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Wednesday 24 March 2021

Guest Post: Tristan Bancks on Online Writing Courses For Kids

We here at KBR love a good story. You might have guessed that from the dozens upon dozens of great tales we review and from the many insightful guest posts we feature that inspire burgeoning writers for children to follow their literary dreams. Equally important is fostering avenues for fledging young writers. 

As renowned children's author, Tristan Bancks reports, 'a number of Australian authors are now offering online writing workshops and video masterclasses for young writers, allowing for flexible delivery in the classroom, helping to supercharge the work of young writers.' 

In this fascinating interview with some of Australia's best presenters and authors, Tristan investigates why so many authors are branching out into this concept and what there is to be gained for schools and educators? Stay tuned for our next feature on In School Writing Workshops tailor-made for kids by writing camp extraordinaire, Brian Falkner. Now, over to Tristan!

I am an author for kids and teens (Two Wolves, Detention, Tom Weekly) and, for the past ten years, as I’ve visited hundreds of schools, I’ve been dreaming of creating an online course that shares everything I know about writing and sets challenges for students. Finally, in 2020, the demand for this project was clear and I created Young Writers’ StorySchool, a tool to demystify writing and support teachers in their mission to inspire keen and reluctant writers to put pen to paper.

In creating StorySchool, I discovered that a number of other Australian kids’ and YA authors have also been creating online courses. So, I spoke to Emily Gale (I Am Out With Lanterns), Lili Wilkinson (After the Lights Go Out), Tim Harris (Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables), Kirsty Eagar (Summer Skin) and Allison Tait (The Mapmaker Chronicles) about what they offer and why they decided to share their writing expertise in this way.

Tristan: What inspired you to create an online writing course

Emily Gale: In March 2020, Victoria was dealing with the first virus wave and schools were on the verge of closing. An English teacher suggested to Nova Weetman that she and I create a series. The teacher gave us great advice: make the videos short (10 minutes) and ensure they contain tasks that would occupy students for a lesson. The series was a way of using our skills to make a contribution in a time of crisis.

Lili Wilkinson: A big part of my job as an author is public speaking at schools, libraries, festivals etc. I really love it especially meeting teen readers. Its also a significant chunk of my income. So when COVID happened I wanted to be proactive to offer something that schools could use with remote learning, or could be deployed to teens or adults who were stuck at home.

Tim Harris: The inspiration behind Primary Writers is to break down the 'hugeness' of writing for young learners, and help them improve their craft one skill at a time in a fun, accessible way. My love of teaching didn't stop after I resigned from education to spend more time writing, so I'm incredibly excited to be working on the Primary Writers project in a teaching/presenting capacity.

Kirsty Eagar: While I love delivering author talks and school workshops, I wanted the chance to offer more material! Something more intensive that results in a finished, polished piece. Also, I grew up in a regional area and went to a tiny state school that didn’t get author visits, so that’s always been in the back of my head. Online gives people options.

Allison Tait: My inspiration was hundreds of school talks and workshops. I loved watching the lights go on in kidseyes when I shared tips and insights and I wanted to make that widely available. Writers talk about writing in a different way to teachers. I wanted to make a course for kids who love to write and for those whod like to write better. Its also something that ten-year-old me would have adored.

Tristan: What does your course offer, who
s it for and how do people get involved?

Emily: Our audience is 9-14 year olds. The series consists of 10x10-minute videos, each one covering an essential part of writing a story. Nova and I develop a story each throughout the course so its a demo rather than a lecture. The most important thing for us was to make it accessible to all budgets. Details about the course are on a dedicated website: emilyandnova.com

Lili: Its a ten-part writing masterclass made up of 10-15 minute videos. I cover ideas, brainstorming, character, setting plot and structure. Each episode contains a YA or MG book recommendation. The masterclass is designed for secondary students, but Ive had participants in primary school, and quite a few adults that have found it very useful. Its $50 for an individual, or $1000 for a school license, and people can sign up via my website http://www.liliwilkinson.com.au/masterclass

Tim: A range of courses are currently taught as 'live classes', which enables each participant to receive personalised feedback about their work. We have just employed a videographer who will start work in May, helping us put together a range of self-paced courses and YouTube content. The website is coming soon - www.primarywriters.com

Kirsty: My course is for students aged nine and up. It guides students through a sequence for storytelling, encouraging learning by doing, in a step-by-step way. Students complete and edit a 500-word story and then receive feedback from me. Material is delivered via video workshops and worksheets. My course is registered with the Creative Kids program, and parents can enrol via my website. I tailor material for schools depending on their specific requirements. https://kirstyeagar.com

Allison: Its a 12-module online course through the Australian WritersCentre for kids 9-14, taking students from an idea to a complete, edited 800-word story, with encouragement all the way and personalised video feedback from me at the end. Kids can work through it at their own pace, with a full year to complete if they wish. Plus there are lots of extra exercises for the really keen beans. Details and sign up here: http://writerscentre.com.au/quest

Tristan: How do you feel about the response to the course and what might you like to do differently, or do more of, in future?

Emily: We had such a great response that we ran a short story competition during the second Victorian lockdown. It was tremendous to make that connection between the series wed produced and the students whod watched it.

Ten minutes is a great length, enough to convey the message and do a couple of demonstrations before the student has a go. We have hand-outs for every video, which can be printed or replicated easily with pen and paper. 

Wed love to put it out to a wider audience if there is an appetite for it.

Lili: I really enjoyed the process of filming and editing the videos. It was hugely time-consuming, though, especially at a time when I was trying to release two books and homeschool a Prep! The feedback has been awesome, with one student describing the masterclass as the best thing that happened all year”.

Tim: The response has been exceptionally positive. One parent contacted us to say that her daughter has not stopped talking about the class! The power of the internet is wonderful, enabling students from all over the country to tune in to classes. We are working on the self-paced courses to meet the demand as the classes are currently booked at full capacity.

Kirsty: I’ve been really happy with the results—the progression in students’ writing. I need to become a lot better at marketing! At the moment, I have a lot of video material, because I wanted students to workshop everything. In future iterations, I’ll reduce some of it in favour of text.

Allison: The course has been running for over two years now and the response has been terrific. Participants absolutely love getting their feedback videos, knowing an actual author has read their work. I knew the feedback would be key – 10-year-old me told me that – so Im thrilled theyre thrilled.

Tristan Bancks’ Young Writers’ StorySchool is at www.youngwritersstoryschool.com and his new book, out 4 May, is a 100th anniversary book of Ginger Meggs short stories featuring the character created by his great-great-uncle, Jimmy Bancks, in 1921.

Black and white photo credits: Amber Melody