Monthly Archives: July 2014

The classroom garden

Expecting every child in a class to respond to the same stimuli, develop at the same rate and achieve the same targets is like casting a handful of mixed seeds upon the soil and expecting them all to flourish.

Just as each seed has its own specific requirements of soil type, temperature, sunlight and water, so too does each child have its own needs, interests and learning requirements.

Differentiation is no less important in the classroom than it is the garden and tending to the learning and development needs of each child requires understanding of individual needs, appreciation of learning styles and a program that includes both a nurturing and expectation of individual growth with a sprinkling of well-timed instruction, support and attentive praise.


This week Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch Communications posted a flash fiction prompt that immediately conjured up an image of a classroom as a well-tended garden in which each individual is appreciated for its own value and receives whatever is appropriate to foster its development.

Charli’s challenge is to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes fruit.

Here is my response about a little tree whose time has come:

A fruitful harvest

Little Tree stood alone at the edge of the orchard thinking, “What’s wrong with me?”

The other trees grew tall. Their branches, laden with bright green leaves and sweet-scented blossoms, seemed to whisper mockingly.

The sun shone. Rains watered the soil.

Their blossoms turned to fruit, a plentiful harvest.

Confused and dejected, Little Tree avoided the celebratory festival.

Then all grew quiet. The bigger trees rested, preparing for the next season.

Suddenly an insect orchestra and an unfamiliar fragrance startled Little Tree.

“What’s up?” it asked.

“You!” they buzzed relishing the richness of its golden blooms.


Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this article or flash fiction piece.


Featured image: rjp, Bird seed



Are you a lemon or a grapefruit? – Ten articles about creativity

I am a great fan of creativity.

Imagination and creative thinking are what inspire and drive improvement, innovation and progress.

I affirm my belief in the power of creativity in my header: ‘Create the possibilities . . .’

In this post I share articles and blog posts that discuss creativity. It is not an exhaustive list, just a few to get you started. You will notice that many, but not all, are from Edutopia, a website that is ‘dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process through innovative, replicable, and evidence-based strategies that prepare students to thrive in their studies, careers, and adult lives’; and TED, an organisation of people who ‘believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and, ultimately, the world.’

  1. In this article on Creativity and education Judy O’Connell says that

‘Every student is creative in some way, and the job of educators is to release and support that creative talent in an appropriate manner.’

She adds that

‘Teaching creatively and for creativity entails taking students on a creative journey where their responses are not predetermined.’

In her article Judy lists some features of teaching for creativity and includes a video of a new school in New Zealand that she suggests fits the criteria. It is quite exciting and worth a look.

  1. In this article shared on Edutopia Do Standards Kill Creativity Claus von Zastrow suggests creative ways of teaching creativity while teaching standards.

Linking of subject areas, as we used to do through ‘themes’ in the old days, or more recently ‘integrated units’, before subjects were divided and each given their own slot in the timetable, was one suggestion.  A number of varied and interesting comments accompany the article.

  1. I have previously shared this TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson on How schools kill creativity here and here. If you have not yet listened to it, please do. As well as sharing a very important message, Ken is a very entertaining speaker. I’m sure you will enjoy it.

4. Following on from that talk is this article by Bruce Price shared on Ken Robinson and the Factory Method of Education. The article shares an animated talk by Ken Changing Education Paradigms.

Bruce does not agree with Ken’s views and warns readers to be sceptical of information imparted by Ken. He says that Ken’s opposition to traditional schooling is unhelpful and argues that, unlike most others referenced here, that creativity cannot be taught.

5. In this article by Deepak Kulkarni Recreational and Educational Value of Math Puzzles shared on Edutopia the suggestion is made that creative problem solving can be taught using maths puzzles.

6. A variety of Techniques for creative teaching are shared on the Iowa State University Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching website which states that

in order to teach creativity, one must teach creatively’.

7. In yet another article shared on Edutopia, Andrew Miller states enthusiastically Yes, You Can Teach and Assess Creativity! Andrew provides suggestions for recognising creativity as well as teaching and assessing it.

