Writing in the Treehouse: Fan Fiction

I don’t write fanfiction, but I think it’s a great thing. It’s got to make the process of writing easier to start because you already know the characters and their world. Presumably, you’re really into them. Fanfic can be inspired by books, TV, movies, games.

Image: Lucélia Ribeiro. CC BY-SA 2.0. from https://www.flickr.com/photos/lupuca/8720604364
Image: Lucélia Ribeiro. CC BY-SA 2.0.

Students as Producers

The really awesome thing about fanfic is that it helps kids to become producers, not only consumers of texts. Christina Olin-Scheller and Patrik Wikstrom use Toffler’s termprosumer to highlight the importance of fans’ participation with the text. Katie Behrens emphasises that fanfic needs to be transformative rather than derivative and therefore contain substantial original material. Yet fanfic etiquette requires writers stay within the canon i.e. the world of the text created by the author. In the primary school context this might be less rigidly enforced, particularly for reluctant writers. But, remaining within the canon could enable teachers to gauge students’ comprehension of the text, particularly character traits.

Image: Carissa Rogers. CC BY 2.0 https://www.flickr.com/photos/goodncrazy/5437572328
Image: Carissa Rogers. CC BY 2.0.

When students are inspired by a text to write fanfic, there is potential for them to become involved in a community of similarly inspired writers, or an affinity space. An authentic fanfic community provides members with the feeling that their writing matters to someone. Group members share and receive feedback on their work. To nourish such a community within a classroom/school the teacher can encourage several groups of students to write fanfic based on texts that are relevant to them. Debra Sprague has created a wonderful forum for primary school students to share and receive feedback on their fanfic. Where the Story Never Ends is a purposefully created site for primary school writers. Alternatively, students could upload their fanfic to school based websites.

Image: Debra Sprague, from https://kidfanfiction.pbworks.com/w/page/44891487/Kid%20Fan%20Fiction
Image: Debra Sprague, kidfanfiction

Inspired by The Treehouse Books

Survey results suggest my Year 3 students could be inspired to write fanfic by Andy Griffiths’ and Terry Denton’s The Treehouse books. I know most of them have read these books. Some of them were in my Year 2 class last year and I read them The 13-Storey Treehouse and took them to a theatre adaptation of it. The boys especially loved drawing their own treehouse designs; they would create group drawings that required up to 12 pieces of A4 paper taped together. This was a wonderfully collaborative experience for them.

Image: The 52-Storey Treehouse audiobook on ipad
Image: The 52-Storey Treehouse audiobook on iPad

How to start writing after reading any of these books with the class? Students could collaborate to produce group drawings and discuss possible story lines as they draw. The exchange of language and ideas can propel students to write individual or shared fanfic. A fantastic idea from Debra Sprague is to provide students with fanfic mentor texts written by the teacher (or other teachers or older students). Simple innovation on a text, a common classroom writing strategy, can be the beginnings of fanfic. Students could also create cartoon strip fanfic using Comic Creation Apps.

Book Fair: Treehouse Series display
Book Fair Treehouse books display. These books sold like hotcakes and have potential to inspire readers to write fanfic.

I’ve looked at how The Treehouse books could be a perfect fit for many of my Year 3 students. What texts (books, games, TV shows, movies) can you see inspiring fanfic with students? I’d love to hear your ideas.


Making Sense of Makerspaces

Finally, I understand the move toward makerspaces. I’ve been concerned that they were evidence of what some critics regard as the diminishing role of the teacher librarian in the digital world. When discussing my teacher-librarian studies in conversation, I am frequently asked, “Are schools still employing teacher-librarians?” Without understanding,  makerspaces seemed to me to be a trendy, almost last-ditch effort to claim validity for the school library. They symbolised a perception by some in the community that the teacher-librarian just fluffs about, not really teaching much and just looking after the books. (Whoa, settle all you TLs!)

Image: Mitch Altman. MakerSpace Urbana, Feb-2012. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
Image: Mitch Altman. CC BY-SA 2.0

The shift in thought came when reading Kay Oddone’s claim that makerspaces and libraries share similar characteristics.  I was particularly triggered by her observation that libraries inhabit the only space within the school that is not confined by the curriculum.

Image: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
Image: 5chw4r7zCC BY-SA 2.0

Makerspaces are Knowledge Commons

The shift for me is in understanding that makerspaces acknowledge students’ learning, knowledge creation and meaning making on their own terms, outside of formal learning. They allow for multiple learning scenarios: individual, one-to-one, small group, whole class, peer-to-peer. In the library environment, the facilitator, or as Steven Kurti dubs ‘spacemaker’, can be present to scaffold learning as needed. Makerspaces can fulfill the some of the characteristics of participatory learning. They foster collaboration, creativity and by bridging students’ home and school life, make learning more authentic and stimulating. They encourage problem solving and allow for ‘mistakes’. They are a knowledge commons for kids.

From my experience, the implementation of makerspaces would need thoughtful planning to ensure support from administration, teachers, students and the broader school community. In order to secure funding for resources, including human resources and time, the spacemaker would be wise to make clear the educational validity of makerspaces. Schools are already extremely busy places, so support is crucial for the introduction and sustenance of school makerspaces.

In their small study, Kyungwon Koh and June Abbas identify several important competencies of the spacemaker. Ringing most true for me is the observation that the spacemaker needs to be an advocate for the makerspace. The spacemaker needs to be able to assure/persuade/affirm stakeholders that the makerspace enterprise is of value. David Raths stresses the importance of showcasing the makerspace through avenues such as open days, blogs and videos. ‘Selling’ the idea of makerspaces and celebrating the achievements of a school makerspace will aid long-term sustainability.

Image: Wesley Fryer. from https://www.flickr.com/photos/wfryer/17258563285. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Image: Wesley Fryer. CC BY-SA 2.0

Importantly, school makerspaces need to focus on the students. In seeking to outline essential competencies of the spacemaker, Kyungwon Koh and June Abbas note the importance of understanding user needs, including the popular culture and technology relevant to the user group. I know this is where I need to pick up my game and become more attuned to students’ pop culture.

Maker Spaces and Digital Technologies

Makerspaces don’t need to involve digital technologies, but they certainly provide a ready-made environment in which to make best use of digital technology. Kyungwon Koh and June Abbas highlight the need for spacemakers to avoid including technology without understanding why, and which technologies are most appropriate to achieve desired goals.

I guess it’s the antithesis of makerspace philosophy, but because I’m a classroom teacher and bound by the curriculum, I can see potential for makerspaces to provide engaging and creative assessment opportunities. I am mindful, however, that the makerspace remain user-driven so I wonder if the marriage of assessment and makerspace can ever be authentic. I’d love to hear your opinions, ideas and experiences with makerspaces; leave a reply below.

For a variety of makerspace resources, including Makerspace Charter and real-world examples see my Makerspace Resources page.