Tag Archives: thoughts and ideas

A palette of colours

I think few of us would deny that each of us is unique, or question the importance of an individual’s interests and abilities to learning. Much has been written about learning styles, multiple intelligences and differentiation of instruction.

Most teachers try to incorporate a variety of experiences into their programs in order to maximise learning opportunities in the hope that, if students don’t “get” it one way, they will “get” it in another. The imposition of national standardised assessment makes doing this a challenge for teachers. The increased requirement for the implementation of particular approaches to teaching makes it even more so.

To say that I hold fairly strong views about learning, and the differences I consider there to be between education and schooling is perhaps an understatement, but it wasn’t always so.

My memory tells me that, while I probably didn’t “love” school, I probably didn’t “hate” it either. It was simply something that I had to do. I didn’t question it. I did my best to be a “good” girl, do what was expected of me, and conform. All of which I think I did pretty well.

The questioning came later and had more impact upon my teaching and parenting than it did on my own schooling. I came to view schooling as something that is “done” to us, and education as something that we do for ourselves. That is not to say that no worthwhile learning takes place in school, for it does, but education is a whole-of-life experience and schooling is but one small part of that.

Education is a whole of life experience

However, if the importance of schooling, and here I mean learning of particular content by particular ages, is inflated and rated more highly than children’s natural curiosity, interests and abilities, then the consequences to individuals and the community in general can be more negative than positive. One consequence may be that children don’t enjoy school; another may be the view that only school knowledge is important; and yet another may be that children are turned off learning all together.

My first conscious discomfort with what, for convenience, I’ll call a factory model of schooling (children go in one end, have things “done” to them, and come out the other end all the same) was as a young teacher when all five year two teachers were expected to be doing the same thing at the same time. That imposition, along with other inadequacies that were beginning to become apparent, set me on a quest to learn more about learning and education. My quest has never ceased and I am still searching for answers.

Recently I read a book by Daniel T. Willingham entitled Why Don’t Students Like School? The title had instant appeal, of course, and I thought I’d recognise a few of the reasons at least. My initial expectation was of reading views similar to those of authors like John Holt, Ivan Illich, A.S. Neill and John Dewey whose books I had read in the 70s and 80s; but a closer look at the subtitle told me I was in for more: “A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How The Mind Works and What It Means For The Classroom”.

The book is a wonderful read and I’m certain to share many of Willingham’s ideas with you in future posts. I enjoyed it because, in almost equal measure it reinforced, challenged and extended my thinking about many aspects of learning and how best to provide for and stimulate it in a classroom setting.

Sometimes Willingham would make a statement with which I agreed, and then go on to explain the faulty thinking behind it. Sometimes his statement would seem to completely contradict what I think but his explanation would show that we simply had different ways (mine perhaps inadequate) in explaining it.

What I really appreciate about the book is that Willingham carefully translates what has been learned from research into practices that can be implemented in the classroom to enhance student learning. Often research seems only to tell teachers what they already know from experience and observations, or provides information in such an abstract way that nothing of practical use can be gleaned.

The section of Willingham’s book that I refer to today is “Chapter 7 – How Should I Adjust My Teaching for Different Types of Learners?” Willingham opens the chapter with the words “All children are different.” He says that some learn visually, some auditorily; that some are linear thinkers and some holistic, for example, and that

“It seems that tailoring instruction to each student’s cognitive style is potentially of enormous significance”.

The important word in that sentence is “seems”. He talks about the differences in the way that hypothetical Sam and Donna might learn and says that “An enormous amount of research exploring this idea has been conducted in the last fifty years, and finding the differences between Sam and Donna that would fit this pattern has been the holy grail of educational research, but no one has found consistent evidence supporting a theory describing such a difference.”

He states that the “cognitive principle guiding this chapter is:

“Children are more alike than different in terms of how they think and learn.”

That statement really made me sit up and take notice: “Children are more alike than different”. But it turns out, those words are not the most important ones in the sentence. The most important ones are: “in terms of how they think and learn.

He goes on to say that, “the claim is not that all children are alike, nor that teachers should treat children as interchangeable. Naturally some kids like math whereas other are better at English. Some children are shy and some are outgoing. Teachers interact with each student differently, just as they interact with friends differently; but teachers should be aware that, as far as scientists have been able to determine, there are not categorically different types of learners.”

He also talks about it in this video:

Willingham acknowledges that students differ in their cognitive abilities and styles. What he does in the chapter is “try to reconcile the differences among students with the conclusion that these differences don’t mean much for teachers.” In reading these words one might expect that Willingham is proposing that differentiation is not an important part of classroom practice. But such is not the case, as stated in this video:

In the book he writes, “I am not saying that teachers should not differentiate instruction. I hope and expect that they will. But when they do so, they should know that scientists cannot offer any help.” According to Willingham, scientists have not identified any types of learners or styles of learning.  He says, “I would advise teachers to treat students differently on the basis of the teacher’s experience with each student and to remain alert for what works. When differentiating among students, craft knowledge trumps science.

