Monthly Archives: January 2014

Must read: Neil Gaiman – “Reading and obligation”

When I first stepped, rather tentatively, into the world of blogging and tweeting I had no idea of the pleasures I would find. I found a whole community of others who share my passion for education, learning, literacy and writing. I found a comfortable niche, discussion group, and a place for sharing ideas like I hadn’t for a long time. I’ve “come home” on the internet.

In these few short months I have come across some bloggers with very powerful messages that I wish everyone could read and act upon in the ways described. What a wonderful world we would have!

Over the coming months I will let you know about some  articles I consider  ‘must reads’.

Please let me know of others you think I should also be reading!

Thanks for sharing and supporting me on my learning journey thus far.

The story has just begun!

This first in the series is a lecture given by Neil Gaiman entitled “Reading and obligation”

Neil Gaiman lecture in full: Reading and obligation

Neil captivates me with his opening statement:

“It’s important for people to tell you what side they are on and why, and whether they might be biased.”

If you have read any other articles on my blog, you will know that I am biased; biased towards a child-centered, hands-on, creative and innovative approach to education. I believe that children are capable of far more than a structured didactic approach to schooling gives them credit for; and that big changes in the way education is delivered are necessary if we are to make best use of our most valuable resource – human potential.

As a reader, writer and literacy educator I am biased towards approaches which foster a love of reading and writing. The pleasures to be gained from a literate existence are immeasurable. But more than that, being literate is not only personally empowering, it is a basic human right.

Obviously the articles on my must read list will be those that share my biases.

Please follow the link to watch the video or read the complete transcript of Neil’s lecture.

I offer a few teasers below to incite your interest.

“everything changes when we read”

Wow! How powerful is that statement!

“The simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity. And that means, at its simplest, finding books that they enjoy giving them access to those books and letting them read them.”

“Fiction has two uses. Firstly, it’s a gateway drug to reading. . .

And the second thing fiction does is to build empathy.”

“Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been. Once you’ve visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different.”

Don’t you love that last statement? I do. If we are always “happy” with the way things are, why would we ever try to improve or change them? A little discontent can be a good thing!

“We need to read and write, we need global citizens who can read comfortably, comprehend what they are reading, understand nuance, and make themselves understood.”

Neil goes on to talk about our obligations as readers, writers and citizens of the world.

He lists the following (read or listen for his explanation)

  • Read for pleasure
  • Support libraries
  • Read aloud to our children
  • To use the language
  • We writers – and especially writers for children, but all writers – have an obligation to our readers: it’s the obligation to write true things, especially important when we are creating tales of people who do not exist in places that never were – to understand that truth is not in what happens but what it tells us about who we are. Fiction is the lie that tells the truth (underlining is mine)
  • not to bore our readers
  • not to preach, not to lecture, not to force 
  • never, ever, under any circumstances, to write anything for children to read that we would not want to read ourselves.
  • to understand and to acknowledge that as writers for children we are doing important work,
  • to daydream We have an obligation to imagine. . . . individuals change their world over and over, individuals make the future, and they do it by imagining that things can be different.
  • to make things beautiful.
  • to tell our politicians what we want

Neil reminds us that

Albert Einstein was asked once how we could make our children intelligent. His reply was both simple and wise.

If you want your children to be intelligent,” he said, “read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.

I couldn’t agree more.

What about you? What do you think of Neil’s list of obligations? Are there any you would omit, or any you would add?

Mouthing the words – the golem effect

Singing is a wonderful gift. To be able to entertain oneself and others with no instrument other than one’s voice must give enormous pleasure.

But I can only imagine the joy it must bring, for I am no singer.

When I was at school and we were all lined up and squished in on the stairs performing for parents in our end-of-year concerts, I was told to mouth the words.

Unlike the recommendation in the song written by Joe Raposo for Sesame Street and made famous by the Carpenters “Sing a Song

“Don´t worry that it´s not good enough for anyone else to hear.
Just sing.
Sing a song.”

I was told to not sing, for it was not good enough for anyone else to hear. I accepted the verdict without question, as was expected of us at school, and mouthed the words.

Of course, my school days were long over before Joe wrote his wonderful song, and maybe no one since then has been subjected to the same humiliation.

Over the years various family members and friends have tried to be encouraging but their words have seemed hollow, for I “knew” the truth to be otherwise. One family member even told me that, when I “sang” nursery rhymes, I sounded just like Patsy Biscoe. But that’s not true. Patsy has a beautiful voice. You can listen to her here.

Sometimes it is difficult to not sing along for music is so inviting, often almost demanding that one join in.

