Showing posts from March, 2011

Slice of Life Story Day 31 Lasting Impressions

As this is the last day of the Slice of Life Story Challenge for March 2011. it seems appropriate to focus on the word ‘last.’ I am conjuring up all those connections to ‘last.’ I am pleased that I was able to last the distance, to meet the challenge of writing and posting a writing slice every day, despite the all the other demands on my time. Because this is the last posting for the month I will miss the internal machinations of my sometimes scrambled mind as I ruminated on what to write each day. The rehearsal was continual. It was stimulating. Words and phrases tumbled around in my brain, like clothes in a dryer. I played with ideas until at last I settled on my script. Then I sat at the computer and the words spilled onto the screen.
As I continue to ponder the meaning of last, I think of children being picked last for a team, The Monkees singing, Last Train to Clarksville. And then I think about lasting memories, last but not least, last one home’s a purple pig, the call of last …

Slice of Life Story Day 30 Stickability!

During the week I walk as often as my work schedule allows. On the weekends I walk each day. On a recent walking excursion as I walked with my wife, daughter and two dogs, we chanced upon something shiny on the footpath as we walked along the main street past the shopping precinct of our home town, Mornington. Jane stooped to pick up what we now identified as a two dollar coin. ‘Wow’ she said, ‘My lucky day.’
She made several unsuccessful attempts to pick up the coin and then a sad realization that the coin could not be pricked her balloon of joy. Someone in an inspired act of lunacy had super glued the coin to the pavement. What wickedness lurks on the idle minds of men? We offered up a half laugh before continuing on our way. Was the perpetrator watching from a concealed vantage point? Were they chuckling away as successive passers by failed to lift the coin so steadfastly fused to the surface of the pavement? The old super-glued coin trick! This was straight out of Get Smart…
Today, …

Slice of Life Story Day 29 Going Round The Bend Over Bananas!

Today I’m going bananas! Well, not literally, but bananas have been on my mind. You see, the cost bananas has skyrocketed here in Australian since Cyclone Yasi struck the state of Queensland’s northern regions and decimated up to 80% of the nation’s banana harvest.
The cost of bananas has rapidly reached $14 per kg in some places, or $4 each. As a consequence, many fruit lovers are holding off buying this perennially popular fruit. Who can blamed them? I have always loved bananas. You could say I have a bent for them, but that would be too obvious. Yet, in recent weeks as the price has steadily risen, I have had to be strong and walk past them in shops and supermarkets. I heard someone recently refer to bananas as God’s chocolate. Well, even with that noble label, I still can’t justify the purchase. So bananas are off the menu for the foreseeable future, which is sad. I know how good bananas are for my health. Bananas have a curious way of capturing everyone’s imagination.
I am fully …

Slice of Life Story Day 28 Today I Have A Sneaking Feeling

A small six year old boy came to visit with us on the weekend andduring his time in our care, he is taken shopping. He returns beaming because he has a brand new pair of shoes. He also has a pair of rainbow coloured laces. The kind that announce themselves with colourful intent. He asks if the everyday laces that came with the new shoes can be removed and replaced with the dazzling rainbow laces. This wish is achievable.The new cool shoes are now really cool shoes in the eyes of the wee one. He parades back and forth looking continually at his feet as he steps out like a fahsionista.  I tell him he is now a confirmed fashion icon. He smiles that slightly uncertain smile that kids do when an adult says something slightly beyond their world of awareness. He changes the focus.
‘My feet have grown Papa,’ he informs me, ‘And my old sneakers are too worn out for winter.’
‘Well, these new ones look great.’ I add assuredly.
New shoes always lift the spirits. New shoes at any age are a source of …

Slice of Life Story Day 27 Tail of a Dog

Our little black dog, Boo has no concept of weekends, or sleeping in on Sundays. She understands when its morning and the blanket of the night has been drawn back. She certainly understands the basic concept of dawn. Round about 7.30am each and every morning her patience ebbs away and she begins what basically amounts to harassment.
Boo makes it patently obvious that she wants the people in her life to rouse themselves from slumber and take her for a walk. Walk is the word we dare not whisper. She raises from her bed and begins circling ours. We lie perfectly still in the hope that it will pass for sleeping. The dog is smarter than that.  She snorts and snuffles as she completes circuits of the bedroom. Each circuit requires her to travel beneath the bed not an easy thing to do, given its low clearance. Try feigning sleep when a small determined dog is buffeting your bed from beneath. So we succumb and throw on the necessary clothes to meet the uncertain morning air. Boo rounds us bot…