What Willingham says is of most importance for a learner to learn is background knowledge. If a student does not have sufficient background knowledge to understand the content or concepts which are presented, learning will not take place. This supports the advice that I repeatedly give to parents: read to your children, talk with them, and provide them with a wide range of experiences and activities. The same is true for teachers: ensure the students have sufficient knowledge on which to build the new work you are expecting them to grasp.

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills has thrown a prompt with which I have struggled: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about the day the earth turned brown. I always like to tie my responses to the educational focus of my blog and this one had me stumped for a while. A mind journey following various twists and turns, retracing well-worn paths, and hitting many dead ends, finally led me to an oasis in the parched brown earth: the uniqueness of each of us; the amazing potential of each new child to create possibilities beyond our imagining; and the contrasting effect of a narrow test-driven school system that attempts to reduce each to the sameness of minimum standards and age (in-)appropriate benchmarks. A paint palette seemed a suitable medium for the story.

For those of you who have been following Marnie’s story, I apologise. She makes no appearance this time, though I have not ruled out the possibility with student M. I’d be pleased to know what you think.


Palette potential

She walked between the desks admiring their work. From the same small palette of primary colours, and a little black and white for shades and tones, what they produced was as individual as they: J’s fierce green dinosaur and exploding volcanoes; T’s bright blue sea with sailing boat and smiling yellow sun; B’s football match . . . At least in this they had some small opportunity for self-expression. She paused at M’s. M had mixed all the colours into one muddy brown and was using hands to smear palette, paper, desk and self . . .

Thank you

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



Learning without knowledge

First birthday

First birthday

Earlier this week the television was on as I was getting ready for work. I wasn’t taking much notice as the voices droned on. I was lost in my thoughts of what needed to be done, what I’d be doing at work, which illustrator I’d choose to win my design contest, what I’d write about next, what I needed to get at the shops on the way home from work . . . the usual clutter.

Suddenly the words “they don’t even know they are learning” drew my attention to the television. I paused to see what they were talking about. The image showed children of about three years of age in a child care centre. The children were counting as they walked along stepping stones laid out in a path!

Kids' Work Chicago Day Care

Kids’ Work Chicago Day Care

Remarkable? I didn’t think so.  Children were happily engaged doing what comes naturally to them: playing, having fun, making sense of the world around them. Pre-school children will naturally join in the fun of counting and learn to do so without structured lessons, with just an attentive adult who encourages it incidentally in daily activities. I have made a few suggestions here and here.

Easter Egg Patrol

Easter Egg Patrol

What I think is far more remarkable (worthy of discussion) about those words is the insidiousness of the thinking that underlies them and what that thinking implies.

“They don’t even know they are learning!”

This to me implies that learning is something that:

  • children don’t want to do but “we” expect of them,
  • children won’t do unless it is “hidden” in sugar-coating,
  • must be planned for in a structured program and done to children by adults,
  • fits into a narrow band of skills and abilities with easily identifiable criteria that can be measured, and
  • is definitely NOT fun!

Perhaps more insidious is the implication that it occurs only in those situations.


Children are born to learn. Their every waking moment is spent figuring out how the world works and what they can do to have their needs met. They are born scientists. They have an innate desire to know. Why one should think it remarkable that children are learning, but they don’t even know they are doing so, boggles my mind.

Anyone who has spent any time with young children know that learning is what they do. They can spend hours absorbed in a particular activity figuring out how something works, how things fit together, what happens when and if …

As soon as an adult intervenes in an attempt to “teach” something that seems appropriate and important to the adult, the child switches off, disengages and chooses another activity.

That’s not to say that the adult shouldn’t intervene to support a child’s learning, but the adult needs to be sensitive to the child’s needs and responses and to not force the situation to one in which the learning may be more important to the adult than the child at that moment, when the child is doing very well on its own, thank you very much.

The article I refer to was broadcast on April 1st. An April Fool’s Day joke? Sadly, not. But if we fail to honour children’s natural curiosity and desire to learn and continue to value only that which can scored on a test, I fear we will develop a multitude of fools.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post.

