see him typing. Our most reluctant writer begged me, 'Miss, can we please do writing on the laptops tomorrow? …

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