Booking with Berry PS

Family illness has seen me less able to get out and about lately. But that hasn’t stopped wonderful experiences and opportunities finding me. Last year I was a speaker at the Illawarra Australian Literacy Educators Association Professional Development Day. Prior to the day of the event I was introduced by email to Jan Turbill, a past ALEA president and university researcher, and the author of a number of literacy texts.

Jan is an inspiring woman – a life-long literary educator and book lover. She was working at Berry Public School as a ‘critical friend’ – sharing her love of literature and teaching students to read and write critically. She established a book club to encourage reading – and their very first book – was Samurai Kids: White Crane. It was then decided that the same text could be used to demonstrate the characteristics of effective and engaging narrative. It was decided to focus the club’s attention on the reading-writing connections and demonstrate how ‘children must read like a writer, in order to learn to write like a writer’.

I could see wonderful opportunities to make explicit how you chose language to bring the characters to life – how the theme (or themes) are carried through the story and so on. Now these kids are avid readers but not necessarily writers and it is my belief and now experience that avid readers can be avid writers and learn many ‘tools’ for writing that they can use for all genres. So I suggested to the Principal and the teacher working with me  that I have a day in Term 4 where we think about White Crane from the perspective of the author – and they have a go at writing as you have (the term I use is ‘text as mentor’ and living in the shoes of the author’).

She had a different approach to the literature circles I was familiar with. The school wanted to see its avid readers be similary excited about writing. Jan has a favourite quote which she shared with me, a quote which helped shape her approach:

‘The author becomes an unwitting collaborator [teacher]. … Bit by bit, one thing at a time, but enormous amounts of things over the passage of time, the learner learns, through reading like a writer, to write like a writer,’  (Frank smith)

She asked if I would like to speak to the Book Club, talk to them about the writing the book, listen to them read their written pieces and answer some questions. Would I ever! It was a lot of fun doing this over Skype. I thought it would also be a good ideas if I provided some formal feedback and I looked at each piece identifying what worked well and two things which could be improved.

Earlier this year I had the privilege of participating when Jan presented a session on her work at Berry PS at the National ALEA Conference in Sydney. It was inspiring to see such tangible results and to know I played a part in them. This year there is a new Book Club of would-be writers and I am looking forward to doing the whole process again!


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2 responses to “Booking with Berry PS”

  1. Sue Whiting says:

    Wow. This is great Sandy. Jan Turnbill was my guru when I was a young teacher. She’s amazing, isn’t she?

  2. I agree with Jan. We seem to focus so much on encouraging kids to read, yet writing is a poor relation. What better way than to have a writer as a mentor and colleague to share with kids! Lovely to read about this, Sandy.

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