Thursday, December 8, 2016

Teaching Poetry- Not For The Faint-Hearted

POETRY, Not For The Faint-Hearted

As a poet and an educator I am driven by a desire to have poetry viewed as consumer friendly by young learners. I want them to enjoy the sheer magic of words, the way I do. I want to share my love of language in the hope that they will come to know poetry as one does a friend.

What's concerning is that in too many classrooms the teaching of poetry has been reduced to a clinical examination. The poem as autopsy. The dis-aggregation of wondrous words by teachers who feel little empathy with the poet’s desire just to be shared.

Moira Robinson, a former neighbour,  in her book Making My Toenails Twinkle, reminds us that sometimes we miss the point of poetry when she states,

If we are going to start defining poetry by the number of times spring daffodils are mentioned, or by measuring its degree of seriousness on some poetic Richter scale, we will finish up with nervous breakdowns.’

If we truly want our students to appreciate poetry to the point that they themselves may gain satisfaction from their own written efforts, we must follow some basic steps in introducing poetry in the classroom.

We should firstly understand that poetry should be a year long classroom staple, a friend to be valued through out the year and a cause for celebration. Poetry can be used to begin the day, end the day or introduced at a time when it just feels right to share words of wonder. Poetry should above all move us to feel a range of emotions and should inspire our own writing efforts. Poetry might be the genre of choice for our students when they wish to respond to a prevailing thought, an issue of importance or a significant event. Poetry might be used to persuade, inform or entertain an audience. Let poetry be utilized at will. Avoid pigeon-holing it.

To feel completely at ease with teaching students to write poetry, requires a knowledge extending beyond what constitutes poetry.  it requires a teacher to understand how it is made. This knowledge is essential to fully appreciating poetry for its uniqueness as a form of expression. As Jacqueline Woodson writes, ‘Poetry is about joy and urgency in tiny spaces.’

We must avoid asking students to write poetry before they have been fully immersed in a close study of poetry- its range and complexity. -Its potential and possibilities. We need to dunk them in poetry soup!  

Young writers need this time to get to know poetry and how to react to it. It is critical that they understand how it is different to prose.  The one criteria we must set when choosing poems to share with students is to choose poems that have immediate appeal. If we as adults don’t enjoy a particular poem, don’t read it to impressionable students. Our distaste, our reservation will be obvious to our reading audience. Never waste valuable classroom time reading poetry, you don’t feel a connection too. 

Practice reading a poem aloud several times before sharing it with an audience of young poetry consumers. Get the feel of the poem –its words and it rhythm. Know it well, so you read it as it feels.  Children hear poetry from an early age. They eagerly recite it. The next logical step is to get them reading it and from their discoveries and observations, develop a desire to create their own.

Poetry needs to go beyond stylized Haiku and acrostic poetry using student names. Many teachers limit the poetic possibilities to this narrow framework. Their own trepidation about poetry is on display here. Each year this is the meagre diet some students are dished up. Opportunities abound to expose student writers to much more than this pale poetic portion. 

Teaching poetry is not for wimps. It requires the input of brave writers of all ages. 

And yet, poetry has for so long been poorly taught in too many classrooms. Words like – abused, ignored, misinterpreted, misunderstood, underutilized come to mind when one considers the history of poetry in schools. At the same time there have been teachers and students who have been enriched by the power and beauty of poetry. In such classes poetry has been presented with energy and verve.- Poetry taught in this way is both wild and wonderful. It possesses the potential to engage the imagination and provide real opportunities for students to more fully engage in authentic learning. 

Poetry should be an essential ingredient in our classrooms –not some washed out, half hearted afterthought. There exists in poetry a rich language source that can be made readily accessible to the hearts and minds of students and their teachers. Through poetry teachers have an opportunity to encourage a genuine sense of mindfulness about what is being read, written and shared. 