Slice of Life Story Day 26 The Days of Summer Recalled

Summer Story Video Finally Completed!  Today, a Slice with a Digital Difference...
This morning I finally finished my digital story! I have gradually assembled the pieces of the summer past into a form that hopefully conveys the spirit of the season. No matter where one resides, there are commonalities surrounding summertime. There are also events unique to our respective parts of the world. What I now share with you is a glimpse of my summer.
I wanted to tell the story of my Australian summer –what there was of it. A summer of record rain, gloomy grey skies the colour of bruises and the all too infrequent beach days. The days we naturally savoured. Sandwiched between these extremes were the unforgettable memories of precious moments spent with family and friends. Each day I tried to find a scene, a moment, something seemingly unnoticed to freeze in time with my camera. The photogrpahic eye and the eye of the writer hopefully working in synch. The photos captured with camera and iphone…

Slice of Life Story Day 25 Writing In Different Directions

I had some great conversations with Grade 5 writers today. They were keen to share their writer’s notebooks and the various pieces that were forming across the pages of their notebooks. One girl informed me she was writing about her memories of the toys she had when she was younger. She opened her notebook and turned to a page which had the somewhat impressive title emblazoned across the top, - ‘The Headless Barbie.’ I then spoke with a boy writing a persuasive piece about the perils of smoking. The title was a very direct one, - ‘Smoking Should Be Banned.’ A third encounter revealed that the writer was working on a graphic novel concerning a boy who was part robot. No title yet, but the author informed me that he was not worried. The title would come to him as he wrote. I liked that fact that he was confident and relaxed about this anticipated development. He knew that the important thing was that he had an idea and was pursuing it. The title would happen in good time.
Three different…

Slice of Life Story Day 24 Routines and Rituals of the Working Week

Our lives are often punctuated by routines and rituals… Every Thursday morning our alarm goes off at 5.20 am, a time well before sparrow’s fart (a quaint Aussie expression) and in the gloomy darkness Vicki and I commence the longest working day of our week. We aim to be on the road by 6.30 am. We drive from our home on the coast, 60 km south of the city, to schools on the western side of Melbourne. We join the morning commute and negotiate our way through the heart of the city and beyond. The Thursday trip takes between 75 and 120 minutes. We mostly take one car and attend separate schools within the same school network. At the conclusion of the working day we don’t drive home. Instead we regularly stay close to the city so that on Friday morning it only requires a short drive for each of us to work at two different schools. This routine enables us to support four schools over two days. On Friday we drive home. –A trip that usually takes about two  and a half hours. Everyone is trying …

Slice of Life Story Day 23 In A Manner of Speaking

This morning while in  my favourite coffee haunt, Via Boffe Vicki the barista asked me a question. With a look that suggested something was concerning her, she posed the question, ‘Alan what do think has happened to manners? Everyday, I encounter people who don’t seem to think it’s important to acknowledge your presence when you speak to them. When a customer comes in, I make a point of greeting them with a smile and a welcoming comment and some of them just ignore you. They don’t even make eye contact. They disregard your words and tell you ‘I‘ll have a skinny latte, or how much are they? -and point to something on display. It’s like you don’t exist.’
Vicki is consistently upbeat, possesses a welcoming disposition and a ready smile. In short she has impeccable social skills and is always friendly. She also makes a great coffee. She readily connects with peopIe, so I can readily understand her frustration when on a daily basis she encounters people who place a low value on civility in …


IGNITING WRITING -When A Teacher Writes
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Slice of Life Story Day 22 Let's Hear For Ears!

