Category Archives: Writing

Rocks in her head

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This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills is talking about rocks; rock formations in the landscape and rocks in the middle of the road, literally and figuratively.

She talks about the mesas in Zion National Park near to where she is living in Utah.

She describes it as 250 million years old with sandstone cliffs reaching ¾ mile, or 1207 m, high.

Uluru © Norah Colvin

Uluru © Norah Colvin

Of course, I can’t think of large sandstone rocks without thinking of Australia’s Uluru/Ayers Rock, the world’s largest sandstone inselberg or “island mountain”, which I was lucky enough to visit a couple of years ago.

We’re not going into competition here, but Uluru is estimated to be about 600 million years old. Reaching (only) 348 metres high, it is not as high as Zion’s cliffs.  However, it goes deeper under the ground than above.

While indigenous peoples of Australia have lived near Uluru for at least 10 000 years, it was only “discovered” by European explorers in the mid-nineteenth century. They named it Ayers Rock after the then Chief Secretary of South Australia Sir Henry Ayers. Since 1993 it has borne the dual name Uluru/Ayers Rock.

I couldn’t imagine what it must have been like for those first European explorers when they came across the enormous rock which reaches further below ground than it does above, though I guess they didn’t know that at the time. There are also many other hazards to negotiate in Central Australia.

With Charli’s challenge to write about a rock, I was tempted to innovate on Michael Rosen’s Going on a Bear Hunt.

“Oh-oh, a rock.

A big red rock.

Can’t go over it.

Can’t go under it.

Oh no! We’ve got to go around it.

Huff-puff. Huff-puff.”

But Charli moves on from the literal to the figurative as she describes challenges; the ones, unlike sand that is easy to sweep away; as “rocks in the road”, rocks that “cannot be ignored . . . (that) call us to change or be changed.”

Sometimes the rocks have been placed by someone or something else. Sometimes they are of own making. Sometimes they reside only in our heads. Often the rock’s size and our ability to move it depends on our attitude.

There is a rock in my path at the moment; small but, like a pebble in a shoe, bothersome. I have tried many alternatives but not yet found the solution. There is a popular saying that “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” I’m ready and waiting.

Sometimes I feel that my attempts are a bit like those Sisyphus moving his rock, but without the physical effort. Sometimes I just think I’ve got rocks in my head. Most people don’t understand why I bother; but how can I not?

Edison said,

“I’ve not failed. I’ve just found 10 000 ways that won’t work.”

I don’t think I’m quite to 10 000 yet, but the number is growing.

As Charli says, those rocks call us to change; they give us an opportunity for new learning. I’m never against learning something new. I’ve combined these ideas in my story.

But before I take you there, I want to tell you about Charli. She has been squeezed between a rock and a hard place since she was kicked out of her beautiful home over six months ago. You can only admire her tenacity in remaining positive. With all the rocks that have been pelted at her, she still takes up the broom to sweep away the rocks that fall in others’ paths. Please check out her post and read of the J-Family, who have finally found a home after months of homelessness. Charli is hosting a Amazon Housewarming party to help them acquire basic household items. The seven-year old boy would also love some books to read.  If you can help, please visit Charli’s post for details.

Now, back to my response to Charli’s challenge to “In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a rock in the road. It can be physical, adding to a plot twist, or it can be metaphorical for a barrier or hardship. Go where you find the rock.” I hope you like it.

Rocks in her head

The newcomer was intrigued. Every morning she’d be there, filling a battered barrow with rocks from the road. You’d think that, after a day or two, she’d have removed them all. But, every morning, even earlier, a quarry truck would rumble by, spilling more.

Longer-term residents shrugged indifferently, “She’s got rocks in her head.”

When he asked her one day, she replied, “Come and see.”

He followed into her back garden, and watched. She stood at the edge of a pit and threw in the rocks. After each she listened, hopeful of a sound, of one day filling it.

Thank you

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

 

I love poems – Readilearn

I love poems. Children do too. Poetry is a great way of introducing children to the joy of language, as well as to features such as rhythm, rhyme, alliteration, similes and metaphors. What is taught through poetry can be as simple or as complex as required by the ages of the children or your teaching purpose.

One of the great benefits of teaching young children through poetry is the fun aspect. It’s enjoyable for teachers and students alike and, when children innovate on poems to create poems of their own, very motivating.

With St Valentine’s Day not far away it is timely to read and write love poems. One of my favourite poems for writing with young children is based on the traditional camping song I love the mountains. I was taught the poem by the amazing literacy educator Bill Martin Jr at a reading conference in the 1980s, and used it with every group of children I taught thereafter. I have previously written about that on my other blog here.