First birthday: http://www.flickr.com/photos/34547181@N00/6979867095; http://photopin.comhttps://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Kids’ Work Chicago Daycare: http://www.flickr.com/photos/130419557@N06/16158455502; http://photopin.comhttps://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Easter Egg Patrol: http://www.flickr.com/photos/98856605@N00/250708277; http://photopin.comhttps://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Displaying symptoms or true colours

For just over a year now I have been participating in the weekly flash fiction challenge set by Charli Mills of the Carrot Ranch. I enjoy participating for a variety of reasons, including:

Challenge: I enjoy the challenge of

  • thinking of something to write
  • telling in story or scene in the 99 word total
  • applying it in some way to my blog’s focus on education

Variety: I enjoy writing in various forms and genres and the fiction is a pleasant change from the informational writing that I am primarily engaged with at the moment

Practice: The requirement to tell a story in just 99 words means that I need to:

  • choose my words carefully to make my meaning explicit
  • decide what can be told, what can be implied, and what can be omitted
  • think of alternate ways of expressing an idea or describing a situation or character

rough-writers-web-compCommunity: The Congress of Rough Writers: I have made connections and online friendships with a wonderfully supportive and encouraging group of bloggers, whose numbers are constantly growing.


Feedback: The feedback that I receive in response to my flash fiction pieces and the posts in which I embed them gives meaning and purpose to the writing. I enjoy the in-depth discussions which quite often occur in response to the blog’s content and the additional thinking that I often need to do as a result. While it does distract me somewhat from my longer-term writing goals, the immediacy of the feedback is encouragement to continue and I am always appreciative of it.

There are many other reasons and benefits of participating in the challenges. The above are just a few. If you have not yet considered joining in the fun, now might be the time to do so.

This week Charli Mills wrote about a vivid dream that compelled her from her bed in order to capture it on paper before it escaped. She says that

“Characters sneak into our dreams, our waking moments and tease us. We write to find out who they are.”

Thinking about the character from her dream led her to consider symptoms, and the way that symptoms reveal more of who they are.  She challenged the Rough Writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story to reveal a character’s symptoms. 

Many of my responses to Charli’s challenges have been written to find out more about Marnie, who reveals snippets of her life, as if in flashbacks or dreams, at various ages. You can read what we already know about Marnie here.

“Symptoms” seemed perfect for revealing a little more about Marnie. A child such as she would display a great variety, an important one of which would be her attempt to hide those symptoms from others.

Here then is the next part of Marnie’s story, which follows on from the bullying episode shared last week.



The children suddenly appeared: one bedraggled and muddied, the other exuding authority.

“Brucie tripped her. On purpose!” declared Jasmine.

“Come on, Marnie. Let’s get you cleaned up,” said Mrs Tomkins. ”Then we’ll see about Brucie.  Is your mum home today?”

Marnie looked down and shook her head.

“Will I help you with that jumper?”

A jumper? It’s too warm . . .” Her thoughts raced.

Marnie turned away. As she pulled up her jumper, her shirt lifted revealing large discolorations on her back.

Over the years Mrs Tomkins had seen too many Marnies; too many Brucies; never enough Jasmines.


Sadly, children like Marnie and Brucie are very real and very familiar to many teachers.

A few weeks ago I shared a post by Julieanne Harmatz on her blog To Read To Write To Be. I always enjoy reading Julieanne’s blog because it helps me walk right back into the classroom, in my mind. The Student Z she described in that post has many “symptoms” in common with other students I have worked with over the years.

This week Julieanne shares ways she provides authentic opportunities for using digital technologies in her classroom. One of the ways is student blogging, and Julieanne linked to a post written by one of her students, Zoe. I was very impressed. I’m sure you will be too.

In the post Zoe shares information about, and links to, her favourite song and singer. She says it is her “favorite song because it teaches you why not to bully.”

The song is a rap version of “True Colours” with additional original anti-bullying content written by 12 year old MattyB to support his younger sister who is excluded and bullied because of her “symptoms”. I have not linked to the song here because I would like you to read Zoe’s blog and listen to the song there.

I was so impressed by Zoe and MattyB, both showing traits of strength and of being an “upstander”, as described by Mrs Varsalona in the comments on Zoe’s post,  that I decided to find out a bit more about MattyB.

Here is the story of how MattyB and his family wrote the song to support MattyB’s sister Sarah.

I love to hear positive stories like this, don’t you?

Thank you

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

Ripples through time


This week at The Carrot Ranch Charli Mills has challenged writers to in 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a river and a person (or people). 

A river? That brought to mind two ideas:

ripples, and

that you never step into the same river twice (from the Heraclitus quote).

You are probably familiar with the terms “the ripple effect” and “the butterfly effect”. Both terms refer to the effects, which can be far-reaching and unintended, of small changes or events which may seem insignificant or even go unnoticed at the time.

In his book The Ripple Effect Tony Ryan shares many stories about small actions having a positive effect on the lives of others. He has a firm belief that each of us makes a difference with our everyday actions be it through a smile, a kind word or a helping hand. He 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.”