Ralph Fletcher reminded me of the fact that we write with our ears as much as our eyes and minds. I was unconsciously attending to this in my writing and teaching of writing, however Ralph’s articulation of this important fact made me more consciously skilled. When we write with our ears, we become aware of the sound of language, the rhyme and rhythm of language and the impact of words uttered. We are more likely to connect the words that float our way with prior knowledge.
When we purposefully attend to this important fact, we add an extra dimension to our lives as writers. Teachers and students aware of this fact may be more prepared to shift the focus from the what (subject/meaning/ content) to the how (language) in their teaching and writing lives.
Armed with this information I launched into my workshops today with School leaders by playing a song. I asked participants to attend to the lyrics. I directed their attention to those words and phrases that stood out for them. Those word…

Slice of Life Story Day 21 A Day of Firsts For Book and Boy

Today I drove to Lorne situated on the southern coast of Victoria to attend a school leader’s conference. My trip involved a two hour drive plus a 45 minute ferry ride across the bay. I stopped off at Anglesea, another coastal town, to enjoy a leisurely lunch with friends. It warms the heart to catch up with friends. I then completed my journey along the Great Ocean Road to the surf coast town of Lorne.As I reached Lorne Vicki rang from home to inform me that copies of my new book, ‘Igniting Writing- When A Teacher Writes’ had arrived. I have not actually sighted a copy yet. Reading a pdf version is never the same. It’s that old issue of download versus hard copy.
Upon arrival I checked into my accommodation then walked across to the convention centre. Large glass doors opened automatically and I stepped forward into the foyer. Various conference sponsors had displays set up around the perimeter. Directly in front of me was a table adorned with books from Hawker Brownlow Education and…

Slice of Life Story Day 20 When A Writer Travels

This coming week I am presenting at a conference for school leaders. I am discussing their roles in the development of effective writing programs in schools. What is there contribution to effective writing? Are they visible as writers to their staff, students and parent community? Do they have secret reading and writing lives?
However, that is not what I wish to focus on here. As I sit here on this delightful Sunday afternoon preparing for the conference, I am aware of two suitcases open on the floor of my study. One is my Poet’s Suitcase where my collection of poetry books is stored. The other, I call my suitcase of surprises. The latter suitcase is the one I generally take on my daily journeys to schools. It is a small inexpensive case I purchased on Seventh AvenueNew Yorkfor the princely sum of $25 back in 2006. I spotted it in one of those variety stores that carries assorted paraphernalia ranging from junk to jewels. It has been such a great resource, although it is beginning to l…

Slice of Life Story Day 19 Reading The Morning News Is A Challenge

Early this morning I heard a faint thud in the driveway and a car drive by. As I lay in bed, suspended between sleep and awareness, It dawned on me that what I was listening to was the delivery of my Saturday morning newspaper and not a body being dumped from a moving vehicle.
I rarely hear it being delivered. It just seems to materialize when I venture out into the dawning of the day to fetch it. The news comes tightly wrapped in a thin veneer of plastic. Every morning unwrapping the newspaper becomes the first major struggle of the day. I search with unfocused eyes in the half light for a loose flap of plastic that will allow me to release words within. Much to my annoyance, the plastic wrap clings defiantly to the paper, and time ebbs by as I fumble like a sub human life form for the elusive key that will allow me to unfold the secrets within.
 I mumble and bemoan the need to tease me so unmercifully. I suffer a short bout of 'why me?' and begin to think about how much I dis…

Slice of Life Story Day 18 Let’s Hear It For Wonderful Words

Writers collect words. It is almost compulsive. I have always had a fascination for words.  If we can get the right word in the right place, you can give the reader a nudge and make then pay extra attention. For this reason alone words deserve our respect.

I recently saw the word –skedaddle in a story. It’s a word I recall from my childhood, but I had neither seen or heard it for yonks (an indeterminate yet substantial period of time). I love the sound of skedaddle. I have been sharing it with young writers recently in the hope I can singlehandedly revive its use in common conversation.
I vividly recall reading Colin Theile’s wonderful short story ‘The Lock Out’ to a Grade 6 class I taught some years back and coming across the words ‘agog’ and ’gingerly.’ I wrote them on the board, and we discussed them and savoured the sounds they made. I encouraged the students to try and use them in their writing. In time these special words along with others began to appear in their writing. They g…

