Tag Archives: Writing

Saddle Up Saloon; Chattin’ With Norah Colvin

I had a great chat with my fellow Ranch-hand, writer and educator, D. Avery over at the Saddle Up Saloon at the Carrot Ranch. We discussed my favourite topics – children, education and writing. Not your usual saloon fare, eh? A bit dry for Kid and Pal too.

Carrot Ranch Literary Community

“Hey Kid. Kinda quiet ‘round the Saloon. Ain’tcha got anythin’ lined up?”

“Nope. But as ya kin see, Pal, there’s a few folks in jist relaxin’ an’ chattin’ over a bev’rage a choice.”

“Yeah, I see thet. Look there, is that Norah Colvin?”

“Yep. Says she’s waitin’ on a buddy a hers.”

“Reckon thet buddy is here. Why it’s—”

“D. Avery? Them two’s buddies? What a they have in common?”

“Well, they both know their way ‘roun’ the Ranch.”

“Reckon, but Norah Colvin’s respectable an’ all, an’ our writer’s so…”

“Jist serve ‘em both Kid an’ leave ‘em be.”

******************************************************************************

Hello Norah! I’m so glad we have a place where we can finally hang out together. But it seems Kid is wondering that we’re buddies.

Hello D.

Buddies! I like that. Buddies is not a term commonly used in Australia, so I think this is the first time I’ve ever…

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Without a Hat #flashfiction

This week a the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about naked gardening. Is it the veggies or the gardener who is naked? Go where the prompt leads!

This is my response. I hope you like it.

Without a Hat

The farmer was out standing in the field when, one day, a wind whipped up and snatched his hat, tossing it into the air. It swooped over the garden beds as if playfully daring, ‘Come catch me.’ But the farmer couldn’t catch the hat which had been a fixture on his head for countless years. Everyone said he looked naked without it, but no other hat would do. Without it, he wilted in sun’s heat and sagged in rain. As the parading seasons took their toll, he disintegrated and decomposed, continuing to nourish the garden in a new way.

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Having fun with Haiku Poetry in the Classroom – #readilearn

Next Saturday 17 April is Haiku Poetry Day. Why not prepare for the day, by reading and writing haiku during the week leading up to it, or for those of us in Australia still on school holidays, celebrate the week after. Of course, any time is good for reading and writing haiku — no excuse is needed.

What is Haiku?

Haiku is a short poem of only three lines with a very structured form. There only 17 syllables in the entire poem:

five on the first line 

seven syllables come next

and five on the third 

The purpose of the haiku is to capture a brief moment in time. Traditionally, it is written about the seasons but can be used to write poems on any topic. Haiku poetry often concludes with a feeling or observation. Sometimes the feeling is not explicit but is left for the reader to interpret.

What is a syllable?

Before you begin to teach your children to write haiku, they need to know what a syllable is. Whether you are teaching or revising syllables, readilearn has some resources to support you, including:

Continue reading: Having fun with Haiku Poetry in the Classroom – readilearn

A Year that Was flash fiction

A Year that Was #flashfiction

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that takes place a year later. It can be any year. Explore the past year or another significant passing of time to a character. Go where the prompt leads!

As usual, my thoughts turn to children and education. The one year later prompt made me think of the déjà vu situation that must occur when children are required to repeat a year at school.

This is my response to Charli’s prompt. I hope you enjoy it. Below are the thoughts about repeating that led me here if you are interested.

Bird School

Dear Mr Emu,

As Eddie performed below expectations on some tests, he must repeat next year.

Dear Mrs Grimbald,

Which tests did Eddie fail? I’ll bring him up to speed over the holidays.

Dear Mr Emu,

Eddie’s ground speed is unmatched. He failed lift-off.

Mrs Grimbald,

Inability to lift-off is inherited. No one in Eddie’s family ever lifted-off. Advance him.

Dear Mr Emu,

Parents shouldn’t discuss limitations lest they become self-fulfilling.

Grimbald,

Inability to lift-off does not limit Eddie any more than your inability to run limits you. Adjust your curriculum. Progress our Eddie.

Principal Grimbald huffed. How impertinent.

Thoughts about year level retention

I have never been one to suggest that a child repeat a grade at school and always reluctant to agree if suggested to me. If schools really espoused what they profess about children being at the centre of a process that recognises individual development and personalises education, there’d be no such thing as repetition of a grade level. In fact, there’d be no grades and children would learn what they were interested in at their own pace.

I saw a great poster recently (sadly, I didn’t keep it and can’t remember where) that said something like,

We teach children at their own pace and then use standardised tests to assess their progress.

It not only sounds crazy, it is crazy.

