Kelly’s writing gang

Rosemary Sorensen | Bendigo Weekly | 10-Nov-2011 12.54pm

INSPIRING: Jack Kelly is passionate about encouraging children to write. Photo: Rosemary Sorensen.

He loves computers but gets cross when people call letters “snail mail”. Meet the man whose mission it is to make writing as popular as footy

HE is irresistible.

With his energetic espousal of the value of children’s writing, his tried-and-tested ways to encourage kids to have a go, and his kindly enthusiasm for sharing the pleasure of reading and writing, Jack Kelly is a one-man, walking, talking advertisement for good teaching.

“All this talk about teaching language skills, about how to make kids read – it’s totally misunderstood,” Mr Kelly says.

“Children learn to speak off each other and that’s what they need to do for reading and writing – they need to learn off each other.”

Mr Kelly is the genial campaigner behind the Scribe Young Writers Club. 

A retired teacher who started out as a Marist brother, it was when he was at White Hills Tech (now Weeroona College) he first began to get the students he taught to write and publish their own work.

He published a novel written by a Year 8 boy, Alan Tebb, in 1972 and the magazine grew from there.

When he retired in 1992, he didn’t retire at all, simply broadened his scope, taking his writing workshops out to many schools across Bendigo.

Scribe now invites young writers (and parents and teachers, too) from all over the country to submit their stories and poems. He has spread his influence as far as Adelaide, Darwin and North Queensland. 

The closing date is the last day of every month, from March to November, with an entry fee of $2. 

Mr Kelly then chooses the best, collates all the submissions, prints them in a little booklet and sends them out to those who have subscribed for $10.

It’s very hands-on. Mr Kelly says he used to travel around to many more schools than the six he now regularly visits. 

“I realised it could become slavery!” he says.

“So I now limit it to
workshops in these schools,
but the opportunity is there.

“I won’t be happy until there are as many writing clubs as there are footy clubs.”

It’s a grand vision, an optimistic vision, which Mr Kelly takes through into the practical way he goes into the classroom and engages with kids.

His approach is to treat
writing not as something that is difficult to master, but like
any other creative activity, something that needs to be tried out.

“I tell kids this is not a class, it’s a studio,” he says.

“What we’re doing are rehearsals.”

Teachers in the past, he says, did a “heroic” job under difficult conditions. It was common when he first started teaching for classes to have 50 children, and for discipline to be strict.

Mr Kelly, now in his 70s, shakes his head at the way writing was taught when he started back in the 1950s. 

An individual who had slipped up on a point of grammar or spelling would be punished, and sometimes a teacher would involve the whole class, berating the group. No wonder, he says, so many people found writing a chore, rather than a pleasure.

“No-one criticises a clumsy child who falls over,” he says. “So why would we criticise a child who makes a writing mistake?” 

One of the young writers, Thalia Thirunavukarasu from St Therese’s Primary School, told Mr Kelly Scribe stands for “stories, creative, reckless, inspirational, brilliant and exciting”. When he queried why “reckless” made the list, Thalia told him it’s because he lets children make mistakes, and that’s good.

In class, Mr Kelly gets other students to read the stories and poems out loud, not the child who wrote them. That’s part of the studio approach; the writer sits back and listens, while the reader tries to make the reading into a performance.

“That gives a different quality to the whole experience,” he says.

The latest Scribe includes contributions from Maxine Peel of St Monica’s (“Green”, all about her favourite colour); Brady Epworth of California Gully (“The tiny platypus”, about Reggie’s day in his dark damp tunnel); and Kate Hadkins, of St Joseph’s (“The Rosella called Jack”, about a bird’s sleepover). 

Keeping up with the paperwork takes up a fair amount of time, but Mr Kelly knows the pleasure it brings a budding writer to see their work in print. 

He would dearly love, however, to see more writing posted on websites.

“In the old days, it was only the rich who could write and publish,” he says. 

“The computer has changed that – it’s marvelous. 

“For a child to write, to see the way they develop their personal skills, it’s utterly important,” he says.

Scribe is at to contact Mr Kelly email jackkelly@scribeyoungwriters.

A Space of my Own

A space of my own is a place to retreat;

A place I can go without facing defeat.

There I can sit and do as I please.

There I can escape from the people who tease.

I am my own master in my little hole.

No one else bossing; just me in control.

There I can sit and dream off into space.

Dream that I am higher than any other place.

That I am higher than the stars, that shine brightly in the sky.

Higher than the moon; oh so very, very high!

And in that high place I create my own world.

Oh how I love my very own world!

My world is safe. There are no barriers, no walls.

My world is good. There is no evil, none at all.

Lesley  McKarney


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