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Writer in Residence

What is an important part of a child’s education? Unique experiences. Just this past weekend, I was with my family at a beach. My son and daughter saw a live octopus, an opportunity that many people will not have in their lifetime. The wonder and amazement of seeing a wild octopus filled their minds and the “teaching” began. We observed it change color, saw a missing tentacle, and watched it bury itself under a rock. All leading to a discussion about camouflage, regeneration, and behavior.

In today’s world, learning does not have to take place in the classroom. There are many opportunities to take learning outside of the classroom. The potential to teach lessons outside of the classroom is unlimited. The authenticity and experiences given to students are far beyond what the traditional classroom can offer. Now, connect students to a professional in a specific field and the power of learning just increased exponentially.

Mr. Cameron Fox, Ms. Kathleen Abel, and Mr. Marlon Ng provided this unique opportunity to students by developing the Writer in Residence Program at AIS.

Why is it important to connect students to the world around them and with professionals?

Connecting students with professionals and extending learning outside of school helps students see the skills they are learning put into action.  Many times, students know they are practicing a valuable skill but don’t always understand how these skills are useful after they leave the classroom. As a result, it can eliminate the internal motivation to learn.  Teaching students to write pieces such as essays, editorials, and article repeatedly without an audience makes the experience less meaningful. Taking students out into the world gives them a real purpose and a goal to work towards.  Real-world learning gives students an opportunity to try different professional fields such as business, law, medicine, and education. The Writer in Residence program connected student with a professional writer working in Hong Kong to create writing pieces beyond analysis essays.

What is the Writer in Residence program?

Four years ago, Mr. Fox approached Ms. Abel about an idea, The Writer in Residence program. Over many discussions, they wanted to create an experience for students to connect and work closely with a professional writer to produce a piece of writing that would be published and publicly exhibited.  They wanted students to learn techniques and devices of a chosen genre from a professional writer, receiving feedback and instruction in real-world writing skills and applications. Students were able to gain experience in the writing field by working under a deadline and for a specific purpose. The end goal was to gain a deeper appreciation of what it means to ‘write for a living.’  It took some time, a few different iterations and ideas, and the plan of doing a food and travel magazine was born.

How did the  Writer in Residence program benefit students?

Writer in Residence students had the opportunity to deeply explore an unfamiliar part of Hong Kong. They worked independently and collaboratively turning their experiences into a meaningful publication for an audience beyond the classroom. This experience provided valuable professional experiences such as pitch meetings, editing sessions, and communicating in and out of school. In addition, the program pushed students to make personal choices as a writer. They skipped breaks, confidently spoke to strangers, accepted criticism, took risks, and revised their pieces numerous times. The level of intrinsic motivation was amazing! They were driven to create and express themselves through writing.  We could have done this exact same project in the classroom, but it would not have been as successful without the presence and expertise of Audrey Gillan, our visiting writer, and without the real-world focus of this program.  It was an exciting experience for everyone involved.

Allen Lee is a Grade 3 teacher at American International School. Allen has been teaching primary school children for 13 years with the last six at AIS. A native from New York, he is an avid ice hockey fan, sports fisherman, and foodie. Allen has been writing articles for AIS the past 2 years. You can follow him on Twitter at @MrLee427 or subscribe to his podcast, AIS Voices, on Spotify and iTunes.

Kathleen Abel is a contributing author for this article. Kathy is an Arizona (USA) native who has been teaching high school English for sixteen years, with the last six at AIS. She loves reading and cats and reading to cats, and can pretty much always be found with a book in her hand (or on her phone in her hand). You can tweet your favorite books and stories to her at @kabel_ais.