Saturday, January 7, 2017

Summer Reading -Feeding The Writer

Books For Summer
-Feeding The Writer

My Summer Reads

It is comforting to have assembled a collection of books ready for my summer of reading. These books will nourish my need for knowledge, challenge my thinking and sustain my writing life.

As a life long learner, books provide the necessary spark for progressively chipping away at my ignorance. 

I love it when I see heads bowed in pursuit of understanding as readers of all ages lose themselves in a book. I love the privacy of reading and the public sharing that often follows. I love the notion of books as travelling companions and guides. I love that a book can make me ambitious. A book has the capacity to be transformative. A book can help me escape and take me to new worlds and offer new ideas, propositions and understandings. A book can challenge my current beliefs and prejudices.

I draw much comfort from knowing books are inseparable from my view of myself as a writer. Over the years I have lost count of the times I have informed students and teachers, ‘You can’t be a writer unless you’re a reader.’ 

Our lives as literate beings should be shared daily with the students with whom we work. Our reading and writing lives should be joyfully on display. We should make the connection a clearly obvious one. There is no more powerful model for children than to be in the company of an adult who celebrates their status as a visibly literate person.

And so the books in my personal library continue to grow in number. They continue to inform me. They nourish my thirst for knowledge, and they help me remain credible as an educator. My passion for reading and writing hopefully shines through in the work I do. Everyday, I bring with me all the reading I have ever done. It is the prior knowledge I tap into when linking reading and writing. I frequently remind students and teachers that they too bring this rich treasure with them when they enter their shared learning space. 

I am grateful to my parents and teachers who all those years ago laid the foundations for the reading life I continue to celebrate. It is what guided me towards writing. For that, I will remain eternally grateful.

And so this summer, I will see readers on the beaches, in cafes, sitting in parks, libraries or at home feeding the need to know. Knowledge is power and books remain a powerful agent.

Writer's Notebook- The Gatherings Of Summer

Summer Samples From The Writer’s Notebook

Random Notebook gatherings. Looking back, observing, reflecting, the summer break is a great time to read ,write and collect. The act of writing begins with an idea and then putting your thoughts down on the page, one word- and then another. It is practice. It involves the forming of habits. School resumes sooner than we like. Launch a fantastic year in writing by offering your students a glimpse into your writing life. Present as a teacher who writes.  To invoke a famous advertising quote- Just Do It!

The backyard remains at the centre of many of my childhood memories. So much seemed to happen in this space.
We played many different games in the confines of the backyard. We learned to socialize and be gracious about victory and defeat. Simple games like giant’s treasure, chasey and releaso were enacted here.
It’s where we ran, chased wrestled and fought. It’s where I wrestled the giant who lived across the street, Ronald Hope, before he thrust me aside and my head collided with a heavy and totally unforgiving cement roller. A most disturbing gushing of blood and eight stitches in my forehead were mine to endure.
We swung from the clothesline and played a host of games involving a ball. With my football I deadheaded my mother’s favourite chrysanthemums before being banishment to play in the street. I played cricket with my sister until the evening gloom made it impossible to see the ball.
At one point I tried turning the backyard into a mini golf putting green and dug a series of holes into which I buried a series of old jam tins. My dad made me remove them as I had failed to proper planning approval.
In the summertime the backyard became the scene for evening concerts. Chairs were set up on the lawn for the parents and invited grannies and assorted relatives where they would be regaled with a series of questionable thespian acts.
The backyard was the setting for whispered secrets, laughter and disagreements. And it was where we sometimes went to weep when life was unfair.

Writers need the experience of both solitude and song at various times. I must attune myself to allowing these forces to exert their significant influence upon me. I must remain open to all they offer. Sometimes being among the throng is a compelling urge. I seek out people, colour movement and sound. It is equally important to be at ease in my own company sitting still and watching, thinking and observing, reflecting. I am enriched by both experiences.