None of us can ever know the full impact of words and actions.  The potential for teachers to create ripples is powerful and this knowledge, for them, can induce as much anxiety as it does joy. While I am always the first to acknowledge my shortcomings, I hope that positive effects far outweigh the negative.

Readilearn bookmark

Sometimes expressing an opinion that differs from the status quo can be considered ‘making ripples’ or even ‘making waves’. On his blog Theory and Practice, Matt Renwick is making waves this week talking about assessment and standardised testing. (I have expressed my thoughts on the subject here and here, for example.) I wish Matt’s waves a long journey with school-changing effects.

Matt summarises five articles about testing, including one by Noam Chomsky from which he quotes,

“All of the mechanisms – testing, assessing, evaluating, measuring – that force people to develop those characteristics… These ideas and concepts have consequences…”

The consequences, the ripples, are not always the ones we want: stressed and anxious students afraid of trying and of failure are just part of it. The effects reach further: inappropriateness of tasks, reduced equity, mis-placed funding, teacher dissatisfaction . . .

Matt’s voice is not alone. He expresses what most teachers know. Unfortunately teachers are not the ones writing policies and setting procedures about what happens in schools. Often they are not even consulted. The companies who have most to gain by sales of their testing programs can be very influential.

Matt concludes his article saying,

“I think this information needs to be shared over and over again.  . . . To not advocate is to concede our authority as the experts in our profession. We are in the right on this one. There is nothing to be afraid of.”

I agree with Matt. We must advocate for the children, the students, their education and their teachers. So many administrators are talking about data, proclaiming that data is what is important. Now there is even “data mining”, big data mining, as explained in this article by the Australian Council for Educational Research. Check out this great new tool for use in mining data! Don’t they realise the children, their curiosity, wonder and creativity, are the treasure!

And as for the quote that you can never step into the same river twice because you will have changed and the river will have changed. Well I think it’s possible that that situation doesn’t apply to schools. What happens in many schools probably doesn’t look all that different from what has happened for at least the last two hundred years: children sitting in rows chanting meaningless lists. Harsh? Maybe. Reality? Pretty much.

And now to finish in a more positive way with my flash which combines both ideas: the life-changing consequences of a seemingly insignificant event at precisely the appropriate moment, and the difference in the person and the river on two separate occasions. And the person? None else but Marnie.

Richmond Bridge 1825

Ripples in the river

Marnie paused on the bridge and gazed into river.

“My life began here,” she thought.

. . .

More than twenty years before she’d stood there, begging for release from torments she could no longer endure; when a gentle voice beside her said, “Beautiful, isn’t it?” and stood there with her in silence a while before asking, “Care to walk a little?”

. . .

Marnie flicked the agent’s card into the water and watched momentarily as it carried away the last remnants of that other existence.

“I wonder if Miss still lives there,” she smiled. “Must say hello.”


Thank you

Thank you for reading. I value your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.

How to teach compassion – and why

During the past few weeks I have been exploring the idea of compassion, along with many others in the blogosphere, in response to the #1000Speak for Compassion project.

In a TED Talk I shared in a previous post Joan Halifax questioned why, if compassion was so important, didn’t we teach it to children.


That question provided me with a challenge. Indeed I wondered if the question was really fair. The question implied that children were not being taught compassion. And while that assumption may be true for many, it is just as true that many children are being taught to be compassionate – in their homes, in their schools, and in other groups to which they belong. By recognizing the many who do, I in no way wish to indicate that enough is being done. Indeed, much more needs to be done, but let’s not make a sweeping statement that attempts to colour everyone with the same inadequacy in teaching compassion.

I decided to investigate just what ideas were available for teaching children compassion. I had to look no further than one of my blogging friends for evidence that children are being taught compassion through their daily activities. In a number of posts on her own blog Lemon Shark, and in a number of comments on mine, Sarah Brentyn has described practices that she uses to teach her children to be compassionate by involving them in compassionate acts.

Some practices that Sarah recommends for developing compassion include things from as simple as using common courtesies and good manners to volunteering and making personal donations to homeless shelters.

I defy you to read her post 1000 Voices for Compassion without being moved by her generosity and compassion. It tells a beautiful story of compassion in action, a lesson for not only her children, but for all of us.

In her following post entitled Defining Compassion vs. Compassion in Action Sarah described asking her children what the word “compassion” meant. They weren’t sure how to answer her. But when she asked them to describe something compassionate they had no difficulty coming up with examples – from their own lives. Why? Because from the moment they were born Sarah’s children have been living in a compassionate world. They have been treated compassionately and they have not only had compassionate actions modelled for them, they have been involved in those compassionate actions. I congratulate you Sarah, for inspiring us to be compassionate, and for being a role model for us to emulate.

Sarah Brentyn = walk the walk

Looking beyond Sarah’s examples for further suggestions, I came across a number of other articles. Each seemed to reiterate what Sarah had already shared.

