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More than just writing: Life takeaways from Writers' Fortnight

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More than just writing: Life takeaways from Writers' Fortnight

An introduction to Writers' Fortnight 2018

By Kate Levy, Head of High School English, East Campus

Writers’ Fortnight 2018 gave this year’s Grade 9 and 10 FIB students the opportunity to meet both new and returning authors, including best selling novelists Chetan Bhagat and Mukul Deva, spoken word poets Deborah Emmanuel and Marc Nair, and ESPN Fox Sports anchor and biographer Steve Dawson, as well as guest speakers, Robyne Hayes - a social justice photographer - and local artist and advocate for dementia-awareness, Danny Raven Tan. We were also fortunate to see the return of representatives from Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) and Mouth and Foot Painting Artists (MFPA).

As in previous years, the students’ brief was to interview our guests, to uncover their stories and share them purposefully and responsibly with the community. Whether a feature article or op-ed, the students have had to carefully consider which text type will best serve their purpose, and how the values and expectations of the intended audience must be considered in their treatment of the story.

And for many the learning went beyond the brief, as you will see from the article below by Grade 9 student Aryan Sahai.  Whether motivated by Chetan Bhagat telling the students to “be cockroaches not dinosaurs” in the pursuit of success - or inspired by Christina Lau’s mastery of mouth-painting and table tennis since a car accident left her paralysed - or moved by Deborah Emmanuel’s expression of her difficult childhood through a combination of poetry and song - the students were given much food for thought.

Their critical thinking is evident in the many insightful stories our students have written. Several students were also given the opportunity to have their writing critiqued by a journalist, and have since worked hard to respond to the guidance they received. 

Over the coming weeks, we will publish highlights from the student writing produced following Writers' Fortnight 2018. The assignment to students was to tell the story of someone they met during Writers’ Fortnight who they feel embodies an important social issue - OR to use the stories of several speakers to engage with a shared human experience - OR to write about a matter of personal importance - and to do so as authentically, responsibly and powerfully as possible.

Flipboard - UWCSEA East Writers Fortnight student writingThe first of the selected writings follows. To explore more of the Writers' Fortnight-inspired student writing, please view our Flipboard.

More than just writing: How Writers' Fortnight gave us life takeaways

By Aryan Sahai, Grade 9, East Campus of the most dreaded subjects students must take. Every. Single. Book. Must. Be. Analysed. Every essay, written to perfection. But a special experiential programme, is about more than just reading and writing.

The annual Writers’ Fortnight at East Campus, held in January, brings speakers from all over the world to campus to talk to Grade 9 and 10 FIB students about various aspects of their lives - both personally and as a writer.

The main goals of Writers’ Fortnight are to: help students develop a better understanding of what makes a story, better prepare them for how to look for a story, and for them to be able to tell the story the way that they want to tell it, whilst also considering the target audience.

Based on the results of a post-event survey and student feedback, those goals were certainly achieved, as well as the following top five takeaways.

1. “S**t happens”

Danny Raven Tan’s bluntness (as above), was rather refreshing. Students appreciated the straight forwardness of this Singaporean painter. Having coped with the death of his father, his own pancreatic cancer, and caring for a mother with dementia, he provided students with a real life example of someone who has decided to get on with life and overcome each hurdle.

Kate Levy, Head of English, described such encounters as “interactions with adults that treat students with a frankness and a lack of condescendence that might be quite refreshing.” 

Danny’s message to students was to “get on with it”. Life isn’t going to wait for you; you have to move on and keep going.

2. “Anything is possible”

Spoken-word poet, Deborah Emmanuel, talked with students about her struggle to understand herself and her identity, as an Indian who has lived all her life in Singapore with little connection to Indian languages and culture. She also shared her experience of being in prison for a year and how it shaped her poetry and art.

One student commented that Deborah “went through such hardships, took it as a positive experience and used it to improve herself.” Deborah also noted that if she could go back in time, she would not change a thing because those hardships made her what she is today.

Through speakers like Deborah, Writers’ Fortnight showed students the advantages of mastering the UWCSEA skills and qualities, particularly to see setbacks as opportunities to improve and build resilience, motivating students to overcome problems they might face themselves.

3. “Disabled people don’t need help all the time; they are not disabled, they are differently-abled”

Following a car accident that left her paralyzed from the chest down, Christina Lau, has become a successful mouth painter and table tennis player for Singapore. After hearing her story, some students' mindsets completely changed, as they gained greater insight into why people who are differently-abled should be valued for their unique skills and contributions to society.

At UWCSEA, there is - of course - a great emphasis on service, and Writers’ Fortnight helped put this commitment into perspective as a reminder that service aims to embrace the differences among individuals and unite for prosperity.

4. “Be a cockroach”

A cockroach? Really? Yes, Chetan Bhagat - author of nine blockbuster novels, four of which have been adapted into successful Bollywood films - told us to be cockroaches. Chetan shared his life lessons following a dramatic career change, from investment banker to author.