It’s market day on Mornington’s Main Street. The numbers in attendance are swelled by the fact that it is Summer school holiday time. It is also a day with absolutely no beach potential.
Market stalls, prams and strollers mingle with pedestrian shoppers for a footprint on the pavement. In the midst of this meandering mass, a boy of about nine years spontaneously makes an inappropriate, yet very childlike decision. He places both hands on the footpath and launches into a handstand. He pauses momentarily, shoes skyward before beginning the inevitable downward descent. As the arc of his legs move him back to his former upright pose, his feet narrowly miss a fellow market goer. Head quickly averted the fortunate market shopper moves away and onward. The boy’s mother moves quickly to the misguided junior gymnast’s side and immediately offers some words of wisdom.’ It is probably not the time nor place to be doing handstands. Think about where you are. You’re lucky you didn’t wipe someone out with your flying feet. Please walk like everyone else.’
Kids rarely stop to think about potential consequences. They just feel an urge to do something- and it happens!


 Conversations float in the air. As I sit quietly in a cafe, benignly sipping on a morning coffee, rich offerings drift my way. I feel obliged to record them in all their raw beauty. My notebook receives these morsels with great relish- ‘I’m trying to finish my tan with forty minutes per day. I’m working on parts that require me to hide behind the rubbish bins in the backyard.’ My delight at these words is barely concealed.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Teachers and Writing Topics

A teacher laments how students struggle to think of topics for their writing. ‘They never seem to come up with much, they can't think for themselves, so that’s why I have to give them sentence starters.’ The words jar in my ears. 

I have had this kind of exchange numerous times over the years...

Teachers coming from this paradigm frequently ask. ‘Could you demonstrate how writers get their ideas?’ I find myself wondering if the teacher has ever considered this same question?

I get the distinct feeling I am expected to fix these young writers in some way. I feel strongly that the answers lie elsewhere. Had any inquiry taken place? Had those young writers been asked to explore this same idea? Had they been asked- what makes a good idea for writing? Where do writers find ideas? How do they prevent ideas from drifting away?

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, brainstorming, discussing, questioning, wondering, sketching, mapping, musing, and taking note all form part of that critical pre-writing part of the process we need to share. This is where thinking gets its spark. Ownership of ideas begins to flourish. We stop telling kids and begins to nourish their thinking around potential writing ideas. Energy returns to the writing classroom.

 If we teach with expectation that lacks support for thinking and linking, ideas will find it difficult to flourish. Instead of a brainstorm, we’ll be lucky to get ‘isolated drizzle!’ If writing is a magic act we need to take our students back stage and show the tricks that are hidden up the magician's sleeve.

Nothing influences a child’s attitude to writing more than the choice of topic. If the child has chosen it and if the teacher shows genuine interest in it, then there’s often no limit to the effort the child will make. Young writers who are given this power become confident in choosing topics for themselves. 

I compare this with the approach of my own fifth grade teacher who owned the topics we wrote about. She merely threw them at us each Thursday afternoon. There was little confidence building in that approach. It did, no doubt influence the attitude of many of those students in the opposite direction to writing. When the teacher owns the topic then rehearsal and essential thinking prior to writing cannot take place.  Cognition will not take place where the young writer perceives the notion of topics resides solely with the teacher.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Summertime Is The Write Time

Summer Writes 

The end of the Australian school year is rapidly approaching.  At the conclusion of every school year the need to tie up a multitude of loose ends prior to the summer holidays is paramount. It is a demanding time

However, I am equally aware there is a period of time looming on summer’s horizon when tired educators will have time to relax and regenerate their energy reserves.- A time for relaxation, holidays, family and recreation. 

May I boldly suggest that summer holidays present a fantastic opportunity to embrace your inner writer and launch your very own writer’s notebook?  If you have already made this decision - I applaud your actions. What a wonderful investment in your role as a teacher of writing!

Many teachers read extensively during vacation breaks. Free of the pressure of the classroom, it is possible to indulge in more personal reading; becoming re-acquainted with favourite authors; reading  that book you received as a gift.

