Melina Marchetta – a passion based learning success story

I visited the State Library of Victoria with students from my school today to hear Melina Marchetta talk about her latest novel, ‘The Piper’s Son‘. It was a discussion session, artfully facilitated by Penni Russon, a young adult writer (and blogger!). Thanks go to The Centre for Youth Literature for organising the event.

What was most fascinating for me was Melina’s revelation that she did not complete secondary schooling. She left at 15, feeling intimidated by higher achieving students. She said she felt ignored as she lingered in the middle, neither here nor there, but certainly not a favoured student, not recognised for having talent. A remarkable revelation from an award winning Australian author who now writes for a living on a full time basis.

What she did do when she left school was to read voraciously, explore what she was passionate about, and begin the writing of what would become ‘Looking for Alibrandi‘, a hugely successful young adult novel that has adorned many a school’s book lists and been made into a motion picture.

I teach students who I know want to become authors. Our English curriculum in the early secondary years caters for their creative talents, but later on, we’re in the game of fine tuning essay writing skills and ensuring they can analyse issues. Somewhere along the line, we lose sight of nurturing the creative writing talents of many of our students. We lose sight of allowing our students to explore the passion they might hold for something that really interests them, be it manga drawing, or movie production, or jewellery making. And that, my friends, is a darn shame.

Melina also discussed her work as a teacher for a ten year period. Obviously, she did not let her inability to complete secondary schooling stop her from pursuing an academic career. I often talk with my students and discuss the fact that there are many pathways you can take to the achievement of a goal; an enter score is not necessarily the be all and end all of one’s existence.

Lots of food for thought from Melina today. She embodies a great deal of what is occupying my mind of late. More on that in another blog post to come!

8 Replies to “Melina Marchetta – a passion based learning success story”

  1. I’ve heard Melina Marchetta speak and was also interested in this fact. I think sometimes people will shine despite, not because of, their schooling. As for nurturing creative writing, my elder son was always good at it, and I looked forward to his move to secondary school because I thought his writing would develop. He wrote 2 pieces in secondary school. That was it. The rest of English classes revolved around writing prescriptively about issues and literary essays. Very sad. Now that he has finished school, he has decided to write a blog journalling his final year as a teenager. Sorry about the shameless plug:

    1. Not a shameless plug- recognition of someone exploring a passion. Should be more of it I say Tania! Shame our school system doesn’t always nurture the talent our student’s have.

      1. Creativity is such an important higher order thinking skill that needs to be continued to develop in students’ learning. Creative thinkers are essential in the community. As a creative writer myself in my junior high school years, I can remember feeling dismayed about the reduction of creative writing tasks as I progressed into the examination years.

  2. Good post, Jenny. I find that we take the creative freedom away earlier than you stated- our teachers talk about students becoming jaded by the time they are 10- but I believe it is our teaching that is jaded- too many limits and structures- no wonder we lose them!

    1. Couldn’t agree more with you Mel. We crowd our curriculum so much that we lose sight of the need for deep learning. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to give up something (I don’t dare suggest just what!) that would then provide the time for kids to indulge in something that holds interest specifically to them. I’m sure someone is doing it somewhere.

  3. I can relate – I left school at 16 (not uncommon in the UK after year 10 exams) after attending a less than mediocre school. I went to uni at 24 and now have a PhD – proof that even an academic career doesn’t depend on a high ENTER score 🙂
    Which is not to say that achieving at a high level in school is not a good thing of course – simply that given the enormous pressures many mid-teens feel under, it is good for them to get that adult perspective of life after ENTER…

    1. I have many conversations with students that echo your words Paul. Some of them are very pressured and can’t see a way froward, when there are, in fact, many pathways to success. Thank you for sharing your story here. : )

  4. I also went to see Melina in converation with Penny but this time on a Sunday and I took 2 young friends with me. It was a gorgeous Sunday afternoon – the type only Melbourne can produce and I was once again delighted with the number of young people there, hanging on every word Melina uttered. Those Sunday afternoons at the Centre for Youth Literature attracts all peoples of all ages and not just dedicated librarians. I love seeing these young people giving up their own time listening and meeting authors. These are literary groupies and what better role models than authors like Melina and Penny. What struck the 3 of us the most was how Melina related the fact that her characters had a life of their own and demanded to be written. Young people need to learn to imagine and be creative to the point that their thoughts and ideas do take on a life – that they become tangible and real. Then they need to learn how to (and have the courage) to express these ideas – whether these ideas are in the form of characters in a novel or creative essays or thoughts on paper. Maybe the curiculum is crowded but I have found a number of young people who will learn and create in their own time. If they love it enough they will find the inspiration, the teachers or mentors and the time to develop and learn.

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