Running alongside this aspirational goal is the fact that when poetry is presented in a gradual and scaffolded manner students discover that poetry is easily accessed. If we set up the best possible conditions for poetry to emerge, it’s more likely to happen. So, as the guardians of poetry we must guide students to a place where poems live and words and ideas abound They might just  discover that writing poetry is enjoyable, rewarding and brings with it the opportunity to learn much about themselves. Jane Yolen refers to teachers as the code masters of poetry. Especially when they write poems for children. Poetry is  certainly not for the faint-hearted.

Go to for some practical ways to promote poetry with your student writers.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Summertime And The Writing Teacher

The Writes

 of Summer

Another school year is drawing to a close in Australia and in many schools planning for 2017 is underway. It seems timely to appeal to teachers and urge them to take up the challenge of being a teacher who writes and a writer who teaches. Join an ever expanding number of educators who write for and with their students. Teachers who lead by example and can confidently look their curious learners straight in the eye and proudly announce- 'I'm a writer, just like you.'  

Entries gathered in your very own writer's notebook  serve as examples to share with their students. Entries that show students how their teacher interacts with the world. It sends a clear message that as a teacher, you value writing.

Such entries are rich, varied and authentic examples of writing.  Such writing might lead to the extinction of the whole class topic, 'My Holidays' as a yearly starting point for writing! It saddens me when this happens. It frustrated me as a student. It has continued to irritate me as an educator and writer.  It sets the bar of expectation so low for your teaching, and denies what we know about effective writing instruction.

Much better that classrooms hum with rich conversation about what is important to write about for each individual writer. Time invested in pre-writing activities such as -drawing, discussing, brainstorming, listing, planning and reading enables student writers to gather the necessary ingredients to write about what matters most to them. A sea of talk lays a great foundation for launching the goal of establishing a community of writers.  

 The student writer receives a clear message from the teacher:

 -I trust you to come up with ideas! I'm not going to tell you what to write, but I am going to do everything in my power to support you to find out what it is you want to say as a writer! I want you to find your true voice as a writer.

Because writers are essentially storytellers, time and energy must be invested in establishing this belief among our students. Encourage student writers to initially ‘tell’ their stories. Tell them more than once. Tell them to someone at home. This is rehearsal for writing. It will ensure that the words which eventually appear on the pages of their notebooks will be superior to the words teachers read when writing is offered with a cold start, and no preparation. 

Writers spend as much time thinking about their writing as they actually spend in the act. This must become an established belief and practice for writing to flourish in your classroom.

All the time pre-writing is becoming an established practice in the classroom. The teacher is  simultaneously sharing examples of their writing as well as great examples from quality literature, guiding writers to find a focus for writing, asking lots of questions and establishing a conscious sense of community.  

So, I urge my fellow teachers to dive straight in and start filling the pages of your own notebook with words, drawing, maps, adding photographs, quotes and the like.  Your own writing is such a powerful model for your students. I urge you to take the risk. You must be a brave writer in order for your students to follow your bold lead. Writers make decisions. They take action. You have an entire summer break in which you can go collecting, gathering, harvesting your writing ideas. Spread them out across the pages of your very own notebook. You could find many reasons to avoid writing or you could find the one important reason you need to get started. Dive straight in, the water's fine. After all, it's summertime ...

Those who are just beginning to develop their writing lives often request examples of the types of entries one might gather when starting out on this journey of discovering.

If you are experiencing trouble launching into your own  writing, maybe these ideas might prompt your thinking. They may spark a connection to a topic/idea you feel strongly about; -enough to get the pen moving across the page...

  I offer up these possibilities:

