|Fighting Words: The Write to Right|
On Tuesday I visited the good folks of the Fighting Words Centre, located next to Croke Park. Established by Roddy Doyle and Séan Love, Fighting Words is a Creative Writing Centre that gives students at both primary and secondary levels the chance to compose and publish their stories. At the end of the session, each participant has a printed copy of their own book with their name and photograph on the back. There's even a "praise from the critics" section to encourage the young storytellers to disseminate their work among friends and family (and members of the media as desired). The best thing about Fighting Words? Its programmes are all one hundred percent FREE, making it a truly inclusive storytelling initiative.
The staff and volunteers of the Centre could not have been more welcoming to me. I was given a quick tour and outline of the day ahead. In hushed tones it was announced that the class had arrived. They were a first class group from Scoil Bhríde in Donaghmede and the excitement was palpable as they asked the Magic Door for permission to enter. A hidden bookcase in the wall swung open and all the children piled in, rushing to get the best seats. Then, it was over to Mark, our storyteller for the day, to lead the children through the whole writing process.
|First class students of Scoil Bhríde write The |
Amazing Adventures of Mrs Strawberry
-Yeah. My dad knows.
-Was your dad here with us before?
-No. But he read a Roddy Doyle book once. It was a funny one.
-So what do you want to do today?
-WRITE A STORY!
While Mark worked with the children on their stories, illustrator Isadora made their words come to life before their eyes. Their were several other tutors and volunteers on hand to look after the kids and make sure that the children had everything that they need.The tutors at Fighting words are well trained in the methodology of teaching and I was impressed to see the easy and natural way they elicited answers from their young writers. Having talked for a few minutes about the books the children liked and were familiar with, it was time to get down to business.
-What are the ingredients that go into every story? What do all good stories need?
- Yes, words. Anything else?
-A BIG PENCIL!
- People, I mean, characters!
And so on. Within forty minutes the group had collaboratively written a story entitled The Amazing Adventures of Mrs Strawberry (you can read it right here). To be exact, the group had written as far as the story's climax - now it was time for each pupil to write their own ending and maybe draw a few pictures too. At the end of all this, the young writers had an opportunity to read out their versions for their classmates and the staff at the Centre.
The session was a lot of fun. At ages six and seven, this is the youngest age group that Fighting Words caters for and I was impressed with the tutors' ability to keep the pupils busy and entertained. There was a lot of indirect vocabulary work going on as the writers were encouraged to develop their ideas.
-Yeah. An editor is when the words come out bigger on the computer than the skinny ones you write with the pencil.
-So, an editor makes changes, fixes things in the story?
-Yeah, the editor changes the story and makes it better.
I also liked the emphasis that the group placed on reading aloud. The story was read aloud three times, twice by our storyteller and once again by the grumpy Mr. McConkey. Mr McConkey lives behind the wall and never comes out. He is extremely cranky and threatened to fire poor Mark (again!) if he doesn't hurry up with his breakfast. At first, he doesn't think much of the students of Scoil Bhríde. He tells them they are too young to write a story and that they should go home and stop bothering him. The children love the routine and are quick to shout back at Mr. McConkey. When he reads their story, he is forced to admit that it IS brilliant and does deserve to be published. Having their work read and treated seriously by a group of adults is hugely important and encourages the children to take their writing seriously too. At this point, the newly published authors are each given a copy their own book to take home and show their admiring families. The excitement is something else!
Fighting Words was inspired by the work of 826 Valencia in San Francisco. If you haven't yet watched Dave Eggers' inspirational TED talk on the work being done there, I urge you to do so here:
Something incredible is being achieved by these writing centres. What's more, the more centres that open, the greater the knock-on effect. The Manager of Fighting Words - Sara Bennett - tells me that while their centre has been inspired by the work of 826 Valencia, the staff of Fighting Words have happily been able to instruct and give feedback to other emergent writing centres in London and Stockholm. Fighting Words opened in January 2009 and since that time, has seen tens of thousands of young storytellers pass through its doors. Let's hope the good work continues.