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Showing posts from March, 2012

Slice of Life Story Challenge DAY 31 -Celebrating The Wonder of Now

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It is the wonder of now that inspires this final offering for the marvellous month of March…

One of the real life lessons acquired from participation in this and previous Slice of Life Story Challenges has been an increased awareness of moments in time. The incredible wonder that resides in being present in that special moment. This morning I spent time at the park with Sass, age 9 and Sunni age 7. I watched them devote extended time to mastering moves on the swing. Their solitary aim was to go as high as possible. They were totally devoted to flying up to the heavens. It was as if nothing else existed beyond that simple goal. I watched intently. Their efforts inspired me to take photos. Captured images of a moment in time, serve as an aid to the writer’s recall.

Earlier, I had watched them eat waffles, strawberries and ice-cream in the cafe. They ate heartily and scraped their plates until no trace of the culinary delights remained. Kids in the zone.

My observations of people and event…

Slice Of Life Story Challenge Day 30 - Teacher Workload

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This slice is dedicated to all my hard working colleagues in classrooms. It's the end of Term 1 in Victorian schools today, and a break is richly deserved. They continue to work tirelessly despite the fact that the state government has removed $346 million from the education budget. So, here's to teachers!

When children make a demonstrable breakthrough in their learning or understanding after weeks of careful modelling by the teacher, it makes teaching so worthwhile. When they read with confidence or gain power over an aspect of their writing, special moments occur. When a student takes responsibility for an aspect of their learning, the teacher rejoices in this significant event. It is time to celebrate. Feedback to the student is usually immediate and sincere.

I am saying these things because teaching is not always like this. At times teaching can be extremely stressful and demanding. There are times throughout this year when demands of the workday erode much of the gloss of t…

Slice of Life Story Challenge Day 29 -A Test for Teaching

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I have just finished presenting a series of workshops dealing with persuasive writing for all schools in Melbourne’s Western Region. National testing in writing in May will expect Australian students in Grades 3,5,7 and 9 to respond to a prompt using persuasive strategies and structures in their responses. It is important not to descend into the dark recesses of ‘test prep’ behaviours.

I’m not an advocate for standardised testing. The validity of such assessments remains highly questionable and culturally biased. Such assessments tend to produce teaching that looks a lot like testing itself.Standardised tests are however like global warming; they present as an inconvenient truth with strong political imperatives.

For this reason I want students to feel comfortable about writing when placed in a testing situation. We must explain to students that this type of writing (test writing) is totally artificial and totally different from writing as we know. In other words, as educators we shou…

Slice of Life Story Challenge Day 28 -We're Losing Our Hair Over This!

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Today, I ducked into a supermarket to buy some razor blades. I have to say the price of these tiny seemingly essential items appalled me. Given that I live in a country renowned for its abundant iron ore resources, the price of razor blades appears inexplicable. Two of the world’s biggest steel manufacturers BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto are based here and yet we pay up to $17 AUD for a set of four blades of questionable longevity!

How can this be? Well, it partly has to do with our obsession to rid the body of hair. Hair has become a blight on our bodies. We appear to have declare war on body hair. To quote Shakespeare, we refer to hair as if we are saying, ‘Out damned spot!’ The blades are in are favour in the modern era. It’s a far cry from the heady and hairy days of the sixties and seventies and the strains of ‘Give me a head with hair, long beautiful hair…’

Advertisers now encourage us to adopt a scorched earth policy in relation to hair. It is plucked, scraped, cut, torn, shaved, ra…

Slice of Life Story Challenge Day 27 -The Wanderers Return

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Last year, at almost the exact time, I experienced a wonder of nature I had waited all my life to experience. Monarch Butterflies finally entered my garden. In Australia they are also known as Wanderer Butterflies.
At that time I wrote, ‘I noticed some large butterflies hovering near the buddleias beside the creek. At first I wasn’t sure if I was seeing things. Could they be Wanderers? Such visits are uncommon. However, they are renowned for being able to travel significant distances and I have waited many years for them to visit. So the hope in my heart began to dance with anticipation.