Write about the first book you remember reading
Create a Life Map to show events in your life so far 
Write an entry about one of the items on your Life Map. 
Write an entry over any topic of your choosing. Write about your personal opinion 
Write a response to a book you are currently reading 
Write about the meaning behind a treasured object - what memories do you associate with that object? 
Create a plan for a memoir piece
Write a memoir including all the sensory details and what you discovered about yourself from that slice of life experience
Make a list of your personal choosing. E.g. Things that take too much time
Write to influence - Choose an issue that is important to you, and write an opinion piece
Respond to an issue in the news
Write a short narrative about being sick as a child
Write about a place you would go right now and why
Write about something that was no fun at all
Make a list of things you still wish to do
Write about a time when you knew you were in trouble 
How did you spend your pocket money?
Write about an embarrassing moment
Write about your relationship with weekends
Write a list about things you don’t need
Write about noise
Write about silence
Write about pretending
Write about disappointment
Write about joy
Make a list of settings you have been in during the holidays
Make a list of questions you wished you had asked
Write about your feet
Write about your treasures
Write about something that has changed
Write about something you consider to be fake
Write about something you wish you could still do
Write and DRAW about a place that is important to you
Create a map of a place you recall from your childhood
Good Luck. Happy times writing...

Thursday, December 1, 2016

VIDEO -Poetry BOOK 'I Bet There's No Broccoli On The Moon'

Now SEE This!

Hello everyone. Here for your information and entertainment is a short video about my brand new poetry book, I Bet There's No Broccoli On The Moon. Just click on the link below and it will take you directly to the poetry zone!


Monday, November 28, 2016

Matt Glover and Alan Wright in Adelaide in 2017

With the wonderful support of Lisa Burman Consulting, I am pleased to announce that I will be presenting in Adelaide on June 16 alongside, American Educator and Author, Matt Glover. I look forward to being part of this professional learning day. It's a rare opportunity to listen to Matt, while I look forward to sharing insight into how writing can be most effectively presented with older students. Hope to see you in Adelaide.

Matt Glover & Alan Wright in Adelaide 2017!


Matt Glover

Matt Glover is making his first trip to Australia and we have him here in Adelaide! As many of you already know, Matt is one of the key influences in our Bookmaking Approach. In fact, every time I read one of Matt's books, I almost feel like I could have written it, we are so 'in tune' with each other's values and beliefs. The details, including conference titles and content, are still being worked out, but I wanted to share the news with you all so you can share in my excitement! 

Alan Wright

Alan Wright is a sought-after consultant, speaker and "Poet in Residence". He lives to write and inspires many to also live like a writer, closely observing the world, collecting ideas and inspiration in our Writer's Notebooks and crafting words for the most powerful impact on the reader. Alan has worked with children and educators in USA and throughout Australia. His pedagogy perfectly builds on the work of Matt Glover in the Early Years, with a focus on teaching children HOW to write, not what to write. You'll be inspired and also leave with many practical ideas you can bring into your own Writing Workshops. the date/s and include this in your budgets - it will a wonderful opportunity of teams to participate together. Friday 16 June has been purposefully designed to enable schools to have 'Child-free Days'.
Numbers will be strictly limited and registrations will open in Term 1 2017. 
  Thursday 15 June 2017
Making Books Masterclass with Matt Glover
Friday 16 June 2017
Making Books Masterclass with Matt Glover
Writer's Notebook Masterclass with Alan Wright

Writers Need To Go Rummaging Occasionally


'Go to the attic of your mind and rummage around and find something.'
Mary Higgins Clark

What excellent advice for those who procrastinate over writing. Remember it is easy to find reasons not to write. What you are seeking is just one good reason to write. For teachers, the answer is -your students!

Rummaging is such a wonderful word. I experience such delight when indulging in a bit of rummaging. It imbues the spirit of discovery, and the  potential to uncover unexpected treasure and delight. It may also reveal some thing long since forgotten, something considered lost. The very notion of digging and delving into some mysterious part of your life and its associated belongings create an air of excitement. The act of turning over items or fossicking and rifling through books, journals or collected papers is alive with the prospect of discovery or rediscovery. 

I admit to deliberately hiding items inside books (notes, business cards, tickets) in order to enjoy the discovery of said items at some later date- by either myself, or maybe someone else well into the future, who knows? This conscious planting of ephemera in books makes rummaging a doubly sweet action. I recall the joy of discovery when rummaging through an old cook book of my mother's and unearthing small treasures hidden from the light for almost fifty years.

