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Maintaining Student Reading Across the Summer Break

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Annie Dillard in her book, The Writing Life, suggests that a writer must be careful what he or she reads, for that is what will be written. The writer is careful of what he or she learns, because that becomes what is known. But what happens when the reading and consequently the writing ceases?
Reading is essential to every writer, so when the school year ends it is critical that these developing skills continue to be fostered in our youngest literate citizens.
Reading research indicates that many children’s reading abilities decline between the end of one school year and the beginning of the next when reading ceases. Some parents see reading as the province of the school. It may not be valued in the home.  Amazingly, this phenomenon of summer reading loss can be offset by reading as few as 4- 5 books across the summer break. (Rinn 2006)
Professors, Richard Allington and Anne McGill-Franzen completed a three-year study (2001-2004) showing a significantly higher level of reading achievemen…

The Continuing Writes of Summer

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It’s almost the end of another Australian school year, so I am aware of the level of exhaustion that abounds in schools, and the need to tie up a multitude of loose ends prior to school closing for the summer holidays. Teaching becomes a race to the finish line. The last week of school seems to take the longest time of all the many school weeks. It is fatigue central.
Summer is taking its own sweet time to materialize this year, but  come it will.  I am also aware that on summer’s horizon teachers will have some free time to relax and regenerate their energy reserves.- A time for relaxation, holidays, family and recreation. For those of you who have intentions of adopting a new approach to aspects of your teaching in 2014, may I suggest that the summer holidays might present a great opportunity to embrace the inner writer and embrace your very own writer’s notebook. I know many of you read extensively when you are on vacation. Free of the pressure of the classroom, it is possible to in…

The Purposeful Sharing of My Writer's Notebook

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My writer’s notebook fulfills many roles. Firstly it is a safe place for me to write. -A place to experiment; a place to be brave. It contains many beginnings and serves as a launching pad for longer pieces of writing that will emerge in time, as I decide which pieces I want to lift out and expand.
Just as important is its role as a teaching resource. My notebook entries serve as examples of my writing life. How I solve problems as a writer and the stories associated with the harvesting of my ideas.
For this reason I regularly share entries with teachers and students when visiting schools. It is an opportunity to shine a light on the craft of writing. The personality of the writer is revealed on the page, as well as the range of influences on the writer.
In the last few days, I have made a range of entries in my notebook and these will form part of the conversation I conduct with young writers in the coming days.
I collected some three word phrases from my latest read, ‘The Mysterious Be…

Reading- Writing Connections -Research and Reflection

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I have worked in Liana Ketriuk’s Grade 4 classroom at CairnleaParkPrimary School numerous times over the past two years and have witnessed the growth of her students as well as Liana’s teaching during that time. She recently presented a lesson that demonstrated her clear understanding of the important relationship reading and writing shares.
Liana began the lesson with a discussion aimed at activating prior knowledge. What does the word home mean to you? Turn and talk.’  Students then shared some of their responses with the whole class. She followed this by reading aloud from Libby Hathorn’s thought provoking picture-story book, ‘Way Home.’ The book highlights a young boy’s struggle to provide sanctuary to a wild, stray cat. Set in a city, the story provides the reader with graphic evidence surrounding the plight of the homeless.
Liana encouraged talk and discussion among her students at the conclusion of the reading. In the discussion that followed Liana devoted time to clarifying t…

Slice of Life Tuesday: Writer's Notebook -Beginnings and Endings

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A new writer’s notebook…
I hold mixed feelings about commencing a new notebook. I am quite excited about the prospect of filling the fresh pages of a brand new book. I embrace the challenge. To see my words spread out and over the sparkling white pages is a buzz for a writer. It is exciting. I’m involved in the act of capturing the raw stuff of my writing life and bringing order to my messy mind. The harvesting of words and ideas adds to the energy of writing in this new place. I am like the farmer who ploughs a new field.
I make a conscious decision to choose a new notebook with different dimensions to its predecessor. The notebook I have chosen this time is smaller than the one just completed. Its covers are sturdier. It will, I expect take less time to fill. I embrace its unique shape and form. I am keen to shape each new notebook in a way that establishes its difference from previous notebooks. The contents will add further to the individuality.
I am also feeling a sense of loss…
I a…

Assisting Young Writers to Increase the VOLUME of their Writing

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A priority for any writing program should be to progressively build the stamina of young writers, enabling them to sustain their writing efforts for extended periods. The aim is for the writer to reach a stage where the ideas flow freely and the blank page surrenders easily to a flow of words. 
The more students write, the more likely they are to improve as writers. The answer lies in the act of writing. Daily writing for sustained periods of time will contribute to this essential development. It will help the young writer to develop the ability to remain focused on the task, and also build the kind of stamina necessary to keep returning to the task each day. -And return with the determination to produce powerful words for others to read.
Frequently young writers get hung up on perfectionism. They censor and edit in their heads. Consequently, the words have trouble making it onto the page. They allow the flow of their writing to be halted for the sake of a single word. A solitary word t…

A List of Poetry Resources For Older Primary Students.

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A recent request for poetry resources for older primary students has prompted me to consider some of the resources I use for this age group.
I have developed an extensive list of resources over the years. I keep many of these books in my poet’s suitcase and regularly share these resources as an initial poetry tasting with students. The idea behind this approach is based on the belief that young poets need to read a lot of poetry in order to successfully embark upon the writing of poetry. I want to do more than immerse them in poetry, I want to ‘dunk’ them in poetry and all it involves.


