StoryWeaver in Action: My First Workshop

Posted by Menaka Raman on October 15, 2018


Bhavini Pant, Assistant Editor, StoryWeaver attended and helped conduct her first ever StoryWeaver workshop last month in Bengaluru. She shares her experience in this blog post. 

Working behind the scenes of StoryWeaver can be unpredictable. On some days, things seem calm and almost monotonous. On other days, I can't believe I'm working for a tech platform given how things decide to work (or stop working) quite randomly. In between the zeros and ones, I'm certain there's a cheeky monster laughing at us when we splutter, "But.. but.. this isn't supposed to be happening!"

Unpredictable as the days may be, it can become a little routine spending time in front of a screen. When I was invited for my first StoryWeaver workshop on 6 September, I was happy for the chance to step out of office and meet new faces. This workshop was one of the many conducted by our Partnerships team to introduce StoryWeaver to educators. New recruits to StoryWeaver are also encouraged to participate to fully understand the platform and how new users experience StoryWeaver.

The venue was a large, but cosy space on the terrace of a building in Koramangala, Bengaluru. People from a wide variety of organisations had signed up for the workshop. They represented different aspects of education, technology and child welfare which made for an interesting assortment of participants. There was ChildFund India (who work with children as young as 1 year olds), Meghshala (who empower teachers to go beyond textbooks and provide quality education), eVidyaloka Trust (who empower rural India through quality education using technology), Gubbachi Learning Community (who work on bridge learning programmes for school drop-outs) and Caring With Colour (who work on arts integration and activity-based learning). Some participants had travelled all the way from Mysore (Pratham, Learning Spaces) and Hyderabad (Aga Khan Foundation) for the workshop!

As participants started trickling in, some confident, some a little nervous I was reminded of my previous job where I would take workshops with educators on a fiction-reading program for school children. Teachers are almost unthinkingly expected to take the lead in a classroom. When I was teaching, I often missed the luxury of learning that comes with being a student. I imagine that some of the participants felt the same, for they welcomed the chance to be learners again: asking questions, developing and sharing their insights, putting pieces together.

Initially when one of the facilitators began demonstrating StoryWeaver by telling us a story from the platform, my attention was drawn to her narration. And then, quite by chance, my gaze slid to the participants. I was thrilled to see them smiling along with the story. My heart smiled with them. It felt wonderfully uplifting to see participants' eyes light up, to see them laugh quietly during the funny bits. When a Read-Along story was demonstrated, lots of participants shared different ways they could anticipate educators using the feature. It was heartening to see educators explaining cross-disciplinary uses for Read-Along stories – that while the storyline could be used to introduce say, a  mathematical concept to children, the narration and highlighted words could be used to demonstrate pronunciation, grammar and other language concepts.

Once the participants began working on their own stories, the space was buzzing with questions, suggestions and observations. Translated stories, in particular invited much discussion among the teachers. They debated the choice of words and their reasons for why a certain word should or should not be used. Eventually, some participants chose to translate the same story on their own as part of the exercise on creating a story!

The workshop was a good chance for me to cleanse my content manager palate. While we’re constantly working on increasing content on StoryWeaver for our users, I was able to see how a person new to StoryWeaver could be overwhelmed at the prospect of browsing through 9,000+ stories. We’re continually trying to make the experience of searching for stories faster and easier. Apart from filters, the teachers were also introduced to Lists - a section on StoryWeaver which has curated sets of stories based on areas which are relevant both in the classroom and outside it. Bright and colourful Category Cards (which appear when you scroll down the home page a little) also help organise all stories on the platform. Since the categories reflected subjects (eg. History & Culture) as well as broad themes (eg. Humour), we could see educators nodding and smiling satisfactorily.

In the end, when participants were filled with glee and pride to see their published story showing up on ‘New Arrivals’, we shared their thrill of creating something original.

As a former teacher, it was deeply moving for me to see educators taking control of the kind of material they would like to use and create for their children. Teachers are often expected to effect far-reaching changes in children but are not supported or encouraged as much as they  need to be. Hopefully, StoryWeaver can be a space that addresses this imbalance while being easy and fun to use.

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Illustrator and tattoo artist Barkha Lohia has created stunning art in Walking in the Wild for Pratham Books this year. 