8. Also on Edutopia, Diane Darrow talks about Creativity on the Run: 18 Apps that Support the Creative Process.

9. In this rather long TED talk on his life, authenticity vs karaoke culture Malcolm McLaren postulates that ‘we’re living in a karaoke culture, with false promises of instant success, and that messiness and failure are the key to true learning.’ He talks about his own schooling and attitude to creativity.

10. Michael Michalki shared an article on Edutopia regarding what he considers the 7 Tenets of Creative Thinking, including:

Believe you are creative

‘While creative people believe they are creative, those who don’t hold that belief are not.’

Work at it and ‘produce an incredible number of ideas — most of which (may be) bad. He says that

‘more bad poems were written by major poets than by minor poets’.

Go through the motions – ‘Every hour spent activating your mind by generating ideas increases creativity’; visualise what you want and go for it.

On his own website Creative Thinking, Michael Michalko suggests many more ideas for getting you to think creatively.

The header of Michael’s website states that “A grapefruit is a lemon that took a chance.”

lemons and grapefruit

So which are you: a lemon or a grapefruit?

I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post and let me know whether you agree or disagree with the value of creativity and if it can be taught.

Thanks for reading.

I’ve got the music in me – let me count the ways!

For any hearing person, music is integral to our lives.

Every country has a national anthem which may be taught in schools and played or sung at many and varied ceremonies and occasions, inspiring unity and national pride. Many other organisations such as schools and colleges have their songs praising their strengths and fostering a sense of identity. Couples have their special or ‘theme’ songs.

When we enter a store we are serenaded with music chosen to make us feel comfortable and entice us to stay longer and buy more.

Joyful advertising jingles with their subliminal messages encourage us to memorize the product name and make it our next purchase. These jingles can stay in our heads for years, like this famous one about Louie the Fly:

A few bars of a song can revive memories from long ago. I have written about this previously in a flash fiction piece, Vagaries of time.

Music can call us to dance, to relax, to sing, to cry. It can be chosen to match our mood, or can help to create a mood or atmosphere. The soundtrack of a film or television show tells the audience what to expect and how to feel.

Music is also an integral part of education and learning. Learning information in a song can help one remember. Many people like to have music playing when they are reading or studying. I did when studying towards my high school exams, but now I prefer quiet when I write. Programs such as Accelerated Learning recommend using Baroque music to help learners stay relaxed and focused, increasing retention.

I have previously written about using songs in the classroom, such as I love the mountains which I learned from Bill Martin Jr. and affirmation songs such as those of Anne Infante here and here.  I have also composed class songs and chants such as Busy Bees chant, and used songs to support class work, for example The Ugly Bug Ball when learning about mini-beasts.

I have used music to calm and settle after play breaks, and music for activity between seated activities. I used songs in the morning to signal to children that it was time to be ready for the day’s learning, including action songs or songs about our learning, for example a phonics song:

Image courtesy of Anne

Image courtesy of Anne

But of course, once we were settled, every day started with an affirmation song, or two. It got everyone into a happy expectant mood. It’s hard to be sad when singing (unless it’s a sad song).


image courtesy of

image courtesy of

. . . and  songs in the afternoons to send the children home happy and singing with joy.

As a year level we would sing songs to settle the children when lining up to return to class after lunchtime play. The children hurried to join in and sang their way joyfully into class. This is quite different from when I was at school and we would line up in silence and then march into school in step, subdued and quietly obedient.

I composed songs as a child but did not continue the practice as an adult, except for one: a lullaby that I sang to soothe my baby girl to sleep. A few years later I decided to learn to play the keyboard from a very talented musical friend who guided my writing of the accompanying music. This remains my one real musical accomplishment!

For someone who does not consider herself at all musical I certainly enjoy, and promote the use of, music in many different ways.

On that note, I leave you with my flash fiction response to the prompt set by Charli Mills of Carrot Ranch Communications: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story influenced by a musical score.

Final act

A collective gasp interrupted the music mid-beat.

All eyes turned synchronously, as if worked by unseen strings, towards the French doors, burst open and revealing a silhouetted figure framed by billowing gossamer-like curtains.

