SCISConnections

Early Harvest: A literary journal made by children

Increasing literacy in young people

Thoughtful collaboration
Thoughtful collaboration. Photography by 100 Story Building

Early Harvest is a dynamic after school program that engages upper primary aged students in the process of creating a literary journal for children. This unique program and publication provides many rich learning and development opportunities for children. It showcases the work of emerging young writers, featured alongside popular children's authors. However, the most special part of Early Harvest is that the editorial board is made up of 13 kids in grades 4 to 6, who are aged between 9 and 12 and are from Melbourne's inner west.

The founders of Early Harvest - Lachlann Carter and Jenna Williams of 100 Story Building, artist Emma Hewitt, and children's book editor and author Davina Bell - are all passionate about increasing literacy and self-confidence in young people, particularly in students from low socio-economic and culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

Early Harvest (named after Melbourne literary journal Harvest) has benefitted from the diverse backgrounds and experiences of its founders. Lachlann, Jenna and Emma all completed internships at, and were influenced by, 826 Valencia, a not-for-profit organisation based in San Francisco that focuses on assisting children and young adults to develop their writing skills. 826 Valencia is in many ways an exemplar model of a literacy enrichment program that celebrates children's writing in projects that are developed to the point of completion and publication. As Emma Hewitt puts it:

A lot of the time children's writing exists in school and exists in the home but doesn't get out there. Giving kids the chance to create a publication they can hold in their hand, that looks smart and has beautiful illustrations, is a really amazing way of acknowledging their writing. And young people get really excited about reading other young people's writing in a space [in which] they've only seen adult authors' writing.

An editorial board…of kids

The Early Harvest editorial board
The Early Harvest editorial board. Photography by 100 Story Building
 

For this year's program, the group behind Early Harvest sourced their students through the expertise of teachers in Melbourne's inner west. The collaborators were looking particularly for students who were excited about writing and literature. Children were approached through their teachers at five schools: Dinjerra Primary School, St John's Primary School, Footscray Primary School, Footscray City Primary School and Footscray West Primary School. These schools all have diverse populations of students, with a variety of cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. It was up to the teachers to decide how to select the students - some went through an expression of interest process, whereas others were selected when teachers had identified a student need or particular benefit to be gained from involvement and consulted with parents in this process.

Each week, students were assisted by different publishing professionals, learning about all aspects of creating a literary journal, from concept to design, commissioning to editing, printing to marketing. The editorial board put out a call for submissions to their respective primary schools and to some well-known authors. Students were then facilitated through the process of sorting through submissions, selecting works for inclusion, and writing feedback letters to any unsuccessful authors. The students edited the stories with assistance from a team of volunteer editors. The student-led editorial board made decisions on the theme of the publication, commissioning illustrators and worked with a designer to develop the layout of the magazine.

Guest publishing professionals this year included Kat Muscat, editor of Voiceworks, Paul Callaghan, former director of Freeplay and games expert, and Imogen Stubbs, designer at Text Publishing. These expert contributions were an excellent basis for interesting discussions among the students about Early Harvest. One young editor suggested that the editorial team should be writing the stories, and this led to extensive debate about how one can assess story quality if you're friends with the author. This decision-making process, founded on debate and exploration, is what makes the Early Harvest project so special. The editorial team hail from five different schools, and the editors talk about teamwork, cooperation and meeting new people as being the best things about the project so far. Much like in the adult world, sometimes collaboration works seamlessly, and at other times compromises need to be made - but the outcome is always authentic, and always the result of the decision-making processes of Early Harvest's young editors.

Why writing projects matter

Jean Corr, Principal at St John's Primary School in Footscray has observed the benefits of involvement in Early Harvest in terms of student confidence, and explained that one student, although not previously a confident writer or even an assertive member in his cohort, 'did assert himself when speaking about the things he learned during those [Early Harvest] workshops. He took a lot of that away with him, and it made a big difference in his confidence'. Jean has also commented on the 'deep level of literacy skill focus' provided through the Early Harvest program, and how this aligned with parents understanding of the needs of their children.

Lyn Wilkinson, Literacy Coach at Footscray West, commented that she had 'never seen [this student] reading so much - she spent the best part of term four in a book!' Lyn also made reference to the confidence gained by the students participating in the program and how eager they were to share what they were learning and doing. Lyn also commented on the 'rich, purposeful writing experience' which the students were involved in through Early Harvest.

Making tough editorial decisions
Making tough editorial decisions.
Photography by 100 Story Building

Publishing in the classroom

Early Harvest is a publication edited by students aged 9-12, but it is intended
as a resource for students from a range of age groups and backgrounds. It is
especially intended for students in middle and upper primary school, but could also be used successfully in secondary contexts. It is an invaluable resource for teaching and also specifically in a library setting, as an exemplar for the value of student voice in contemporary literature. It provides students with proof that their thoughts, opinions and ideas about the texts that they read are significant and valued, and that reading is not a passive process, but an interactive one, where each child brings to a text their own perspective and background.

 

DIY: Children's literary journal

For educators and teacher librarians, Early Harvest is a wonderful example of a tool that can be used to enrich literacy learning through fostering student voice. Providing access to the publication gives students an example of what they would be capable of producing, and the fact that the editorial board is made up of young people ensures its relevance for a similar readership. But the opportunities inherent in producing a publication like Early Harvest are also transferable for teachers and teacher librarians when producing new literacy resources. Some tips for developing student confidence through similarly enriching literary experiences are:

  • Always consider the end purpose when constructing activities: developing student voice, self-confidence and engagement through rich literacy experiences
  • Invite experts and creative professionals into the classroom, not just to present, but also to involve students in the creative process, for example collaborating with a children's author to write a story. Building working relationships between students and authors or editors fosters a deeper understanding of what is involved, and values the students' expertise in a way not possible if they are just passively observing a presentation. When there is a partnership between students and experts, children are motivated and inspired to create and collaborate.
  • Replicate the process undertaken by publications like Early Harvest. Encourage students to be the instigators of the research and review process, assist them in developing the voice of an expert as they review their favourite books or contribute their ideas. This process always involves literacy but may be used across curriculum areas as appropriate, for example you may have students involved in the construction of a school science journal.
  • Value children's work by publishing it. The sense of pride gained by students when they see their work in print or bound and laminated cannot be underestimated. This pride is amplified further when children have had a modicum of creative control. There are countless ways that student work can be published, but the process should be collaborative and there should be a quality control process in place, where students are involved in editing and revising.

To find out more about the Early Harvest project and 100 Story Building, visit www.100storybuilding.org.au/category/ early-harvest.

Connections readers can pre-order copies of Early Harvest edition 2 by emailing info@100storybuilding.org.au. Sets of 5 or more receive a 20% discount.

Sofia Makin

Sofia Makin
Sofia is the Literacy Leader at St Michael's Primary School, North Melbourne. She is a long term supporter of 100 Story Building and its affiliated projects.