Tag Archives: Writing

Is anybody watching?

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills challenged writers to consider audience, and to In 99 words (no more, no less) write about an audience. It can be broad or small, and gathered for any reason. How does your character react to an audience? Is the audience itself a character.

I have always considered audience important for children’s writing. Too often in school, writing is done simply for the teacher, to complete an exercise. It is read and marked (corrected) without any real concern for the writer and the writer’s purpose. That’s if, in fact, there was a purpose other than to complete the task set by the teacher.

However, it is possible to give children in school a sense of audience. They can write for the class as an audience, “publishing” their work to place in the book corner for independent self-selected reading. They can write for parents or other relatives and friends to mark special occasions such as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, Christmas and Easter. They can write for younger siblings or buddies. Letters can be written to residents in nursing homes, characters in books, the principal, politicians, and the local newspaper. Diaries can be written and shared with teachers. Audiences can be found everywhere.

But an audience is not essential for every piece of writing. Sometimes we write just for ourselves. Sometimes even we are not an audience for our writing; when it is simply the act of writing, of expressing our thoughts that is important. Express, understand, release.  That can be all there is.

While I think this is less so for young children, as they move towards double figures they may like to have a private lockable diary in which to confide. As you would wish your privacy to be respected, so should theirs. This is not true for their online communication though.

There is the lovely saying  that includes the words “Dance like there’s nobody watching” and “Sing like there’s nobody listening”. The words are meant to be encouraging: “It doesn’t matter if you suck at it, just do it anyway.” I wonder why it doesn’t include the words:  “Write like there’s nobody reading.” Would you? Do you?

Recently I admired and envied my 5-year-old granddaughter’s uninhibited self-expression as she sang and danced her way through the shopping centre. She didn’t care if anyone was watching or not. She was in the moment, in flow, sharing her joy in simply being. This is not a characteristic unique to my granddaughter. I have observed the same exuberance in other children.

Most often the children’s behaviour draws smiles from passing adults; but what would the reaction be if it were an adult singing and dancing through the shopping centre? The occurrence, at least with such enthusiasm, is much less common. Breaking into song and dance may seem normal in musicals but doesn’t generally happen in real life.

How would you respond? Would you smile, ignore, or hasten away?

I was fascinated by some videos I came across when I Googled “Dance like nobody’s watching”. Here’s one:

Children seem to vacillate through stages of “Watch me!” and “Don’t look at me!”, from pride to embarrassment.

I think it is that embarrassment that kicks in with writing, as it does with most other things. We learn to compare ourselves with others, and generally find ourselves lacking,  If only we realised those “more confident” others probably feel the same.

Or we might be reluctant to share out of fear of what others may think? Elizabeth Gilbert makes a good point in her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. She says,

“Recognizing that people’s reactions don’t belong to you is the only sane way to create. If people enjoy what you’ve created, terrific. If people ignore what you’ve created, too bad. If people misunderstand what you’ve created, don’t sweat it. And what if people absolutely hate what you’ve created? What if people attack you with savage vitriol, and insult your intelligence, and malign your motives, and drag your good name through the mud? Just smile sweetly and suggest – as politely as you possibly can – that they go make their own fucking art. Then stubbornly continue making yours.” 

Gilbert says that we shouldn’t take “art” too seriously and quotes Tom Waits who once told her:

 “You know, artists—we take it so seriously. And we get so freaked out about it, and we think that what we’re doing is so deadly important. But really, as a songwriter, the only thing I do is make jewelry for the inside of people’s minds. That’s it.”

 

I shared Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk Your elusive creative genius in a previous post Whose idea is it anyway? over three years ago, but it is worth sharing again. With over 12 million views, I know I’m not the only one to find it worthy.

So, I’ve gone from audience to creativity. But what is creativity for, if not for audience? If your writing or artwork is not created to share with an audience; is the lack of an audience still uppermost in your mind as you create? Audience or no audience, self or other, how does it influence the process and product? Can you sing or dance without an audience, at least of self?

For my flash story, I’m going back to the carefree days of childhood when life was fun and there was not a care in the world, and you danced and sang, whether anyone was watching or not. Really?

The joy of childhood

The cool grass teased her toes and the breeze tugged at her skirt, begging her to dance. She flung wide her arms to embrace the world as she lifted her face to the skies.  They smiled approval and she began to sway. Her fingertips tingled with expectation as her gentle hum intensified, summoning the music of the spheres to play for her. And play they did. She twirled and swirled to their rhythm singing her own melody in perfect harmony. Suddenly she was done. She clapped her hands to silence the orchestra and went back to her sandpit friends.