With our current system of graded classrooms, there will always be children who don’t achieve what’s expected by the end of the year. Repeating them may seem like we are recognising they haven’t achieved it ‘yet’ and are giving them extra time to do so. However, in most cases I have seen, it does little to enhance academic achievement and causes more damage to self-esteem than it is worth. Often it results in reduced expectations for the child. Centring education on the child rather than other-imposed content is long overdue.

As part of my studies of literacy acquisition and development, I worked with adults who had not yet learned to read — such a debilitating and often humiliating situation for them. These adults had low self-esteem, lacked confidence and little sense of self-worth. All claimed that they weren’t clever and apologised for not having done well in school. Each one admitted to having repeated a grade in school even though I hadn’t requested that information. I was saddened, not only that they were unable to read, but that they were still so weighed down by their repetition at school. I thought if school had failed anyone, it had failed them.

I saw the same thing in my role as a literacy support teacher for those not making the expected progress in primary school. Most of those requiring support in the upper year levels had already repeated a year of school. When asked what year they were in they would say something like, “I’m in year five. I should be in year six, but I got kept down in year two.” How sad that they had been crushed so early in life. I tried to reassure them that there was no need to explain or apologise. I felt if anyone should be apologising, it should be the system.

While these are my perceptions formed from my own experiences, research supports my thinking. I read only one paper, that by Brenda S. Tweed of East Tennessee State University, that appeared to show positive results of repeating. However, even in that paper, the importance of maintaining a repeating student’s self-esteem is recognised.

This paper, published by Frontiers in Psyschology, recognises grade retention as a more contentious issue and concludes, as do I, that it has a more lasting negative impact.

Similarly, an article published on Healthy Children.org responds to the question ‘Should my Child Repeat a Grade?’ with ‘Ideally, no. Repeating a grade―also known as “grade retention” ―has not been shown to help children learn. Children won’t outgrow learning and attention issues by repeating a grade. In fact, repeating a grade may contribute to long-term issues with low self-esteem, as well as emotional or social difficulties.’

In the paper To Repeat or Not to Repeat?, Dr Helen McGrath of Deakin University in Melbourne summarises the conclusions from research into repeating this way:

• Repeating does not improve academic outcomes

• Repeating contributes to poor mental health outcomes

• Repeating leads to poor long term social outcomes

• Repeating contributes to a negative attitude to school and learning

• Repeating results in students dropping out of school

• Repeating decreases the likelihood that a student will participate in post-secondary schooling

• Repeated students demonstrate higher rates of behavioural problems

• There is no advantage to students in delaying school entry for a year in order to increase ‘school readiness’

• There are huge costs associated with students repeating a year of schooling.

• Some students are more likely to be recommended to repeat than others

Similar findings are also reported by the Victorian Department of Education, Australia.

It seems that most of the research supports conclusions I drew from my observations. I’m sure you will all have your own opinions. Some of you may have repeated a class at school or have a child who has repeated or was recommended to repeat. I’d love to know what you think. As an educator, I couldn’t help sharing these thoughts and ideas that led to my flash fiction response to Charli’s prompt. I hope it now makes sense.

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A Butterfly Promise #flashfiction

A Butterfly Promise #flashfiction

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story using the contrasting prompts butterfly and stones. The two can be used in any way in your story. Go where the prompt leads!

Charli is a collector of stones and I love butterflies. I don’t collect them, but I welcome them into my garden, and one of my favourite things of the year while teaching was having a butterfly house in the classroom.

We would acquire some butterfly eggs or just-hatched caterpillars, watch them grow and pupate, wait while they metamorphosed, and gaze in wonder as they emerged and prepared for flight.

The children and I enjoyed the experience so much, I gave my granddaughter a butterfly house for her birthday one year and re-filled it for her on successive years. It was enjoyed by all the family.

I have written about our classroom butterfly experience many times, both here and at readilearn where minibeasts (including butterflies) are star attractions. Some of those posts include:

I Spy Butterflies

Classroom Minibeasts

Who’s on the Move? (includes FF but not butterfly-related)

Bug Me, Please (includes FF but not butterfly-related)

Learning about minibeasts at home or at school

I have also written other butterfly-themed flash fiction in response to Charli’s previous prompts, including:

First Flight

Once upon a time … the power of story

Which brings me to this week’s story linking butterflies and stones. I hope you enjoy it.

A Butterfly Promise

Jack scrambled over the rocks to their favourite place for discussing the wonders of the universe and the meaning of life. And death. He took Grandma’s special stone from his pocket, turned it this way and that in the sunlight, and admired its iridescence. ‘Like butterfly wings. Like life.’ Grandma said she’d come back as a butterfly, if she could.

