Today I delivered two autobiography workshops at the Immigration Museum. The first one was to year 9 students at Dandenong High school and the second to Grade 6 students at Eltham Primary School.
The students first visited the museum exhibition on identity and Faith, Fashion, Fusion and then we undertook some writing activities delving into the nature of our identity, thinking about who we are, who we want to be, and how knowing our story helps us to deal with life's challenges.
Doing these workshops was such a pleasure because it draws on what I've been doing with the anthology, and it also highlights how much more natural and effortless these public speaking opportunities are since I've been teaching this year.
During the workshop I had a conversation with one of the teachers who asked me about why Muslims put their identity forward. Which was a great question because it in a sense addressed the whole issue of why is there an anthology about the experiences of Coming of Age: Growing up Muslim in Australia.
He said 'I'm Christian and I don't ever say that about myself.'
And I said 'Well no one asks you.'
I explained that I never tell people that I'm Muslim because in fact I am not. I am of Muslim background and this means that this is a part of my identity and who I am, but that I always qualify that I am not practicing, and I only engage in this discussion because people put me in that position.
With me the conversations goes something like this.
Random stranger: "Your name is interesting. Where is it from?'
Random stranger: "Bosnian. Does that mean that you are Muslim?"
Me: "Muslim background."
Random stranger: "So why aren't you covered?"
Me: "I'm non practicing."
And while I don't mind these conversations and having the opportunity to engage in dialogue that will clarify misconceptions about Muslim people, it just underlined why there is the need for the anthology and the voices of real Muslims telling their stories and their experiences. So I told him to read the book and hopefully we both walked away with a wonderful shared experience. For me it was an affirmation of the importance of what I'm doing and for him it's an understanding about understanding that identity is not just what we are, but what people put on us.
I'm going to be delivering another round of workshops at the Immigration Museum on identity during the Melbourne Writers Festival on Thursday the 28 August 2014. And I'm also on a panel with Demet Divaroren on Wednesday 27 August 2014 about Growing up Muslim.
*A big thank you to Jan Morley at the Immigration Museum for live tweeting the workshop and photos.
So now that I'm a teacher I'm going to be sharing some resources that I develop as I journey along in my new career.
One of the assessment tasks that my year 8 English class had to complete was a letter to the teacher. I created a template format for my students and a scaffold of useful language to help them write the letter. I wrote them a letter introducing myself using this format that was the model I referred to when deconstructing this task.
One of the assessment criteria was deep reflection and insight and so I emphasised to them that they had to explain why they had developed their favourite list or why they wanted to pursue a certain career. It was not enough to just list these.
Each student completed a draft and then a final copy adapting my feedback. When submitting their final copy they had to attach the draft so I could observe how they adapted my feedback.
Before they began writing I shared a PowerPoint slide of my first novel The Good Daughter after I had received my edits to show them that writing is a process and that no one produced a perfect first draft first go.
I had a very great uptake in students adapting my feedback for their final drafts and receiving high scores for grammar, punctuation and spelling. Students also reacted very positively to receiving a letter from me and then having to reply to this.
Below is my format and a word document you can download. I hope it proves helpful.
Sender Address (use school address)
Receiver address (use school address)
Heading “Introducing myself”
First body paragraph: Tell me your name, about your cultural background, and about your family and/or your friends.
Second body paragraph: Tell me your favourite subjects at school and why you like them. Tell me your favourites list (favourite TV shows, movies, books) and why you have these on your list.
Third body paragraph: Tell me about your passions, hobbies and what you think you would like to do as your future career.
Fourth body paragraph: Discuss your goals and tell me what you would like to achieve in the new year (hint: reflect back on what your career might be and what you need to do at school to achieve it).
Closing sentence (I look forward to getting to know you./ Hope to hear from you)
Sign off (Your friend, Your student, Yours sincerely,)
(where you write your signature)
Name: My name originates from…/ My name means …../ I was given my name because…
Family: I come from a large/small/medium family… / My role in the family is … / I am the ___ sibling…
Friends: I have a big/small/ group of friends… / My friends and I have in common
Interests: My interests are ___ because… / I got into my passion because…
Goals: My goals are… / I want to achieve…
I ran a short story workshop as part of the Brimbank Literary Awards last night and it went really well. There were about 16 participants who were really eager and motivated to learn. I sold some books, had some great conversations about writing, and finally felt the slump I've been in lift.
It has been a really busy first half of the year. I did 3 uni subjects (instead of my usual two) and really found it a strain. Toward the end of the semester I had a bout of illness and a death in the family and for the first time ever had to request extensions for every subject. I only completed my last assignment yesterday and finally felt that whoosh of relief you get when everything is done and behind you.
Part of the reason that I've also been struggling is I had a lot of writing deadlines. One of them I can share now. I was asked by Garratt Publishing, an educational publisher, to write a middle grade story to be published as part of their Diversity series. I had to read the brief, write a synopsis, that was approved, and then write a 10,000 word story to a deadline. It was the first time I had to write to a deadline and I found it stressful, especially amongst all the other stuff going on, but I found it a great experience.
Being pushed outside of your comfort zone really makes you realise what you're capable of. It was such an amazing experience to basically produce a story out of thin air and I loved the creative process and just sitting down and having things happen. I received feedback from the publisher and she loved the story and how layered it was. Such a relief that my instincts are right. So who knows what else I'll produce in the middle grade genre after this. I'm waiting on revisions and publishing details, but suspect it will be published sometime next year.
I'm hoping that the second half of the year will mean more writing time, and that it will be an easier one than the first half. But this might be an empty hope. I have lots of things going on:
Lots of new challenges and experiences. I'm looking forward to stretching myself. Just have to be careful not to burn out the way I have done in the past few months. Fingers crossed I achieve better balance.
This year I had the opportunity to work with Year 9 and 10 students running creative writing workshops at Gisborne Secondary College funded by Artists in Schools. Last night I attended the launch of the anthology featuring the students’ stories.
The launch was a wonderful celebration of the student’s hard work and it gave me the opportunity to catch up with so many of them. I love young people, their passion, and their inspiration and it’s such a privilege to have been involved in their first publication.
I got to hear about how the project has positively impacted on the students in terms of them gaining confidence to submit for publication, and to write essays and other tasks in their English classes. The school is also inspired to continue developing writing programs. They have the wonderful fortune of having a published author, Tracey Mcguire on their staff, who will be leading the way and plans are underway for a festival and further writing programs.
I had the best time and am still on a high. It's so great to have these moments and see the positive impact I've had. I love teaching!
Amra Pajalić is an award-winning author, an editor and teacher who draws on her Bosnian cultural heritage to write own voices stories for young people, who like her, are searching to mediate their identity and take pride in their diverse culture. She writes memoir, young adult and romance under the pen name Mae Archer.
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