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Showing posts from March, 2010

Slice of Life Story - Reflections on the Slice of Life Challenge

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Today is a great day for some reflection. For today marks the end of a journey. -A journey that commenced exactly a month ago with my involvement in the Slice of Story Challenge for March. This writing challenge was concieved and set up by Stacey Shubitz and Ruth Ayres from Two Writing Teachers and it is to these writers and educators, I am indebted.

It is said that it is the journey not the destination that is important, and there is ample evidence that is indeed true. While taking part in this challenge I have made discoveries, for part of this journey has involved exploring self. I have also been able to learn of common incidents in their real state by reading the words of fellow writers. These incidents have allowed me to contemplate and connect, despite our geographical differences. I have gained a better appreciation of the happiness that resides in the present moment. When we learn to do this we stop borrowing from the bank of future hope. I have also made discoveries, -words, …

Slice of Life Story - At the Airport And Ready For Some Chillaxing

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Today I flew to Brisbane for a few days of relaxation at Broadbeach on Queensland’s Gold Coast. My frequent flyer points made this flight cost free. However, it was a no frills flight and the only item they didn’t charge customers for was the air we breathed.
Broadbeach is slightly south of Surfer’s Paradise and is a destination favoured by snowbirds. It is some time since I was last here and development continues to leave its indelible mark on this coastal Mecca. This area is Australia’s Florida. The people of the Australia southern states flock here, particularly in the winter months, when the local population swells. It is currently school holiday time and children are everywhere in profuse numbers. The air here is warm and heavy. Dense cumulonimbus clouds blanket the sky and one senses rain is never far away. A sense of languidness pervades the action of people out and about on the streets. The pace is suitably slow. You feel your shoulders relaxing....
I find airports fascinatin…

Slice of Life Story - The Creek Is Wild This Morning

It rained heavily overnight. Following successive seasons of below average rain, we now appear to be moving into a period of increased rainfall. Autumn has arrived with a series of resounding downpours. The creek below our house is running a gusher this morning. It is almost bursting its banks such is the rush of water down its course. Most of the year its maintains a low steady flow as it meanders around rocks on its way to Port Philip Bay less than a kilometre away. Ducks and wading birds such as egret occasionally drop in for a splash and a feed. Water weeds thrive in the warm shallow water along the banks during the summer months. Butterflies flitter about seeking out the butterfly bushes (Buddleia davidii) I planted near the creek's edge. .

Today the character of the creek is dramatically altered. It is ferocious and irrepressible. No wading today. The torrent races by our place along the valley of the creek with such impressive momentum. The birds seem impressed by the rain…

Slice of Life Story -Here's To Your Health

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I hope I am not being presumptuous by delving into the someone elses domestic issues, but I do have some experience, be it limited, with the US health system...

I recall watching a documentary in the eighties titled ‘Don’t Get Sick in America’ The film outlined the problems associated with the delivery of health services in America at that time. Its message has remained with me through the years. My six years living in the US as a legal alien taught me a few extra things about the prevailing health system. At one point I experienced its obvious limitations. I paid $1500.00 for a few rudimentary blood tests. -Tests that would have been covered by the health system had I been home in Australia. I eventually recouped my costs because I could afford additional health insurance. I was stunned when a rudimentary consultation at a cost of $200  had to be paid up front, before the doctor would agree to see me. These events reinforced my concerns about the health system of America. It presented…

Slice of Life Story - Routines and Rituals on Saturday

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My Dad was renowned as a creature of habit. He always sat in the same chair in our family lounge room and always drank his cup of tea from the same cup.-and it was always Robur tea. His daily rituals were firmly established. He did not entertain the idea of radical change, or unexpected departure from established behaviours.

Now I’m beginning to realize that I too have some firmly established routines and rituals. This morning for instance, I was up and about early, just after sunrise, in order to make an eight o’clock appointment with my hairdresser. It’s Saturday morning and I’m continuing a ritual that has endured for more than twenty years. I have been going to the same hairdresser, Leni for all that time. The appointments have been set for early on a Saturday morning for as long as I can remember. I am in and out of the salon in just over twenty minutes and it always goes something like this when I arrive.
‘Morning Alan, are we going short today?’
‘No, just a trim thanks Leni.’
‘May…

