When ideas mesh

Have you ever had that moment of inspiration when two ideas mesh and you know you’ve found the answer? I’m certain you have. It’s creativity. It’s energising. It’s like bubbles in a can, popping all over the place, bursting with exuberance, needing to express; and there’s no keeping it in.

Writing is like that for me. Writing or teaching. Writing and teaching!

Except for when it’s not.

I can think and think and think and struggle to find an idea. But as soon as the two (or more) right ideas come together, there’s an explosion, and I just can’t wait to get it down, or try it out.

It’s what I love about creating teaching resources. I think: how can I best explain this concept, what will children enjoy most, how will they best learn? Fizz! And I’ve just got to do it. I love the creative outlet. Without it, life’s just, well – dull.

I like to think that what I write is different; that my teaching resources differ from the millions of repetitive worksheets that are written to keep children busily unengaged in the learning process. I imagine myself using them, and having fun with my class. I like to think of other teachers using them to encourage children to think creatively, critically, logically, imaginatively, and learning through discussion with their teachers and peers. But do they? I like to think.

Do you hear that self-doubt? Like so many creatives, I find self-promotion difficult. I struggle to put my work out there for fear it might not be good enough. Each new step requires blinkered determination, focus, and practice, practice, practice to strengthen self- belief that wavers at the first hint of a breeze.

But did you see that? I called myself a creative. Should I? Do I have the right? I always say that one thing I loved about teaching was the opportunity it gave me to be creative. Though I may think I was creative, does my thinking allow me the label?

A few years ago, I gave myself some good talking-tos, took some deep breaths, and attended a writer’s group. Sure, they were the creative types – picture book writers and junior fiction writers. And me. Well, I was aspirational, but had a number of educational publications behind me and was working on my own collection of teaching resources.

In turn, around the circle, we were required to introduce ourselves to the group, sharing what writing we were working on. I could have said I was working on picture books and junior fiction. I have several stuck away in drawers for future development, many with rejection slips to prove I was aspiring. I’d been collecting rejection slips since long before many of these writers were born. I must admit that none of them were recent though, as I’d been more involved in other things, including educational writing.

When it was my turn, I took a deep breath, and stated that I was involved in educational writing at the moment. “Oh,” said the leader. “Educational writing. That’s so formulaic.” And she quickly turned to the next person. Well, if that didn’t burst my bubble. The confidence I’d struggled to muster to even attend the meeting was felled in one swoop.

Not only was she wrong, (well, I believe she was wrong), her attitude was wrong, and her response to an aspiring writer was wrong. She asked no questions, gave no opportunity to discuss why my work may be considered creative, or what other more creative writing I might engage in. She obviously considered I had no business being there among the “real” creatives.

Similar difficulties can be experienced by children in school. People are quick to judge, assess and dismiss on perceptions of background, ability and potential. It can be difficult to stay strong and persistent when the brush of other’s biases paints you inadequate. Without a strong framework and inner fortitude, the will may crack and crumble at the first sign of tension.

Surely, one purpose of education must be to build those strong foundations in order to avoid wreckage in the future. Just as for buildings, we start from the bottom, building on a strong base, adding more to each layer. There’s no starting at the top, or even the middle. Each new layer must mesh with the one before.

Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) use the word mesh in a story. Mesh is both an object and a verb, which you can freely explore. You can play with its sound, too. Go where the prompt leads.

I immediately thought of the mesh that is embedded in concrete to give it inner strength, to hold it together when under pressure, to prevent it cracking and crumbling. What a great analogy for both personal core strength and a foundation of a great education. How could I resist?

Here’s my story. I hope you enjoy it.

Strong foundations

Jamie heard the vehicles; the doors slam; then men’s voices. He looked to his mum. She smiled and nodded. Dad was already there, giving instructions.

“Watch, but don’t get in the way,” he’d said.

Clara arrived, breathless. “What’s happenin’?”

“Carport. Pourin’ the slab,” he answered. “That’s the frame. Keeps it in shape.”

Beep. Beep. Beep. The concrete truck backed into position.

The men quickly spread the mix, then lifted the mesh into place.

“Makes it strong,” said Jamie.

Another load of mix was spread.

“All done,” said Jamie.

Later, in the sandpit, the children experimented with strengthening their structures.

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

P.S. If you are a teacher of children of about 5 to 7 years of age in their first three years of school, I’d love your feedback on readilearn, my collection of early childhood teaching resources. Please complete the survey here and share this post with other early childhood educators you know. I am keen to receive honest feedback about the site’s visual appeal and usability, as well as suitability of resources. Thank you. 🙂

Readilearn: Introducing Kim Michelle Toft, author and illustrator

Kim Michelle Toft

This month it is my great pleasure to invite Kim Michelle Toft to the blog. I have been an admirer of Kim’s work for many years. Not only does she do the most marvellous and unique silk paintings to illustrate her work, her books inspire children, and adults, to share her passion for protecting the ocean and its inhabitants.