In an article for the Huffington Post Signe Whitson, author and child and adolescent therapist, says that “experts agree that fostering compassion in young people is among the best ways to prevent verbal, physical, and emotional aggression” and shares 8 Ways to Teach Compassion to Kids:

  1. Walk the walk

“Show young people that anytime is the right time to engage in acts of service and compassion for others.”

  1. Put the Child on the Receiving End of Compassion

“tending to a child when he is feeling down or under the weather is the best way to teach him how to show compassion to others.”

  1. Talk the Talk

“talk explicitly about acts of compassion . . . communicate its importance as a prized family value”

  1. Volunteer Your Time

“When children become actively involved I acts of showing compassion to others, they learn about his value in a very deep and enduring way”

  1. Care for a Pet

“Children who care for pets learn important values such as responsibility, unconditional love, empathy, and compassion for all living things”

baby bird

  1. Read All About It

“Children’s books are great for providing a window into the experiences of others.”

Whoever you are

  1. Compassion It TM

Wear a Compassion It band as a daily and “personal reminder to act compassionately towards someone else”

  1. Make a Wish

The “Make-a-Wish Foundation provides hope, strength, and joy to children with life-threatening medical conditions . . . can have a truly impactful experience of being able to provide tangible help and joy to a peer”

Other than the references to the specific organizations, Compassion it and Make a Wish Foundation, the suggestions are things that have been discussed before in various posts about compassion, including Sarah’s.

Like Sarah, Whitson believes that it is the accumulation of little everyday actions that make a difference. She states that, as a bullying prevention trainer, she considers “big” solutions — such as policies, procedures, and trainings are trumped each and every day by the seemingly little, yet extraordinarily powerful, acts of compassion and kindness that adults show to the young people in their lives.”

In her article about How to Instill Compassion in Children Marilyn Price-Mitchell agreed about the importance of teaching compassion, saying that  “children who participate in programs that teach kindness, respect, empathy, and compassion and who have families that reinforce those strengths at home develop the muscles they need to become civically-engaged adolescents and adults.”

Price-Mitchell suggested that parents could help teach their children compassion by providing opportunities to practice compassion, by helping children understand and cope with anger, and by teaching  children to self-regulate.

Jane Meredith Adams, in her article Raising a Compassionate Child says that “children have an inborn capacity for compassion … they naturally identify with stuffed animals, other kids, pets, and underdogs. The tricky part is that their empathy must compete with other developmental forces, including limited impulse control – which makes them pull the cat’s tail – and their belief that their needs absolutely must come first – which makes it hard for them to let their cousin push the col fire truck.”

Adams says that teaching compassion is “part of day-to-day life: how you answer your child’s questions, how you solve conflict at the park, how you nudge his or her growing capacity to understand and think about other people.” Adams suggests to Promote sweetness” every day by showing children how to be gentle to others, by speaking to them softly, by rejecting rudeness, and by saying sorry when you have made a mistake. I think Sarah would agree with all of those.

Similar ideas are proposed by  Kim McConnell, and Leticia of techsavvymama who sums it all up nicely with these suggestions:

  • Model the kinds of behaviour we expect
  • Exercise patience
  • Listen to our kids
  • Teach resiliency by providing strategies, and
  • Use quality educational content to reinforce the concept (e.g. books, DVDs and downloadable material)

I’m sure that many of these suggestions are familiar to you through your own personal experiences, either when growing up or as an adult. I think what my exploration of this topic shows me is that, while it may be useful to teach about compassion in schools, children really only learn to be compassionate if they are treated compassionately and have compassion modeled for them, if it is an integral part of their everyday lives.

What do you think?

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post.



Why do you read?


I read every day.

I read:

  • Blog posts
  • Emails
  • Tweets
  • Articles
  • News reports
  • Notifications
  • Comments on blogs
  • Road signs
  • Menus
  • Labels on products
  • Receipts
  • Bills
  • Bank statements
  • Letters
  • Instructions

The list could go on …

At the moment my reading of full-length books is limited, though recently I read a novel (Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle by Geoff Le Pard) and a memoir (On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years after it Happened by Lori Schafer), both of which I read as ebooks. I also read a non-fiction paper book (Retiring with Attitude by Caroline Lodge and Eileen Carnell) and am part-way through a number of other non-fiction titles.

Most of the full-length book reading I currently do is in audiobook format. My in-car time on the way to work is usually from about 45-60 minutes and I use this time to listen to audiobooks. During the past year I have listened to quite a variety including both fiction and non-fiction. I particularly enjoy it when the author reads the book, as with my current “read” Alphabetical: How Every Letter Tells a Story by Michael Rosen.