In an early childhood classroom, music is a very important part of the day; and as an early childhood teacher, I incorporate music and singing into the program, always at the beginning and end of the day, and many times in between. I have blogged about this before here and here.

Fortunately for me, and the students, music is so readily available on CD or the internet, that finding songs for the children to sing along with is no longer a problem.  I apologise here to all the students who have had to suffer my joining in and “singing” along with them though, when I couldn’t resist the temptation. I must admit that none of them ever complained when I joined in. But I have no idea what they went home and told their parents either!

I believe strongly in the power of positive encouragement to improve children’s self-esteem, confidence, willingness to have a go, and learning outcomes.

I also know that a negative attitude encourages children to have a negative attitude towards themselves and their abilities, decreases self-esteem, erodes confidence and creates anxiety and a fear of trying new things or of having a go.

According to Wikipedia

“The Pygmalion effect, or Rosenthal effect, is the phenomenon in which the greater the expectation placed upon people, the better they perform. The effect is named after the greek myth of Pygmalion.

A corollary of the Pygmalion effect is the golem effect, in which low expectations lead to a decrease in performance. The Pygmalion effect and the golem effect are forms of self-fulfilling prophecy. People will take the belief they have of themselves (negative in this case) and attribute traits of the belief with themselves and their work. This will lead them to perform closer to these expectations that they set for themselves. Within sociology, the effect is often cited with regard to education and social class.”

Surprisingly I had never thought of this in relation to my singing disability, until recently.

Engaged in a Twitter discussion with Anne Goodwin (@Annecdotist) and Caroline Lodge (@lodge_c) I mentioned that I listen to audiobooks on my drive to work. Anne replied that she listens to music on long journeys, trying to “fix choral music in my head”.

I replied, innocently enough, I thought:


To which they both responded with the type of “encouragement” I had heard many times before “Give it a go. Everyone can sing.”

So I told them about being told to mouth the words, and I was both surprised and challenged by their responses:




I had never thought of my singing disability as a learned disability. I had always thought of it being a physiology issue and, later, perhaps a hearing issue.

I am not very good at mimicking vocal (other than speech) sounds, or at identifying which note, of two given notes, is the higher or lower. I did enrol in a brain training program which included aural exercises involving recognition of higher or lower pitch. While I did make some improvement, my scores weren’t high (I could tell that high/low difference).

The comments of Anne and Caroline made me think about this:

What came first: the singing disability or the disability teaching?

Could I have learned, if given the opportunity, to sing a least a few bars in tune? Could I still be taught?

It has sometimes crossed my mind that singing lessons could be an interesting experiment.

Anne and Caroline are both encouraging, and Caroline commented:


I do love music and perhaps, one day, I will go for it and find out the truth about my singing ability.

Perhaps I will learn to sing and fulfill the dream “to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony”.

But for now, the experiment will have to wait, I have other things to learn.

What do you think?

Do you consider yourself a singer?

Can everyone learn to sing?

Is it a human right?

Could my singing ability really be a “golem effect”?

What disability have you learned, if any?

As a parent or teacher, how do you ensure your children do not suffer from a learned disability?

You can read more from Anne or Caroline by clicking on their names.

What is education, anyway? Pt.1

One of my favourite talks about education is a TED talk given by Ken Robinson in 2006 “How schools kill creativity”.

His contention is that

“creativity . . . is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”

Although the video has had more than 21 million views (while quite a few of them mine, nowhere near that number!) and drawn over 3 000 comments during the last 8 years, his views need to reach a wider audience still; an audience with the power to enact change.
One thing I had always loved about teaching was the opportunity to express myself creatively, and to encourage my students to do the same. Unfortunately the current emphasis on a content-driven, top-down approach where test results reign supreme has left little room for anyone’s creativity. I am not saying there was ever much opportunity for creativity in formal schooling, but creative teachers could always squeeze a bit it. Now the opportunities for creative “massage” are few.
My optimism for positive change in education is always raised when I read or hear of others who share similar views. I think if enough voices are heard chanting the same message that a change may come.
This post (and article in Saturday’s QWeekend magazine) by Mary-Rose Maccoll “Why Banff means the World” also proclaims the vision of Ken Robinson. Mary-Rose is another fan.
She says that

“Being at the Banff Centre (in Canada) has made me reflect on what we lose when we don’t foster art, when we don’t foster creativity. And what we lose is the world.”

She says that

“even as school education becomes increasingly narrow in its focus, we’re also seeing a decline in performance on the very outcomes that standardisation seeks to improve.”

She concludes by saying,

“As I sit in my room and watch the mountains, listening to the trail of a contraband sax down the hall (you’re supposed to play in the soundproofed studios in the forest), reading a piece by a Scottish writer, I am grateful for artists. In our 21st century world, we surely need them.”