The repetitive structure and easy melody invites children to join in and is easy for children to use in writing poems of their own, whether they are emergent, beginning, or advanced writers.  The poems can be completed using pictures or words.

This is one of my favourite versions of the song.

Continue reading: I love poems – Readilearn

What do you create?

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I am a fan of creativity. I like to develop my own creativity, and I like to encourage the development of creativity in others.

One thing I always loved about teaching was the opportunity it gave me to be creative: writing stories, units of work, and lessons plans to interest and excite the children about learning. It is this love that drives me to write my blog posts each week, and to create new early childhood teaching resources for readilearn nearly every week.

Just as exciting was the opportunity to support the development of children’s thinking, imagination, and creativity. I am more in favour of treating children as individuals, than as one of a homogeneous group from which any difference is considered an aberration.  After all, imagination and creative thinking are what inspire and drive improvement, innovation and progress.

I affirm my belief in the power of creativity in my tagline: ‘Create the possibilities . . .’, a tagline I previously used for an independent school I was establishing.

create-the-possibilities

Preceding both was my first independent undertaking: Create-A-Way.  Create-A-Way provided a richer educational and social setting for my young daughter than what was generally available, allowed me to share my educational philosophy and knowledge, and provided the same rich learning opportunities for other children and their parents. The development of imagination and creativity was a focus.

Guiding parents in play sessions for parents and children.

Guiding parents in play sessions for parents and children.

One of the things I love most about responding to the weekly flash fiction challenges set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch is the additional opportunity to engage in something creative and to hone my writing skills. The supportive environment of a welcoming community makes it a safe and enjoyable experience. There is something affirming about belonging to a community of other creatives, online or in -person.

karen

On Saturday I, along with a whole bunch of other women creatives, attended an excellent Book Marketing Masterclass conducted by authorpreneur Karen Tyrrell. (I am looking forward to interviewing Karen for the Author Spotlight series on readilearn in March.) The class was attended by writers of a variety of genres; including memoir, romance, science fiction, fantasy, YA, and picture books.

One of the attendees Chrissy Byers has created a lovely picture book The Magic in Boxes which “aims to capture the imagination of young readers and inspire creative play.”

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Not only does the book suggest ways of stimulating creativity using recycled materials such as cardboard boxes, the book is made from recycled paper. I think that’s pretty awesome. It’s a beautiful book with a wonderful aim.

lemons and grapefruit

For a little more on creativity; in a previous post, Are you a lemon or a grapefruit? I shared ten articles about creativity. They are still relevant and worthy of a read if you haven’t yet done so.

I also shared one of my favourite TED talks by Sir Ken Robinson How schools kill creativity. If yours is not yet one of the over 41 million views, I urge you to watch it. As well as sharing a very important message, Ken is hugely entertaining.

I hope I have convinced you of the importance and power of creativity. I thank Charli and her flash fiction prompt for the opportunity of revisiting some of my favourite articles and talks about creativity. This week her challenge is to “In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using the theme, “women create.” It can be art, sewing, ideas, babies. What is at the heart of women as creators? Go where the prompt takes you.”

I’m a woman, and I create, and education is in my heart.

In response to Charli’s challenge, I thought I’d get a little dirty. I hope you like it.

Prize pies

“Life’s not on a plate. It’s what you create.”

Two little girls in their Sunday best

Snuck outside when they should have been at rest;

Splashed in the puddles, laughed in the rain,

Shared mud pies and murky champagne.

 

Two young girls with flour in their hair

Climbed on the bench from the back of a chair;

Opened up the cupboards, emptied out the shelves,

Less in the bowl and more on themselves.

 

Two young women watching TV

Decide master chefs are what they will be;

Enter the contest, invent new pies,

Wow the judges and win the prize.

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

 

 

Scratching around the quarry

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This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills has challenged writers to

“In 99 words (no more, no less) write a about a quarry. It can be a place or include the the by-product. The quarry can be operational, abandoned, it can be in real-tie or mentioned from another time. Where will the quarry take you? Go where the prompt leads.”

I usually find Charli’s prompts a challenge but, with a bit of digging around in the old brain cells, I can usually concoct something with which I am reasonably happy. This time I’ve been scratching around the surface but have found little worthy of further investigation.

I considered a story of epic proportions, as I can’t think of a quarry without thinking of Gilgamesh.

Many years ago, I took my teenage son and a friend to a performance of the ancient story in a disused quarry. Whether it was part of their English or theatre studies, or what prompted the outing, I can’t recall. I think they were no more familiar with this “first great work of literature” than I; and I knew nothing. The performance made a lasting impression, both for its setting and the repetitious dialogue. I recall little of the hero’s epic journey. We were amused rather than awed.

From Gilgamesh, I considered play of a different, but more familiar kind: play in a sandpit or the dirt with diggers and trucks.

The sandpit was always popular for play at lunchtime, particularly if diggers, trucks, and other tools were available. Often the same children would play day after day, creating and re-creating the same scene with roads, rivers, bridges, and cities. Each seemed to have a particular role and responsibility. Found objects; like leaves, bark, feathers, sticks, and stones, would also be incorporated into the designs.

This play was great for the imagination, and for developing the friendship skills of cooperation and getting along, teamwork and working together. Surely I could find a story in there? But any ideas disintegrated faster than the sandpit structures.

It seems timely then, to revisit previous discussions of the difficulty experienced by children when expected to write to a prompt that may have little significance for them, and about which they may have little opportunity for discussion, reflection or planning.

I discussed this in both Writing to order – done in a flash! and Writing woes – Flash fiction. I suggested that, rather than  using a one-piece response to a prompt to assess children’s writing, the use of portfolios would provide more valuable information about children’s writing development.

A portfolio, similar to that of professional writers, would consist of work at various stages: some as ideas jotted on slips of paper, some in planning stages, others in draft form, others completed and waiting for the next step, and others in publication. Rarely would a piece need to be completed in one sitting, let alone judged for it worth on the spot.

I believe that:

  • a one-off writing assessment task does not give students an opportunity to show their best work and puts pressure on them to perform
  • a portfolio of work collected over time provides a clear picture of student ability, development, and next steps for learning.

However, that writers have a choice about responding to Charli’s flash fiction prompts, makes the process quite different from that experienced by children responding to a prompt as a requirement.

Writers have a choice whether to participate, in what genre to respond, and how to interpret the prompt.

In recent posts Charli has discussed the importance of accepting our first drafts as “raw literature”, as part of the process. She provide us with the opportunity to hone our writing skills, and share and receive feedback on our writing in a safe, supportive environment. Surely this is no less important when encouraging young writers.

Out of sympathy for the requirements imposed on children almost every day, I thought it only fair to respond to Charli’s prompt. This is it.

The Quarry

Old and disused, the bare earth was dry with no hint of topsoil or sign of life. Rock fragments, remnants of its past, littered the surface still pockmarked by tyre tracks. One wall, etched by diggers’ teeth, stood silently telling its story. Circles of ash littered with shards of glass and cigarette butts told another. But tonight it was to tell a story as old as time.  Where once huge trucks had carted away boulders carved from its interior, now rough timber platforms stood.  As darkness fell, flaming torches cast an eerie light as storytellers wove their epic tale.

Thank you

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

 

 

 

 

Books make the #1 best gifts!

The love of reading is gift

I am notorious for gifting books. I’ve written about this before in Guess what you’re getting for Christmas and other posts. It would not surprise me if you are also a notorious gifter of books. Perhaps that could be our super power: The Book Gifters!

Reading is empowering. A book is a gift that continues to give, long after the occasion has past. It’s effects cannot always be measured.

books-life-memories

In this post, I suggest some books you may like to purchase for special people in your life. And why not treat yourself with one or two as well?

Most, but not all, are fairly recent releases. A few are long-time favourites.

Most, but not all, are written by people I know personally or through blogging. You might recognise their names from comments on other of my blog posts. A few are long-time favourites written by people who inspire me.

I have read most. The only two not read (the books of short stories) are very, very recent. However I am happy to recommend them as I am already familiar with some of the stories, and the writers’ work  from their blogs.

Disclaimer: These are books that appeal to me. They may not appeal to you. The important thing in choosing books for others is in finding something that they will like.

The list is not exhaustive. It is just a beginning to provide a few ideas that you may not have considered. There are many other wonderful books that could just as easily have been included.

I have arranged my list in this way:

For children:

Picture books (including fiction, non-fiction, and poetry)

Early chapter books (for readers of about 7 to 12 years)

For adults:

Books of short stories

Novels

Memoirs

Books for teachers and parents

If you follow the links you will be able to discover more about the writers and their other work.

For children:

Picture books – Fiction

picture-books

Lauri Fortino The Peddler’s Bed This heart-warming story demonstrates that a kindness given can encourage kindness in others. You can read a lovely interview with Lauri on the readilearn blog here.

Tara Lazar Little Red Gliding Hood In this fun fractured fairy tale, Little Red Riding Hood needs a new pair of skates. The only way she can acquire them is by winning a skating competition. But which fairy tale character will be her partner?

Galvin Scott Davis Daisy Chain This is a beautifully illustrated, animated and interactive, anti-bullying book app, narrated by Kate Winslet.

Non-fiction

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Rebecca Johnson The Insect Series This series of ten little books, each about a different insect, combines both fact and fiction with stunning close-up photographs. You can read a lovely interview with Rebecca on the readilearn blog here.

Sue Fliess The Bug Book This book about bugs is beautifully illustrated with stunning photographs. Written in rhyme, it introduces children to many tiny creatures.

Poetry

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June Perkins Magic Fish Dreaming This gorgeous book of poems with its focus on nature will uplift and inspire you and your children. You can read a lovely interview with June on the readilearn blog here.

Early chapter books (about 7 to 12 years)

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Rebecca Johnson Juliet nearly a Vet This lovely series of books tells of the adventures of ten-year-old Juliet who aspires to be a vet, just like her mother.

Karen Tyrrell Song Bird Superhero This story tells of Rosella Bird and her quest to fly. While she battles the bully at school and at home, she is empowered and discovers the joy of flight when she finds her voice.

Bette A. Stevens Pure Trash: The Story Set in New England in the 1950s, this story tells of a Saturday afternoon adventure of two young boys. The Kindle version is free on Amazon until 29 November (today – be quick!). 

Hazel Edwards & Ozge Alkan Hijabi Girl In this story, when eight-year-old Melek is deciding what to wear to the book parade, she is unable to find a super-hero who wears a hijab, so she creates her own.

Robert Hoge Ugly (a memoir) Robert’s story is one of resilience, of survival against the odds, and of making hard decisions. While coping with difference and bullying, Robert shows that strength of character is a trait of survivors. I have introduced you to Robert previously here and here.

Books of short stories

short-stories

Sarah Brentyn Hinting at Shadows This book is a collection of very short stories, each 100 words or less. While each may be a quick read, they will give insight, inspiration, and a greater understanding of what it means to be human.

Hugh Roberts Glimpses Launching on 2 December, available for pre-order “28 short stories that will take your mind on a rollercoaster of a ride into worlds that conceal unexpected twists and turns.”

Novels

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Anne Goodwin Sugar and Snails In this mid-life coming-of-age story, Diana Dodsworth has some tough decisions to make as she comes to terms with who she really is. Anne has previously talked about her book on my blog here and here.

Geoff Le Pard Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle This story about nineteen-year-old Harry Spittle, who is home from university for the hottest of hot holidays, will have you laughing out loud at his misadventures.

Terry Tyler Best Seller This intriguing novella is about three writers, all of whom wish to write a best seller. One does; but which one?

Memoirs

memoir

Robert Hoge Ugly (a biography) Robert’s inspirational story is one of resilience, of survival against the odds, and of making hard decisions. While coping with difference and bullying, Robert shows that strength of character is a trait of survivors. I have introduced you to Robert previously here and here.

Lesley and Tammy Williams Not Just Black and White Told as a conversation between mother and daughter, this inspirational story tells of the importance of family, of difficulties experienced by many Indigenous Australians in relatively current times, with a drive to ensure that history is neither forgotten nor repeated.

Malala Yousafzai Malala The Girl Who Stood up for Education and Changed the World The story of Malala, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, is one of courage and of the difference that one person can make in the world. I have previously written about Malala here.

Magda Szubanski Reckoning: A Memoir With a Polish father, a Scottish mother and an Australian childhood, Magda’s story is complex, courageous, compassionate, and inspirational.

Books for teachers and parents

for-teachers-and-parents

Mem Fox Reading Magic This book provides lots of practical advice and support for parents in developing a love of reading in their children. I have introduced you to Mem many times previously, including here and here.

Michael Rosen Good Ideas: How to be Your Child’s (and Your Own) Best Teacher This very readable book is packed full of suggestions for encouraging curiosity and learning in children (and you!) I have previously introduced you to Michael here and here.

Vivian Kirkfield Show Me How Vivian passion’s for picture books and her understanding of the importance of literacy are obvious in this book that provides great ideas for reading and extending the learning experience associated with many picture books.

Or, for a special early childhood educator, gift a subscription to readilearn, a collection of teaching resources that can be used throughout the year.

special-gift-for-special-teacher-ad

It’s easy. Simply send an email to hello@readilearn.com.au, arrange payment for the currently discounted subscription, and you will be emailed a voucher with a coupon code, unique to your special teacher. Print the voucher and personalise it with your own message before presenting your gift.

Note: The subscription is for 12 months from date of activation, not purchase: a gift that will go on giving all year long.

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I hope there is something in this list that you can add to your gift list.

Thank you

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

 

 

 

Introducing author and poet – June Perkins – Readilearn

This week on the readilearn blog I am talking to June Perkins about her wonderful collection of poems for children Magic Fish Dreaming. With the beautiful illustrations by Helene Magisson, this collection is a delight for the ears, the eyes, and the spirit. Read about June’s inspiration for the poems, and use them as inspiration for poems of your own, or use them to inspire poetry writing in your students.

Read June’s story at readilearn: Introducing author and poet – June Perkins – Readilearn

The end

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

I have always loved working with beginning writers, rejoicing with them, and sharing their excitement, as they make meaningful marks on paper for the first time.

Their stories may be just a few writing-like squiggles, one word, one sentence, or one event in length; but the stories in their heads are much more, with elaborate settings, characters and events. Their ability to create stories, for a long time outstrips their ability to express them in written words.

It is the role of the teacher to acknowledge the effort and, armed with an understanding of the writing process, knowledge of how writing develops, and awareness of each writer’s learning journey and needs, support the learning.

As soon as they can, many of these beginning writers add the words “The end” to their stories. It gives them a sense of accomplishment, of completion, of a job finished with nothing more to be done.

But don’t all writers enjoy that sense of accomplishment, of completion, of a job finished?

However, the reality is that there is usually much more to be done: revisions and rewrites, edits and proofreads, and feedback from readers to consider. The end of the story is only the beginning of the publishing process.

It is the process of writing that children must also learn. They need to know that not every piece must carry the perfection required of publication. Unrealistic expectations can quickly demolish a child’s willingness to have a go. Appropriate and timely feedback and encouragement is important to the development of beginning writers.

love of writing

Providing them with real audiences for their writing provides a purpose and incentive to engage in the process of revision, rewriting, editing and proofreading. Of course, the publication expectations of beginning writers are not as rigorous as for older or professional writers.

There are many ways of providing young children with readers; including:

  • class books of stories and poems (not unlike the flash fiction compilations of our stories)
  • books made for siblings or children in earlier grades
  • letters written to parents, grandparents, children at other schools
  • blogging, now widely accepted and implemented
  • journal writing

If all drafts of writing are kept in a folder or portfolio, a favourite can be chosen for improvement and publication. I wrote about this in a previous post: Writing to order. Conferences between the teacher and individual writers are important when choosing a piece and deciding on preparations required for publication.

The initial conference would be about the content; specifically what the writer wanted to convey, the intended audience, and how the writer wanted the audience to feel.

When the writer was happy with the message, usually after revisions, edits, and possible rewrites, discussions would focus on choice of words and sentence structures.

The final conference would target surface features such as spelling and punctuation.

No red pen is ever used by the teacher to mark a child’s work. All changes are made by the child in pencil. The purpose of conferencing is to help children develop independence in their own writing process. The number of conferences and revisions required would be tailored to an individual writer’s development.

In order to respond to what has been achieved, it is necessary to understand the individual’s development, and to ascertain whether this piece of writing is reflective of that. Consideration must be given to all aspects of development displayed in the work; for example:

  • is the message clear?
  • is the piece complete?
  • what words are spelled correctly?
  • what language structures are incorporated?
  • does it sounds bookish?
  • does it have elements of figurative or poetic language?

There is always something new to celebrate in each piece of writing.

In the end, what is important is to encourage children to write, to wonder, and imagine. The process for young writers is not much different from that of all writers, and their egos are just as tender. We want their engagement with writing to have happy endings.

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills wrote that

“Every good story has a beginning, middle and end. It might be the end of the world as we know it, what comes next?”

She challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that pivots around an unexpected ending.”

The end of my story, I hope, implies a new beginning; and a better one than that of the original I penned. (I’ll let you know at the conclusion.)

Pretty Princess

Once upon a time there was a princess, pretty in pink and smothered in cottonwool. In constant preparation for the life arranged for her, there were few opportunities to think outside her royal expectations and obligations: Stand straight. Point your toes. Smile sweetly; and on, and on.

But think she did: Why does the moon shine? What makes the rain fall? How does the grass grow? Why can’t I: play outside? straighten my hair? eat with my fingers? go to school with other kids?

One day she said, “That’s it. I’m going.”

And she did. The end.

In the original the parents said she’d only leave over their dead bodies. She said that could be arranged!

“And she did. The end.”

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