Blog posts are probably my number one source of reading material at the moment. I read a variety of blogs; some about writing for writers, some about teaching for teachers, some with a variety of information about a range of subjects, lots about books! Picture books, young adult novels, fiction and non-fiction. I am always on the lookout for something new to read or to give as a gift for someone else to read.

I always enjoy Anne Goodwin’s reviews on her blog Annecdotal. Not all of the books that Anne reviews appeal to me, and few of them will I read. Last year I did read one of her suggestions (The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz) and we had quite a discussion about his chapter on praise. I also read Stephen Pinker’s Better Angels of Our Nature, that was recommended to me by Geoff Le Pard, and Stephen King’s On Writing that was recommended by Lisa Reiter.

Sometimes when I read reviews or think of all the wonderful books I could be reading, I chastise myself for the little “reading” I do. But then I remind myself that the reading I choose/need to do at the moment is different. One day soon I’ll be back to more fiction rather than informational texts.

I was reminded of this when I re-read an article written by Charlotte Zolotow and published in The Horn Book: Writing for the Very Young: An Emotional Déjà Vu.

In the article Zolotow says,

“I have so much left to read and reread and so little time left in which to do it that I want to select what fills my emotional needs — needs which are often different from, or unknown to, even my closest friends.”

Zolotow goes on to explain that

“It was not this way when I was an adolescent or in my middle years, when I had a wide, all encompassing, devouring, greedy desire to read everything. But if I think back, I do remember as a child wanting certain books over and over again and others not at all. Very young children, like older people, want to read or hear read books that help them sort out their own most acute needs, their own inquiries about life.”

I thought how true it is. Throughout life our reading habits and choices change. I have always been a reader. As a child and teenager I read fiction, and lots of it. Even as a young adult I continued to read fiction and poetry, but my reading of non-fiction, mainly but not exclusively to do with education, began to exceed those choices. At that time there were only paper books, and I loved them, thinking that nothing could come between me and my books.

How wrong I was and how times change. Now I read online, ebooks and audiobooks. There is a much greater variety of material available for readers and, I think, the demands are greater. In days gone by if you weren’t reading books you weren’t reading. Now the distinction is not so clear. Because I am not reading full-length paper books as frequently as before, I think of myself as a non-reader. But that is unfair and untrue. I spend most of my day reading, and when I am not reading, I am writing. But these days reading is a huge part of my writing. I am constantly researching and reading online to give extra credence or support to what I am writing.

What about you? How do you view yourself as a reader? Does one need to read books to be considered a reader?

Thank you

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

Curious scientists

In my current out-of-the-classroom position I write science curriculum materials for use in early childhood classrooms. It is an interesting and challenging role, but also lots of fun as I work with a number of other writers who are also teachers, with an added qualification in science. As many of them have studied science at tertiary level, worked in various other fields, and taught science at high school level, I am surrounded by people with a lot of knowledge and experience different from mine.
One thing that is wonderful about working with a group of scientists is the range of topics that are raised for discussion around the table at lunch time. Scientists are naturally curious and they don’t take anything at face value. They delve into it, interrogate, investigate and explore until they have answers to questions that may have arisen. I learn a lot! Like the difference between degradable and bio-degradable; how close the asteroid came to Earth; and mitochondria, genetics and children with three parents!
On the home front too, I am surrounded by scientists; computer scientists and environmental scientists, each with a strong sense of social responsibility and ethics. I am fortunate to be swept along in learning by their interests and enthusiasm.
In previous posts I have shared some thoughts about the importance of curiosity and of my opinion that children are born scientists. I am always delighted when I come across something that supports my opinion. (Yes, there are others!)
I have recently discovered a lovely blog Musings of a Frequent Flying Scientist written by a local scientist Desley Jane. This week she shared an interview with another local scientist Julia Archbold. I enjoyed it so much I decided to share it with you.

These are just a few of things I like about it:
They are both young female scientists. (For too long science was seen as a male-only province.)
The importance placed upon curiosity, asking questions and ‘quizativity’ (what a great word!)
The excitement of learning.
That their engagement with science makes a positive contribution ‘the world’.

Please visit Desley’s blog to read the entire interview and explore what else she has to offer.

Thank you

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Scientist SpotlightThis is my first interview for my Scientific Reasoning feature. The questions will be the same for each interviewee and I hope that they will give us some insight into the lives of a few of today’s scientists.


Dr Julia Archbold is a good friend of mine. We have known each other for many years and have worked together in the past in our twenties (ish). I admire Julia greatly, both as a scientist and as a person. She is warm and talented, with a quick wit and a very kind soul. She is about to embark on an exciting new adventure and I caught her just in time for this interview.

me: So I know you’re a scientist, but when did you decide to become a scientist? What were you thinking? (Not WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?!?! but what made you decide that science was going to be your future?)

