Our Collective Story: Improving Creative Writing, Collaboration, and Literacy in Jordan
Author: Jordan RAMP team, Elizabeth Long
Across Jordan, young authors are being ‘discovered’ in elementary schools every day. Most will not become nationally or internationally recognized but their skills are on display in their local schools. They, along with their teachers and parents, couldn’t be prouder. All thanks to an initiative called Our Collective Story.
Our Collective Story is an effort to promote creative writing in order to strengthen growing literacy skills while building creativity and social-emotional skills.
It is part of the Early Grade Reading and Mathematics Initiative (RAMP), co-funded by the United States Agency for International Development and the United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and launched by Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah in 2015, with the goal of improving education learning outcomes of over half a million early grade students (Kindergarten through Grade 3) in 2,550 schools.
School Principal Dr. Khawla Obaid has seen first hand how her students have improved not only in their writing but also gained valuable social benefits:
[Our Collective Story] is an integrated learning activity where students communicate to collect information, develop their vocabulary, and develop their artistic senses… As they work collectively, they develop their relations and ties with their peers which is important as their socio-emotional skills have suffered from the long COVID-19 school interruption.
Our Collective Story, initially piloted in 5 schools in Southern Aghwar Field Directorate in 2019, has been extended to 140 classes in 35 Field Directorates across Jordan. The Ministry of Education (MOE) plans to expand the Our Collective Story activity to all schools in Jordan. School and District leaders are currently working to integrate creative writing into District and School Improvement Plans with the necessary funds allocated for stationery and other necessary supplies.
Students’ stories come to life
After receiving training and coaching from supervisors and Senior Teachers, classroom teachers lead their students through the creative writing process.
This begins with the class selecting an age-appropriate subject which they are interested in or which the class is exploring. The teacher then posts pictures related to the chosen topic. Students ask questions about the pictures to generate ideas and brainstorm as a group.
Guided by their teachers, students work together to collectively imagine, plan, write and illustrate stories.
For each writing period, the teacher organizes the class into small groups. Each group includes children with different proficiency levels so lower-performing students can learn from their higher-performing peers or bring a different set of skills to the group (their creativity, imagination, drawing skills, etc.).
[E]ven the weakest ones got enthusiastically involved in the learning process, said Teacher Amal Farid.
Next, on the board or in their notebooks, students record vocabulary words inspired by the pictures and work together to create meaningful sentences which are then crafted into paragraphs.
Each group collaborates to illustrate their sentences and paragraphs with various media. Students’ drawings and paintings really bring the stories to life!
Some of the stories even have a chance for wider distribution than the local school. From all the stories created, each school submits the best to a national committee and if selected, they will be published, printed and distributed to all primary schools in Jordan. Books which are not selected will remain at the schools for students and parents to enjoy.
Field trips inspire students to write collective stories
One class used a field trip to a mosque as the core of a collective story. Together they wrote about the history of the mosque and its importance in the local community.
They later explained, with pride in their voices, to school visitors that when they visited the mosque, they learned that it is one of the oldest in Jordan and served as a cultural center for the local community.
One student shared:
“What I liked the most about writing the books, was that we were working together with my friends.”
Another collective story — “The Treasures of Fifa Nature Reserve — was created by third grade students at the Fifa Secondary Mixed School following a visit to the Fifa Nature Reserve.
Students wrote and illustrated the story and received help from The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) who shared scientific information about the Fifa Reserve and facilitated the brainstorming process with the students and their teacher.
“The Treasures of Fifa Nature Reserve” was selected to be printed with the financial support of the Arab Potash Company and the book was distributed to all early grade classrooms in Jordan.
Focusing on writing improves student’s literacy
In the past seven years, RAMP interventions have helped increase reading comprehension levels. Part of this success in undoubtedly due to initiatives like Our Collective Story. The increased focus on writing skills has greatly enhanced both the teaching and learning of reading and writing in Jordan and has given children an exciting opportunity to author and illustrate their own stories.
Third grade teacher Ms. Renad Al-Ndanat, sums up the initiative well:
We plant seeds for future writers.