Writing the future

Education. The Circular Head Cluster of Schools hosted Australian author Sue Whiting earlier this month as part of the Middle Years Literacy Project. The project, which encompasses Smithton, Stanley, Forest, Edith Creek and Redpa primary schools alongside Smithton High School, is a collaborative initiative aimed at enriching the skills of students in years four to eight. A former primary school teacher, Ms Whiting has written for a variety of genres including both fiction and nonfiction as well as pursued a decade-long career in publishing. Ms Whiting shared her passion for and knowledge of literature with local students throughout her visit as part of a series of workshops. Smithton High School student Cody Hursey shares the experience with Chronicle readers.

Earlier this month our local schools were lucky enough to host Sue Whiting, author of the award-winning picture book Platypus, for three writing filled days.

Travelling from Wollongong, New South Wales, she regaled students with tales of her life as an author and shared her writing wisdom.

Arriving in Circular Head as part of the Writing the Future showcase presented by the Primary English Teaching Association Australia, Ms Whiting kicked off her tour at Smithton High School on Tuesday June 5.

Upon her arrival she spoke with students of her life prior to joining the writing industry followed by what her day as an author looks like.

Ms Whiting spoke of numerous topics relating to the writing industry. These included, various writing methods, the steps required to become an author and the various career options within the industry, including editing, publishing and illustrating. Most importantly, she encouraged students to pursue what they are passionate about, not necessarily what they are good at.

A series of writers’ workshops aimed at improving the writing strategies and skills of our year seven and eight students were held on the day. During these workshops, students were given the opportunity to work one-on-one with the Children’s Book Council of Australia Notable Book winner. This process allowed students to expand their imagination, learn effective planning methods and how to execute their own ideas to create stories.

Students from the high school’s Extended English and History class were given the opportunity to interview Ms Whiting to learn more about her life and the journey she has taken to become a successful author.

The class prepared a series of questions, asking everything from why her passion for the writing industry is so strong, to how she was feeling when accepting her 2016 Children’s Book Council of Australia Notable Book of the Year award.

The interview went extremely well, particularly as it allowed the class to get to know Ms Whiting more as an individual rather than an author.

The following day the workshops continued with students from Smithton, Redpa and Edith Creek primary schools. The day followed a similar program to the high school visit but was specialised for the four to eight-year-old age group. These workshops were aimed at helping the younger students improve their reading, observatory skills and imagination.

Ms Whiting’s goal with the primary school students was to convince them that being an author is the ‘best job’.

Throughout her day at Smithton Primary School she encouraged students to tell their own stories through what she called a scene and character build-up. This strategy sees students use the five senses, describing what they see, hear, taste, smell and touch.

On her third and final day in Circular Head, Ms Whiting travelled to Forest where she was joined by students from both Forest and Stanley primary schools. Her presentation covered similar topics and writing methods to her Smithton Primary School presentation.

Ms Whiting is an inspiration to the many young writers we have within the community. In three days she taught students valuable strategies and encouraged creative and passionate thinking, an example being a four-columned table with each section labelled with a key component necessary for the structure of a successful story. These key components included the character, setting, problem and solution. Having used this particular method herself during her planning stage, I’m sure students will benefit from and continue to use this for a long time.  

Later in the year Smithton High School’s Extended English and History class will be involved in creating another documentary which will be focusing on our three-day collaboration with Ms Whiting. This will be achieved by working with Jobi Starick from the Big hART organisation, with whom we collaborated last year to produce the documentary Tunnerminnerwait: Bringing His Story Home.

This year’s documentary will be a part of the Writing the Future presentation organised by the Primary English Teaching Association Australia. Each school that is involved in the program was asked to document their author’s visit in some way for the conference being held in Canberra, Australia Capital Territory in October. At this conference a case study will be presented by the coordinating teacher and author on the collaboration of workshops and the products outcome.

At the conclusion of her visit, Ms Whiting said that she “Would have thought we all came from the same school,” implying the togetherness and cohesion of the Circular Head Cluster of Schools.

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