Julia: I…

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Clearing confusion – reading and writing for the masses

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills is talking about disorientation and has challenged writers to In 99 words no more, no less) write a story about disorientation. She suggested exploring different ways confusion could be expressed, and the tension that could be created by that confusion.

I decided to give myself a break from writing about the confusion that students may feel as they attempt to navigate the murky waters of expectations and inappropriate curricula that have little connection with their lives; or about how disoriented they may feel in an environment that bears little resemblance to any other they will experience.

Instead I decided to share an interesting story I heard this week and a flash fiction which is more memoir than fiction, a reminder to self of how lucky I am to be doing what I am.

First for the story.

My current audiobook is Alphabetical: How Every Letter Tells a Story by Michael Rosen. In the book Rosen talks about the English alphabet, dealing with each of the 26 letters in turn. He has organised the book so that

“Each letter in the book is linked to a topic. Each chapter takes on different aspects of how the alphabet has been used. Each chapter is preceded by the short story of how that particular letter evolved, how its name came to be pronounced that way and something on how the letter itself is spoken and played with.”


When listening to Rosen read his chapter about the letter ‘K’, “K is for Korean”, I was fascinated to find out that the alphabet of South Korea, Hangul, is “the earliest known successful example of a sudden, conscious, total transformation of a country’s writing.”

The alphabet, described by Rosen as more of “syllabic monograms” than letters and is easy to learn, was devised in the mid-fifteenth century by the ruler of the time, King Sejong, as a way of enabling everyone to be literate.

Prior to the introduction of this alphabet, Chinese characters were used. According to an article on Wikipediausing Chinese characters to write was so difficult for the common people that only privileged aristocrats usually male, could read and write fluently. The majority of Koreans were effectively illiterate before the invention of Hangul.

Rosen says that what is “remarkable . . . is that there was an already existing system of writing which was, to all intents and purposes, overthrown in its entirety – not adapted. (It happened) because one part of the ruling elite decided that a total change was the only way in which everyone could read and write easily.

Hear! Hear! I say, and express a wish that all our students of English would find learning to read and write far more easy and enjoyable than many do, that more emphasis would be placed upon helping students learn than in “teaching” particular content at particular times.

Also included in Rosen’s chapter about ‘K’ was mention of the Voynich Manuscript which appears to be scientific in origin, but which contains fictitious plants and is written in a “language” which no one, including codebreaking experts, has been able to decipher and read. Rosen says that “With one beautifully executed volume, (the author) causes instability and doubt at the heart of the production, ownership and use of knowledge. It is a carefully constructed absurdist joke.

Unfortunately for a small (but too large) number of our students, reading and writing for them is often as confusing as the Voynich Manuscript.



For a little bit of reminiscing, here is a video of Michael Rosen talking about the dreaded Friday spelling test. I wonder how his experience matches yours.

And so to my flash fiction of disorientation and confusion . . .


The pulsing train wheels pounded in my head.

Way off in the distance voices called instructions to each other.

“What day is it?” I said.

The voices were closer now. “She’s in here.”

“Can you walk? Come with us,” they said.

They led me to a vehicle and bade me lie down inside.

Then came the questions:

What’s your name? When were you born? What day is it? Why are you here? Who are you with?

Slowly, as if from the deepest recesses, I drew each recalcitrant answer, recreating identity.

“You’re okay. You bumped your head,” they said.

Thank you

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

Magnum opus – life in a flash




Discussions in response to my most recent posts have been in-depth and involved a bit of back and forth and exchange of ideas about optimism, pessimism, meliorism and the meaning of life, including achieving goals and the idea of ‘not yet’. I am grateful to everyone who has joined in the conversation, got me thinking and contributed to my learnacy. Please may it long continue!

This week at the new-look Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills continues to challenge writers with her 99 word flash prompt to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a life span.

I decided to lighten up a bit this week, and simply respond to the challenge.

Magnum opus

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

Thank you



Talking the way out

Recently I met up with some teacher friends and, as always happens with teachers, the discussion turned to school, teaching and children. There was talk about the crowdedness and inappropriateness of many aspects of the curriculum, of resources that were ambiguous and poorly written, of time spent practising and preparing for tests, of (other) teachers who were ill-equipped to teach and not interested in professional learning.

It made me sad. It has always made me sad. Sad and frustrated with the inappropriateness of so much that happens in schools and the effect it has on diminishing our most precious resource: the ability to think, learn, innovate and create.

The fact that I am unable to do anything about this situation at times overwhelms me and I just want to curl up in a ball in the corner and cry. That I have spent almost my entire adult life swimming against the tide trying, through a variety of means, to make a positive difference through education with an effect as insignificant as a grain of salt in the ocean, makes my efforts seem futile and worthless. A waste of time and energy. I should just give up.