I agree wholeheartedly as, I’m sure would Ken Robinson, along with Teachling whose post What is Education, anyway?Pt 1 I reblog for you here.

I agree with Teachling’s belief that

“many teachers would feel that – as well as their students’ innate talents and creativity being snuffed – their own talents and creativity don’t get much of a look-in. I believe most teachers are very restricted in terms of what they teach as well as how they teach it.”

I also agree with her when she states that

“that there’s very little teachers can do about it.

It’s the administrators and politicians that should take Robinson’s advice. It’s also the perceptions of a majority of parents that would need to vastly change if any rethinking of fundamental principles were to occur.”

Have a listen to Ken and read these other posts, then let me know what you think.

How can we make our voices be heard to ensure that creativity and innovation is not lost for the future?


Ken Robinson’s take on schools, and how they kill creativity…

You’re likely one of the 20,738,467 viewers of Ken Robinson’s “Schools Kill Creativity” 2006 TED Talk. Robinson’s assertion, and general gist of the talk, is that “all kids have tremendous talents, and we squander them; pretty ruthlessly”. The “we”, we can infer from the rest of his talk, are schools.

Let me pick out some key points:
• “My contention is that creativity, now, is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”
• “We are educating people out of their creative capacities.”
• “Every education system on Earth has the same hierarchy of subjects… At the top are Mathematics and Languages, then the Humanities and at the bottom are the Arts… And in pretty much every education system there’s a hierarchy within the Arts. Art and Music are normally given a higher…

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A positive start – back to school

school cropped

At this time of the year children, parents and teachers in Australia are thinking about the return to school which is approaching with haste. For some those thoughts are of excitement and expectation. For others they are of anxiety and dread.

While children have enjoyed the break from imposed structure and the pressure of school days and homework, many look forward to seeing their friends again and the routine of having something to do after long, lazy summer days. Others may feel anxious about being in a new class with a new teacher and new yet-to-be-made friends. For those starting at a new school, or school for the first time, there may be a confusion of feelings and vacillation between excitement and fear.

Parents, too, have mixed feelings about their children starting or returning to school. They may look forward to a return to routine and a relief from the pressure of providing full-time entertainment or alternative care arrangements. They may also experience feelings of loss when they hand their children over to the care of a stranger for most of the day. However, I think what parents most want for their children when they return to school, or indeed at any time, is for them to be happy.
Teachers experience a similar range and vacillation of feelings from excitement and expectation through to anxiety and dread. Even now many of those teachers are out fossicking through the cheap shops, scouring stationery and educational supply stores, looking for items for use in their classrooms. Others will be at home trawling the internet looking for resources, or making their own resources in preparation for the new school year.
One thing that is important to all is to begin the year positively and happily.

Strategies for parents

Some strategies parents can use to ensure their children begin the school year happily include:

  • Talk to children in positive and supportive ways that will strengthen their optimism about returning to school, allay any fears and settle anxieties.
  • Ensure children are aware of how they will travel to and from school, and of any arrangements that have been made for before or after school care.
  • Familiarize children with the route to and from school by travelling it as they will be expected to, whether by foot, cycle, bus or car. If necessary, point out landmarks along the way.
  • Make sure children know their first and last names, address and parents’ phone number/s.
  • Have children’s equipment ready with books covered and every item identified with the child’s name.
  • If possible, take the child to school on the first day and meet the teacher.


The positive feelings can be continued throughout the year by:

  • Daily conversations about the school day: learning, events and friends.
  • Volunteering in the class or school, or being involved with after school activities.
  • Maintaining open and positive communication with the class teacher.

Strategies for teachers

Some strategies teachers can utilize to ensure that children (and parents) begin the school year happily include:

  • Create a welcoming classroom with signs, posters, items of interest and inviting reading corners and activity nooks.
  • Greet children and parents with a friendly smile.
  • Engage children in activities that help you get to know them, and them to get to know each other.
  • Display children’s work to give them a sense of ownership and belonging.
  • Explain management and behaviour expectations and include children in composing a classroom management and behaviour plan.
  • Ensure children know the school timetable; when the breaks will occur and any lessons to be taken by specialist or other teachers.
  • Explain playground behaviour expectations, including showing areas where they may / may not play.
  • Take them on a walk around the school to show them the library, office, bathrooms and any other areas they may need to know.
  • Include singing during the day and send them home with a song and a reminder of what has been learned or engaged with during the day. (In a previous post Happy being me I wrote about Anne Infante’s songs of affirmation. Any of these are great ones to sing and help to create a positive environment.)