Thank you for being my audience. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

Shaping the future #myfirstpostrevisited

Almost every week since Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch Communications challenged writers with her first flash fiction prompt in 2014, I have written a 99-word story in response. Sometimes an idea forms quickly, like a cup of instant coffee. Other times the prompt needs to percolate interminably, before the flavour is rich enough to share.

This is one of those weeks.

In her wonderful post, Charli writes about the changing desert of Utah that she refers to as Mars, so different is the landscape from that of her beloved mountainous northern states.

Charli, a historian, seeks clues to lives past and finds traces from different times. “Life is like multiple disconnected plays that share the same stage over and over,” she muses.

She finds remnants of slag and uses it as an analogy to life, her life, and its changes, many forced upon her like the heat of a smelter and says that, “We are slag forged in the fires …, and want to fully transform into something of beauty and purpose.

She concludes her post by challenging writers to “In 99 words (no more, no less) include slag in a story. Slag is a glass-like by-product of smelting or refining ore. Slag is also used in making glass or can result from melting glass. It can be industrious or artistic. Go where the prompt leads.”

I was lost. How could I possibly tie a challenge like that into the educational focus of my blog? As usual, my thoughts scattered. I guess that makes me a scatterbrain. But I am a scatterbrain with focus, looking for ideas everywhere, trying for the proper fit. Sometimes I’m surprised where I find inspiration.

A fellow participant in Charli’s challenges is Sarah Brentyn who blogs at Lemon Shark Reef. Sarah, who posted a piece called Transformation, also quoted Charli’s words about slag and transformation, and shared a tweet of her own from August 2016:

Interesting to me is that August 2016 is when readilearn, my website of early childhood teaching resources, launched; and my first readilearn blog post was published. That was almost three years to the day after my first post here on NorahColvin.com.

I could say that blogging has been a bit of a trial by fire, and that I too have, through both projects, endeavoured to create something of “beauty and purpose”, with NorahColvin forging the way for readilearn. No doubt a lot of slag has been manufactured and either shared or discarded in the process.

On her other blog Lemon Shark (she’s got two, I’ve got two), Sarah recently invited me through her post My New Blog Scares me #MyFirstPostRevisited to share my first blog post. She provided me with some rules to follow, so in this post, I will do my best to follow two sets of rules, Sarah’s and Charli. Or not. Rules are meant to be broken. Aren’t they?

I apologise for the length of this post which is really three rolled into one! Feel free to skip over or speed read any section you wish.

This is my very first post from 15 August 2013:

“Welcome to my blog. This is a whole new adventure for me and I am excited about where it may lead. I hope you will be inclined to pop in from time to time to share my journey and offer some encouragement along the way.

Since education is my life a good deal of what I write will focus on my thoughts and ideas about education and learning. Check out my poem Education is on the “Education is” tab to see how different I believe education and schooling to be. I would love to hear the ways in which you may or may not agree with me. I am in for a bit of education myself as I explore this new world (to me) of blogging and I know there are many wonderful teachers out there ready to teach me what I need to know.

When the student is ready the teacher appears.”

I am ready.

Let the adventure begin!”

The post drew six comments (five from family and friends, one unknown from the blogosphere) and no likes.

Three years later, on 23 August 2016, I published my first readilearn blog post:

“Hi, welcome to readilearn, a new website of early childhood teaching resources.

I’m Norah Colvin, founder of readilearn and writer of all readilearn materials. I’m excited to be able to share them with you, and hope you find them useful in your early childhood classroom.

After making the decision to be a teacher at age ten, my focus has never wavered.  I have spent most of my life thinking, reading, discussing and learning about education. I have always been involved in education in some way, whether as classroom teacher, support teacher, home educator, private tutor, play group leader, or simply parent and grandparent.

I am passionate about young children and their learning.

I plan to post on this blog about once a week, usually on a Friday, but that may vary from time to time. Through the blog I will keep you updated with information about new resources I add to the site, provide teaching suggestions, and discuss topics relevant to early childhood educators. I also invite you to follow my other blog NorahColvin.com, and join in the conversation there.

I believe strongly in the value of community and our ability to learn from each other. I welcome your feedback. If there are any topics that you would especially like me to address, suggestions for improvements to existing resources, or ideas for new ones, please let me know.

In this post I will simply invite you to explore the readilearn website to see what is available. You may register for free to download a variety of free resources, or subscribe to access all resources. I am particularly excited about the range of interactive resources I have available. I hope you are too.”

The post drew comments from three lovely supporters of this blog, including both Charli and Sarah who rate a big mention in this post. Thank you, lovely ladies, for your ongoing encouragement and support without which I wouldn’t have made it through those first three years.