‘You shouldn’t have left me, Grandma!’ Jack didn’t try to stop his tears. He blinked when a beautiful butterfly alighted on the stone, tickled his nose and circled his head before fluttering away. ‘Grandma!’ called Jack. ‘You came back!’

Thank you blog post

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A place for everyone

A Place for Everyone #flashfiction

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that features Lemon Queens. Maybe it’s an ancient fairy tale or a modern brand name. What ideas seep into your imagination? Is there a character or place involved? Go where the prompt leads!

Carrot Ranch - Lemon Queens

I thought it would be easy to write about sunflowers but, alas, I struggled. I finally came up with this story with the theme of diversity, acceptance, belonging and a place for everyone. I hope you like it.

A place for everyone

Rose prickled and turned away from the newcomer. “You can’t blow in here on a breeze expecting to be welcomed,” she whispered to a neighbour.

Sweet Pea belied her name, ignoring the stranger and trailing away to mix with others of her own kind.

Even cousin Marigold wasn’t hospitable, fearing he might spoil their whole bunch.

He didn’t tempt rejection by the glamourous golden Queen outstanding in the field.

Instead, he sailed right by and alighted far from cultivation where his lowly origins wouldn’t raise a brow.

“Look! A dandelion! Do you like butter or cheese? Let’s play!”

 

While many consider dandelions a weed, they actually have many positive uses.

Children love blowing their seeds around and, as the video below shows, physicists learn a lot from studying them.

When I was a child, we used to hold dandelion flowers beneath our chins to decide whether we liked butter or cheese. A lighter refection would indicate a preference for butter. A darker reflection would indicate a fondness for cheese. I don’t think our readings were particularly scientific, but we were always pretty confident of our interpretations.

I was also interested to discover that dandelions, sunflowers, marigolds, lettuce, artichokes and others all belong to the daisy family. Now I’m wishing I did my research first rather than leaving it until the last minute.

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Upstairs or Downstairs flash fiction

Upstairs or Downstairs #flashfiction

Over at the Carrot Ranch this week, Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story using two words that contradict. Examples include champagne and hard-rock; rosemary and sewage; duck down and firecrackers; sleep and square-dancing. Use one of these or make up your own. Go where the prompt leads!

Carrot Ranch flash fiction contradictions

I haven’t gone with contradiction as much as confusion, but it’s fitting following something I wrote on my readilearn blog last week. In case you missed it, I wrote that being in lockdown has “felt like time has stood still and sped by at the same time”. That’s a contradiction. My story is a confusion.

Upstairs or Downstairs

Granny scratched her head. “I don’t know if I’m Arthur or Martha.”

“Whad’ya mean, Granny? I’m Arthur,” Arthur laughed.

“It’s just an old saying. Means I don’t know if I’m coming or going.”

“But you’re not coming or going. You’re staying here. With us.”

“I know,” laughed Granny. “I’m just a bit confused is all.”

“What’re you confused about?”

“I just came all the way down here for something, and I can’t remember what.”

“But this is upstairs, Granny. Not downstairs.”

“Silly me. There’s not much in my upstairs anymore.”

Now it was Arthur’s turn to scratch his head.

Thank you blog post

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Who's in charge flash fiction

Who’s in charge? #Flashfiction

Carrot Ranch - in charge flash fiction

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story in which a character takes charge. Who is this character, and what situation calls for their action? It can be playful or serious, fantastical, or realistic. Go where the prompt leads!

While not really about a character taking charge, as Charli suggested, my thoughts went to the stampede that occurred in supermarkets across the globe earlier this month, and I wondered who had initiated it and how they had achieved such a dramatic result. It seemed to me that it was more suited to an April Fools’ Day joke (that’s tomorrow, folks) than a serious event organised by the March Hare. Not that I would approve of such a joke.

I remember being warned in the early seventies (way back last century) about the use of subliminal messaging in cinema advertising. I never liked the idea that someone could be trying to control my thoughts and actions with subliminal messages. Now, of course, we have social media. There’s nothing subliminal about that and the effect is more immediate and more widespread.

The toilet paper stampede occurred because of a fictional shortage which then became a reality because people were buying in bulk and hoarding it, meaning there was none for anyone else. People seemed to be doing it because everyone else was doing it, regardless of the reassurances we were being given that there was, and never would be, a toilet paper shortage.

This, in turn, reminded me of the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes by Hans Christian Andersen. It has been one of my favourite stories since childhood. I could never understand why people would join in admiring the emperor’s clothes when they must have been able to see that he wasn’t wearing any. However, the very clever trickster weavers pulled the perfect April Fools’ Day joke by telling everyone that only the clever could see the clothes. Who would dare to admit their lack of cleverness? I was always pleased that it was the children who were brave and honest and spoke up to denounce the scoundrels.