I have previously written about Kim’s work here, here and here. In this post I am talking with her about her innovation of the familiar Christmas carol The Twelve Days of Christmas.

Kim’s book The Twelve Underwater Days of Christmas is a celebration, not only of the season, but of the beauty of our world and its gift to us. Our gift in response is to care for and preserve it. As well as information about all the animals featured, it includes a stunning six-page foldout poster as well as information about the original carol.

Welcome to readilearn, Kim. We are looking forward to getting to know you better.

Thank you for having me.

Kim, you tell your stories with words and pictures? When did you know you wanted to be a storyteller and share your stories with others?

I started drawing when I was 4 years old. I would spend hours on my own, drawing. My mother would buy me small Golden Books and take me to see all the Walt Disney movies. I knew then that I wanted to have a career in art. I started writing and illustrating my picture books when my daughter Casey arrived, 26 years ago.

Continue reading: Readilearn: Introducing Kim Michelle Toft, author and illustrator

How important is perfection?

Are you a perfectionist? If so, in what areas?

I think it would be difficult to be a perfectionist in everything, indeed, in anything.

I have never considered myself to be a perfectionist, though others have occasionally labelled my attitude to work that way. I do have certain standards that I like to meet, and I always strive to attain them, to do the best I can. I concede that my expectations of spelling, grammar and punctuation correction may tend towards perfection, but if I can, why would I not? Of course, the occasional imperfection will slip through. It is difficult to catch all when we are editing and proofing our own work. However, if I spot any, I will quickly change them, embarrassed that I let them escape.

There are many areas in which I am far from a perfectionist – especially housework. I’ll do what needs to be done, but only if I must; and my idea of need may differ vastly from yours. I am often reminded of my mother’s words when I’d completed a household chore; for example, sweep the steps, when I was a child. She’d comment that I’d given it a “lick and a promise”. These days, housework rarely gets more than a promise, a promise I’m not good at keeping.

As a teacher of young children, it was not perfection I was looking for in their work, but for the best they could do. I expected their work to reflect their development. If they were capable of the calculation, spelling or of using the correct punctuation, I expected them to use it. Opportunities to revise answers and responses were given and improvement was encouraged.

I’ve hedged around this topic a few times in posts; such as, Is contentment compatible with a growth mindset? The end, Phrasing praise and What is failure.

But how do we decide when good enough is good enough and that we have put in as much effort as the task requires? I know there are many who agree with me about housework, but what about other things; maybe like, hanging a picture, following a recipe, parking a car, making a payment, checking copyright, or painting a room?

I recently watched a TED Talk by Jon Bowers entitled We should aim for perfection and stop fearing failure. Bowers provides some different perspectives on the topic of perfectionism, challenging an adjustment to thinking.

He begins by discussing typos. We’ve all made them, haven’t we? The seemingly innocuous typo can give us a good laugh at times. But it can also do a lot of damage.

Bowers tells us that “one little typo on Amazon’s supercode produced a massive internet slowdown that cost the company over 160 million dollars in the span of just four hours”, and “an employee at the New England Compound, which is a pharmaceutical manufacturer, didn’t clean a lab properly and now 76 people have died and 700 more have contracted meningitis.”

Bowers says,

“When did we come to live in a world where these types of typos, common errors, this do-your-best attitude or just good enough was acceptable? At some point, we’ve stopped valuing perfection, and now, these are the type of results that we get. You see, I think that we should all seek perfection, all the time, and I think we need to get to it quick.”

traffic

He talks about the need for perfection when behind the wheel of a vehicle. How many lives are lost daily through inattention, through lack of perfection?

credit card

He talks about the need for credit card manufacturers to demand perfection. How would it be if even 1% of our credit cards didn’t work properly?

book

He says that “if the Webster’s Dictionary was only 99.9 percent accurate, it would have 470 misspelled words in it.  If our doctors were only 99.9 percent correct, then every year, 4,453,000 prescriptions would be written incorrectly, and probably even scarier, 11 newborns would be given to the wrong parents every day in the United States.”

He goes on to make many other statements that I’m sure will get you thinking too. At less than 11 minutes in length, the time commitment is far less than the potential learning gain.

When I watched this video, I was contemplating my response to this week’s flash fiction prompt set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch. Charli shared a “possibly spam” email received as an entry into the Carrot Ranch Rodeo Contest #2: Little and Laugh. You can read the email in Charli’s post, which also includes the challenge to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a fictional story about The Real Nanjo Castille. (The spammer).

I thought the email to be a little too clever to be real spam, too many clever word choices, phonetic spellings, and our favourite: bitchcoin, that could be purchased for ten dollars, $20 or £20. And the poor writer has an identity crisis, not sure whether to spell his or her name Nanjo or Najno.

I wondered about how the performance of this child in school might be viewed and what profession might be suggested as a goal.

This is my response. I hope you enjoy it.

A job for Nanjo?

The parents waited.

Start positive, she reminded herself.

“Nanjo has a wonderful imagination.”

They smiled.

“Very creative too, especially with spelling and punctuation.”