I stood to gain a closer look. I approached them tentatively, not wishing to disturb them; still unsure that what my eyes were fixed upon matched the thoughts in my head. Were these magnificent butterflies flittering around me actually the legendary Monarch butterflies also known as Wanderers?  Diving and swooping continually around the buddleias and along the creek their movement held me mesmerized. F…

Slice of Life Story Challenge Day 26 -Sharing Your Literate Life

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Today, I presented at a conference for Graduate Teachers in Melbourne. The conference title was ‘Surviving and Thriving in the Early Years of Teaching.’ Among the many things I shared with participants, was the importance of being joyfully literate, and the critical nature of sharing our reading and writing lives with the students in our care. When it comes to teaching, you must in the stream with your students,. You can’t stand on the bank imploring them to swim faster! Your efforts must intially go into helping keep them afloat. When you share aspects of your reading and writing self, it adds extra depth to your humanity and strengthen the connection to what you are demanding of them. It makes you credible…
These remarks led me to thinking about my personal situation as both reader and writer, and I recalled reading recently that one of favourite educators, Richard Allington, speaking at a conference in Colorado had restated his belief that unless you know a thousand books you should…

Slice of Life Story Challenge Day 25 -A Great Day To Make Soup!

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Today was a great day to make soup. It was windy and raining and generally most inhospitable for outdoor adventures. So, soup it was…
We did venture out for the obligatory weekend morning coffee, but not before we donned coats and scarves and suitably warm clothing. This is still early autumn for goodness sake! The wind showed us no mercy though. It slapped and shoved its way down Main Street.

Vicki planted the idea of making soup in my head while we sipped coffee. I’m generally the souper-intendent in our house, so I bought half a pumpkin and two leeks before venturing home. Making soup appeals to the alchemist in me. Hubble, bubble...

I peeled and chopped up the pumpkin into small chunks. I then topped and tailed the leeks before slicing them length wise and washing out any residual dirt and grit still caught in its multiple layers. I placed the pumpkin into a cooking pot, suitable for serious soup making. I then added with olive oil, cumin and chilli flakes, hoping the spices would …

Slice of Life Story Challenge Day 24 - Graduating To Grown Up Books

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This morning as I perused the shelves of books in my study, my eye fell upon a book that represented a watershed moment in my life as a reader...

Do you remember your first grown up book as a child? I still have my copy of ‘The Complete Adventures of Blinky Bill’ an Australian classic originally published in 1939 by Dorothy Wall. Way back in Grade two, our teacher began reading this chunky volume of stories. It became a rite of passage for every one of us to have a personal copy. What a memorable moment it turned out to be.

It begins:'The bush was alive with excitement. Mrs Koala had a brand new baby, and the news spread like wildfire. The kookaburras in the highest gum trees heard it, and laughed and chuckled at the idea. In and out of burrows rabbits came scuttling, their big brown eyes opening wide with wonder as they heard the news…’

'The Complete Adventures of Blinky Bill' has been enjoyed by generations of young Australians and is still in publication today. It is now a…

Slice of Life Story Day 23 -Childhood Should Not Be Beige!

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Today I heard a group of teachers lamenting that the kids they teach have limited life experiences mainly because their lives are so controlled. They don’t connect readily with the outside world. The message that danger lurks everywhere results in their experiences being restricted, monitored, and sometimes timetabled. Helicopter parents smother a sense of independent spirit.Many parents are time poor because they are working hard to provide necessities and sadly this diminishes the time and energy for family matters.Time for doing new and exciting things. Time for talking and discussing.  The discussion otuched on regret for opportunities lost.

