by Victor Davidson, teacher librarian at Birrong Girls High School
It may be a story, it may be a book, it may be the library itself as a flexible learning space, the message for each girl is to find her own wings and learn how to fly under her own power. The dedication on the title page of Astrid Scholte’s young adult fantasy novel, ‘Four Dead Queens’, highlights the importance of narrative and empowering students at Birrong Girls High School.
At every opportunity there is a story; either as an oral performance or a Japanese Kamishibai paper theatre show.
Kamishibai paper theatre show
Every Year 7 class visits the library multiple times each term with their KLA teacher to build and tell oral narratives that incorporate the key vocabulary that underpins the particular Stage 4 syllabus. The content is negotiated with each head teacher before I construct the BlogED for each lesson.
There are also show and tell lessons on the miracle of reading, and opportunities to read and record books for the Premier’s Reading Challenge. Multiple BlogED sites are used by students to create, compose, research and present.
Finally, the rewards are sweet as the Wizard of Fudge doles out soft magic in the form of delicious fudge treats. As you can see in the following image, there are a few left to share.
Flexible learning spaces
The library has always been a flexible learning space. Furniture is regularly rearranged according to the needs of the staff. As for classroom teachers being on board, all Year 7 teachers from history, English, geography, maths, visual arts and science bring classes to study elements of their Stage 4 syllabuses via narratives. Bibliographic records are accessed through Oliver and recorded in the information literacy skills workbook. The Milestones Management Plans for the aforesaid faculties mandate their commitment to the Information Literacy and Narrative Structure course for Year 7 that is conducted in the library. We also have a range of activities during roll call for reading promotion and at lunchtime for STEM.
Story – connection and stimulus
Regular incursions take place for creative writers to critically hone their work. Visiting authors are given opportunities to interact with students. For example, in June, the British Jewish writer and poet Yvonne Green gave a workshop in the library for students. They undertook a poetry exercise. The theme was heritage and connecting with the past. Among many evocative and touching poems one, by Zara Jalloul, called ‘Home’, brought out powerful emotions. Here is Zara’s poem:
I feel my ancestors calling me
To join their warm circle
To come back
Relive the moments we never had.
I feel my elders calling me
Telling me to pour the tea
And to offer it to others.
Holding me close
This is where I live
This is my home.
Visiting authors have included Nadia Jamal, Will Kostakis, Helen Thurloe, Queenie Chan and Susanne Gervay. We are also pleased to welcome Paul Macdonald of The Children's Bookshop each year to speak to students about the importance of reading and to give us reviews of all the new publications.
Visiting author, Nadia Jamal, spoke to Year 10 about her latest novel, ‘Headstrong Daughters: inspiring stories from the new generation of Australian Muslim women’
BlogED – create and collaborate
The department’s recently upgraded BlogED tool enables collaboration for a whole raft of learning outcomes. At Birrong, students use multiple BlogED sites to create, compose, research and present. One of the favourites is Fan fiction. For me, the key to the Fan fiction BlogED is the ability to build a sensitive and interactive community.
The final exercise this term is to critique and appreciate peer creative writers. The following post, from a Year 7 student, is quite sophisticated.
‘For me Julie Ngo who wrote ''Behind the doors'' is an amazing writer. When I read her story I felt that I was watching over the scene and that I was being included in the written piece. Her description of the maiden was immaculate, the way she described her lifeless body, and her motionless lips with such detail was astounding in so many ways. Julie has helped me learn that the best way to express anything is to provide utter detail of everything happening in the current scene. I also loved how her story was haunting, yet subtle. And I totally encourage her to master on in the way she is writing because I feel that this can impact on a bigger, brighter future.’
Our principal, Zena Dabaja, is keen for us to expand student work across media platforms to publish creative writing, recordings and Vlogs.
Finally, our students continue to test their wings and learn to fly under their own power. Immersing themselves in storytelling opportunities, engaging with visiting authors and connecting with peers in real time and online has enabled these students to gain confidence and skills.
If you want to empower your students and build a sensitive and interactive community, try some of the activities mentioned and give BlogED a go.
How to cite this article – Davidson, V. (2019). To the Birrong girls – strap this on and fly. Scan, 38(9).