Showing posts from October, 2008

Saved by a Child's Words

I found myself talking to a group of enthusiastic grade one students who were keen to commence their writing pieces. As they stood up from the carpet to return to their seats to commence their writing, I realized that the spark of imagination that would fire my writing ideas had suddenly snuffed out. The students all seemed fired up and ready to create the miracle of meaningful marks on paper. I felt completely blank and could not conjure up a single thing to write about. I was trying to will my brain into action. Writer’s block had descended upon me like a damp,foggy mist

A boy stood beside me at this critical moment and said, “I’m going to write about the first time I went fishing which was on Saturday with my Dad”
“Oh thank you” I said and uttered a huge sigh of relief.
The bemused child looked at me unsure what he had done.
“You just gave me a wonderful idea for my writing this morning. Like you, I’m going to write about the very first time I went fishing. Maybe we can share our s…

Writing About Issues -Big and Small

I spent some time during the recent September term holiday scanning newspapers, magazines and the Internet for articles related to current issues in the news. The issues covered everything from local, to state, to national and including, global issues. I had to choose articles that had some significance to sixth graders as they were the target audience. Issues ranged from articles on adolescent health, use of mobile phones among children, world poverty, environmental degradation of the coral reef, to endangered animals, to supermarket levies on plastic bags, to the effects of global warming. I needed a minimum of ninety articles as I was working across three Grade 6 classes at Karoo Primary School in Rowville, Victoria. As you can imagine, I spent quite some time hunting and gathering these pieces.

Students were asked to read an article that attracted their interest. Following this, they were asked to identify the issue, and then identify what their personal stand was with regard to th…

Grammar In Isolation Never Works For Writing

As recently as 2005, Professor Richard Andrews of York University conducted the largest systematic review of existing studies on the teaching of grammar and found there was no evidence that teaching grammar as a formal stand alone exercise helped 5-16 year old write more fluently, or accurately.

It is therefore surprising that news reports indicate the proposed Australian national curriculum will be reviving the practice of formal grammar. As a result, media headlines scream the tired old catch cry ‘back to basics’ and the conservatives among us salivate. I see red every time the headlines scream ‘Back to Basics’. Teaching the so called basics has never gone away. Teachers confront the basics on a daily basis. It is at the core of what they do. It is insulting to suggest that re-inventing the past is the way to go. Suddenly, educators need to cast their collective eyes backwards with regards to spelling, grammar and phonics. Gee, thanks for that.

This is not to say that the teaching of …

Visual Imagery -Great for Mind Movies!

In the course of twenty four hours I received emails from two mates in vastly different parts of the world. Colin Murray wrote about an experience en-route to Budapest to conduct teamwork and safety training for oil workers. Chris Lowery wrote about his wonderful vacation experience on the Trans Siberian railway, an epic journey that took him from Moscow to Beijing. I was immediately struck by the strong visual imagery both writers conveyed through their choice of words.

Colin in the course of explaining his in flight experience wrote:

“My flights here were sprinkled with the usual array of personalities. From Singapore to Frankfurt, a mere 13 hours, I had a stick insect perched next to me. She came from India I suspect and was facially quite beautiful. She was also stunningly slim. She arrived onboard quite late, had no carry-on save a miniscule plastic bag, sat mantis-like in the seat next to me, said nothing, ate nothing, drank nothing, moved minimally and simply slept in the linear …

Ah Grasshopper! - A Slice of Life Story

I recall in my initial year of teaching drawing a huge grasshopper on the chalkboard labelled with the correct grasshopper parts. Spiracles, abdomen, thorax. An example of incomplete metamorphosis I told my students. I wonder if that impressed them?

The drawing took up a third of the blackboard space and stayed on display long after the interest in grasshoppers had passed. I was most reluctant to erase my gigantic grasshopper, given the time and effort that went into creating it. Chalk dust in the lungs, hands stained with purple and black (deadly, but effective colours).The arrival of dustless chalk seemed a fortuitous advancement at the time. I knew a teacher who even went to the trouble of sharpening chalk before using it. Now that's kind of behaviour is a worry.

I eventually replaced the grasshopper with a pirate ship which was less impressive. From the back of the room it listed a little too much to one side. As a chalk artist I never quite recaptured the grandness of my grassh…

Getting Our Youngest Writers Started With Personal Narratives

What are personal narratives?

Personal narratives are chronological stories about one’s own life experiences. The central character is the author. They contain a plot
(a number of events occur over a time period) and they take place in a setting. The plot frequently involves a problem that requires solving, a tension or complication that needs resolving. Some change may take place as well.

The personal pronoun “I” is frequently used and the writer usually injects a sense of emotional response to the events taking place in the text.

Helping Young Writers Construct Effective Narratives

Developing writers sometimes find it difficult to travel back into their memories to gather details, but the effort is worth it. As teachers, we need to make it clear that their readers need these details to understand what actually happened.

Our goal is to teach young writers to relate a sequence of events with accurate detail, so that a reader may follow the events.

Initially, young writers will tend to w…