Out of the darkness the figure emerged: clothed in black with coat tails flapping, a top hat in one hand and a white-tipped cane held aloft in the other.

The conductor revived the orchestra as the figure glided across the floor, seized the heroine decisively and whirled her around and around.

The spell now broken, the cast joined in the dance to tumultuous applause.

I hope you can imagine the score that would be written to accompany this piece and its change of moods.

What score would you give it?

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of the article or my flash fiction piece.

Water wise

My first thought when reading this week’s flash fiction prompt set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch: in 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about water, was of the street on which I had hoped to open an alternative to school twenty years ago. I thought I could write about the property which, located on the corner of Water and Love Streets, seemed ideal. I thought I could write about the vision of our group “The Centre of Learning Opportunities” with its focus on the children’s program “Kids First” and how our centre would cater for children and families. I thought I could write about how we would implement our motto “Create the possibilities” which I have also adopted for my blog. But just like the centre itself, it didn’t eventuate.

Instead I thought a little deeper, considering how water is the substance of life, how fortunate we are in developed countries to be able to turn on a tap and access clean water whenever we want. According to the UN almost 8 million people do not have access to clean water and more than 2 million do not have adequate sanitation. Millions of people die each year from diseases related to water. The projections of water availability and access are quite alarming.

I thought about the use and misuse that is made of water in our rivers and streams and of a local issue that was reported quite recently.

I decided to write a poem about the journey of a river, from its beginnings high up in the mountains down to the sea; how it starts out crystal clear but picks up toxins as it wends it was down. You can probably guess that my next thought was of education; of how children begin full of wonderment and creativity but, as they are subjected to years of schooling, collect toxic thoughts and attitudes.

That may seem a bit harsh I know, and I have written a poem before comparing what I consider Education is to what I think schooling is.


However I thought I’d try to write a poem as an allegory of the schooling process; likening the way we are polluting our waterways to the way we are polluting and muddying the minds of our children. I’m not very happy with my first (fifth!) attempt, but I have met the word requirement and Charli’s ‘deadline’ is fast approaching.

Let me know what you think.



It started way up

In the highest of hills     

So crystal-clear pure

With a life to fulfill


It babbled through forests

And danced in the streams

Marveling  at wonders

Before never seen


It passed through the valleys

Irrigated the farms

Taking the runoff

And doing no harm


Down past the villages

Watered them too

Acquiring their discards

Now murky like stew


Passing by factories

Spewing out waste

Picked up their burden

And left without haste


Weaving its brown trail

Way down to the sea

From its mouth vomited out

A poisonous mix

Deceiving all living things

Expecting a gift

However I don’t want to leave you on a negative note. I’d rather acknowledge that there are many wonderful things happening in schools around the world. There must be, or we couldn’t be making the advancements we do.


I have shared many great things with you before like some of these great articles on Just last week I shared information about a prize for innovation in inclusive curricula being awarded for a program, Big Questions teaching philosophy to children. Listen to any TED talk to be amazed at advancements and innovations.

I value your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of the article or my flash ‘poetic’ fiction piece.








A win for Big Questions!

I think this news is too exciting to ignore!
I hope you think so too.
Congratulations Michelle.
A forward step for education and the future!

The Philosophy Club

We’re excited to announce that our in-school program Big Questions has just won a prize! It’s the inaugural Prize for Innovation in Inclusive Curricula, awarded by the Australasian Association of Philosophy. It’s both a fabulous honour and a wonderful source of encouragement to have the Big Questions program recognised in this way by the major professional association of philosophers in our region.

The prize is intended to develop more innovative approaches to teaching philosophy: approaches that present the discipline as accessible to a wide range of participants, that off-set well-known disparities of participation, and that can be expected to improve retention rates of under-represented groups in the profession.

Students engaging in the Big Questions program. Students at Mahogany Rise Primary School engaging in Big Questions 2013.