Slice of Life Story Day 17 A Matter of Table Manners

So often the things we choose to write about are sparked by a comment or a line we overhear. Today I heard a teacher talking about ‘manners’ and asking a group of students, ‘Are good manners important?’ ‘Yes, of course one boy immediately replied. ‘Why?’ asked the teacher, wanting to take the discussion deeper. A discussion followed, notes were taken and eventually this group of students set about writing their own opinion pieces. Other groups discussed issues they had identified as important to them. As I listened in on the ensuing discussion, I began to consciously connect to my own experience with matters surrounding manners.
As a parent I have always understood the importance of modelling good table manners. I don’t burp or fart at the table, I am conscious of my elbows not becoming aeroplane wings and over time I have learnt to eat more slowly and savour my meals. I still recall the constant reminders from my parents during my childhood to maintain acceptable manners. Parent tape…

Slice of Life Story Day 16 A Community of Writers Begins To Emerge

Today I watched as a group of teachers shared some of the entries from their writer’s notebooks with students. They read from their notebooks and explained to the audience seated before them the inspiration behind the writing. They talked of connections and speculated on future entries. They displayed the pages of their notebooks and pointed out various pictures, and artifacts. The pleasure derived from the writing experiences of the teachers was most apparent. This was powerful sharing. They were setting an expectation for their students to follow. The writing is becoming a shared journey for teachers and students alike. All participants have accepted the challenge to write. I saw the genesis of a writing community in these scenes.
I look forward to watching the progress as the school year unfolds.Writing in this school has begun to move beyond the four walls of the classroom. Students are taking their notebooks home and finding a host of places to gather writing inspiration. One stu…

Slice of Life Story Day 15 Celebrating Words and Pictures When Reading Aloud

In picture story books the details of the illustrations create a cohesive picture that informs the reader in ways that the text alone can ever hope to do and for this reason it is important to teach students to read all around the page. Today. I was reading Anthony Browne’s wonderful picture story book , ‘Piggybook’ and I marvelled at the way the children seated before me listened and looked with obvious intent. Their enthusiasm for searching out all the details on the page inspired me to greater efforts with my read aloud. I savoured every word as it poured from my mouth. When we read to students we are performing a special craft. I found myself well and truly in the zone.
Anthony Browne’s book tells the story of the Piggott family. Mrs Piggott becomes tired of being treated like a domestic drudge by her unappreciative husband and sons. Without warning she leaves them to fend for themselves. That’s when the Piggott men undergo a most extraordinary transformation in their attitude as …

Slice of Life Story Day 14 A Conversation Over Dinner With Friends

Last night we had friends for dinner and during the course of the evening I asked each person to name something they have never done that they assumed most people had done. Hmmm?
They thought about it for a while and then began to share their respective revelations. Initially some were struggling to think of something, so I offered to go first. I shared the fact that I have never seen the movie ‘Avatar’ despite the fact that it is the most watched movie in history. I have never read a Harry Potter book. I have never watched the immensely popular television show, ‘Master Chef.’
Suddenly our guests came forward with their own statements. ‘I’ve never drunk whiskey.’‘I’ve never been to Bali.’‘I have never eaten snails.’ ‘I’ve never smoked a cigarette.’ –and so it went.
It was all a bit of fun, and it certainly got the conversation flowing. All part of a great night in the company of close friends, sitting around a table sharing a glass of wine and delicious food. Simple pleasures shared.

Slice of Life Story Day 13 Today I Feel Testy!

I read an article in my newspaper of choice this morning and it encapsulated all that I have feared for so long regarding high stakes testing. Australia has followed the lead of America and gone down the path of high stakes testing in schools. Since 2008 national testing (NAPLAN) has been part of the educational landscape in years 3, 5,7 and 9. It is therefore no surprise to find a 2010 survey of Secondary schools found more than two thirds spent more time on test practice since the Federal government went public with the test results on a dedicated web site called My School.Some schools have begun spending increasing amounts of time and energy ‘preparing’ students for NAPLAN. The outcome of this is the narrowing of curriculum options and more time devoted to teaching to the test. The problematic ‘test prep’ becomes the panic button by which many teachers operate. They abandon teaching in ways they know to be effective and begin a regime of practices that are soul destroying and just …