Slice of Life Story - The Potential That Lies In Artefacts

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I took a bag containing a collection of artefacts into a classroom last week. I invited students to delve into the bag and take out a single item. I then shared the story associated with each item. In my mystery bag of goodies students lifted out a ticket to the Sydney Olympics, an old camera originally owned by my father, a Turkish coin, a photograph of my grandson, a badge designed by Author and illustrator, Terry Denton and an antique Balinese bamboo spice container. The students listened respectfully as I told the stories quickly and enthusiastically. They had questions, their curiosity aroused by the various items I shared. My aim was to show them that we all have stories to tell. Sometimes those stories surround the keepsakes, treasures and artefacts we hold close. I challenged them to think about some of their personal artefacts as a potential source for writing ideas. They resolved to go home and sketch or photograph some of these treasures and place them into their respectiv…

Slice of Life Story - Discovering Where Ideas Dwell

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An exchange I had with a teacher just a few days ago has been on my mind since then. It is buzzing around my brain. The teacher was at pains to tell me how her students were struggling to think of topics for their writing. ‘They never seem to come up with much, so that’s why I have to give them sentence starters.’ The word 'have' jarred in my ears.
I was asked to work with her students. ‘Could you demonstrate how writers get their ideas?’ I wondered if the teacher had ever considered this same question?
Had those young writers been asked to explore this same idea? I got the impression I was expected to fix them in some way. I felt strongly that the answer lay elsewhere. Had any enquiry taken place?
Demonstrating and modelling how we connect to the world around us is a vital lesson for our students. We need to demonstrate how we see the potential in things for writing each and every day. We need to demonstrate how we harvest ideas and how we excavate memories. Listing, brainstormi…

Slice of Life Story - Under The Milky Way Tonight

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I’m standing in front of our house it is late in the evening and I am patiently waiting for our little dog Boo to do what dog’s need to do at the end of the day. It is a surprisingly mild evening for March and as Boo scratches and sniffs about, I wait patiently like a supervising parent.  I look skyward. There is the hint of a breeze this evening and the trees whisper a kind of lullaby.

The night sky is clear and my eyes connect with a glittering star garden. I can see for a million miles tonight but I have no interest in going anywhere at this particular moment.
I stand in awe and wonder as this magnificent sparkling extravaganza; this blanket of stars holds me mesmerized. I begin looking for the Southern Cross constellation. As a young boy I would lie in bed and stare out my window at the night sky. The moon would shine on me. My recollection of this childhood memory is immediate and strong.

As Boo trots back to me, snuffling and brushing against my leg in a sign that she is ready to…

Slice of Life Story - Up Early And On The Way

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Today I was up at 5.20am in order to work at a school in Melbourne’s west. When I left home it was 6.30am and still dark outside. The morning was mild and the sound of birdsong muted. The warble of magpies had not begun, although in the distance the cackle of the kookaburras was noticeable. Like me they were out and about early. The difference being that I rarely cackle in the morning. It often takes me some time before I can open both eyes simultaneously.

If I leave at this time, the journey only takes me a little over 75 minutes. It places me marginally ahead of the morning rush. If I leave any later, the trip becomes a stop start crawl than can take almost two hours. The choice is a no brainer really. Commuter chaos is not an attractive option. So up, and on the road early is the way to go.
I arrived at the school a good hour before school commenced. This allowed me time to settle into the day ahead, fine tune my demonstration lessons, organize resources and check in with teachers. …

Slice of Life Story - An Unplanned Pickle Project!

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Yesterday I made green tomato pickle. I picked the last of the tomatoes from our small vegetable garden, found a recipe for green tomato pickle relish and set about producing a few jars of this delicious condiment. Today when I entered the house, I could smell the sweet remnant smells of the previous day’s cooking. The blending of tomatoes, onions, apple vinegar, sugar and spices were lingering in the air. There was a time when I’d regularly do cooking and preserving of our home grown produce, but other things has pushed this activity to the back of the queue in recent years. It was most satisfying to reconnect with such therapeutic activity. Cutting the onions and apple, blanching the tomatoes and then removing the skin, combining them in a large pot on the stove and adding copious amounts of vinegar, sugar and spices was fun. Then I found myself with the task of constant stirring over the simmering pot as the ingredients softened; the mingling aromas tickling my nose. The best thing…

Slice of Life - Those Autumn Leaves

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Another day in the Slice of Life Story Challenge for MARCH... Sunday morning finds me sweeping leaves from the drive way in front of our house. As I vigorously work the broom, the wind and the trees conspire to frustrate me. I clear the area of leaves, turn to walk away and then notice my twin foes are taunting me with fresh deposits. Leaves, twigs and small branches miraculously appear seemingly from thin air and lay on the concrete. Leaves dance and flitter before settling on my previously clear canvas. I return to sweeping and remove the latest wind borne irritants. I sweep with renewed intensity. With Shakespearean seriousness I want to cry -'Out damned spot!' because to me this is a tragedy.
I am determined to win- but I won’t. Such is the inevitability of this lopsided contest. Trees and wind one, eternally damned sweeper nil. At least I tried and I did enjoy the transitory pleasure of a clear driveway for those few seconds. Small pleasures punctuate our days. I shall ret…