Well, today I went rummaging back through my current writer's notebook and began to pull out and document some of my collected quotes about writing. Writers are collectors.  It gives me pleasure to share here, now,  a sample of my gathered treasures:

(On the front cover) -'There's no excuse. If you want to write, write.'
Natalie Goldberg.

'Say what mean, say what you see. make a photograph if you can for your readers.' Stephen King. 

'There is no real ending. It's just the place where you stop the story.'
Frank Herbert.

'Scissors and paste are honorable writer's tools.'
William Zinnser

'When we look beyond the surface errors in student's writing we see the beauty hidden beneath.'
Lisa Eickholdt

'Before you can write anything, you have to notice something.'
John Irving

'It's called writing workshop ,not writing factory. We should see unique products in progress and evidence of writing everywhere.'
Tamberly Wheeler

'So much more than good intention is required ti lead all students to grow as readers and writers.'
Penny Kittle

"poetry should be positioned as part of everyday life.'
Sally Murphy 

Where are you finding writing in your notebook you want to develop into more writing.'
Linda Rief

'To be a poet is a conditon, rather than a profession.'
Robert Graves

This is just a sampling of what I uncovered while rummaging. I urge you to indulge in a bit of healthy rummaging too.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

New POETRY Book Release!


I am so pleased to announce the release of my new poetry book, I Bet There's No Broccoli On The Moon -More Poetry From the Search Zone.

This anthology of poems follows on from my first collection of poems, the successful,  Searching For Hen's Teeth.

You can order my book on line or simply walk into your local bookstore and ask the kind person serving you to order it in for you. Either way, I hope you enjoy it. May the words reach your poet's heart.

Here is a taste, a morsel to whet your appetite for more poetry. Hope you like it. Hope you want more...


I knew who my enemies were.
I knew where they lived.
I knew not to go there.
Yesterday, I knew where to play on the school ground
And that football was my favourite game in the whole
wide world.
Yesterday, I knew how disgusting it was to eat sheep
And broccoli.
And oysters.
Yesterday, I could fly a kite,
Keep a secret,
And swing from the clothesline.
The world felt settled.
Then Laura Fisher spoke to me.
Now a million weird worries surround me,

And I’m not sure if I will survive grade 5.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Some Conventional Wisdom About Writing

Conventional Wisdom 
About Writing

Many of us carry scars inflicted by the Grammar Police. Teachers and other adults who could spot an errors from across the room.Much of my childhood was punctuated (sorry, I couldn’t resist that) by zealous red pen people.

They frequently reminded me my efforts to write conventionally clearly fell short. I was in need of correction and their written comments were used to reinforce my grammatical shortcomings, my failure to conform to the adult model of acceptable English. I don’t ever recall receiving written comments regarding the intent of my writing. The focus appeared to be purely on the surface features of the writing. It was a deficit model of teaching writing.

In reality I was practicing conventions every time I wrote. Every time I wrote, I was moving a smidge closer to becoming a writer who understood how conventions assisted me to convey a clearer message to my readers.

Think about it. As we write each letter to form words, as we allow spaces between those words, when we place capital letters at the beginning of a new sentence and full stops at the conclusion of that sentence, we are providing irrefutable evidence and a knowledge of language conventions. We are honouring the worth of such conventions by consistently writing in this manner. The conventions we use act like signposts, assisting the reader to negotiate a text. This use of conventions frees the reader to focus on making meaning from our scribing.

Conventions are designed to assist the writer’s thoughts to emerge on the page in ways that allow them to be understood and appreciated by others. Conventions add a precision to our work as writers.  Teachers, being the most proficient and experienced writers in the classroom should willingly share their knowledge and use of conventions through their own writing.

As teachers you can actively support young writers as they grapple with the use of writing conventions by noticing and reinforcing instances where they are used effectively in the writing they produce.