In our submission for the prize, we argued that one relatively untapped but very promising avenue for making philosophy accessible to a wide range of participants is to…

View original post 725 more words

The Very Inspiring Blogger Award – Acceptance

birthday-cake-25388As a birthday gift to me (though he didn’t know it was my birthday) Geoff Le Pard, who blogs about the Universe and whatever occurs to him at TanGental, nominated me for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award.

Needless to say I was both surprised and delighted. I could say that I aspire to inspire, but I think even that would be a great exaggeration.


In his post Geoff provides three reasons for selecting me:

  • I see life through a prism
  • I have a firmly fixed moral compass, and
  • He wishes I’d taught him at school!!!!!

The first two I am not sure about, but I am definitely honoured by the third. Thank you Geoff. I will endeavour to attain this high bar you have set.

The rules for accepting this award are:

1. Thank and link to the amazing person(s) who nominated you.

2. List the rules and display the award.
3. Share seven facts about yourself.
4. Nominate 15 other amazing blogs and comment on their posts to let them know they have been nominated.
5. Optional: Proudly display the award logo on your blog and follow the blogger who nominated you.


Thank you, Geoff. I am honoured.

These are seven things about me:

1. I am passionate about education and the power that education has for transforming lives. I believe that everyone has a right to an education. I have spent all of my adult life involved in education in some way; and most of my childhood was spent in school!

2. I am the third of ten children. What that tells you about me I’m not sure, but I believe we are more than the product of our birth order and environment; that each of us has the power to make choices about how we want to live our lives. I’m not saying environment and genetics don’t play a large role in who we are, but I am saying they do not determine everything.

3. I have two adult children of whom I am extremely proud and who I love very much. They are what is important in my life. They each have a wonderful partner who I also love, and my son has two beautiful children who I adore. My family gives me an enormous amount of pleasure. I am very fortunate to have all of them living close to me.

4. I enjoy playing games, especially word games like Scrabble, Upwords and Balderdash. I especially enjoy playing them with my family. We often spent days playing games together when the children were growing, and had grown, up. We’re having a bit of a rest now that the grandchildren are small and doing the entertaining. I’m sure we’ll have three generations playing together again soon. We collaboratively do the ‘Big Quiz’ (40 trivia questions) in the local paper when we get together on Sundays, hoping that someone in the family may know the answer. None of us fair too well on the sporting questions!

5. I have a silly sense of humour. I enjoy word plays and puns and alternate meanings for words and sayings. In my head I finish words and statements with ridiculous things before the person speaking has even time to finish them. I laugh uncontrollably at something I think is funny, like this silly senior’s password email that arrived in my inbox this week:


6. I think life is short and should be fun. We don’t know how much time we have so we should enjoy what we’ve got. This doesn’t mean we have to be out partying and playing all the time. It means we need to focus on enjoying what we are doing in the present moment, no matter how unpleasant it may be. It also means making choices and accepting responsibility for the choices we make.

7. I love learning. Learning gives so much joy. There is too much to learn in one life time, and it is scary now that the road ahead is considerably shorter than the one already travelled. I hope that in my days of teaching I have inspired in children a love of and joy in learning that they will carry with them throughout their life travels.

Nominating 15 other amazing bloggers is the hard part. Not because there are not 15 amazing and inspiring bloggers, but because I have nominated many before for a Butterfly Award, a Versatile Blogger Award and a Liebster Award. Not only that Geoff has nominated many of these same bloggers for this award, and Charli Mills has nominated them also.

We have a wonderful community of very supportive and encouraging bloggers. We each write our own blogs about our own interests, explaining our ideas and points of view. We read and comment on each other posts sharing points of convergence and divergence, and often adding further insights.

Rather than re-nominate bloggers I have nominated before (and be assured that you are all very deserving of this award and if you wish to add the Inspiring Blogger’s badge to your blog I am happy for you to do so) – over the next few weeks I am going to do a little more exploring to seek out other inspiring bloggers to add to our growing community.

A big thank you, to each and every one of you, for encouraging and supporting me on my blogging journey. Having your company is what makes it all worthwhile!

I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts on any aspect of this article.