So, with April Fools’ Day on 1 April and Hans Christian Andersen’s birthday on 2 April, it seems the perfect time to think about who might be in charge. This is my story. I hope you like it.

Charge!

As if a starting gun had been fired, the children scattered, looking in grass, under rocks, in branches of trees.

“What’re you doing?” asked the playground supervisor.

“There’s eggs, Miss. Easter eggs — millions of ‘em. Enough for everyone.”

“How many’ve you found?”

“None yet. Gotta keep lookin’.”

After a while, the searching slowed. “How many’ve you got?”

They showed empty pockets and empty hands.

The supervisor said, “Who said there were eggs?”

They shrugged.

When the punishment was handed down, the instigators explained, “It was just an experiment to see how many’d be sucked in. We meant no harm.”

You’ll be as pleased to know as I am, that Google has cancelled April Fools’ Day jokes for 2020 and that the coronavirus is deemed unsuitable for April Fools’ pranks. I thought that would go without saying.

I want you to know that this is not a joke: I may join in these challenges only intermittently for the next few months due to work commitments. I may also not get to visit your blogs as often as I would like but know that I will get there as often as I can. Stay well and happy and keep your distance from that awful virus.

Thank you blog post

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First Cow in Space flash fiction

First Cow in Space #flashfiction

I’m sure you all know the nursery rhyme Hey Diddle Diddle about a cat playing a fiddle and a cow jumping over the moon.

I love using nursery rhymes with young children. They are a great way for them to learn the sounds and rhythms of our language, develop their memories and just have fun with nonsense. I’ve never considered it important for them (or me) to know the background of the rhymes. We can leave that to more serious students of literature.

The rhythm and rhyme of nursery rhymes encourage children to join in with the recitation and commit them to memory. Their memory for the rhymes can be used as a step into reading. I’ve written before about nursery rhymes, both on this blog and on the readilearn blog here and here. I have also some written some literacy lessons based on nursery rhymes that are available in the readilearn collection, including Let’s read and write with Little Miss Muffet, Humpty Dumpty — a story in five sittings and The Accident — Humpty Dumpty’s Fall.

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about Clarice. She can be any Clarice real, historical, or imagined. What story does she have for you to tell? Go where she may lead!

You may well wonder what that prompt has to do with nursery rhymes. But Charli always says to go where the prompt leads. It usually leads me to children and education in some way. This time, and with a huge apology to all the Clarices out there, it led me to a cow in a nursery rhyme. Why should she be called Clarice? I don’t know, but I thought the first cow in space would be quite an imaginary historical figure. I hope you like my story. I’m certain, if given a chance, children would come up with their own wonderful innovations too.

First Cow in Space

“We are here today with the first cow in space, whose identity, until now, has been kept secret. Will you please welcome [drum roll] Clarice Cloverdale.”

[Applause]

“Clarice, please tell us about your adventure and why your identity was undisclosed for so long.”

“It was simply a non-disclosure agreement. That contract has now terminated so I’m free to tell.”

“Go on.”

“We were all tired of playing second-fiddle to Cat. Dish and Spoon ran away so Dog had no alternative but to make me the star. Needless to say, I was over the moon. The rest is history.”

[Applause]

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classroom Christmas lessons and activities

Classroom Christmas lessons and activities – reblogged from readilearn

It’s almost Christmas again and here in Australia we’re on the countdown to the end of the school year and our long summer holidays. Whether you’ll be enjoying a long break or a shorter break over the festive season, here at readilearn we’ve got many ready-to-teach lessons and activities to support your teaching in the lead-up to Christmas.

Get an early start with these lessons and activities

You will get most benefit from some activities if you begin them a few weeks before the finish of term.

Friendship Trees, one of readilearn’s most popular Christmas activities is best begun three to four weeks before school closes for Christmas. Children make their own friendship trees which are then placed on display in the classroom.

Each day children write anonymous messages of affirmation or friendship to each other and place them in the trees. At the end of term, children take their trees home and read the positive messages contained within.

The trees help to develop self-esteem, confidence and friendship skills and are perfect for those last few weeks when temperatures soar and children can become edgy with excitement for the holidays.

A 3D Christmas tree makes a beautiful focal point of the classroom Christmas display. Children cooperatively construct the tree by contributing leaves made by tracing or printing their hands. It is a visible recognition of the value of teamwork and will be admired (and envied) by many. It makes a beautiful background for photographs of individual children to be given as gifts to parents or other loved ones.

Continue reading: Classroom Christmas lessons and activities – readilearn