Slice of Life Story - The Age of the Sage

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Ah Saturday! -A chance to let your thoughts meander a little. For reasons I can’t fully explain my thoughts today are about becoming venerable. I have reached that age where I feel a little more qualified to offer sagely advice. Advice acquired from the wisdom that living brings. Maybe one day I could squat in a cave on the side of a remote mountain and deliver one off advice to confused and worried souls. They could climb up to my humble abode and I could provide the name of that tune they have been humming for days but for the life of them cannot recall the title. Now that would be fulfilling. I know how annoying it is to have an unrecognisable tune circling your brain like a blow fly in a jar. I might also offer one off pieces of advice to soothe trouble minds. So if this is to be my future career move, I need to develop a manifesto:

The Wright Thoughts

Embrace simple pleasures
Take time to listen to music every day
Always wear comfortable underwear
If the sign says fast food think abou…

Slice of Life Story - The Reading-Writing Connection

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Today I challenged a group of graduate teachers to be the readers and writers their students deserve. I urged them to celebrate their literate lives, their passion for learning, with their students. I was talking about the reading- writing connection and how we as educators must endeavour to make these links explicit for our students. It should not be taken for granted that kids’ get it’ It worries me that on too many occasions I have entered classrooms where the teaching of reading and the teaching of writing exist like silos. In those classrooms there appears to be a massive disconnect between these aspects of the literacy program. They should be interdependent. They need each other’s support.
It got me to thinking how my reading life supports my writing life. My reading provides a rich harvest of ideas for my writing. It is nourishment. It is fodder. The reading provides a multitude of teachable moments to share. My reading reflections help me determine what I want students and tea…

Slice of Life Story - Coffee and Karma

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I am sitting in my preferred coffee haunt Via Boffe, looking out the window, as I enjoy a coffee fix and make notes in my writer’s notebook. I am stunned to see a car do a three point turn on busy Main Street on street market day!


The car swings into the disabled parking space directly in front of the café. I am transfixed by the audacity of the driver. Two large, able bodied women emerge from the car and remove bundles of assorted bedding, including a duvet from the rear of the car. They cross the road looking somewhat like floating fluffy clouds, walking in the direction of the dry cleaning shop presumably. They return shortly, minus the load of bedding, remove two handbags from the car, before heading off to explore nearby shops.

About ten minutes later a parking officer; the kind renowned for eating their own young appears and duly places a parking infringement notice on the car’s windscreen. I believe I have witnessed karma.

Slice of Life Story - A Maniac Mentor

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Today I was conducting a read aloud using a trusted mentor text, Jerry Spinelli’s ‘Maniac Magee.’ The focus of the lesson was ‘readers generate their own questions. I was using the think aloud strategy to reveal my thinking and locating the evidence from the text that was supporting my thinking. My copy of this book is looking a bit tired. The pages have yellowed, and dog eared at the edges. The front cover is scarred with a burn mark where I left it in front of a data projector that proved way too hot. It has travelled to many school locations stuffed in my bag. Despite its ragged façade, it has served me well. I have used it so many times to teach aspects of writing and reading across the nine years that I first purchased it. Jerry Spinelli is a trusted writer. He shares the task of teaching with me and has never failed to support me.

Before I bought this book, I had no prior knowledge of Spinelli’s writing. I now own several of his books. We have become a team., Spinelli and I. In …

Dealing With Correction

How do we assist students to establish clear procedures for editing their writing? How do we help them to develop skills for proofreading?


A basic ideas
• Expect your students to be their own first editor. Build this into the routines in your class.

• Model and demonstrate how you undertake such a routine

• Notice student needs based on the edits your students make and teach accordingly

• During conferences teach one or two editing skills students might use

Sample Editing Checklist. Suitable for Grade 2 (Adapted from Ralph Fletcher)

SKILL

I have written complete sentencesI have used capital letters at the beginning of sentencesI have used correct ending punctuationI have checked the spelling of key words*You would modify the list according to the age level or the need.

