Emily Dodd: The magic of a schools residency

Awesome children’s author Emily Dodd recently completed a Live Literature Schools Residency at Annette Street Primary and had a whole lot of fun so we asked her to give us the scoop! Interested in a residency for your school? Applications are open until Wednesday 15 May. 

When I got a call asking if I would be the Author in Residence at Annette Street Primary I was excited, surprised and a little nervous - The school had asked for me even though we’d not worked together before. Would they be happy with what I had to give them?

Say yes and work out how you’re going to do it later.

That’s a tip on opportunities from author Neil Gaiman. My Dad says it too. But I wanted to find out a bit more first…

 

Annette Street Primary

The school is in Govanhill in Glasgow and 90% of the children do not have English as a first language. They wanted me to work with the P6/7 language group with a focus on science. The main thing I’d be working towards was helping the children to gain confidence in their writing. That’s something I feel passionate about, helping people gain confidence. So I said YES!

 

Planning the Residency

The residency is split into 13 sessions and there are two reserved for planning. One session is a finale celebration, another session is for an evaluation and two for teacher training. So that leaves seven sessions with the children.

I met the teachers Miss Owens and Miss Whitehill, they were lovely so that put me at ease. I suggested things I’d done before or things that worked well in other schools and they told me more about the school and the children and what would support their learning. Together we hatched a plan!

 

Emily Dodd outside a primary school

 

School Sessions

We wanted to kick off the project with something fun and exciting for the whole school, we invited the parents too. Then everyone would know the residency was happening and we hoped the Language group would feel proud to be the ones working with ‘the author’.

We began with a Can’t-Dance-Cameron assembly. It’s my most popular event, there’s science experiments, dancing, football with a giant pinecone, cat videos, dancing birds and lots of audience participation. Also there are new words to learn and a picture book so it worked well in a school with language barriers.

Next session I met the class and we did some storytelling games and riddles and they wrote about their hopes and fears.

 

pupil note with hopes for the session

 

They’d prepared some questions ahead so I answered as many as I could.

Next session we met in Queens Park for nature poetry. They used white boards and worked in groups to write as many words as they could to describe a leaf. I explained they were using adjectives.

 

Children jumping out from behind a tree

 

Next they had to write what a pine cone reminded them of. Making it a group challenge and using the boards made it something they could all do.

 

Pupils in the woods

 

I explained metaphors and similes and how they already have the tools they need to write poetry – they can describe things and think about what they remind them of.

 

They worked back in class with their teacher to produce some of the best poems I’ve ever read at a primary school.

Poetry display 

 

Our next few sessions were based on science and non-fiction writing. We had a science theatre style session for Book Week Scotland – based on books I’ve written on energy, tsunamis and wind power. I wanted the class to enjoy learning about science and enjoy non-fiction books. That would give them motivation to work on their own science writing.

The rest of the sessions were focused on volcanoes. I took them through some aspects of the process I went through to write my volcano book and they did lots of work in between sessions with their class teacher Miss Whitehill.

Pupils holding rocks

 

We finished the project with an assembly – they presented the whole project to the school as a class. And shared the brilliant book they written, designed and illustrated.

 

Pupils holding class book project

 

After that they read the book to other classes – their first read through! This was helping with their reading skills too and they felt proud to be showing others what they had created. 

 

Teacher Training

I did the teacher training on storytelling, we had 20 teachers come along and it was a mix of group, pair and solo practical activities. All short easy things they could start adding to their teaching right away. We also had cake!

Teacher training session

 

Evaluation

We surveyed the children before and after the residency to see what impact the visits had. I met with the teachers and we chatted through what worked well and any ideas for doing things differently. We wanted more sessions but we were all really pleased with how things went. The main aim for the children was about raising their confidence in writing and I’m glad to say, that happened.

It was a privilege to work with such committed teachers and the Scottish Book Trust to do something that made such a difference to children who really wanted to learn.

Emily Dodd

Emily Dodd is an author of 13 fiction and nonfiction books and a screenwriter for CBeebies. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram