Tag Archives: Brian Cambourne

3 Inspiring educators

Like every other teacher, I want to make a difference in the world.

The thought that I could make a positive difference to the life of another is both empowering and inspiring.

To do so, I seek out others making a positive difference and pay it forward, hoping that the ripple effect will carry it far and wide.

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Three inspiring educators who have positively influenced me are:

Brian Cambourne

Brian is an amazing literacy educator from whom I had the extreme good fortune of learning many years ago. I have written about him before here and here.

Brian’s work focused on the conditions necessary for literacy development. His influence has spread beyond the classroom with the application of the conditions to learning in the workforce demonstrated.

Tony Ryan

Tony is an amazing educator who does his best to be the change he wants to see in the world. He talks about future-proofing and using innovative thinking to solve problems of both local and global importance.

Anyone who believes ‘that education is the most important profession on the planet’ and does everything in his power to support teachers to be outstanding, as does Tony; must be pretty good in my books.

One of Tony’s books The Ripple Effect is particularly apt for mention in this post. Tony says,

“you must believe in your personal power to create ripples that spread out and change the world. In fact, if it is not you who is going to do it, then who else do you think is likely to make the effort? Remember that every change on this planet begins with a human being somewhere, somehow. It may as well be you.”

This year Tony has started a new project called The Earth Movers Foundation which ‘helps young teenagers to create solutions to local and global issues. And they get to choose their own project. No adults will be telling them what project to do. They decide for themselves.’ Sounds pretty good to me.

Ken Robinson

Ken is another amazing educator. I fell in love with his ideas when I listened to his TED talk Do schools kill creativity? which I have also shared before here.

The statement on his website declares that

“Imagination is the source of all human achievement”.

I could not argue with that.

Ken introduces this short video The writing spirit which presents quotes from artists, thinkers, writers, innovators and snippets of interviews with writers. Just incidentally, and exciting for me, Richard Bach is included. Richard is the author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, one of my favourite books for its inspirational message.

It is more than likely that these educators have no idea how they have influenced my life (and others as a result).

How wonderful might it be to know of the positive influence you have had on someone, and to have the opportunity of letting others know that they have positively impacted your life?

This is the purpose of The Butterfly Light Award which was bestowed upon me my Lisa Reiter, a lovely lady who is herself inspirational for her courage and her positive attitude which she shares with others through her blog Sharing the story. Thank you, Lisa. I am honoured and accept with pleasure.

As with any award, it comes with conditions:

  1. You should write an acceptance post, making sure you link back to the blogger who awarded you and thank them. You MAY NOT lump this award in with a batch of other awards.

Thank you Lisa Reiter!

  1. You must individually name and re-award to a minimum of 1 and a maximum of 9999999 bloggers. You must let them know either personally with a comment on their blog OR a pingback.

As I have been writing about educators, I am going to stick with that theme. A quick visit to these blogs will explain why I have selected them.

Ruth Mancini

The Nerdy Book Club

Two Writing Teachers

Raising a literate human

3.  You should link back to Belinda’s blog either to http://idiotwriting.wordpress.com/about/ or http://idiotwriting.wordpress.com/2014/03/13/i-love-charismatic-geeks/


  1. You must write a short paragraph entitled either “How I’m Spreading Light” OR “How I’m A Positive Influence” (what Lisa calls ‘the squirmy bit’).

Done! See beginning of article.

5. Display Belinda’s lovely “Butterfly Light Award” badge on your blog.

Thank you, Belinda. It’s a pleasure! We can never have too many butterflies!


Note: The beautiful framed quote, pictured at the top of this post, was made for me by a wonderful lady, the mother of two of my students. They all share my love of butterflies! I thank them for sharing their appreciation of my positive influence.

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

Passionate about literacy education

Education is my passion.

I have spent almost my entire life thinking about how to educate, and the rest of it being educated.

That is to say, just like everyone else, I began to learn about the world from the moment I was born, if not before; probably before.

From age ten I knew that I wanted to be a teacher and worked hard through school to achieve that goal.

When I completed school I was fortunate to receive a teacher’s scholarship which meant that my three years of training was provided by the state education system and, in return, I was required to teach within the system for three years. Without the scholarship that path would have been unattainable.

I remember sitting in my classroom on, what I will say was, my first day of teaching. I gathered a group of children around me, each of us with a reader in our hands, ready for a reading lesson. Suddenly I realised I didn’t have a clue what to do.

Realisation 1: Teaching reading isn’t as simple as putting book in the hands of children and telling them to read.

This was a third grade class, so I’m hoping that most of them were already able to read and we figured it out together. Round robin reading seemed to be the method of the moment.

During that first, and the following year, I put a lot of energy into sorting books into levels and children into groups to read the books at the different levels.  I’m not sure what the children learned but I know I was earning my pay. I was ‘teaching’.

Realisation 2: Children learn to read at different rates.

At the beginning of my third year of teaching I was listening to children read individually, in order to group them according to reading ability, when one of the children, considered a good reader by his previous teacher, informed me proudly that he could read the book without looking; and proceeded to do so. He had memorised it! He didn’t recognise any of the words and could not read any other book.

Realisation 3: Reading is more than reciting the words on the page.

Major realisation: There was something wrong with the way reading was being taught, and I still didn’t feel confident about teaching it.

Fortunately most children learn to read despite how it is taught, and although I sometimes think I’d like to apologise to all those students I “taught” when I didn’t have much of a clue, I’d like to say “I hope they’re not reading this”, but I really hope they can!

Not long after this I had a break from teaching for a few years. During that time I read a lot of books about education, especially alternative views of schooling. I continued to feel strongly about reading instruction and even wrote a series of readers (unpublished) based on instruction in phonics. (Such was my ignorance!)

I worked with groups of upper primary remedial readers who made great progress ostensibly using a phonics program. However they also received lots of individual attention, encouragement and opportunities for reading real books.

At the same time I watched my three year old son become a reader without any formal instruction. I read to him, talked with him, wrote stories for him and transcribed his stories which we read together. We played games with language making up rhymes, playing “I spy”, singing songs and talking about print in our environment. Before I knew it he was jumping into bed in the mornings, prising my eyes open and begging to read to me!

I struggled to make sense of what I was observing.

Then the serendipitous moment arrived: I saw an advertisement for a graduate diploma in reading and language. It sounded tailored to my needs exactly. And it was.

We packed up the family and moved across the country to enable me to undertake the study.

It was one of the best things I have ever done. Suddenly everything made sense. The course about developing literacy skills also supported my developing beliefs and understandings about learning in general. I was at last in a place I felt comfortable. This was where I belonged. The course reignited my passion and provided the knowledge and skills that would underpin everything I have since done in education. Time has moved on but the essential understandings are timeless.

The coordinator of the course, the person who deserves my sincerest gratitude, is just as passionate about literacy education today as he was then, influencing new generations of teachers and students. His name is Brian Cambourne, Principal Fellow on the Faculty of Education at the University of Wollongong. He is affiliated with the International Reading Association and the Australian Literacy Educators Association.

Recently a friend sent me a link to an article about reading on The Conversation. It is titled “The seven messages of highly effective reading teachers” and begins with a caption under a photo:

Teaching kids to read isn’t just about learning the alphabet or “sounding out”, it’s about making sense of what’s on the page.

I read the article and quickly responded to my friend saying that I agreed wholeheartedly and that I was, in fact, writing a book about those very same ideas, right at that moment!

Then I checked the author. Imagine my surprise when I discovered it was Brian Cambourne! I am delighted to be able to share his wisdom with you.

In the article Brian explains the seven messages that highly effective reading teachers share with their students:

  1. A reader’s major focus should always be meaning

  2. Effective readers draw on all sources of information in the text

  3. Effective readers are always predicting

  4. Effective readers self-correct

  5. Effective readers have a range of strategies

  6. Effective readers know how they read

  7. Effective readers love reading


Please read Brian’s full article on The Conversation.


I welcome any feedback.

Aren’t they amazing!

Children, I mean.

birthday cake 2

My gorgeous little granddaughter is two years old today, and what a wonderful opportunity that provides me to reflect on the marvels of children’s ability to wonder and learn. I am forever in awe of their ability to learn language and all its nuances.

Some people say they are “sponges”, spongebut I say they are far more than that. They are creators of their own understandings, learning far more than anyone could ever possibly teach them. From the moment they are born, children are actively seeking to make sense of the world: through their interactions with it and relationships they form in it.

Anna is already using language for a multitude of purposes.

She has an extensive vocabulary which includes:

Names, for example, of

  • family members and friends
  • fruits and other foods
  • colours
  • animals
  • animal sounds
  • toys
  • dinosaurs (learnt from her big brother)
  • objects in the home and environment

Action words (verbs) including eat, drink, play, read, watch, swim, jump, dance, clean

Adjectives e.g. big and small

Adverbs e.g. fast and slow

Social graces for example greetings like hello and bye-bye, and manners like please and thank you

She sometimes uses one word effectively to convey a complex meaning or thought, but more often now she is stringing together a number of words to form phrases and sentences. She is able to participate in conversations which require an exchange of information or an interchange of questions and answers.

She uses:

Questions with appropriate words and inflection to:

  • be informed e.g. Where’s Mummy?
  • request e.g. strawberry please Daddy? play trampoline Mummy?
  • interrogate e.g. why you eat pineapple Bob?


  • more Beckii!
  • stop Bob!

Statements e.g. I go sleep my home

She understands the importance of facial expressions and body language that accompany these exchanges. She has learned the sway of accompanying a “please” with a smile and the power of an emphatic “No!”

Although many of her sentences do not contain articles (a, the), prepositions or connectives, her meaning is easily understood in the context of the conversation.

She knows the placement of adjectives before the noun e.g. “big ball”, not “ball big”.

She pretends play, e.g. setting up a group of balls then instructing the adults to “shh”, because the eggs need quiet for hatching.

She has learnt how to follow instructions and take turns in a game e.g. a game of memory turning over the cards to find the matching pairs.

johnny_automatic_father_and_daughter_playingAnna understands far more than she is able to produce. She responds appropriately to the questions, commands and statements of her family, asking for more information and clarification if she needs it. She knows when the sounds are produced in play rather than for meaning e.g. “Billy-bobby-silly-Sally”, and responds with giggles rather than questions.

She is familiar with the language of books and expects books to be a source of pleasure and language.


She knows that songs and rhymes are not conversation and joins in rhythmically and tunefully. At her birthday party, she led the family in singing “Happy birthday” to herself, and did a marvellous job of conducting.

All of these observations reveal but a sample of her actual language learning, glimpsed through the grandmother’s window, you could say, during weekend visits. The parents would be more able to describe in greater detail just how extensive the language development is.

But is Anna’s ability with language remarkable?

Yes, indeed it is. Just as the language learning of every other child is remarkable.

In just two short years Anna, like most other children around the world, has learned the basis of her language. What conditions supported this enormous growth in language learning?


According to research, children are born with an innate ability to learn language. At first they have the potential to learn the sounds, words, grammar and use of any language, but as time goes on their ear is tuned to the language spoken around them, and by the age of one children have learned all the sounds of their native language. However, though this ability to learn language is innate, it doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It occurs in an environment rich in language, and the richer the environment, the stronger, the better the language growth.

Anna is surrounded by a loving family who speak with her discussing the day’s events, explaining information, telling stories and playing imaginatively. They read to her many times a day, and play games that require thinking and talking. This exposure to language, both oral and written, is an important part of her life, every day.

Conditions for language learning

Anna’s environment clearly exhibits the conditions, described by Brian Cambourne, which encourage language learning:

Immersion: Anna is surrounded by language. Her significant adults (parents and other carers e.g. aunt and uncle, grandparents) speak to her: interacting and playing with language. They read stories and sing songs to her. They hold conversations with each other about a wide range of topics. While not included in these conversations, Anna is quietly learning the nuances of adult discourse.

Demonstration: Anna observes adults using language in many different situations and comes to understand the language of different contexts and purposes e.g. greeting friends, shopping, asking for help, giving information.

Feedback: As soon as Anna started to make sounds of her own, her parents provided feedback by repeating the sounds she had made and by adding new ones for her to copy. When she started to say her first words, her parents responded with enthusiasm and encouragement.

Approximation: Anna’s parents accept and respond to the message of her communication, without hint of it being incomplete or incorrect. Instead they support and elaborate, seeing it as part of the development towards language proficiency.

Now that Anna is joining words into phrases and sentences, the adults respond, often with an agreement or explanation, by restating the sentence, and expanding on it, supplying the words not yet part of her vocabulary; demonstrating intuitively the target structures towards which Anna’s language is developing.

The guidance offered by these responses is gentle and intuitive, giving both congratulations on the ability to communicate and reinforcing standard language usage. For example, when Anna says “Apple juice,” the parent may respond, “Would Anna like some apple juice? I will get some apple juice for Anna.”

Expectation: Anna’s parents always expected that she would learn to talk and that her talk would develop through easily recognisable stages. They do not expect her to speak like a university professor at the age of two!

They are also aware that not all children develop language at the same rate, and understand that if Anna wasn’t speaking in sentences at the age when another was, they would just continue to provide demonstration, feedback and support expecting that she would in her own time. While they know that seeking help early if concerned about a child’s language development in these early years is very important, they have no reason to be concerned about Anna’s language development.

Responsibility: Anna’s parents recognise that the responsibility for her language learning rests with Anna. They provide the environment, they model language in use and provide her with feedback and support. They don’t attempt to formally teach her language structures which are not yet part of her developing language.

Use: Anna uses language in real situations for real purposes: to get things done, to ask for help, to think and share.

Don’t you agree it’s a pretty remarkable process?

Children all over the world become proficient language users when they are immersed in rich language environments, often provided intuitively by parents who talk with and read to their children.

Sadly, not all children have the benefit of an environment rich in language.

If we could convince all parents of the importance of talking and reading with their children in these early learning years, we would have far fewer children with delayed learning abilities at school.

Nor and Bec reading

How do you think we can help parents of young children understand the difference it could make to the lives of their children, and themselves?

Please share your ideas.

The teacher effect

The celebration of World Teachers’ Day in Australia this Friday provides me with the perfect opportunity to acknowledge the powerful influence a teacher may have on the life of another.

Like the butterfly effect, the ripples may travel far and unseen, with consequences that are sometimes intentional but sometimes not; often visible, but just as often not; and occasionally acknowledged, but frequently not.

World Teachers’ Day was established by UNESCO in 1996 with 5th October claimed as the date of its celebration. A map of the world shows that not all participating countries observe that specific date each year, but usually do recognise a day in October. As 5th October falls during the school holidays for most Australian children, the last Friday of October is the date celebrated in Australia.

According to UNESCO, the day was established to be “devoted to appreciating, assessing, and improving the educators of the world. The real point is to provide a time to look at and address issues pertaining to teachers. Strangely one of the most central, vital professionals to society does not receive the respect it deserves in some parts of the world.”

a call for teachers

The slogan for this year’s celebration is “A call for teachers”, highlighting the dire shortage of professionally trained teachers in so many places around the world, a situation which is not expected to show any improvement before 2030.

While I often talk of the limitations I see in a traditional approach to education, I am very appreciative of the fact that, in Australia, every child has access to an education system with well-trained and educated professionals. It is certainly a privilege not shared by all around the world.

So on World Teachers’ Day, let’s celebrate what we do have, and what we have learned from the many teachers who have touched our lives. The fact that you are reading this means that someone, somewhere supported you to learn to read. There may be a teacher who touched your life in a very special way. Are they still around? Have you let them know?

If you have children at school, have you told their teachers how much you appreciate their efforts?

Some people say “They are just doing their job, why should I thank them?”

But let me assure you: there are very few teachers who just ‘do’ their job. The wonderful, innovative, creative and inspiring teachers live it! It is their purpose in life. They are devoted to improving the educational outcomes for their students. They work long hours, away from the classroom, reflecting on learning and how to improve it and make it engaging for students.

Some children think teachers even sleep at school, that they have no life out of the classroom. I can hear the chuckling of the teachers who are reading this now, because it’s true! Well, not really, but sometimes it seems like it. They carry the children in their hearts, striving for ways to help each fulfill their dreams and ease their worries.

However maintaining that dedication year after year with little acknowledgment or a sense of being valued can be difficult and disheartening; and many teachers burn out when there is little fuel to keep the flame alight. A small word of appreciation may be all it takes to keep their energy and motivation levels high.

So join with me in acknowledging a teacher who has made a difference in your life . . . the teacher effect!

I acknowledge two inspirational teachers:

Dr Brian Cambourne and Peter Kidston

Dr Brian Cambourne was Head of the Reading-Language Centre at Riverina CAE when I did literacy studies there a long time ago. (”CAE” gives a hint at how long ago!) He is still working in the field of literacy education at the University of Wollongong. It was an enormous privilege to learn from such an intuitive, innovative, inspirational and influential literacy educator. Not only am I indebted to him, but the ripple effect travels far and unseen, touching the lives of the students and teachers with whom I have since worked, and beyond. . . Thank you, Brian. Your power is immeasurable.

Acceptance for study in the program under Brian’s tutelage came at a time when I was searching for answers about how children learn and how best to teach them. When I applied for a course about teaching literacy, I didn’t realise the impact it would have upon my developing philosophy of education and understanding of how children learn. I already had serious misgivings about the traditional approach I had been schooled in and the systems I was working for, but had nothing tangible to replace it with.

Through developing an understanding of Brian’s “conditions for learning” I began to see how I could not only effectively support students with their learning, but could make that learning meaningful and enjoyable as well. I found that the conditions Brian espoused applied to all learning, not just literacy. The understanding from readings I had previously engaged with about educational alternatives e.g. books by John Holt, Ivan Illich, A.S. Neill and John Dewey, combined with my new understandings to help me formulate a strong and effective pedagogical practice. Armed with my new understandings and skills, I was ready to once again face the classroom.

And that’s where Peter Kidston came in.

Peter Kidston was the principal at one of the first schools to which I was assigned after completing my studies at Riverina CAE. Peter was an effective leader; strong but relaxed, firm but compassionate. He was respected and loved by staff, students and parents. He was actively involved in the community and worked tirelessly for the benefit of his students. If there were problems, he often solved them by . . . listening. I think he worked on the premise that, when a problem has a proper airing, the solution soon presents itself.

My first step onto the school grounds told me that this school was going to be different. The students were friendly and welcoming, greeting me as I walked through the grounds. The staff too, were friendly and relaxed, and Peter was pleased to see me.

One of the roles of a principal is that of educational leadership, and Peter was the best I have met. I firmly believe that the tone of a school is set by the principal; and the warmth and friendliness of the school I attribute to Peter’s leadership. Peter always let his teachers know how valued they were through feedback, encouragement and support. He led by showing, not telling.

Peter encouraged the innovative strategies I was implementing in my classroom by providing support, respect and professional freedom. At the same time he ensured educational expectations were being addressed through questioning and conversations designed to encourage a wider and more in-depth reflection on my practice. He followed up with classroom visits to monitor the students’ participation and learning progress. The respect and value he placed upon my professionalism enabled me to stretch beyond my own expectations; at the same time developing effective, independent and self-directed learners who enjoyed the school experience as much as I did.

Thank you, Peter. I am indebted to you. The ripple effect of my learning under your leadership goes far and unseen beyond those few classes at your school into unknown territories.

happy world teachers day

Which teacher will you thank today?

If you would like to print out your own “The teacher effect” bookmarks for a teacher special to you, click here.