This year, we've expanded the programme to include The Otahuhu Writers in Schools Project.
This project is an innovative collaboration between five Otahuhu primary/intermediate schools, Reading Together (a Ministry of Education supported reading initiative), the Otahuhu Community Library, the National Library and the Book Council’s Writers in Schools programme.
It is the first time that we have attempted something so ambitious and it’s very exciting for us!
Five low decile schools in Otahuhu (South Auckland) hosted a diverse range of NZ writers in residence for six days over term three and term four. They worked with students to help them develop their creative writing skills.
The final outcome of The Otahuhu Writers in Schools Project will be a publication created by each school featuring the work developed by students during the writing workshops.
We are very grateful to Rotary for their generous support. Their funding enabled us to expand and develop this programme into a much more substantial project than would have otherwise been possible.
The project will culminate in a celebratory event at the Otahuhu library in November.
Paula Green and Fairburn School
This year I have had one of those special poetry experiences that forms a storehouse of delight. Along with four other writers, I participated in the Otahuhu Writers in Schools Project. I was the writer-in-residence at Fairburn School in Otahuhu — six days spread across term 3, contributions to two staff development sessions and attendance at the end-of-project celebration. I met with a dedicated team and we planned a programme that would support the focus on oral language as well as produce writing that would be published in a book.
When I cross a school threshold, my chief aim is to foster a love of words. Poetry is the writing playground, and as such, it can spark the reluctant writer as much as it can advance the skills of those with sophisticated capabilities. For me, it always comes down to the word ‘love.’ I want teachers and children to fall in love with poetry and what poetry can do. There are no rules when it comes to poems; or if there are rules, they are rules that can be broken; or you can make up your own rules. Poems are a fabulous way of representing how you see the world, how you feel the world, how you experience the world and how you imagine the world.
Travelling from the wild winds of the west coast to Otahuhu, at first light, along crawling, congested motorways, was an adventure. The first morning, it was in the fog, a damping down of the world so it felt like I was driving blind. But I stepped into a school of warm welcome, not just from the receptionist and the Principal, but the teachers, and especially the children. Every time I stepped into the playground there was a ripple of ‘hello Paula Green’, ‘hey there’s Paula Green!’ I stepped into a school where the ground was already fertile with rich vocabulary, great ideas, and an ability to give new things a go. Yes, there is in the infectious willingness of the children to try things, but such fertile ground is in debt to the enthusiastic work of the staff.
I started each day with an interactive performance for a syndicate – reading poems, making up poems with children, and setting challenges. It felt like the whole school was humming with poetry possibilities and children were itching to get writing, individually or as a class. For me, the way to ignite the child initially is through spoken words. From there I proceed to writing workshops where, in this case, three groups had four or five sessions with me. This is gold for a visiting author – the chance to develop and sustain writing choices. I explored the strength of the ear and the eye as poetry tools. While I select a topic as a starting point, I am keen for children to play and follow diverse poetry paths. The topics are always a mix of imagined and experienced. First we went hunting for words because these act as the sand in the sandpit, the bars on the climbing frame, the building blocks for play. When pens aren’t scratching, as happens now and then, I am happy to fill the air or the whiteboard with words. It might mean everyone falls on ‘blazing,’ but it does extend vocabularies. Once we each had a stack of words on the page, we jammed with them. Then, in order to show poetry is in the grasp of all, we wrote small poems (16 words max). This is where the child gets that moment of pride — an ‘ah’ and an ‘ooh’ that they have come up with something so very sweet and with a mere sprinkle of words. Next we wrote longer poems that explored various challenges I set. I love the idea of challenges both in the writing and editing processes.
What made the residency extra special was the Family Sharing Day where all classes shared plays and poems for parents and grandparents (including a spectacular performance of James K Baxter’s ‘The Big Black Whale’ and one class’s ocean poems). I was also video interviewed by a group of senior students. The finished product was outstanding, the questions probing. My favourite question was: ‘What three words sum up poetry for you?’ I said: play, music, joy.
The school has published a book featuring a number of the poems illustrated by children. I have yet to see it, but I know they are excited about the finished product. I was sad to leave the school, but took away that vital and enduring storehouse. It was full of faces; the faces of children feeling absolute pride in what they had produced. I always feel I could have done more. In my workshops, once the children are writing, I circuit the room providing individual conferences where I highlight things I love and set the child a few challenges to play with. I also maintain flexibility. I keep returning to my key aims. Some children write poems that house stories, some children build pictures, some play with words as though they are musicians. Both teachers and children made this project special — may Fairburn School continue to hum with poetry. My grateful thanks to all those who made this residency possible.
Some examples of the wonderful poetry created by the Fairburn School students:
My tree is a
Cats crawl in
Owls hoot in
my tree. Birds chirp
in my tree. My tree
My tree sways and
makes a lot of noise.
Blazing fiery yellow
sun sizzles, Matariki stars
shine bright on us.
Tiger hot blazing
sun, sparkly shining
Birds flying high
flapping and diving
In the night
peeking out windows
Searching for birds
I look for
tui every time.
Eclipses star moon
black orangish yellow,
and covered clouds
white sun sinking.
Seagulls, fantails and
diving and flying
pictures of clouds
in slow motion.