When it comes to the issue of correction I suggest teachers provide feedback that engages students in cognitive problem-solving as they attempt to self-edit. Students should be expected to self-edit their texts after receiving…

Slice of Life Story - Consciously Slowing The Flow Of The Day

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Sometimes it’s good to saunter, to amble, to take your time. Wander about in the various moments of the day. You see more when you do that. Today, I wanted to slow down a bit, enjoy the moments along the journey through my day. It proved a little difficult given that I was working. Still, I did my best not to rush. Inwardly I tried to slow down. I was conscious of keeping myself in check. Even when I was driving, I wanted to remain unfazed by the impatience and urge to rush of my fellow travellers. Better to arrive a few minutes later than normal than feel under self induced pressure. I am tired of rushing, racing and feeling harried by the pace of my work life in recent weeks. It’s not a case of stop the world, more a case of being aware of the speed and trying to regain the necessary equilibrium.



I recall when living in New York that each time I left our apartment in Midtown, I felt as though I was jumping into a fast flowing stream. People always appeared to be rushing –an irresist…

Slice of Life Story - A Load of Old Piffle

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Words come and go. They fall out of favour and new words enter the lexicon all the time. We accept and understand the evolving nature of language. That is what makes it so intriguing. Shades of meaning also exist and terms I heard when living in America sometimes held different meaning back home in Australia. I was always conscious of these differences when out and about. So often we find ourselves code shifting when in different social settings. That’s what makes language so fascinating

Today, in the school I was visiting, I heard a word I have not heard for some time. A teacher engaged in a conversation with a colleague used the term ‘piffle’ (perhaps a blend of piddle and trifle; circa 1878 meaning to talk or act in a trivial, inept, or ineffective way foolish or futile talk or ideas; nonsense.) I can recall my mother using that exact word with phrases such as ‘What a load of piffle!’ I wondered what today’s generation would make of the word piffle?

It seems to me that most people ar…

Slice of Life - A Brief Conversation With Cooper

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This morning I rang my grandson Cooper, to check in on how he was going. Cooper is aged four and lives in Sydney some 900kms away. He is at an age where absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder. Absence makes the vision fade, so it is important to maintain the profile with regular chit chats as he sometimes likes to call them. When I called he was somewhere outside doing nothing in particular, but he came to the phone when his Dad called for him and the conversation went something like this:
Hi Cooper’ ‘Hello Papa’ ‘Well, what have you been doing this week?’ ‘I‘ve been roller-skating.’ ‘Really? I didn’t know you had roller skates.’ ‘Yes, I got them for my birthday.’ ‘How’s your balance?’ ‘Good!’ ‘Now tell me, what have you got planned for today?’
‘I’m going to have a milkshake.’
‘That sounds like something to look forward to…’


-And with that he was gone. The thought of the milkshake had obviously triggered a need to hurry things up a bit and I was extraneous to that primary need. Maslow’s hiera…

Slice of Life Story- Vivid Verbs and The Sound of Silence

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I was driving yesterday morning and thinking about my day's work. In particular I was thinking about revision strategies and the way vivid verbs enhance writing when young writers are taught to use them to greater effect. Looking closely at the verbs in a writing piece is a great way to revise a writing piece. The reader’s ability to visualize is greatly enhanced when vivid verbs are consciously employed.  They are the muscles of writing in the same adjectives are the fat. Well, at that precise moment as I lingered in that verb vibe, my trusty ipod threw up a golden oldie in the form of Simon and Garfunkel's 'Sounds of Silence' and it was as if I were listening to the lyrics for the very first time. My awareness was suddenly heightened and the power of the verbs struck me. And the connection was complete.
‘When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light that split the night and touched the sound of silence…’
Wow, what a great use of verbs to aid the listener; the …

Slice of Life Story - When Socks Go Wild!

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It’s Friday; the end of a demanding working week and for reasons I cannot adequately explain, my thoughts have turned to socks.
I am so glad I’m not a sock. Crammed into stinky shoes-rarely seeing daylight, socks endure a most depressing existence. It is hardly surprising then that socks really make the most of being tossed into the wash! It’s a chance to break out, go wild and even make a break for freedom. Before you dismiss me as a loon, consider the following…
Once we toss them into the washing machine socks finally get the chance to hang out with other items of apparel. Once in the sudsy world of the wash cycle, socks get to rage and have fun- spinning with shirts and undies, splashing about with fellow socks; tangling and untangling. Oh what freedom!


As the machine goes through its cycles, socks rock and roll without a care. Finally the spin cycle begins and that’s when socks realize the good times are fast coming to an end. That’s when they go into panic mode. They cling desperate…

Slice of Life Story- Being Joyfully Literate

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Every day when I enter the classroom I carry with me the words of educator and author, Regie Routman. It was from Regie I got the magic words  that as teachers we need to be 'joyfully literate' I have lost count of the number of times I have uttered those words over the years, in my work as a consultant and coach. Teaching in part is a performance art. We emit messages about where we stand as readers and writers each time we find ourselves in front of a group of students. Kids know if we are genuine with our utterances regarding the importance of literacy. Every day it is more important to  act out 'show don't tell' when it comes to sharing the joy of being a literate being.  


