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Posts Tagged ‘Literary Festival’

As I gear up to make a presentation tomorrow at the annual VATE (Victorian Association of Teachers of English) State Conference 2013, my mind is easily turned by headlines that highlight illiteracy levels.

Stumbling on a post in the GoodReadingMagazine blog  I found myself trawling around for the stats that were highlighted in a September 2013 Huffington Post article: The US illiteracy rate hasn’t changed in 10 years.  As it turned out, the stats were based on a study conducted by the US Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy which I found published online on Statistic Brain.

US Illiteracy Stats on Statistic Brain.com32 million or 14% of US adults being illiterate and a staggering 21% reading below 5th grade level is frightening.   And with the article headline underlining that there has been no shift in literacy levels in the last ten years, educators like myself can’t help but gasp.

With the publication just a few days ago of the latest PISA 2012 results, the picture for Australia is also not great.    Highlighting the three key areas measured – maths, science and reading – an article on news.com.au: PISA report finds Australian teenagers education worse than 10 years ago clearly illustrates the slide in the perfomance of our 15 year olds.

With a world ranking of 13 for reading, the slide is apparent when looking at this graph:

Source: news.com.au

Source: news.com.au

So what’s going on?  Why has there been a backward slide in reading achievement?   Why aren’t levels shooting up?

Without a doubt, educators will be scratching their heads ….. arguments and debates will be rife.  While I don’t have any answers, I guess I have lots of thoughts on the issue, one of which is that:

We need to get students excited about reading!”

It was this thought which powered me a few years ago to create an innovative and different focus on reading in a school in which I worked.  It was with an immense sense of satisfaction that I was able to re-invent the well worn ‘Book Week’ activities regularly promoted by Teacher Librarians across the country into a Literary Festival – an event which was more sophisticated and appealing to senior school students. Being able to inspire the entire senior school staff to join with me in celebrating literature across the curriculum, with 18 presenters and nearly 50 sessions in its first year and 26 presenters and more than 80 sessions in its second year, the two Literary Festivals held in 2007 and 2008 were as enjoyable and satisfying to me as they were to all students and staff.

I am passionate about sharing these thoughts and ideas with others.   Reading to me is the backbone to all we do in education.   It is my firm conviction that if we can’t excite our students to read, our efforts to educate will fail.  Opening the minds of our students by reading is akin to opening a gateway to the world.  Reading is a key tool to exploring, discovering and lifelong learning.

I look forward to sharing my thoughts on how to Stage a Literary Festival: It’s not as hard as you think! at the VATE State Conference 2013.

With the current luxury of working part time, I am available as a consultant to those wishing to take the plunge and stage a Literary Festival.   I will easily convince you that it’s not as hard as you think!

I will be sharing the following notes with those attending my presentation.

Participant Notes

This post has also been published on my other blog, NovaNews.

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Reading permeates every aspect of our lives.  As an important skill that continually opens doors, it is without doubt, one of the most powerful and enjoyable recreational and educational tools known to man.

Throughout both my personal and professional life, I’ve taken every opportunity to ignite a love of reading in those around me.  I consider myself fortunate to have inspired both colleagues and students in a number of schools to join with me in the celebration of literature and to help unveil the many and varied joys of reading.

So when the opportunity came along to share details of a program I’d instituted in one of the schools in which I’d worked, I didn’t hesitate.  By writing an article about my experiences in staging a Literary Festival, I aimed to inspire yet more people to realize that it is well worth the effort and is not, in fact, all that complex.

Published in the latest edition of FYI, a publication of SLAV – School Library Association of Victoria – (Volume 16, Number 3, Winter 2012) my article appears alongside others which have focused on the theme of “Reading in 2012 and beyond” – a theme which no doubt emanates from the amazing celebration of literature which has been happening throughout Australia in this the National Year of Reading.

As the publication FYI is not currently available in full online, I have, with permission of the FYI editor, reproduced my article both here and on NovaNews, my other blog.    Should you wish, I am available for either consultation or assistance to help make a Literary Festival a reality in your school.

A revised version of this article has subsequently been published in the online edition of IDIOM Volume 50 No 1 August 2014.  Online access to this article if via VATE Membership.  Contact me directly if you are not a member and would like a copy of this article.

Enjoy the article.  I hope it leaves you feeling inspired to ‘give it a go!’

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You can do it!  Stage a successful Literary Festival.

2012 has been a bonanza year for literature.  2013 should be even bigger and better!