Previous nominees:

Liebster Award

Belinda Pollard of Small Blue Dog Publishing (Australia)


Anne Goodwin (UK)

Caroline Lodge (UK)

PS Cottier (Australia)

Teachling (Australia)

Peter Worley’s philosophy foundation (UK)

Michelle Sowey at The Philosophy Club(Australia).

There’s No Food ( Australia)

Obscure Pieces (Australia)

Cultivating Questioners (USA)

Nillu Nasser Stelter (UK)

Charli Mills Carrot Ranch Communications (USA)


Versatile Bloggers

Ailish Sinclair

Teagan Kearney

Karen Wyld

Vicki Addesso

Susan Buchanan

Paula Reed Nancarrow

Lisa Reiter

Lori Schafer

Karen Oberlaender

Diane Mott

Greg Mischio

Anne Goodwin

Caroline Lodge

Charli Mills



Butterfly Award

Ruth Mancini

The Nerdy Book Club

Two Writing Teachers

Raising a literate human


Are you ready to embrace the future?


The flash fiction challenge posed by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch this week deals with the future. What a perfect prompt for a teacher, for is not education firmly focused on the future?

We educate ourselves so that we will know more, be more skilled, or be able to do more in the future than in the past; we may learn new skills that keep us up-to-date with the changing demands of society or technology; or we may seek to improve our employability or income possibilities.

We educate our children so that they will be independent and contributing members of society, able to participate in the world of the future, and having the knowledge and skills to enable them to achieve their goals.

We educate for the future, but we are unable to predict the future, so the challenge to making decisions about education is difficult and highly-charged, attracting many different opinions and suggestions for solutions.

Forbes Magazine featured an article in 2012 which queried the purpose of education.

A 2013 TED conversation about the purpose of education, related to a talk by Ken Robinson, Changing education paradigms, attracted many and varied comments.

In 2014 Tony Ryan hosted an online seminar about Future-proofing Kids. Tony says,

“Many of the children alive today in Western societies will still be around in the 22nd Century. How can we possibly predict what they will experience between now and then? And if we can’t do that, then how do we best prepare them for whatever is up ahead?”

I think of greatest importance in preparation for life, all of which will be in the future, except for the present moment, is the development of attitudes and character traits including:

  •  Confidence
  • Persistence
  • Resourcefulness
  • Resilience
  • Able to seek solutions to problems
  • Openness to new ideas and possibilities
  • Creativity
  • Divergent thinking
  • Questioning
  • Optimism

In addition to the character traits, a certain level of skill is required in both literacy and numeracy, and especially an ability to locate and critically evaluate information.

The title of Tony Ryan’s seminar, Future-proofing Kids, to me belies the value of the content Tony shares. To me ‘future-proofing’ indicates that the future is something to be protected from, like water proofing protects us from water; something perhaps of which to be scared. But Tony’s seminar is far more optimistic and future-oriented than that.

We don’t know what the future will bring, but we never have. We can plan for it, we can hope and dream and set goals; but we can make no guarantees. Prophesies have never accurately foretold the future. I’m thinking of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four or the more recent Y2K Bug.  I’m thinking of all the teachers who told their students they would never amount to anything, like Thomas Edison’s teachers who said he was “too stupid to learn anything”.


In the early 1980s I was told at a conference that by the year 2000 computers would do so many of our menial tasks that we would have an enormous amount of free time and wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves! How inaccurate was that prediction! The menial tasks have only increased in number and instead of computers being a tool to simplify our lives, in teaching anyway, they are now an unrelenting, ever-increasing and demanding master requiring the completion of data bases and spreadsheets, the creation of graphs and statistics, reducing life to a series of expected numbers and standards

The potential employment opportunities of today’s young women could not even be imagined when I was growing up and making my work choices. My apparent choices were teacher, nurse or office worker, and ultimately mum. Because I had chosen an academic path after year 8 and hadn’t learned shorthand and typing, office worker was eliminated. If I had chosen the commercial, shorthand and typing, path my choices would have been even further restricted.