Today I found myself reading one of my all time favourite poems, Michael Rosen's 'Chocolate Cake.' I love presenting this poem for numerous reasons -the humour, the connection to childhood, Rosen's wonderful words, the atypical structure of the poem.  For me, it is  an absolute…

Slice Of Life Story -The First Time Is Often Memorable

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This morning I found myself talking and writing with a group of Year 9 high school students. They were generating a list of potential writing ideas for a narrative and one student suggested making a list of ‘firsts.’ They began to think about all those first times in their lives. The talk began to flow easily. I sat and listened and began to think.
Our lives are punctuated by so many of these first experiences. Some of them are profound and unforgettable, others somewhat regrettable or embarrassing. Sometimes the first time we experience a thing becomes the last time as well, for we determine never to repeat that event. As one student told the group, ‘The first time I ate onions was also the last!’
Suddenly a thought rushed into my head -I know where I was the first time I heard ‘The Beatles!’ I was not exactly sure where that came from, but it surfaced without warning, so I decided to work with it and began jotting down notes in my notebook…
I had just stepped off the school bus and dr…

Slice of Life - The Ring's The Thing

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I’m standing in a shopping mall waiting to order my lunch from a sandwich bar/deli; the kind where you build your sandwich from an assortment of fillings. My order is taken and I stand waiting for the sandwich to be completed. A man standing beside me begins to order his lunch from a second person serving behind the counter. As he begins to relay his order, his phone rings. He dives into his pocket and extracts his phone of choice and holds up a hand to the woman before uttering ‘Hang on a minute.’ She immediately stops sandwich construction duties, and stands as if in suspended animation for what seems an eternity. Her serving tongs are held like a torch in the air while phone man attends to his phone message. The woman says nothing, as if frozen mid order. An interminable time passes with phone man glued to his phone listening, still listening.

All the while the woman waits. Her eyes though, begin to betray her disquiet at what is taking place here. She says nothing. The man finally…

Slice of Life Story - News and Views that Raise the Hackles

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I probably should stop reading newspapers. I picked up the newspaper from the front of my house  and the headline that greeted me made another deliberately inflammatory statement regarding the so called ‘education revolution.’



Whenever I read about education in the print media, it so often involves the views of people so far removed from the reality of schools and their unique issues, that it is almost laughable. It doesn’t prevent them from espousing views that run counter to the efforts of committed educators and the communities they serve. Politicians talking about education frequently bandy about the term ‘accountability.’ You hear them blurt media grabs such as, ‘We need more accountability in schools, more transparency in reporting learning outcomes, parents are demanding more information!’


I have reached the conclusion that by transparency they actually mean ‘control.’ Politicians view education as something they can ‘appear’ to assert control over. They do this in the belief th…

Dialogue -That's What I'm Talking About!

Students using dialogue in their writing is frequently defined by extremes –too much or too little!

Where there is too much dialogue, the writing is more like a script. The writing often lacks any structure in which the dialogue can be supported. We have all seen students doing this with dialogue. They may have whole pages with characters talking except there is something missing. It’s the internal voice –the voice inside the character’s head along with the actions and movements that people make as they talk.

Then there’s the other situation where the dialogue is either non existent or so stilted that it is almost banal. For dialogue to be of value it must reveal something about the characters and their relationship with one another. If the dialogue reveals little about the characters we begin to lose interest in them. A character’s dialogue needs to be pithier than merely talking about the weather. It should aim to push the plot along or reveal something about the plot the reader didn…

Slice of Life Story -The Ties That Bind

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I was sitting in Via Boffe enjoying a coffee and reflecting on the funeral for a friend held the previous day. One of his quirks was to request the same cup for his second cup of coffee. He was among other things –an energy conservationist.
As I sat there in my favourite position near the front window, in walks the café owner’s son, Josh, resplendent in a suit. It is about 11.00 am and the café is filled with customers dressed casually to reflect the relaxed mood of the weekend. Josh stands slightly ill at ease. The suit and he share an uneasy relationship. In his normal work as a chef there is little call for tailored threads. A hand raised to his neck indicates that he feels a little collar proud. In a short while Josh will head off to a wedding- not his own. Little does he, or the bridal party for that matter, realize that later in the day Melbourne will experience one of its most violent storms in recorded history. It will be a memorable day in so many ways.
Staff and customers al…