Kids indulging in a variety of screen technologies gain questionable experiences with warped realities and so teachers find themselves working harder to compensate for an increasingly apparent lack of world knowledge. Kids seem to know an awful lot about trivial pop culture matters, but little about the immediate world outside their front door.…

Slice of Life Story Day 22 -The Very Next Notebook

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On the shelf in my study sit a collection of notebooks of varying sizes. They are pristine. Not a single word has been written in them. They are ready to go. They await my decision. Which notebook will I use next? I like the fact that I have a choice.

My current notebook has an unmistakable cover. It is made from recycled rice bags. It required no additional adornment to show everyone it was mine. I have not seen another notebook like it in my travels. I like that. Mind you it cost me $24 for the privilege of owning this unique volume, but I figured it was worth it. I am enjoying our time together.
Will the next one be the leather bound volume with unlined recycled paper pages? Will it be the sturdy A4 sized hard covered notebook I bought from an office supplies franchise (‘Officeworks’) that cost me $5? Will it be smaller like my current notebook? I currently have at least nine to choose from. Some I purchased, others given to me as gifts. What a pleasant dilemma I face…




Slice of Life Story Challenge Day 21 -Things Get Better When They Get VERSE!

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Today is World Poetry Day, so it is only appropriate that I share a poem. Poetry has been a strong thread through my writing life and I have always believed the following to be true for our student poets:
For things to get better they must get verse!
So, here's my humble contribution to World Poetry Day 2012!
GRANDMA DOESN’T UNDERSTAND PICASSO
I don’t think my Gran likes Picasso
His paintings leave her agog
She is puzzled by Pablo Picasso
- A dog should look like a dog !
Landscapes are more to her liking
And portraits of luminous folk
Or some beauty draped on a soft velvet couch
Wearing a long flowing cloak
Gran doesn’t approve of Picasso
His arrangement of line, form and size
She stares at his paintings and mumbles
Terrible !triangular eyes !
Gran’s clearly not keen on Picasso
But she’s no weeping woman you see
For she takes me to all the galleries
And that’s made some impression on me
One day I may be a painter
And use an impressionist style
But for now I like looking at paintings
And I’ll stay with …

Slice of Life Story Day 20 -A Driver On The Road To Nowhere

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I am driving along the Monash Freeway in Melbourne’s early morning gloom. The traffic is moving steadily, despite the volume of traffic that is a constant feature of the early morning rush.  I am bound for a school in Melbourne's west.

A small dark coloured Mazda is on my tail. I sense urgency from the driver. She drives behind me with a closeness that is both dangerous and disturbing. I am driving at the speed limit and the cars in front of me are doing the same. Still the driver pushes- impatient and so close I can almost see her eyes. She sticks close, always close.
Suddenly she veers left across three lanes of traffic and accelerates sharply before cutting back into the lane beside me. Her snaking manoeuvres across lanes of traffic have placed her two car lengths ahead of me. She repeats this lane change dance, however this time her efforts place her in the lane directly alongside me.
The lane I am in moves ahead and eventually she slides across the lane to take up a position dir…

Slice Of Life Story Day 19 -Quarantining Time for Writing

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More the twenty year ago, I bought a book called ‘Dear Writer, by Australian author, Carmel Bird. The book was a series of letters to aspiring writers, offering hope and inspiration as well as sobering advice.I still recall how the author urged her adult student writers to quarantine time for writing. Writers have to be a little wickedly self indulgent she wrote. Carmel Bird then went further and urged fellow writers to give up nearly all the housework. She claimed it was a clear choice between a clean house and a finished story.

Such radical action makes the indulgent writer unpopular with family and friends and is not something that I could commit to;  but it does highlight an immediate issue for those of us who choose to write.