My generation was the one that began shuffling the female role in society. Had I been born just a few years earlier, I would have worked until I married; after which I would have stayed home and looked after the children. Many female teachers were required to resign when they married. Pregnancies were hidden under loose and voluminous clothing, and the whole process was considered an illness. Unmarried mothers were considered an embarrassment and ‘sinful’ and most had their babies removed and that part of their history hidden.

Women of my era were able to return to the workforce, but it was not encouraged before the youngest child had started school. At that time child care was not readily available and often grandmothers, who had not returned to the workforce after marriage, looked after the children for mothers who worked, often part-time and for low wages.

The current generation of women have far more career opportunities but are also expected to stay in the workforce, often required to return to work when their babies are only a few weeks old in order to maintain security of employment. Many now work through pregnancy, almost until the birth of their baby.

Pregnant women no longer try to hide under voluminous layers of clothing but, partly with thanks to Demi Moore and Annie Leibovitz in 1991, take pride in showing off their changing shape. The term ‘unmarried mother’ is almost an anachronism in today’s Western world. There is no shame in having a child, whether married or living with someone or not; and babies are not forcibly removed from their mothers.

I am no more able to predict the future than I am to make sense of the injustices and horrors of the past.  However I think part of the purpose of education must be to help individuals grow so that they are able to stride towards the future with arms outstretched saying, “Give me what you’ve got!” while at the same time with a listening ear and an open heart asking, “What can I do to help?”

What do you think?

I welcome your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of the article or my flash fiction piece:


I’m off now,” she said.

“Have you got everything?” asked Mum.

Yes Mum.”

“Are you sure you haven’t forgotten anything?”

I’m sure.”

Mum looked around. There must be something she’d missed.

“What about . . .?”

No, Mum. I’ve got everything.”

“Okay. If you’re sure.”

“Bye Mum!”


She walked through the door and down the stairs.

Mum watched, anxious. What could she have forgotten?


She turned, puzzled.

Mum leapt down the stairs.


Mum hugged her tightly, whispering softly, “I love you very, very much. Always have and always will.”

“I know. Love you too Mum.”


Four fabulous female educators

In a previous post I wrote about 3 inspiring educators. In no way did I wish to indicate that the number of inspiring educators was limited to those three or that all inspiring educators are male. The list of inspiring educators is far greater than that and includes both male and female representatives.

The purpose of this post is to both honour, and share the wisdom of, other educators who have positively impacted my life and thinking as an educator and the lives and education of many others. The list doesn’t end here. There will be more to follow.

Maria Montessori (1870 – 1952)

Maria Montessori’s name is known worldwide as the founder of the Montessori Schools. However her influence is not restricted to those schools. Many educational practices implemented, especially in the early childhood setting were influenced by Maria Montessori.

Maria resisted the gender-stereotyping conservative views of Italy where she lived in the late nineteenth century. She developed her interest in maths and sciences, especially biology, and became the first female doctor in Italy.

As a doctor Maria worked with children from poor and working class families. She developed the belief that every child had an intrinsic intelligence. She studied child development and education extensively and developed methods of implementing her theories. She traveled Europe sharing her ideas and advocating women’s and children’s rights. Her success with disabled students led to implementation of her methods with ‘normal’ children.

Montessori’s methods put the child’s interests at the front of the program. The teacher was to ‘follow the lead’ of the child.

Practices now seen as standard that were initiated or influenced by Maria Montessori:

  • incorporation of children’s interests, putting their interests first
  • recognising the development of the individual and making education appropriate to it
  • use of child-sized furniture and shelving
  • practical activities such as sweeping and cleaning up
  • environmental activities such as gardening
  • health and hygiene practices, such as washing hands, sharing morning tea, cooking
  • indoor/outdoor areas that children move about freely
  • opportunities to work independently
  • respecting the child as an individual

She valued independence and saw it as the aim of education, with the teacher as observer/guide of children’s development.

This video explains  a little of her work.

Sylvia Ashton-Warner (1908 – 1984)

Sylvia Ashton-Warner is a New Zealand writer, poet and teacher whose educational work I became familiar with in the 1980s through her books Teacher and Spinster, the latter of which was also made into a movie.