Barkha lives in Gurgaon, Haryana. She loves working on morbid illustrations, tattoos, paintings of bird and trees and can be found drinking chai at any given time. She is currently working on a poem-based picturebook.

In this short email interview, Pratham Books' Assistant Editor Zeba Imtiaz talks to Barkha about her illustration approach and inspiration.


 How do you find inspiration for your work?

I take inspiration from everywhere, but mostly nature. I love reading, so that influences my work as well. Then there are events in your life and people around you that also flow back into the work. Sometimes it’s a conscious decision, sometimes it just flows - without much thought about what should be the subject or the output.

We know that you are a tattoo artist as well. Could you tell us more about your journey as a tattoo artist - the decision to be one, what drew you to it, and so on?

My maternal grandmother and paternal great grandmother had a lot of tattoos on their bodies. In India, communities have had a rich tradition of tattooing and the case was same here. As a child I was very fascinated with the ink on their body and would often ask them what it meant, or why they got it done. Growing up, shows like Miami Ink, LA Ink influenced me as well. The creative process of it all was really intriguing. How one took a concept and made something so personal for the client, to be permanently inked was very fascinating to me. Also, I really connected to this art form, I'd often keep doodling on myself or my friend's skin in school and college. I decided to go for it when I was working as an illustrator at my second job. I ordered a kit for myself to practice and decided later on to join a studio as well. It’s been great fun.


Do you find that your work as a tattoo artist influences your other work, or vice versa?

I don't think it has till date. In my case, since I love working with nature - the theme has trickled down to the various mediums I use - be it tattooing or illustration. I also feel that I'm still experimenting and not really down to one style, so I think I have the liberty to go at different styles in different mediums. With tattooing, you have to keep some aspects in mind while drawing - with regards to what will work on a live canvas. So, it has its own limitations and set rules that are not there for traditional illustrations for books and such. Illustration on paper, digital illustrations are more freeing.

Is this your first time illustrating for children? What do you most enjoy about illustrating for children, and what are the challenges?

Yes, this was my first time illustrating for kids. I have worked on smaller projects before but not on a complete book. I learned a lot during the process and it was great fun. I remember as a kid, I would pore over pictures and paintings in books and really look at them for long hours. Simply in terms of story, what must this character be doing, why is this cat here in drawing, etc. I was just creating a different world altogether. And I think kids tend to do that. They will put more into text, drawing and story in more ways than we do. So, I was trying to create that. I can't say what works for them since this is my first time illustrating for them, but if asked to do something I'd probably make a completely wacky world for them, filled with strange characters, peculiar sights, familiar sights. They would connect more with a talking bird than we'd ever. I think my style would be like that. With this book, the challenge came with the brief to have a more realistic character rather than cartoony. So, mostly it was to get the real look of a forest and the ongoing events and to do justice to the story of Zakhuma. And still make it engaging for the kids.

What kind of preparation and research went into illustrating Walking in the Wild?

I was provided with a brief about the place and Zakhuma. I was given his picture and his daily activities and asked to make a character that was more realistic than cartoony. I developed the character of Zakhuma first and then later on worked on the surroundings of the forest. I looked through a lot of pictures and articles on Dampa tiger reserve and the forests in Mizoram to get a feel of the place. Same goes for the animals, birds in the story. Rough layouts were then made for the pages, which were then discussed with the art director - for suggestions and iterations before working on the final drawing. Similarly for colouring in the pieces, some rough coloured layouts were shared with the Pratham Books team to collectively decide on which would suit the overall theme better.

Walking in the Wild is filled with beautiful and detailed drawings of different animals. What did you most enjoy drawing?

I really loved the scenes where different animal descriptions were to be given. I particularly enjoyed illustrating the opening scene and the moonlit scene of the Dampa forest reserve.



If you had to choose one medium for your art, what would you pick?

I don't think I can decide on one. I love working with different mediums. Each lends a different feel to the work. That being said, I enjoy doing more hand drawn stuff than digital - be it acrylics, oil paints, posters etc.

Who are some artists you admire?

There are many! When it comes to picture books - Shaun Tan is someone I'm really inspired by. His work is phenomenal. Lots of tattoo artists as well - Dzo Lama, Balaz Bercsenyi, Sol Tattoo in particular. Lots of Indian artists - Hemlata Pradhan, Rajiv Eipe, Sajid Wajid Shaik, Abhishek Singh. There are many actually. I can only think of a few right now. 

