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Notes from Best OST Literacy Practices: Bookmaking - Engaging Young People in Creative Expression May 14, 2015 Networking Meeting

Jun 28, 2015  Suzanne Marten, Facilitator, Center for Educational Options

The final Networking meeting of the 2014-15 year continues theme of: best literacy practices in Out-of-School Time (OST) programs. The May 14th meeting opened with a welcome and announcement from Anne Lawrence, program officer of the Bowne Foundation; the Foundation has awarded a legacy grant to the Center for Educational Options to support and continue some of the Foundation’s professional development work after it closes in December 2015, including Networking meetings. The Networking meetings were started about 10 years ago to serve as a forum of sharing our work, best practices, ideas, concerns and questions in the OST field. Anne will work with the Center for Educational Options. Both Anne and Suzanne Marten, facilitator from the Center for Educational Options, look forward to continuing these dialogues.

The focus of the fourth session of best literacy practices was on bookmaking as a way of engaging young people in creative expression. Activities were led by Marisa Jahn, founder of Studio REV- and El Bibliobandido. Suzanne first framed literacy development and the session in terms of story telling. Telling stories is one of the first ways that we all come to literacy – hearing stories told and making them up ourselves. Dramatic play of young children is creating stories and acting them out. Telling what you did over the weekend or during the day is storytelling. Storytelling introduces children to the language and structure of stories: how do they begin, what happens in the middle, how do they end, what words help you to tell the story or know what is going on? Oral story telling can carry over into print literacy. Bookmaking is fun and hands on, but Suzanne noted that it also offers a way to touch on many competencies or abilities we want our children to have. Bookmaking involves reading, writing, math creative ideas, planning, problem-solving and possible collaboration.

The Story of El Bibliobandido and using bookmaking to get kids engaged

Marisa shared her story of coming to bookmaking. She was working in San Francisco schools and afterschool programs and though the idea of “multiple intelligences” was talked about she noticed how focused everything still was on literacy and math. So she began to think about what she could do to expand learning experiences and incorporate other modes of learning such as kinesthetic, mechanical, and environmental. She remembered her own excitement as a young person at making books and being able to take them home. She began developing a curriculum in San Francisco that involved bookmaking when she was invited to Honduras to do a workshop in a community with an 80% illiteracy rate.

In Honduras, she introduced the character of El Bibliobandido, a mythological figure who visits villages in a quest to satisfy his appetite for books. If children do not produce books for El Bibliobandido then he “pesters” or “bothers” them. Marisa taught the children how to make books and then children began writing their own stories to fill those books and feed El Bibliobandido. People of all ages, but especially children in El Pital, Honduras were captivated by the character and by the process of making and writing books. Though Marisa was only there for a short time, the idea took root and has continued to grow (check out the video link http://www.studiorev.org/p_bibliobandido.html to see the story told by the children of El Pital). Children wrote for El Bibliobandido’s monthly visits; they wrote new episodes, they invented new characters; they began to reach out to other villages in the surrounding area and teach other communities about El Bibliobandido and bookmaking and writing.

Back in the US, Marisa has continued to develop workshops and curriculum around El Bibliobandido and use the character and the idea of bookmaking to get young people writing. There are now characters like la Dama Violeta who guards readers on the violet-colored 7 train from El Bibliobandido snatching their reading materials on the train. She has employed the use of technology such as Mozilla’s Popcorn to tell and create stories, but people still really enjoy creating their own physical books.


Marisa then engaged participants in making a few different types of books: popsicle books, 9-word poem books, gift books, theatre books. Anne also led participants in making an origami book (instructions are in the resources section at the end of these notes).

As participants made books we also wrote. Participants generated a variety of possible prompts such as:

· I remember when...

· I wish I could...

· I can...

· If I ... (for example: If I went to the Dominican Republic for the summer...; If I got those shoes...)

· All about me

· This makes me feel...

· Display a photo or picture and have children write the story from the photo/picture.

· Selfie of child and write about themselves or surround themselves with their “careforce,” the people who care about them.

· Spy notebooks – ask children to write interesting things that they overhear.

· Art or science notebook – record thoughts, ideas about a piece of art or science observations.

· Give young people the climax of the story and aks them to construct what happened before or after the climax.

· How to do something or Expert books

· Choose your own adventure books

· Country study – different sections for culture, language, history, etc.

· Memorable moments... (of year, or afterschool, of summer camp...)

· Math books – especially with the 9 part book you could put a number in the center and fill the surrounding boxes with ways to get that number.

 Some highlights of what participants explored while working and enjoying themselves were:

· the excitement and satisfaction of doing something hands-on and creative in making the actual book AND writing the story.

· the simplicity of using materials that are not complicated, but can result in a nice finished product.

· providing a variety of entry points through prompts that give young people a way to join in, and in the case of El Bibliobandido, join into a story that is in progress. Bookmaking and story telling/writing become community activities not solitary ones.

· bookmaking provides enough structure and enough open-endedness for a wide variety of learners and doers, and a wide variety of topics or content.

· bookmaking involves math, geometry, fine motor work, story writing and language.

Connecting to Our Practice

Participants reflected on what they needed to be able to do to make books, both for preparation and for the actual making. This offered a way for taking stock of what they would want to do in their own programs and what children and staff might get out of bookmaking.

What practitioners need to do:

• Need to have materials ready for bookmaking before children and/or families arrive.

• Helpful to have models of what the finished product could look like; for many learners this helps them in the doing.

• Think about how to model, where to position yourself to demonstrate (facing children or them looking over your shoulder), and what pacing for modeling.

• Take your time – pace the bookmaking itself; it could be stretched out over several days.

• Engage staff in making books first so they have the experience, know what it entails and how long it might take.

• Practicing the book-making activity with staff first will give everyone a clearer idea of the steps and time involved.

• Consider enlisting a small group of enthusiastic staff members to roll out the bookmaking and grow it from there. Use children and counselors as characters in the stories you tell.

• Consider how to connect the content of the activity to other things that the youth are learning (geometry, history, social science)

What children might get out of bookmaking:

• Opportunities to develop fine motor skills – cutting, folding.

• Opportunities to engage in problem-solving and planning; the steps of making the book and the writing process.

• Opportunities to do creative writing.

• Practicing Common Core standards while having fun.

• Opportunities to reinforce what they are learning in their other disciplines/classes.

The session closed with the group noting how much fun they had and how many new ideas they were leaving with. These notes do not do justice to the engagement and excitement in the room during the Networking session. Though the group was small, we hope to be able to repeat it since participants felt it was so worthwhile.

Next Networking Meetings will be in the fall – watch for an email announcement.

Contact us if you have ideas for future Networking meetings and/or if there is something that you would like to share or present.