Invited to the Cook Islands for literacy week by the Ministry of Education, he has given student motivational talks and workshops. He also ran a workshop for teachers on Tuesday at Sinai Hall, where he shared his own writing strategy.
“I’m by no means a writing expert, I’m just a teacher who saw a gap, a need out there and did something about it.”
He says kids that say they don’t like reading or writing, will read and write about things they identify with, and that sums up his strategy.
“Today I’ll use Shaun Johnson from the New Zealand Warriors. This is what I use with reluctant writers. They know league, so they are already experts in that field. If I show them a freeze frame of him getting a goal, then ask them to add dialogue, they will be more comfortable to do that, than (write) about something they are not interested in.”
Riley says he wanted to be a writer from the age of 13. “But I didn’t believe I could do it. I thought only famous people wrote, not someone named David Riley from Mangere.”
While working as a teacher at Tangaroa College in Otara, he noticed a gap in reading material for his Niuean students and decided he might have to just write it himself.
“I just had to do it: you know if you can’t find what you need, you sometimes have to make it yourself. Then someone said to me, “But what about all of the Niuean students in other schools?’ so I decided to get it published.”
Now he self-publishes all of his books. He has written a number of them, including books about sports heroes as well as Niuean, Samoan and Tongan heroes.
His Cook Islands Heroes book is full of legends, historical figures and contemporary heroes and was written to inspire reading and promote literacy among young Cook Islanders. It was also the inspiration for the secondary school writing competition, whose winners will be announced tomorrow.
Riley says reading brings families together, and gives the example of a Tongan girl who took a book home.
“Her grandmother read it with her and it was the catalyst for (the grandmother) to share many stories of when she was young.”
He says “reflection sheets” completed by students at the end of his workshops and motivational talks are encouraging.
“One said, ‘I can write better than I thought I could’. That’s what it’s all about, at the end of the day.”