When the developing writer demonstrates an increasing awareness of language conventions we can support them by providing suitable feedback, such as:

‘As you read your writing to me just then I noticed you had a full stop in exactly the right place. You ended that sentence perfectly.’ 
(Provides an opportunity to reinforce effective use of conventions)

‘I notice you wrote your friend’s name using a capital letter at the start, How do you know about that?
(Provides the writer with an opportunity to articulate their understanding of when to use capital letters)

When teachers highlight such matters in conversations/writing conferences it highlights their significance to being effective as a writer. It shines a light on matters of importance. The young writer grows to appreciate that conventions assist the writer’s message to be convey more clearly. With such a view, the developing writer is more likely to want to build their own proficiency.

The work of Jeff Anderson comes to mind here. Jeff suggests teachers of writing share exemplars of text and issue student writers with an invitation to explore. Discussion could then centre on noticing the writer’s effective use of conventions (commas, dialogue, capitalization, tense agreement, pronouns, specific words, grammar).

What is the author doing with conventions, you want to do in your own writing?

If we aim to make our student writers aspirational, it will be reflected in a greater desire to add conventions to their writing repertoire. When it comes to teaching young writers about language conventions keep asking the question- How does this help the reader to understand the writing?

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Peaceful Co-existence Of Poetry and Sport

Unpacking The Poet

When I visit schools as part of a Meet The Author Day, young writers always arrive brimming with questions regarding the writing life and the work surrounding the publishing of books. The usual questions arise during the day:

Where do you get your ideas?
What inspired you to write poetry?
Do you have a favourite poem?
Do you prefer rhyming verse or free verse?
How long have you been writing poetry?
How did you get your poetry book published?
How long does it take to write a book?

These questions are quite normal. But one question (usually posed by Grade 6 boys) always sets me to thinking more deeply about my response. They raise a hand and ask, ‘Do you like sport?

This question has been raised with me on numerous occasions and it is always posed by boys. I suspect that in the minds of many boys, poetry and sports are viewed as mutually exclusive pursuits. Poetry is seemingly passive and sport, an active pursuit preferred by the majority of male role models in the lives of these boys.

I gently explained that sport and poetry have both been my travelling companions throughout life. There has been plenty of room for both of them as I have journeyed through the years. For me, it was never an either or decision. 

Sport has been a strong thread in my life, for as long I can remember. I played football and cricket for as long as my body would allow. Team sports gave me a balanced perspective regarding the twin impostors- victory and defeat. Enduring friendships came from my sporting encounters. I am so grateful for the rich vein of experience connected to my sporting life. I had a strong desire to run quickly and jump a long way, so athletics was the perfect outlet in my youth.  It was the perfect release for youthful exuberance. My aching body stands as testimony to a life spent in sporting pursuits.

Poetry ran parallel to sport. It was always there. Throughout my schooling, university and my entire adult life, it has been present, acting like a counter balance. It was never a private passion. I was happy for people to know me for my love of poetry.

So, yes, I do love sport, but I also love poetry. Poetry continues unabated, despite my increasing sporting limitations.  There is room in my heart for many different pursuits. Sport and poetry co exist in my life and both of them have provided so many rich experiences. For me, there is harmony. I sometimes write poems about sport to further reinforce that link.

I am not just a poet. It only tells part of who I am. Like an onion, I have layers. I will continue to challenge misconceptions surrounding the arts and sports. I remain, a fully functioning literate sports nut. So boys, feel free to follow my lead, if you wish. 

Fair Whack

All the kids
Gathered in the park to play cricket.
Banger Barnes was batting—
The ball exploded from the bat.
High in the sky it flew,
Above the trees,
Away into the dazzling sunlight;
Out of the park
And over the road.
It bounced beside Mrs. Bradford’s cat, Boofhead and
Then bounced again
Before shattering Mr. Stravlakis’s front window.
Over in the park, everyone froze.
Then …
Scotty scampered,
Veronica vamoosed,
Davo decamped,
Skeeter skedaddled,
Abdul absconded,
Dominic dashed,
Betsy bolted,
Natalie nicked off,
Flynn flew the coop,
Wazza whisked to the woods,
And Banger Barnes hotfooted it home,
Like Speedy Gonzales yelling, “Arriba, Arriba! √Āndale!”
When Mr. Stravlakis entered the park,
All the kids had split …
Game over