'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Thursday 23 May 2013

Guest Post: In Other Words Project with 100 Story Building

KBR is delighted to welcome Jessica Tran from 100 Story Building with this enlightening and fascinating peek into the creative work they are doing with children and literacy. KBR loves.

Next to the towering figure of comic extraordinaire Bernard Caleo, the Prep to Grade 2 students of Dinjerra Primary School look impossibly small. But they’re not intimidated.

‘He looks like a chip-man!’ says one, referencing Bernard’s beanpole frame (not his colouring).

‘Are you a girl?’ asks another, obviously very taken with Bernard’s curly hair.

In 2012, Maribyrnong City Council invited 100 Story Building to develop a storytelling program in consultation with Dinjerra Primary School in Melbourne’s west. As part of the council’s ‘River of Words’ early years initiative, we worked with 60 children in Prep to Grade 2 and their families.

This year, In Other Words is back, bringing puppeteer Leighton Young, comic artist Bernard Caleo, author (and former Dinjerra PS student) Alice Pung and poet Tariro Mavondo into the classroom.

The children learn about different ways to tell stories through a series of workshops, before creating their own digital stories. Parents are invited to attend and participate in the workshops, and the stories are shown to families and the school community on a red-carpeted premiere night.

The children of Dinjerra Primary School hail from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds, and the school community is made up of a mix of newly arrived and more established families. One third of Dinjerra families rank in the bottom quartile of socio-educational advantage, and 9 out of 10 students have language backgrounds other than English.

In Other Words has two main aims: to support literacy development, and to help forge stronger home/school/community partnerships around children’s learning, with a big focus on oral language skills. The idea was to engage parents who, for reasons including lack of resources or language barriers, may feel ill-equipped to support their children at school, but who still have a wealth of experience and skills to share.

This week’s workshop begins with Bernard telling the children a story using Kamishibai, a traditional Japanese storytelling technique. Bernard narrates a tale of a Kamishibai man in 1930s Japan, a story within a story within a story, illustrated by hand-drawn pictures he displays in the Kamishibai box window.

Some of the children remember Kamishibai from last year, when Bernard first showed the children Kamishibai. They were so taken with it, they decided to tell their own stories using this method. This is a key feature of In Other Words – the children are empowered with the ability to make their own choices about the direction of their learning.

Next, Bernard creates a Kamishibai with the children, using the story of King Midas. But this is a collaborative storytelling project, and so one group ends up with a fat king with a moustache, while the other group wants a thin one with a long robe. Contrary to traditional tellings, the genie appears from an ice-cream container, and when he does, he is actually a lady genie with cheetah spots.

Earlier this year, In Other Words was independently evaluated by literacy specialist Dr Paul Molyneux of the Melbourne Graduate School of Education. He describes it as a project that ‘overwhelmingly engaged and excited the students’. One of the children’s teachers, Ivy Leahy, noted that bringing storytellers into the classroom was a wonderful supplement to the school’s strong literacy program. ‘We read to them every day. They know about storytellers through books and authors. But to actually meet a real storyteller, for them, was so inspiring.’

At the end of Bernard’s workshop, this excitement and inspiration was evident. Said one student, ‘It was awesome we wrote the story together’.

100 Story Building is a centre for young writers, opening in Melbourne’s inner-west in 2013. They increase opportunities for young people to foster their creative voice and to have their ideas shared and respected. They bring together young writers and members of Melbourne’s creative community, and encourage them to share in their skills and understandings through creative writing excursions, publishing programs and after-school activities. Volunteers who work one-on-one with the children are an important part of the centre's daily workshops.

100 Story Building's mission is to provide opportunities for the most marginalised children and young people in our community - to build the literacy skills, confidence, and a sense of belonging that are fundamental to future success.

To support their work with children and young people, the centre runs 100 Story Studio creative writing workshops for adults and 100 Story Holidays school holiday workshops for kids.