Take advantage of the excitement spun throughout 2012 and plan big for next year!  Close your eyes and dream.  Imagine the joy, the exhilaration and the euphoria that can be achieved by bringing literature to life.  Think outside the square.  Take the plunge and initiate a wide and varied range of literary events that will sweep your school off its feet!  Create an even greater splash than you have this year by staging a Literary Festival – an event which will inspire and ignite a passion for literature within and among all members of your school community.

Too hard, you think?  Too expensive?  Too much work?

The simple response is – no ….. not at all.  Staging a Literary Festival is actually not as hard as it sounds.  How do I know?  Because I’ve done it!

Back in 2006, when the school in which I was working relocated its Year 9-12 students to a new, dedicated senior campus, I was faced with the challenge of re-designing our literature programs so they would more fully reflect the nature of the campus and its students.   Conscious of wanting to excite and inspire a love of literature, I also aimed to create an event which would encapsulate the interests of students in our new senior campus.  So was born the Literary Festival, an event which was more sophisticated and appealing to our senior school students than the traditional well-worn ‘Book Week’ activities so regularly promoted by Teacher Librarians across the country.  Swept up with the euphoria pumped out during the planning stages, the entire senior school staff joined with students in celebrating literature across the curriculum.  With 18 presenters and nearly 50 concurrent sessions in its first year and 26 presenters and more than 80 concurrent sessions in its second year, the two Literary Festivals held in 2007 and 2008 ran over three and four consecutive days respectively.  With the usual timetable put on hold, students, staff as well as many members of the extended school community joined hands in the celebration of literature.   The joy reflected on the faces of participants as well as the pleasure derived from both written and verbal feedback was enormous.  So too was the immediate demand for book loans!

So where and how do you start planning an event such as a Literary Festival?   How on earth do you fund it?   How do you get people on board to assist with planning?  And how do you timetable it so that it all runs like clockwork?  Questions, questions, questions!  One thing you can be sure of is that questions such as these will continually pop up throughout the planning stages.  From the outset, you will need three key ingredients:  Enthusiasm, determination and perseverance.  Alongside this you need to attend very carefully to fine details!  Be sure to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s.  When you most doubt it, you will find that problems and issues that present themselves will either get resolved or resolve themselves.  Retain a calmness and sureness while keeping a grasp on the ‘big picture’ that you are trying to create.

Write a rationale:

Figure out what it is you want to do, how you see it being put into action and who it is you want to involve.

Convincing others of the value of implementing a new idea is hard.   You therefore need to be very clear from the outset that you are keen to take on a leadership role in the planning, staging and implementation of the Literary Festival.  Write and present your rationale to the Principal, to Heads of Campus and to key school leaders.   Request to present the idea at a Curriculum Committee meeting where various Heads of Faculties are present.  Sell the concept with enthusiasm and you will find that your excitement will ignite an enthusiasm in others.

State in clear terms what the Literary Festival is to entail including its length, specific dates and how you anticipate it being run.  Outline the reasons for wanting to stage the Literary Festival including benefits to be derived.  Describe the intended audience: all students of a specific campus, a year level and/or parents and members of the extended school community.  Explain who will be involved in staging the event – Library staff, Library and English staff or representatives of a number of school departments.

Determining these kinds of details will allow you to refine specifics needed to actually stage the Literary Festival.  Once the number of days and the size of the audience are decided it will then be possible to determine the number of presentations needed and the likely costs.

Planning Committee:

Having a small dedicated team who are willing to put in the hours and the thinking necessary for staging the Literary Festival is a key to its success.   You may find that members of the Library staff are the most reliable, available and committed.  There may also be an eager member of the English staff who is ready to team with you.   Then again, it may turn out that you are the only one who is really enthusiastic and committed to the idea!  Don’t despair – you can do it alone!

In addition to a planning committee, have key members of staff who can act as a sounding board.   And don’t forget to ask for student involvement.   After all, the event is being staged for students so they will have an idea of what they think is great and what they think will be boring!

Selecting presenters:

Deciding on the presenters to be included in your Literary Festival will depend on what it is you are trying to achieve.  It can be a staid affair involving author talks and workshops or it can be a dynamic event incorporating a wide range of presenters.   In addition to authors and illustrators, consider including song writers, poets, hip hop artists, clay animators, puppeteers, scientists, journalists, musicians, actors and motivation speakers all of whom are united in their passionate desire to engage, stimulate and challenge us with their love of the written and spoken word.

As teachers across the school become inspired to participate in the Literary Festival, more and more ideas of suitable presenters will be generated.  As these ideas are incorporated into program planning, you will find teachers eagerly embracing proposals you suggest of suitable presenters.  Enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm!  Continuous lateral thinking will generate some amazingly exciting ideas.