This morning I was alone in the house. Vicki is working in a school today and I have a preparation day before the working week unfolds. As I ate my breakfast the six shirts I ironed last night stared back at me, still draped around chairs. Their immediate pres…

Slice of Life Story Challenge Day 18 =The Wonder of Words

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Author, Annie Dillard says she has to maintain in her head a running description of the present. She needs to call to attention what passes before her. I fully understand how important this rehearsal is to a writer. I am continually in the grip of word storms. They bounce around in my head. Phrases and ideas form and reform continually as I go about this critical pre-writing phase. Much of this word play remains invisible until it is ready to reveal itself on the page. Eventually these words, tumbled and reshaped, will spill onto the page and from there further refinement will be undertaken. Non writers will not appreciate this. They will not understand. 

Everyday the words I hear, the words I see and the words I absorb, sing in my head. This morning while walking my ipod delivered the following words. Theyhave stayed in my head all day.‘Let me be close to you
So I can understand
Let me be close to you
Under your ceiling fan..’

Later in the morning I was in a shop  with the unforgettable n…

Slice of Life Story Day 17 An Irish Connection

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It’s St Patrick’s Day and Irish music is flowing through our house. Both Vicki and I have ancestral links to Ireland and the music and the literature have been a thread in our lives. We have been fortunate enough to visit Ireland on two occasions and as the music rings in my ears, thoughts of those visits are revived.
I particularly recall an evening in Dingle. County Kerry, Ireland The only town on the Dingle Peninsula,  it sits facing the Atlantic Ocean about 71 km. northwest of Killarney. That night, we went in search of music…

Down by the harbour area we were lured into Murphy’s Pub by strains of traditional Irish music played by a duo aptly named ‘Shenanigans’ They lured us like the legendary sirens. For more than two hours they entertained the patrons of this crowded establishment with non stop renditions of well known songs. The singer played guitar and provided the banter. His partner sat astride a stool and caressed the living daylights out of a small accordion. He became almos…

Slice Of Life Story Challenge -Check Out My Supermarket!

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So many businesses world wide have now adopted self serve as their preferred mode of customer connection. It all seemed to start with fuelling up our cars and withdrawing cash from our banks and has continued to spread, -in the manner of influenza. 
My local supermarket has adopted the practice of self serve on an optional basis. You can continue to wait in line to be served and have your items bagged for you, or you can choose to do it all yourself. I find myself so well trained to be an independent operator that I  have quickly found myself being my own ‘checkout chick’ to use a colloquial term.

Some people lament the loss of old fashioned service. However, in this situation I find I actually prefer to serve myself, rather than wait for someone to serve me, particularly when I don’t have many items to purchase. I do get frustrated when the technology fails, but my efficiency has improved with practice and it results in me spending the minimum amount of time in the supermarket. Now, t…

Slice of Life Story Challenge Day 15 Storm Warnings

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It is Thursday afternoon and a storm is approaching. As I drove home from work, severe storm warnings were being announced over the radio. I thought of Vicki working up in the city today and the slow commute home and the possibility of her getting caught up in all that rain. I take comfort in the fact that her phone delivers regular weather alerts and updates.
As I sit in my study writing with Boo sleeping at my feet, I begin recalling the story I shared with teachers today titled, ‘The Boat’ by Helen Ward & Ian Andrew. The text contains the line ‘Over the hills and under the sky, the wind sent clouds the colour of bruises, and the first fat drops began to fall.’

These words, and the impending storm, inspire me to write the following:

Storm WatchingI watch the storm clouds gather
As I sit here in my room
The sky is full of waterbags
And dark and inky gloom
I see a zap of lightning
Scratch the distant sky
And heavy droopy water droplets
Begin to change the dry
And now the storm is overhead
T…

Slice Of Life Story Challenge Day 14- I Could Complain

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I could complain about the leaves that continually litter my driveway from my neighbours trees. I could complain about the self medicated lane cloggers at the supermarket who wander indecisively without a set buying plan and impede focused hunters and gatherers who just want to get in and get out. But I won’t!
I could complain about the time it takes to unravel my speaker cords each morning before I can listen to my Ipod while walking, but I won’t. I could complain about the spiders in our garden, who appear to want to spread their webs over everything in our tiny kingdom, but I won’t.