Sylvia, who in the interview below states emphatically that she is not a teacher, that she hates teaching and can’t stand education, has been very influential on teachers around the world.

i was unable to embed the video. Click on the image to go to the original site.

i was unable to embed the video. Click on the image to go to the original site.

Sylvia says,

“There’s a formula for all my teaching. It’s quite simple. I supply the conditions where life can come in the door . . . where both our teacher and our child can be themselves.”

Children-and-even-adults - Sylvia Ashton-Warner

Working with Maori children from poor and dysfunctional families and using organic reading, she developed what is called the ‘Key Vocabulary’; those words holding most meaning and interest to the child. The child asks for a word, the teacher writes it on a card. The child reads the word and copies it to write. The words requested are usually nouns and hold a lot of meaning for the child.

I implemented her ‘Key Vocabulary’ for many years and found it to be a successful tool for developing readers and writers.


Marie Clay (1926 – 2007)

Marie Clay is another New Zealand educator best known for her work with literacy education and the Reading Recovery program which was developed to support students whose reading skills were delayed. She believed that early intervention was the key to improving literacy skills.

I first came across her work in her book Reading: The Patterning of Complex Behaviour in 1979. Her 1983 publication Record of Oral Language provided teachers with methods of observing and recording children’s development in literacy.

The Reading Recovery program, based on Marie Clay’s work and developed in the early 1980s, provides one-on-one support for students who are experiencing difficulty with reading in the first years of school. The teachers undergo training which develops their understanding of the reading process and how to support a student’s development. The training is more intensive and thorough with methods specific to this purpose, than generalised teacher education. However knowledge of her research, innovations and methodologies are also of benefit to generalist teachers and have been incorporated into many teacher education programs.

I was very disappointed, as were many other classroom teachers, when this successful program was discontinued in our region earlier this century.

Barbara Arrowsmith-Young (1951 – )

I first heard about Barbara Arrowsmith-Young in Norman Doidge’s book The Brain that Changes Itself.

I couldn’t put this book down. My thinking about the brain and learning was being challenged but excited at the prospect of overcoming learning problems experienced by many students.

For years I watched helplessly as scores of struggling learners were pummelled with repetition of the same boring and meaningless methods that created (or at least contributed to) their problems in the first place; of seeing them humiliated by having to repeat a year at school, or being considered ‘dumb’ because they couldn’t do what the other kids could do. Now here was a book that suggested this need not be so. If only those making the decisions and delivering the programs could be influenced.

One of the most memorable stories from the book was that of Barbara Arrowsmith-Young. Barbara suffered from severe learning disabilities throughout her childhood and early adult years. Every known method of compensating for the disabilities was tried without success. Barbara felt humiliated and a failure.

Her life changed dramatically when she heard about neuroplasticity of the brain (the ability of the brain to change in physiology and functionality) and created exercises for her brain, teaching herself to do things she had never done before.

Her story is an inspiring one of courage, strength, and persistence. Barbara has changed her life. After turning her life around, Barbara has developed programs for others with disabilities to engage with. She started the  Arrowsmith School in  Toronto in 1978. The Arrowsmith Program is now used in schools in the US and Australia as well as Canada.

Barbara’s “vision is of a world that we create in which no child has to live with the ongoing struggle and pain of a learning disability. . . that cognitive exercises become just a normal part of curriculum. . . that school becomes a place that we go to strengthen our brains to become really efficient and effective learners engaged in a learning process where not only, as learners, can we dare to dream, but we can realize our dream . . . This is the perfect marriage between neuroscience and education.”

You can read her story in The Woman Who Changed her Brain, and listen to her speak in this video:

She travels the world sharing her message so you may even have an opportunity of meeting her in person. I saw her last year at the Brisbane Writers’ Festival. Magic!


You may have noticed some unifying threads with each of these educators:

A focus on the child, the child’s interests and life

A recognition of the child’s ability to learn

An optimism in the child’s ability to learn, for success and the future

All educators worked with students from disadvantaged backgrounds or with disabilities or both; and all achieved success.


I welcome your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this article.