What other suggestions can you make?
What helped you as a child, parent or teacher prepare for the new school year?
Teachers, check out my new products on TEACHERSpayTEACHERS to help you set up your classroom and greet your new students with a Busy Bee theme. There are many resources to get you started, ready to download and print out.

bee 1

Bee courtesy of Bernadette Drent, used with permission.

Other clipart courtesy of

Kids & Philosophy: A cinematic feast

The Philosophy Club

Kids & philosophy

Anyone keen to foster children’s curiosity and philosophical thinking is sure to savour this banquet of short films. Bon appétit!

Our appetiser is Zia Hassan’s 9 year old discusses the meaning of life and the universe. In case you missed the viral internet sensation last year, here’s a kid with a remarkable philosophical imagination.

Squatting on his patio, he holds forth on multiverses, free will, the meaning of life and the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (“an endless quest without knowing what your quest is”). His bold speculations are tempered with a healthy dose of philosophical doubt and a striking awareness of the limits of his knowledge. Confronting the question of free will, he senses that life

    may be predestined, but you can change that destiny. I might be wrong; it might be scheduled like some play… and you act it, not knowing that you’re part of it… Maybe…destiny…

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Searching for purpose in a picture book – Part B

What is the purpose of picture books? Is their purpose simply to entertain with an interesting story and rhythmical language that is fun to read and recite? Is it simply, as I said in my previous post Searching for meaning in a picture book – Part A, “. . . a special time of togetherness, of bonding; of sharing stories and ideas . . . “ Could the purposes of picture books extend beyond entertainment alone? I think most people would acknowledge that reading picture books to young children has a profound effect upon children’s learning and development. In addition to entertainment, picture books can be used for a multitude of purposes, including:

  • to encourage a love of reading and books
  • to develop vocabulary and knowledge of language (through immersion and engagement rather than direct instruction)
  • to provide a link between the language of home and the language used in the wider community and in education
  • to support children embarking on their own journeys into reading
  • to inspire imaginations
  • to provide opportunities for discussing feelings, emotions, ideas, responses
  • to develop feelings of empathy, identification, recognition, hope
  • to instill an appreciation of art by presentation of a wide variety of styles, mediums and techniques

I’m sure you can think of many more than I have listed here. But what of knowledge, information and facts?

How, and when, do children learn to distinguish fiction from fact, or fact from fiction? At the moment that question is too big for me to even think about answering, but it is a question that I ponder frequently and may return to in future posts.

Children seem to realise early on that animals don’t really behave like humans and wear clothing.

They don’t expect their toys to come to life and start talking.

They quickly understand, when it is explained to them, that unicorns and dragons are mythical creatures and, to our knowledge, don’t exist.

But what happens when the lines between fact and fiction blur and content, though presented in fiction, has the appearance of being based in fact? For example: The lion is often referred to as “King of the jungle” and appears in that setting in many stories. However, lions don’t live in jungles. According to Buzzle, they live in a variety of habitats and jungle isn’t one of them. You knew that didn’t you? But what about the children? When will children learn that lions are not really kings of the jungle? Do you think it matters if children grow up thinking that lions live in jungles?

What about when animals that don’t co-exist appear in stories together? For example: Penguins often share a storyline alongside polar bears. Does this encourage children to think that penguins and polar bears co-exist? When do adults explain to children that penguins and polar bears live at opposite ends of the planet? At what age do you think children will happen upon that information? Does it matter?

What about the way animals are visually portrayed in stories? Must the illustrations be anatomically correct? For example: We all know that spiders have eight legs. Right? If I was to ask you to draw a picture of a spider, how would you do it? Have a go. It will only take a second or two. I can wait.

Now compare your drawing with these:

How did you go?

While children easily realise that this picture is fictional:

They have less success is understanding what is wrong with the previous images. Spiders have eight legs. Those drawings show eight legged furry creatures. The story says they are spiders. That must be what spiders look like. Right? Unfortunately, real spiders look more like this one:

All eight legs are attached to the cephalothorax, not the abdomen (or even one body part) as shown in most picture books. While I am sure you drew a spider correctly (didn’t you?), most children and many adults draw them more as they are depicted in children’s stories. Is this a problem?

I am not for one moment suggesting that we get rid of fictional picture books and stories. I love them! And as I have said, and will continue to say, many times: they are essential to a child’s learning and development. There is no such thing as too many or too often with picture books. Instead, I would like you to consider the misconceptions that may be developed when the content of picture (and other) books may be misleading, and how we adults should handle that when sharing books with children. One of the books that gets me thinking most about this topic is “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

As I said in a previous post, it has been published in over 50 languages and more than 33 million copies have been sold worldwide. I am almost certain that you will be familiar with it, and upon that assumption, I have one final task for you in this post. Please share your response to the question in this poll:

To be continued . . .

