In the year 2018/2019 we kicked-off an innovative bilingual Creative Collaborations pilot in three Welsh-medium primary schools from Torfaen county, south-eastern Wales.
The project was structured in various stages: to start with, the students read and commented on Dan Anthony’s book Rugby Zombies – Sombis Rygbi, made available on Betwyll in English and Welsh thanks to Gomer Press. The social reading activity enabled them to practice the Welsh language in an informal exchange and discussion environment and to directly interact with the author, who was involved in the facilitation together with poet and creative writer Rufus Mufasa, through a series of workshops in the classes.
In the following phase, the participants worked with Gomer Press in commissioning translator Ioann Kidd a Welsh translation of Dan Anthony’s The Bus Stop at the End of the World, a book currently only available in English. The participants trained and assisted other groups (Welsh-speaking and English-speaking) in a shared reading experience, exploring the challenges of bilingual reading projects and coming up with ideas to help make it work. At the same time they worked with illustrator Huw Aaron to bring the books characters and scenes to life. This phase of the project ended with a launch of the new book at the Eisteddfod yr Urdd in May.
Finally, each school was encouraged to devise other contexts where Betwyll could be used and to explore their proposed adaptations with their classmates. The idea that got the most votes was investigated and developed with the help of the teachers and the project partners. The resulting prototype was tested by the students in their respective classes and shared with the others involved in the project.
Besides improving students’ literacy skills and promoting a creative and aware use of social networks, the project nurtured the development of collaborative practices among students, schools and creatives. The project also promoted equal opportunities in a bilingual nation: on the one hand, by encouraging the use of the Welsh language in social media and online platforms; on the other, addressing the lack of children’s books written by contemporary Welsh authors that are published in both English and Welsh versions.
The Welsh government has developed a new curriculum for education based on the so-called “Five Creative Habits of Mind” to be adopted by 2022: “The Five Creative Habits of Mind (Imagination, Persistence, Curiosity, Discipline and Collaboration) are broken down to specific strands and this helps young people to understand what it means when they are being creative and to recognise progress. For example, they learn that imagination is about playing with possibilities, making connections and using their intuition – and that these skills can be usefully applied in lots of contexts, not just when they are “doing something arty”. Likewise, that being persistent includes an ability to stick at doing something even when it is difficult, daring to be different when everyone else is doing the usual thing and learning to cope with uncertainty.”
“The Welsh Government has targets for increasing the number of people using the Welsh language, doubling the numbers to reach a million people by 2050 and there are many initiatives to support this aim, particularly to encourage people to use their Welsh outside of the classroom in their daily life, socially and online. This is particularly difficult for children to achieve if their parents can’t understand Welsh and it is sometimes easier for them to just use it at school. We want to help them have fun using and improving their Welsh language skills.”
“This partnership brings together the children as the target reading market, their teachers who are keen to encourage their pupils to read books in Welsh as well as in English, the author (Dan Anthony) who can only write in English and his publisher (Gomer Press/Gwasg Gomer) who are not always able to fund the publication of books in both languages. We have added into the mix Menter Iaith Caerffili – as the main local agency concerned with developing the use of the Welsh language in normal daily life and Literature Wales as a national organisation that can help spread learning and good practice across the nation. The Fusion Network provides another mechanism for promoting collaborations between cultural and educational organisations and for sharing the learning.”
This project has made us realise that there needs to be a better synergy between the publishers, translators, teachers and the target readers and that we need to find a way of raising awareness of this issue, if we are to properly support Welsh language learning.
“There is great value to encouraging children to engage with texts through social media and tweets. They are able to express ideas about books and stories both at a general level and at the level of the sentence, as they compose their twyll or tweet. When I write my books the question I ask myself is: ‘how am I going to make this story so interesting that nobody is going to want to put the book down and pick up a phone.’ In other words, I see my stories as alternatives to watching to TV, playing online games and going on social media. Channeling these motivations back towards reading is a brilliant idea..”
The most innovative element of this project from our perspective as a publisher is the online environment for discussing the books, which allows the readers to engage with the literature in a familiar way and share their thoughts with their peers in a secure setting. It combines the traditional printed medium with contemporary technology in a fresh and appealing way, and we can’t wait to see where it will lead.