It then became obvious to me. Isn’t this our role as teachers – to shape, to sculpt, to mould, and to help each child shine by appreciating their uniqueness, polishing their strengths and abilities, and encouraging each to turn their best side to the world?

This thought was further confirmed by a recent comment on an older post in which Anita Ferreri said that we teachers must try to pay it forward. Yes, that’s part of it too. We shape lives, hearts, and minds, as we work to create the future we wish to see.  We pay it forward, not only for each individual, but through them to the unknown future. The ripple effect is a mighty powerful thing. Never underestimate the effect of one thought, one word, one action

So, thank you Charli, Sarah, and Anita, I am mixing up the thoughts, ideas, and challenges that your words have inspired, and (hopefully) refining them to mould something just a little artistic with both beauty and purpose. I hope you enjoy it.

The artist

They, each with a single colour, used packaged accessories to form identical sets of flat, life-less shapes. He worked by hand, collecting and incorporating their slag, as he explored the properties of his clump of multi-coloured dough. They proudly displayed neat rows of unimaginative templated shapes. With humble satisfaction, he regarded his creation with its countless possibilities. Each time they started again, they repeated the same familiar fail-safe patterns. Each time he began anew, exploring, seeking, discovering the dormant, hidden potential, sculpting to allow uniqueness to shine. They remained stuck in what is. He focused on creating the future.

Oh, I almost forgot. One of Sarah’s rules was to tag five people to carry on her #myfirstpostrevisited challenge. Um, well, I did say that rules are meant to be broken. If you have read thus far, thank you, and consider yourself tagged. If you would like to join in the blog hop and wish to do a little better at following the rules than I have, please pop over to Sarah’s post. I would love to read your first posts. Please leave a link, if you wish, or not, in the comments.

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

Time for rhyme – Readilearn

Yesterday, 2 March was Dr Seuss’s birthday. How did you celebrate? Did you read a favourite Dr Seuss story – maybe even more than just one or two? Which is your favourite?

Children love the rhythmic, rhyming stories written by Theodor Seuss Geisel who was born in 1904. (A question for your children – how old would he be if he was still alive today?)

Having fun with rhyme is a great way for children to learn about the sounds of language.

In the beginning, the rhymes can be real or nonsense words, as are many employed by Dr Seuss, training the ear to hear. Children are delighted when they discover pairs of words that rhyme. It is great when parents and teachers share their excitement of discovery too.

Like those of Dr Seuss, many stories and poems for young children are written in rhyme. The rhyme is pleasant to the ear, and encourages children to join in with the reading or telling, using meaning and sound to predict the next rhyming word.

When children are ready, familiar rhyming texts are often the first they read independently, using a combination of memory and print. How many children do you know who first started reading with a Dr Seuss book; such as The Cat in the Hat, Fox in Socks, One Fish Two Fish, Ten Apples Up On Top, or any other favourite.

For my part in the celebration, I joined in with a challenge extended by Vivian Kirkfield to write a story in 50 words. The reason behind the 50 word challenge is that, although the total word count of Green Eggs and Ham is over 700, only 50 unique words were used. (Some of your children may like to check if that is so. How could they do it?)

I decided to write a rhyming nonsense story in exactly 50 words (title not included). I hope you and your children enjoy it.

Lucky Duck

Duck.

Old Duck.

Couldn’t see –

Lost his glasses by the tree.

Continue reading at: Time for rhyme – Readilearn

Storytelling with author Michael Rosen – Readilearn

 

In this post I introduce you to Michael Rosen, the storyteller.  Michael’s story Going on a Bear Hunt many be more familiar to you than his name. But Michael Rosen is a storyteller extraordinaire and his website is a treasure trove to explore*.

*Note: Not all of Michael’s stories and videos are suitable for early childhood. Please preview them before presenting them to students.

One of my favourites of Michael’s stories is Chocolate Cake. Please follow the link to view it on his website.

In the story from when he was a boy, Michael sneaks downstairs in the middle of the night and eats all of the remaining chocolate cake, leaving not a skerrick for a lunchtime treat. If only he’d been able to restrain himself, then he would have had a treat as well.

Michael tells the humorous story with expressive voice and face. Children laugh out loud as they recognise themselves in the story, if only they dared (or did they?); and beg for it to be retold, often spontaneously joining in with the telling.

After a few repetitions, children are confident enough to retell the story independently, imitating many of Michael’s humorous gestures and intonations.

Listening to Michael tell stories is a great way to encourage the development of expression, in both telling and reading stories.

Suggestions for using the story:

Continue reading at: Storytelling with author Michael Rosen – Readilearn

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?

symbol

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.”

the-magic-of-boxes

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.

thank-you-1200x757

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

 

 

Scratching around the quarry

charlis-quarry

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.