I would love to receive any other comments you would like to share regarding the content in this post.

I do apologize that I have been unable to get the text and pictures in the layout I desire. I obviously have more investigations to carry out and learning to do.  🙂

Maybe next time I’ll have it mastered, says she, hopefully!

Whose idea is it anyway?

First of all, let me say, there is nothing scientific in this article.

The notions, unless otherwise attributed, are just my thoughts and ideas.

Or are they?

Have you ever had an idea just ‘pop’ into your head?

What about an entire poem or song? Maybe even a story?

Have you ever had an idea; only to find out that another has had almost the exact idea at roughly the same time as you with no chance of collaboration or leak?

Where have these ideas come from?

Do you really think you have thought them up when they have come fully-formed and unbidden?

Sometimes I am not so sure.

Sometimes an idea pops into my head; an idea with no connection to any current thought. It may take me by surprise and make me think: Why didn’t I think of that before? Or rather, why did I think of that at all?

I can’t explain the force that at times propels my hand across the page, fervently trying to keep pace with and capture the words as they spill forth, lest they escape to a region from which they would never be retrieved.

Sometimes I’ve written stories, which I may, or may not, have submitted to a publisher, only to find another very similar in print not long after. How can this be? There was definitely no collusion. My story had been written before the other was in print; and the other would have been underway by another publisher before mine had been submitted.

Have you ever noticed that often two movies on a similar topic or theme are released almost simultaneously? Is this coincidence or planned?

I know that sometimes songs are very similar, and in fact, there have been court cases over certain bars and riffs. I am surprised this doesn’t happen more often. How can new combinations of notes still be arranged? How difficult it can be to get a melody out of one’s head. How much more difficult it must be to be certain whether that melody is one of your own creation or one that your ears have captured.

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

I remember hearing someone suggest, many years ago, that there are many ideas out there (floating around somewhere in the universe?) ready to be picked. Sometimes they are picked simultaneously by different people in different places around the world.

I wasn’t too sure about that, but it did provide an explanation, of sorts, for the duplication of ideas.

A few months ago, I listened to a fascinating TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert: Your elusive creative genius.

The focus of Elizabeth’s talk is a little different from my own, but she did offer some thoughts on this topic also.

I was particularly interested to hear that in ancient Greece and Rome

people did not happen to believe that creativity came from human beings . . . People believed that creativity was this divine attendant spirit that came to human beings from some distant and unknowable source, for distant and unknowable reasons.

The Romans called this entity a “genius”. A genius was not a clever individual. It was the spirit that would help shape the artist’s work. The artist did not need to take full credit or responsibility for the work, as the work was that of the “genius’ working through the artist.

Now that seems to support the notion of ideas arriving fully-formed, as does this next one:

Elizabeth went on to talk about the American poet, Ruth Stone, who described how “she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape” and she would have to run back to house in order to “collect it and grab it on the page” before it thundered on to another poet. I won’t quote the whole story here. Please follow the link to read the rest. It may surprise you as much as it surprised me!

Looking for a little more content for this article, I came across this blog post by Amanda CraigSynchronicity, or when writers have the same idea

Amanda writes,

“Synchronicity is when two or more people have the idea at the same time. Science is littered with examples of this. Darwin only published his Origin of the Species because a fellow biologist had also deduced the concept of natural selection, and sent him his own book in manuscript; several people can claim to have invented the computer, and so on. So, too, in literature. I still remember a Spectator Diary Susan Hill wrote when she found out that Beryl Bainbridge was working on a novel about Scott’s doomed expedition to the Antarctic. She had to abandon it. Rival biographies of the same person are commissioned simultaneously, and sometimes even films (like the two versions of Les Liasons Dangereuses).”

Now, is that just what I’ve been talking about?

Follow the link to her entire article to find out what she thinks about synchronicity.

Still eager for more, this article about Multiple discovery explains that scientists, also, are similarly burdened and, according to Robert K. Merton

Sometimes the discoveries are simultaneous or almost so; sometimes a scientist will make a new discovery which, unknown to him, somebody else has made years before.

So where is all this leading me?

It is simply to introduce the poem,  “A leaf floated down” which came to me as I was preparing for my day. The thoughts were not connected to any others of the moment; the first verses simply wrote themselves, and the parts that I am least happy with, are the parts I laboured to bring forth. I hope it is my own!

I’d love to know what you think about this synchronicity that we, as creatives, often experience. Please share your thoughts!