They exhaled.

“Has trouble understanding money though, and his knowledge of number facts is non-existent – “ she hesitated, then continued quietly. “I can’t think of any employer who’d have him.”

“Pardon?”

“I mean, employment, suited to his – ah – special skills.”

She cracked.

“I’m sorry. Your son is unemployable. His spelling and grammar is atrocious. He can’t even spell his own name, for god’s sake! I don’t think he could even get a job as a spammer!”

Make sure to check the results of Contest #2 at the Carrot Ranch. I’m not the winner. Nor is it Nanjo. Could it be you?

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

Never Too Many Cooks: Literary Recipes in a Flash

How is cooking like writing?
One’s a feast for the body, the other a feast for the mind. For some great flash fiction to get your teeth into (including one of mine!) read on:

Open Thought Vortex

By Charli Mills

A chef in the kitchen is not unlike a writer at a desk.

Both feel the heat of what it takes to transform a raw start into an end worth savoring. A chef chops vegetables to maximize flavor and texture the way a writer slices sentence structure to evoke reader response. One chef favors reduction sauces, and another fuses flavors. One writer cranks out cozy mysteries, and another crafts a character-driven epic science fiction.  A chef is a food artist; a writer is a literary artist.

If you’ve ever tuned into a televised cooking show that challenges chefs with secret ingredients, you’ve seen how varied the results can be. I used to provide some of those secret ingredients to a regional chef show at the Mall of America in Minnesota. For over a decade the foodie culture of Minneapolis-St. Paul immersed me in the artistry of food…

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Readilearn: STEMtastic: making it easy – in every classroom, for every child and teacher

STEMtastic Narinda Sandry

STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) subjects are being rejuvenated in schools. Many of us remember them as uninteresting, unfathomable and seemingly unrelated to anything we needed to know in the real world of our daily lives. Fortunately for us, some “nerdy” types found them interesting enough to imagine, explore and create new possibilities that improve our lives in countless ways.

I’ve previously written about the importance of making space for STEM in early childhood classrooms. In this post I talk with early childhood educator Narinda Sandry who is spreading the word and showing even STEM-averse educators how they can “deliver STEM experiences to every student, every week, in class and easily in an overcrowded curriculum.”

Narinda is a teacher, curriculum writer and advisor. She spent many years teaching in early childhood classrooms, wrote educational materials for the Queensland Museum, and curriculum documents to support implementation of the Australian Curriculum. She now shares her combined love of learning, passion for early childhood education, and interest in STEM subjects, with teachers through her new STEMtastic project promoting “STEM education for every student, every week, easily.”

Hello, Narinda, and welcome to readilearn.

Absolute pleasure to talk with you and your readers Norah.

Narinda, tell us a little about why you feel STEM education is so important in early childhood and all classrooms.

The world we live in is changing, faster now than it ever has before. It is predicted that many of the jobs we know now will be either non-existent or at least disrupted in the near future. Think about the

Continue reading at Readilearn: STEMtastic: making it easy – in every classroom, for every child and teacher

Winner of Flash Fiction Rodeo Contest #1

I am delighted to announce the winner of my flash fiction contest “When I grow up”. Judging was a tough job, but we got there in the end.
Charli has made a lovely badge for contestants to put on their blogs. Check it out when you check out the winners.
Thanks for a fabulously fun rodeo, Charli.

Carrot Ranch Literary Community

When I Grow Up

by Norah Colvin

Congratulations and a special thank you goes to all writers who participated in the first of the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Contests: When I grow up. The judging is now complete, and we are about to announce the winner. Could it be you?

In this contest, writers were asked to write a 99-word story in response to the following prompt:

When I grow up. Cast yourself back to six years of age, knowing what you do of life in the present; what would you want to be when you grow up and how would you go about achieving that goal? Tell us in 100 words, no more no less. It can be real or imaginary, serious or light-hearted. Extra points for comparing it to your childhood choice, if you remember it.

Stories were judged on ten criteria including relevance, capturing a…

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Let’s read, write and spell with Schuyler: readilearn

I don’t normally post twice a week, but this post is really an addendum to the previous post What’s in a name? Teaching phonics, syllabification and more! so I decided to break with tradition and share it.

For the inspiration for this post and the resource it describes, I must thank Pamela Wight, who featured in the author interview last month.

In commenting on the What’s in a name? post, Pamela mentioned the awkwardness of singing and spelling her grandson’s name – Schuyler, a name with which I was unfamiliar. I joked to Pamela that I’d thought of recording a few names, innovating on the tune of BINGO, to show how “easy” it might be. Pamela suggested I should, even though I explained that my singing voice is anything but, and she told me the pronunciation for Schuyler: Skylar. Well, I couldn’t help myself. My head started racing with ideas of incorporating Schuyler’s name into reading and writing lessons teaching phonics and spelling skills. The result is the resource Let’s read, write and spell with Schuyler,

and the recording.

Continue reading: Let’s read, write and spell with Schuyler: readilearn