An observant young poet told me this week after spending an hour investigating and researching a plethora of poetic forms, - ‘When you write poetry, you can make your own rules, but then you have to stick to them.’ This is the kind of awareness we need to develop among our inexperienced poets.
So, here is a list of some of the poetry books I use to assist young writers to better understand and hopefully …

Slice of Life Tuesday -Notebook Truths

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Over the years I have learned much from my writing life. In particular, I have learned much from my notebook experiences. 
My writer’s notebook is a place to be honest; to write down what one writer thinks. It is a place free of critics. My notebook is a place where I frequently discover I had more to say on a particular subject or issue than I originally believed.
My notebook contains the truth of my life- at least a version of it, and in that truth, I am able to discover some of the treasure, all our lives possess.  I am a treasure hunter. Interestingly, none of us have any way of knowing whether what we find by way of words will prove important to someone else at some later stage. We cannot know if they will understand. That's okay. It's the act of writing that's empowering. 
My notebook is a place to practice risk taking. It is where I can indulge in some experimentation with words and ideas. The very act of writing stimulates my creativity. The pieces that grow within th…

What Do Your Students Understand About Writing?

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Recently I wrote about the research of Donald Graves in relation to entrenching dependency among student writers. Today I want to highlight another aspect of the work Don Graves conducted in the 70’s.
Graves asked a group of seven year olds, ‘What do you think a good writer needs to do in order to write well?’He documented their general responses thus:
To be neat Space letters
Spell good
Know words
Have a good title
Have a good ending
Write a lot
The responses indicated the child writers’ perceptions of what constituted ‘good’ writing. Their responses no doubt grew from the predominant focus of teacher feedback in their writing lessons. It is obvious that teachers placed less store in attention to matters of content and intention. The eradication of mistakes and cleaning up the surface features of the writing were treated with greater importance than the improvement of expression of ideas and communication. The false notion that writing more is something t…

Spring Into Verse Day 30 -My Last Deirdre Poem

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I conclude my ‘Spring Into Verse Challenge’ with an autobiographical poem. -An example of narrative poetry. I had lots of fun with line breaks, white space and repetition in this poem based on a life shaping event. Ah, life's lessons are great fodder for the poet.












The Last Dierdre
She was my shining light My immediate hope My heart leaping inspiration Yet, something didn't look quite right with this girl. I think it was her chocolate brown desert boots The ones she wore with blue school tunic which retreated from her kneecaps. The gum she chewed and twisted round her finger Passion beat fashion ......easily I dismissed this miscalculation In the interest of flirtation - For my heart's sake
I liked her smile I liked her walk, So confident. So easy. The way her friends followed her Back and forth Back and forth . Across the asphalt. She was Aphrodite in D.B's .- She was Mother Duck. Her name was Dierdre Not Diana, Delores.....Desiree Names from my fantasy file This girl didn't look like…

Spring Into Verse Day 29 - Black Stone Poem

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As a boy, I was always collecting things. One person's trash is another's treasure. I kept my treasures in tins, jars and boxes and periodically took them out to gaze upon them.  Some of them had functional application, but mostly they were questionable acquisitions. Elastic bands, bits of string, marbles, nuts, bolts, cards, stickers, nondescript objects and the like. A kid thing perhaps...
Black Stone It was a smooth black stone And I found it at Eildon
It felt cool and slippery in my hand I held it up Gazing at it for a time Before placing it in my  pocket And smiling to myself At my find  My new treasure Instant pleasure
At home I kept it in a wooden box And took it out From time to time Just to look at it And feel its wonderful smoothness
Over the years that stone shrank in my hand But continued to be there In my moments of deep thought Its coolness a marvel My smooth black stone Eventually disappeared Without a trace But I remember that stone Old treasure Instant pleasure
Alan j Wright


Spring Into Verse Day 28 - What Lurks In Sandra's Lunch Poem

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Our sense of smell is a wondrous thing. It can alert us to a sublime perfumed delight as well as those acute odors that are best avoided. Today, it is smells that inspires my poetry. I intend to raise a stink...


SANDRA'S LUNCH
Just what lurks in Sandra's lunch? Munch and crunch! Munch and crunch! Just what lurks in Sandra's lunch, Do you want to know? I think I have certain hunch Just what lurks in Sandra's lunch I think I have a certain hunch Do you want to know? Well, yesterday was curried egg Curried egg Curried egg Yesterday was curried egg The day before salami The things you find in Sandra's lunch Are enough to drive you barmy ! One day, her lunch I tell you true Was something green and runny too ....Something green and runny Now that isn't very funny! But of all the sights and smells that lurk in Sandra's putrid lunch What she's brought to school today... Now that really packs a punch I can tell I can smell A smell to make me scream Guess what I think I know I smell
Yes, -…

Using Quality Narrative Non Fiction Texts To Teach Writing

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In the world of books for children, educators are showing a growing desire to acquire non fiction texts that are both informative and engaging. They are seeking out books that possess a strong voice and arouse curiosity in the mind of the young reader. I too, seek out such books. It remains an ongoing quest.
Experience tells me that most of the titles, I have acquired that meet this criteria have come from my work with fellow educators. Book shops rarely carry such texts. They generally push an over supply of fiction, ranging from good quality to highly questionable and a small sample of non fiction titles. The non fiction titles on offer tend to fit a more traditional style of presentation. Unfortunately, many of these titles tend to be, dare I say it, uninspiring. At other times the titles on offer present a broad focus on science and nature topics, possibly in the hope that some of the facts they throw at the reader will rub off.
These are not the books I’m looking for unfortunatel…