Regarding the cockroach, he explained that “the strongest don't survive; the ones who adapt the best will”, citing the fact that cockroaches survived longer than the dinosaurs - despite their relative. The idea that adaptation - rather than dominance - is critical to success, supports the development of a growth mindset. One student wrote that “learning about this technique of being adaptive…has provided inspiration and hope.”

5. “It made me think, what is wrong with this world?”

There has also been a great provocation of thought and Min Seo Shin, above, asks a particularly deep and provocative question (classic UWC students, always questioning). Overall, this stimulation of thought seemed to be appreciated as 14.9% of students found that what they enjoyed most about a speaker was that they presented a different point of view

Students also developed stronger personal opinions – uh oh – and analytical skills, allowing for richer thinking and discussions that they might not have reached otherwise.

“I felt quite annoyed by Christina’s choice in words, and how she undermined herself when referring to other people as “normal”,” said one student. Seeing Christina’s success and her unique abilities to do what she does, this student understood how ingrained language and attitudes can be.

6. “My grandma was married at 16, so I can relate”

"How many of you are married?" This question quickly and powerfully made students aware of the magnitude of child marriage. Robyne Hayes, a social justice photographer who explores the world and uses photography as a tool to empower people and communities, talked about her experience with helping girls who are victims of child marriage.

Many students work with Global Concerns and Local Service partners that aim to combat pressing worldwide issues, and were able to make personal connections and see the passion that Robyne has for her work reflected in their Service.

One Grade 9 student wrote, “I formed a greater bond … my GC, Moving Mountains, as we learned about child marriage in Nepal.” Robyne has inspired him to continue working and supporting his GC in order to bring change in society.

7. “If we come together, we can make a change”

Through Writers Fortnight, students have learned the importance of unity and collaboration in order to achieve a goal – as shown by student Andrew Lee above. Collaboration is one skill that UWC tries to teach their students and Writers Fortnight has further enhanced its importance. 

Many students learned the criticality of unity from Seema Punwani and Christine Pelly – speakers who came to talk to students about TWC2, Transient Workers Count Too, a non-profit organisation dedicated to improving conditions for migrant workers in Singapore.

Many students have foreign domestic workers employed in their households, which is why this talk was more directly relevant to students’ immediate lives. They now know why it is important to recognize and value the important contribution they make.

By being unified, as a community, as a country or as mankind we can achieve more than we could individually. “TWC2 has taught me the importance of unity in combating an issue,” says one student. After having seen TWC2’s success in addressing this issue in Singapore, every student has gone back with a skill that they can bring to any and every aspect of their lives.

8. “All of this reflection on the issue of migrant workers brings me to think about the times when I might have unknowingly been discriminative towards someone”

This brings to light the subtle, but large role that stereotypes play in our life – as recollected by Aditya Deshpande above. This was also further emphasized by TWC2 speakers.

Akshat Bisht, grade 9, added that “the visit of these speakers was useful as it allowed us to reevaluate our values and what we believe in.” This is a key goal of UWC teaching, understanding how our values, beliefs, and experiences shape us and our actions.

In addition, this has provoked self-reflection, which leads to better decision making and calls for self-change and renewal – to the relief of many parents. This builds on the UWC quality of self-awareness, which is important, especially when students progress into their early stages of adulthood.

9. “Be so busy improving yourself that you have no time life to criticise others”

Unity is critical in order to achieve something, however, individuality is important as well – Chetan Bhagat emphasized on being an individual in order to understand yourself, how you work, and your own capabilities. Being independent and not having to rely heavily on anyone is one idea that UWC works towards.

As one student said, “Believe in the power of individuals.”

10. “When people listen to you, then you can try to make a change”

13 speakers came to give speeches, however a few stood out. One key quality they all hadwas that they were very good public speakers. Rehaan Irani describes how he “admired how all speakers were so confident when speaking to an audience.”

In Grade 9, students have recently completed a Communication unit in mentor time – where they learned techniques on how to effectively present to an audience – showing the real life application of skills students have learned.

One speaker explained how he started off by using humor to connect with the students. This seemed to work as 24.8% of people voted him as their favorite speaker. Although not all guests may have talked about public speaking, students subconsciously gained a heightened consciousness of ways of engaging their listeners.

Why is this important?

From the post-Writers' Fortnight survey, we can safely say that the three main English department goals of Writers Fortnight have been achieved – but other learning has come out of this event too.

These takeaways highlight the important role that experiential education plays in students’ learning. UWCSEA gives students numerous real-life experiences such as Writers’ Fortnight through which to learn and build their skills.

If anything, Writers’ Fortnight helped to expand students’ thinking and mindsets. Education is all about preparing yourself for life after and beyond school.




19 Apr 2018
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