The red carpet was out and the TVNZ reporter was was live on air with newly-published young authors at Waiau Pa School. The launch of the collaborative fan fiction novel Fuel To The Fire was a fitting finale to a special project, writes David Kinane.
For several years now I have been encouraging teachers to use FanFiction.Net as a resource for a collaborative reading and writing project. It has thousands of stories written by students who want to continue the books they love – there are more than 600,000 Harry Potter-related stories and 200,000 based on Twilight! The site not only provides a real audience of passionate critics but also gives teachers a rich resource to draw from to provide examples of writing for their students to use to hone their own literacy skills.
At the end of Term 1, I suggested to the Year 8 teachers at Waiau Pa School, near Pukekohe, that they adapt their The Hunger Games book study plan into writing a collaborative fan fiction novel. The story would then be published on the FanFiction site and also to Amazon for download as a self-published Kindle book.
They loved the idea and we set about planning. Initially, there was resistance to the project from parents and the SMT at the school, because they thought that the subject matter was not appropriate for the students. Also, as we had planned the work to last two terms, many thought the students could not sustain interest in the project that long. The teachers allayed those fears and we began.
The students read the book throughout the first term and, in that time, did character studies and developed story arcs for their own version. In addition, they developed agreed descriptions and layouts for key elements in the story. For it to be truly collaborative, it was vital that the students in the two classes had an agreed vision for the attributes of the characters and the place settings in the story. One class wrote the odd chapters and the other wrote the even chapters, 10 in total. In order for the narrative to be consistent, they had to work with the authors of the chapters before and after them. The teachers built a wiki where students reviewed and posted their related work (2012thehungergames.wikispaces.com/home). The book itself was written on Google docs and finally collated into one long document in Word for publishing to Amazon.
Throughout the term students built up character profiles and traits, clothing descriptions, and related similes and synonyms for each element they wanted to include in their final story. This language level work was collated into huge collections of paper and posted to the walls of each classroom for easy access,
along with plans identifying the location of key buildings in The Seam of District 12. As a result, everyone knew the ‘what, where and how’ of each key character. It was around this time that the students elected to write their version of The Hunger Games from the perspective of Gale Hawthorne (an 18 year old boy is struggling to keep his family alive by illegally hunting in the woods).
Never worried about a word limit
Initially, we had intended that each chapter be 1,000 words. At the start we thought that this might a bit too ambitious and it was suggested that for those who might be challenged at the thought of writing so much, that we could have a graphic novel variant. In the end, all students were so excited about the work that the graphic novel was soon forgotten. The level of motivation shown for this project by the students meant that the teachers never had to worry about the 1,000 word limit and many chapters went well beyond that mark.
In the final weeks of Term 3, the students had completed their work, decided upon a title, Fuel To The Fire, and had found a graphic artist to design the cover to their work. Everyone was editing their chapters and reviewing the work of others to ensure that the story arc of the each chapter left no loose ends and the book came together as a whole.
Igniting a love of reading and writing
The teachers report that they have been amazed at the quality of learning that this project has facilitated. Student reading and writing levels have dramatically increased; the quality and complexity of the writing that all students are now producing has improved as a result. Many parents have also reported that their children are now reading for pleasure where once they did not.
Without doubt, this project has ignited a love of reading and writing for these children, who can now say they’re published authors – and appeared on Breakfast TV. The challenge now, as Principal Simon Williams readily admits, is how to return to a normal literacy programme after the success of this one.
DAVID KINANE IS A SPECIALIST ICT CONSULTANT AND WRITES FOR INTERFACE MAGAZINE. IF YOUR SCHOOL IS INTERESTED IN TAKING PART IN THIS SORT OF PROJECT, YOU CAN CONTACT HIM AT
© INTERFACE Magazine, November 2012