By Pat Bowden, published July 11, 2017.
From time to time, I will be reviewing courses. This review is for “Writing for Young Readers: Opening the Treasure Chest” available through Coursera.
Produced by The Commonwealth Education Trust, this is a 5 week course which packs in quite a bit of information for budding writers, including useful tips about the publishing process. It covers writing for very young children right up to older teenagers and young adults. Genres mentioned include poems, stories, picture books, plays and non-fiction.
If you are looking for assistance to improve your English writing skills or grammar then this is not the course for you. Perhaps you could try Coursera’s “English Composition 1”, “Grammar and Punctuation” (audit for free, or try the “Academic English Writing” specialization) or edX’s “English Grammar and Style” and “English Composition.”
The recommended workload is 1-3 hours per week which I found to be a realistic estimate. The videos and reading materials are less time-consuming than some other courses, but still provide plenty of information and food for thought. Each week features a peer-assessed writing task of up to 500 words. You might find yourself writing more—either an expansion of the week’s writing task, or other pieces inspired by the week’s subject matter.
The major presenters, David Hill and Maria Gill, are both published authors from New Zealand. Their stated aim is to promote the production of more books and stories for children, particularly in countries where there is little written material available. Each week features a guest author, some of whom have lived in more than one country: an Indian who has migrated to USA, a Tanzanian now living in Canada, plus authors from Trinidad, New Zealand and Australia. Listening to the guest authors is interesting; students hear how they manage their workload, where they find ideas, and coping with the dreaded writer’s block.
Week by Week
Each week of the course discusses a different aspect of writing and publishing.
The first week focuses on your own writing identity and refers to your life, culture and legends. The peer reviewed assignment is to write about 500 words on an event or aspect of your life.
Week 2 introduces genre, form and audience and the 500 word assignment includes the requirement to identify these aspects of your story. Your peers assess whether or not your work is written to the specifications you have chosen.
Character, setting, plot and theme are discussed in week 3 and students are asked to think carefully about these aspects for the third peer assessed assignment.
Structural editing and copy editing as well as proofreading are the subject of week 4. Some handy editing checklists are provided to help students improve their work. Hiring professional editors for works destined for publication is discussed.
Week 5 discusses publishing issues and writing groups. The written assignment for the week is to write a proposal letter to a publisher about your week 4 writing.
Peer Assessments and Discussion Forums
One weakness, in my opinion, was the actual peer assessment process. Each assignment was worth 20% of the overall course marks, but students are only marked on 3 or 4 simple criteria each week. Assessors are required to add a comment, but with many non-native English speakers in the body of peers, these comments were sometimes rather sketchy. On the other hand, course mentors were very active in the discussion forums during the session I took.
When I did the course in 2016, many of the comments in the Discussion Forums were about a year old. While preparing this review, I looked at the discussions again and found some active discussion threads. Dynamic discussions can really enhance the course experience, so don’t be afraid to post your thoughts in the forums and consider it a welcome bonus when fellow students and course mentors participate in your course discussions.
To feel closer to fellow students who are still involved, you can set your forum page to “All threads” and sort by “Latest”. Once in a thread, sort by “Most Recent” replies (find the button below the first post in the thread).
Apart from these drawbacks, I found the class extremely interesting and useful. It provides a range of ideas and strategies for writers interested in becoming a published authors. Even if you end up not writing for children, it is inspirational. The presenters are very encouraging, with a refreshing “you can do it” attitude.
More Reviews of this Course
Coursera encourages student ratings and reviews of their courses which you can find by clicking their See What Learners Think link. More reviews plus an in-depth review can also be found on Class Central.
If you are interested in fiction writing, you could try Coursera’s specialization “Creative Writing.” Not wanting to pay to enrol in 5 courses? The separate subjects are available free for audit only. FutureLearn has “Start Writing Fiction” and “An Introduction to Screenwriting.”
A final thought
As an older writer who is currently dabbling in a range of genres and has never had an ambition to write specifically for children, I was surprised to find myself drawn in and encouraged to consider this field. By the time I finished the course, my imagination was exploding with ideas for several children’s books. Now to actually write them!