How do you deal with creative blocks?

Not well. I don't like that part at all. I think I take to binge watching T.V. series and books to get over it and walks.

You can read Walking in the Wild on StoryWeaver for free. This is available in Hindi, Marathi, Kannada, Tamil, and English. 

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Kemon achhen!

Posted by Amna Singh on August 02, 2018

Team StoryWeaver was in Kolkata in June for our second Translation Hackathon (you can read all about our first one here). 15 volunteer participants, a healthy mix of teachers and language students, came together to version more than 40 stories in Bangla over one weekend. The goal of the hackathon was to facilitate not only the translation of level 1 and 2 book to Bangla, but to also ensure peer led reviews of the translations.

We reached out to Sudeshna Moitra, a language teacher with over 34 years to help us not only find and bring together enthusiastic participants, but to also facilitate the workshop and mentor the volunteers. Sudeshna Ma’am has written 'Banan Tanan' a tome used by many Bengali writers. She writes for a number of Bengali blogs, and is also the editor of Sahajpath. As a resource person in Alamin Mission she organises training workshops for teacher on language teaching.

Sudeshna Ma’am believes that “Translation of stories helps to transmit thoughts into other languages, breaking the barrier of geographical distance, religion, and culture.”

The hackathon opened with a warm introduction and Sudeshna Ma’am set the agenda for the two day hackathon. Participants were familiarized with the Pratham Books mission and the power of open licenses. Rajesh Khar, Pratham Books Editor, spoke about the nuances of translating for children, levelled readers and also exposed them to the best practices followed by our team of Language Editors. Rajesh ensured that the participants - language students and teachers working with the children from underserved communities - had much clarity to the end goal of weaving quality books that were freely accessible for the last child.

Sudeshna Moitra sets the agenda for the workshop.

“We had curated a list of stories that we wanted to see translated through the workshop. These were level 1 and 2 stories published by Pratham Books, BookDash, ASP and the StoryWeaver community. We assigned the stories to each participant before the workshop keeping in mind their particular strengths. They were asked to read each story a few times to familiarise themselves with the story and it’s nuances. But the idea was for also for them to tap into the collective learnings and energy of the group to weave their translations.” shared Amna Singh, Associate Language Editor, Pratham Books.

Participants busy translating

One of the participants, Suman Das, a Head Master Of Chalitatali Prathamik Vidyalaya of Nadia said that once the clock started ticking the participants gathered speed and completed half their allotted books before lunch. Once they had translated the stories Sudeshna Ma’am reviewed each and every story with some receiving a green signal to publish. After lunch, a discussion on the need for level appropriate words in translation was had. “Some of us, including myself used some words which weren't appropriate for the age group the stories were intended for.” shared the Head Master.

Discussions and healthy debates

Peer -to-peer review of translations

Mentoring and feedback

The next day, peer led review of stories lead to new words being included, some that were more soothing to the ear.

The hackathon was a lively space for discussion and debate: how to make translations child-friendly, keeping the words level-appropriate, importing cultural references (or not) while translating a story. This lead us to understand that a handy glossary of examples demonstrating Pratham Books’ editorial stance on translation for the last child would be helpful at our next hackathon.

It was also wonderful to see participants use robust local language keyboards which we documented to see if we could integrate the libraries into StoryWeaver.

“The workshop has provided a platform among teachers, students and translators to translate great stories in vernacular; now more children will access these stories.” Sudeshna Ma’am shared at the end of the workshop.

Participants left with plans to take StoryWeaver to their respective schools and we have already heard back from Subimal Pramanik, Assistant Primary Teacher of Swarupnagar North 24 pargonas about this.

“I have already started a new class where there is reading and learning with StoryWeaver. Students enjoyed the trial session very much and I have decided to continue with the sessions.” 

We’re also very excited about a the StoryWeaver workshop that Suman Das will be conducting for 17 primary teachers from 12 schools in the Nadia district on 5th August.

Everything just came together so well over the weekend – the hunger for good stories, the energy of the language students, the wisdom of the teachers, their shared passion for Bangla. We can’t wait for our next hackathon!

You can read all the stories translated at the hackathon here

Bhalo thakun!

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