Funding:

Involving many presenters in a Literary Festival is without doubt exciting!   Unfortunately it can also be very costly.  Don’t let this put you off though.  Think outside the box!

The Literary Festival does not have to be funded solely from the Library budget.  By incorporating events focused on a range of curriculum areas, it is reasonable to request that those faculties contribute to the costs.  Not all presenters need to be hired.  Look at the school community – parents, board members, friends and most especially friends of friends!   Don’t be surprised when they are thrilled to be invited to present.  Accept all volunteers gratefully.  And don’t forget to call for teachers to volunteer their skills – you will be amazed at what they have to offer!

Explore the availability of school administration funds to cover the cost of publicity material such as posters and programs.  Write a brief describing your Literary Festival and approach local book shops to run a book fair.  If your event is to include a lunch or morning/afternoon tea, approach local food shops to donate food in return for a mention on the program.  If planning of your event commences well in advance, consider local funding grants that are available.

Publicity

A range of publicity material will be needed to not only inform, but to excite your school community about the impending Literary Festival.  Posters, liberally displayed around the school will inform and excite.  Articles in both the school newsletter and local press can be staged so as to slowly build up both an interest and an expectation of a very special event.   Blog posts with engaging ‘sneak peek’ details on the school and school library blogs should be well publicized via social media such as Twitter and Facebook.  Promotional videos could also be made and uploaded to YouTube to ensure interest and intrigue.

As the event draws closer, program outlines incorporating biographical details of presenters and event outlines will be needed.   Some events may need to be ‘ticketed’.   Bulletin board displays will need to be created and tended.  Overhead projections as a background to presentations, while not essential, certainly make a powerful addition.

The creation of publicity materials can be very time consuming.  Tap into support services available to the school administration.  Request the involvement of students or work with art teachers to enlist the interest of students.  Take care though to retain an involvement and control over the content and design of publicity material being generated to ensure that it accurately represents the nature of the Literary Festival being planned.

And finally:

Planning what, why, when, where and how a Literary Festival is to be staged is a big undertaking.  Dealing with the never ending details can be exhausting.  Being clear headed about what it is you want to achieve is essential.   Calling on the expertise of others for both ideas and support is advantageous.

Like building a house, it is the planning and design that is most important.   Begin planning well in advance.   A year ahead is not unreasonable.

Soon into the planning though, you will find that your Literary Festival develops a life of its own.   Take time to reflect on what it is you are creating, but most of all, enjoy the ride!

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Have you ever enthusiastically shared what you’ve recently read with a friend, a colleague or even a bunch of students that just happen to be in the room with you?

If you haven’t ….. you’ve simply got to give it a try!   As the sharing gains momentum, the conversation quickly collects an electrifying  buzz.  The more you rave on about the book you’ve so thoroughly enjoyed, the more the person or group you’re sharing with want to talk about their recent reads too!  One comment feeds off another.  Before you know it, the conversation goes on for longer and longer and the words themselves become contagious!!

As part of a three day Literary Festival I organized at one of the schools I worked at, we threaded such conversations into the program.  Aiming for simplicity, we called the event ‘Read a good book lately?’  It was so simple to organize, but turned out to be one of the most successful sessions.

A call to staff across the school asking for volunteers to talk about their favourite reads with students ended up drawing more teachers than we could accommodate!   Wanting to ensure that we included as many as possible, it was quickly decided to team teachers in pairs.   We also knew, that working in pairs, the teachers would ‘feed’ off each other.  After double checking that the pairs of teachers were happy to team with each other, the only instruction to them was to talk about books and aim to enthuse the students who were listening to them.  This Literary Festival ‘event’ was assigned an hour for three Year 10 classes.  Knowing that teachers could relocate quicker than classes, we gave the teachers a 20 minute time limit before moving into the next class.

It was full on, but wow – was it powerful!   Students saw our senior art teacher trundle in with an overnight bag packed full of books from her home bookshelf – some powerful reads for senior students.   Other teachers had overflowing piles of books in their arms. The art teacher teamed with the special ed teacher while a music teacher teamed with a religion and society teacher and a chemistry teacher teamed with a maths teacher.   The teachers were in their element and the students just lapped it up.   At the end of an hour, all of the Year 10 students had listened entranced to six teachers working outside of their normal roles.  They witnessed and valued the common bond of literature shared by these teachers and the joy that each of them expressed of reading.

We had given the students a magical gift.  Very powerful role modelling was achieved with very little effort.

Give it a go.  If it worked for me, it may also work for you!

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