But, foolishly maybe, I haven’t and don’t. Here I am writing a blog about education. One more way to try; with a website on the way as well. What effect will they have? Probably very little, but at least I am doing something that is important to me; something that gives my life meaning; even if it has no real value beyond that.

I have been out of the classroom now for three years. I escaped before the introduction of new programs which I would have found philosophically and pedagogically impossible to implement. It had always been a balancing act, doing what my employer expected of me and what I believed to be best for the children and their learning. (Of course there is no saying that what I thought was better. The value of my thinking may well have been just in my head!)

Five times before I had left the classroom, only twice for reasons unrelated to dissatisfaction (the birth of children). But I could never shake off my belief that education delivery could be improved. I read widely, seeking alternative ways of making a positive difference but, although I had vowed at each departure to never return, something always drew me back.

Rather than allowing the situation to overwhelm me by accepting that there was nothing I could do; rather than throwing my hands in the air, walking away and admitting that it’s all too hard, I didn’t let go. Perhaps it was foolhardy. Maybe I should. Maybe one day I will. But not yet.

Instead I choose to focus on the good things I see happening; the parents, teachers, nannies and child care workers who strive to make a positive difference. We know we can’t change the whole world. We can’t rid it of all the injustices, inequalities, violence and other wrongdoings against humanity and the Earth. But we can make a difference in our own little corner; and my own little corner has always been my focus. If I can make a difference with something as simple as a smile or sharing a positive thought then I will do it. If I can do more than that then I will, but I will focus on what I can rather than what I can’t.

So for my little bit of positivity today, I am sharing some of what I think are great things that are happening, making a positive contribution to education and children’s lives; some things that make my heart sing and confirm my belief that if we want to, we can make a difference.

marshmallow 5

I have previously shared some thoughts that stimulated great discussion about the famous Marshmallow Test conducted by Professor Walter Mischel.

On All Our Words I recently read a report of an address made by Mischel to the team at All Our Kin.

In that address, Mischel is quoted as saying,

“When a child grows up in a high-poverty, extremely unpredictable environment – in which anything can happen, in which danger is constantly present, in which chaos is always possible – it affects him at a biological level. Those experiences turn into chronic stress, or toxic stress, and they actually change his brain. They limit the potential of the cool system to make long-term plans and be patient and work for a distant goal.”

The author of the article, Christina Nelson writes

“Fighting against the biology of disadvantage requires a sustained effort that begins at birth, or even earlier, which is why creating high quality early care and education is so important for vulnerable children.”

Mischel’s address further supports that view and congratulates the team at All our Kin for their work, saying

“By providing a sense of trust, a sense that the rewards are attainable, that promises will be kept, that life doesn’t have to be chaotic and unpredictable, you folks are providing exactly the basis for the development of the cool system, and for the regulation of the hot system. The kids who have that when they are two years old are the same kids who are successful at the marshmallow test at five.”

The praise from Mischel would not have been given lightly. I’m impressed with what I have read about All Our Kin, including this from their mission statement:

“. . . children, regardless of where they live, their racial or ethnic background, or how much money their parents earn, will begin their lives with all the advantages, tools, and experiences that we, as a society, are capable of giving them.”


The Talking is Teaching program, which was launched by Hillary Clinton as part of the Too Small to Fail initiative, in Oakland aims to reduce educational (and life) disadvantages by teaching parents the importance of talking to their children from birth.

Thanks to my friend Anne Goodwin and daughter Bec I was also alerted to an article in the New Yorker The Talking Cure which described a program in Providence that also encourages low-income parents to talk more with their children.

The author of the article, Margaret Talbot says that “The way you converse with your child is one of the most intimate aspects of parenting, shaped both by your personality and by cultural habits so deep that they can feel automatic. Changing how low-income parents interact with their children is a delicate matter”. The aim of the program is to support parents in non-threatening ways to support their children.

I have previously mentioned a recent publication by Michael Rosen entitled Good Ideas: How to Be Your Child’s (and Your Own) Best Teacher. This book provides wonderful support for parents of children of any age. In very readable, accessible language, Rosen’s book is packed full of simple, inexpensive, fun and powerful ways for parents to support their children’s learning, effectively but unobtrusively, in their everyday lives. I think this book should be supplied to all parents on the birth of their children.

Closer to home here in Australia are Community Hubs  and other programs such as Learning for Life run by the Smith Family and Acting Early, Changing Lives by the Benevolent Society.

These are but a few of the good things that are happening. I have focussed on community programs rather than individuals (except for Michael Rosen’s book) in this post. I know there are many more great programs, and individual teachers doing amazing work. I’d love to hear about some that you admire.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I value your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post.