I could complain about the time it takes to complete a transaction in the post office as you wait in the inevitable line, but I won’t. I could complain about how television networks deliberately overrun starting times for advertised programs to hold you captive, but I won’t. I could complain about floury apples, or car alarms or maybe even how soap got in my eyes this morning, but I won't.

The reason …

Slice of Life Story Day 13 - Celebrating The Raw Stuff

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I love making lists. Not shopping lists mind you, but lists that stimulate my ideas for writing. My notebooks are dotted with lists. Here are a few of my recent lists:
Things the world doesn’t needThings that really upset meThings I have only done onceThings I love about VickiFacts about my life that involve figuresFor me, lists create a buzz. The thinking and composing are a great way to get the creative juices flowing. I enjoy the challenge of brainstorming and the thought that unexpected treasure might get unearthed. Lists represent the raw stuff from which writing may grow.

Today, I am thinking about a list of things I have never done that I assume others have. This idea came from watching the Graham Norton Show, where he asked audience members to share some of their ‘never’ moments.So here goes…

Things I Have Never Done That I Assume Others Have:
I have never seen the movie, ‘Avatar’
I have never eaten tuna
I have never read a Harry Potter book
I have never attended the Australian Form…

Articles From Reading Rockets to Assist Writing Development

It's always good to have the opportunity to share a couple of articles you believe might prove useful to everyone…
They are from the Reading Rocket’s Web Page. Hope you can follow the links and find something of value to you in your important work as teachers of writing.

Persuasive WritingPersuasive writing is a form of nonfiction writing that encourages careful word choice, the development of logical arguments, and a cohesive summary. Young children can be guided through a series of simple steps in an effort to develop their persuasive writing skills.http://www.readingrockets.org/strategies/persuasive_writing/

Digital Storytelling: Extending the Potential for Struggling WritersBy: Ruth Sylvester and Wendy-lou GreenidgeWhile some young writers may struggle with traditional literacy, tapping into new literacies like digital storytelling may boost motivation and scaffold understanding of traditional literacies. Three types of struggling writers are introduced followed by descriptions o…

Slice of Life Story Challenge Day 12 -Mystery of the Flatulent Dog

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Something strange has been happening to our little dog Boo over this long weekend. She has had a severe case of flatulence!Smells that would make grown men cry have been floating regularly in the air around her. Now before I do irreparable damage to her reputation let me say this, normally she is a sweet little dog in every sense of the word. However, the last few days have been almost terrifying. She has been clearing the house on a consistent basis; a succession of smells that could peel paint from the walls of our house.
On Friday evening as we sat with two of our grandchildren enjoying dinner; Boo sitting quietly under the dining table produced a smell that would have put a smirk on Satan’s face. A collective gag reflex gripped us and the offending canine was summarily dismissed. She sat staring at the window not fully comprehending what was taking place, or why she had to stay outside.
‘Boo, why are doing that? asked Sass.‘Because she can.’ I replied. ‘It’s terrible isn’t it?’ sa…

Slice of Life Story Challenge- When I Last Saw My Father

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A slow day allowed to view the movie, ‘When Did You Last See Your Father?” a film based on Blake Morrison’s novel about the relationship he shared with his father, I was struck by the all too common relationship issues we share with our parents. I found raw emotion bubbling just below the surface. I felt the rawness of realization in the memories that surfaced. I began to think more intently about my own father and how I saw him. I thought too about the unsaid things that continue to linger with me.

In those final days of his life, I sat with him, and we danced around the words that refused to be uttered by either of us. Our true thoughts remained trapped inside our sad hearts. We spoke of trivial matters only. – the weather, the cricket, and the hospital food. Banter at best.The only time we got close to the truth was when he asked me if I had found all the envelopes that he had left at his house. Envelopes, that contained instructions for his funeral.
My father was so totally organis…