It seems to me that at this point it makes perfect sense to add a little writing alongside your reading.  If you accept this challenge, it will mean that when the new school year begins you will have compiled a sampling of text that will assist you to model aspects of writing to a fresh group of students. It will give you immediate writing credibility with your students. You will have captured summer memories, made lists, gathered artefacts, made drawings, gathered photos and ephemera capture small yet significant moments. Such action will assist you to connect more easily to your students. You will assume the role of a teacher who writes, enabling you to teach writing from the inside. This is far better than trying to get kids to do something you make a conscious choice to avoid.  Your credibility plummets like a wounded duck!

Don’t wait until the school year begins. It will be too late then and you will be overwhelmed by a tsunami of administrative demands and organizational matters –you get the picture, I’m sure.  The world is full of people who are full of good intentions. The challenge is to turn one’s self into a real life action hero! 

Just as you want your students to make a good start to the school year, you should expect the same for yourself.  I’m not suggesting you write to some rigid schedule, just quarantine a little time to document some of the rich pickings of your summer. It will be a great investment in designing the writing curriculum – and it’s painless! I am not suggesting that you dedicate yourself to just writing about summer exclusively. As always you should focus on matters that are important to you. Maybe your reading may spark your writing, who knows?  

There is no better time to send this message. I need to reach you now while you still have your educators cap on. Hopefully, it isn’t pulled down over your eyes and your hands aren’t over your ears. 

This summer, don’t just dive into the surf. Dive into some writing as well. -Approach writing in the same manner that one approaches summer reading. The writes of summer could provide the stimulus to launch a fabulous school year in 2017!  I can’t offer a free set of steak of knives with that, but I know it comes with certain intrinsic rewards.  Should you choose to accept this mission –share this joyous news with your colleagues!

As a writer, I love this time of the year. It affords me precious time to read and write. Time I don't have to steal. When the fog of the academic year fades away, my writing comes to the fore. I embrace it eagerly, knowing it will take me to new places and present new discoveries.  

Good luck with your projects. May you experience a joyfully literate summer

Monday, December 12, 2016

Writers And the Gathering Of Ephemera

When I secure these items in my notebook, it’s because I want them to last. I am consciously extending the life of these items.  

Their preservation is important to me. I want them to act as memory markers. We writers are magpies; collectors of ephemera. The stuff we rescue may turn out to be important records of life and social customs, popular culture and national events and issues. Who knows?  And while it may also be viewed as treasure by the gatherer, it may seem insignificant to another. The value is in the meaning the item holds for the bearer. 

These various artifacts assist me to stay in touch with actual experiences. They become markers of my life’s journeys. They stimulate my recall.

Each time i paste new items into my notebook, they speak to me, stimulating my recall. I linger as they announce their potential as future writing ideas. 

I often leave space around these items. This allows me to return at a future date to further explore the memories they dredge up. They possess a special magic. This is a magic powerful enough to reclaim long forgotten memories.

Sometimes this ephemera just sits between the pages waiting patiently to be rediscovered. I can never be quite sure what piece of ‘stuff’ I will settle upon in the future. It is only in the critical act of rereading these precious pages that musty memories are given the opportunity to spark into life.  Maybe the spark created will explode into words to be shared with a wider audience.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Teaching Poetry- Not For The Faint-Hearted

POETRY, Not For The Faint-Hearted

As a poet and an educator I am driven by a desire to have poetry viewed as consumer friendly by young learners. I want them to enjoy the sheer magic of words, the way I do. I want to share my love of language in the hope that they will come to know poetry as one does a friend.

What's concerning is that in too many classrooms the teaching of poetry has been reduced to a clinical examination. The poem as autopsy. The dis-aggregation of wondrous words by teachers who feel little empathy with the poet’s desire just to be shared.

Moira Robinson, a former neighbour,  in her book Making My Toenails Twinkle, reminds us that sometimes we miss the point of poetry when she states,

If we are going to start defining poetry by the number of times spring daffodils are mentioned, or by measuring its degree of seriousness on some poetic Richter scale, we will finish up with nervous breakdowns.’

If we truly want our students to appreciate poetry to the point that they themselves may gain satisfaction from their own written efforts, we must follow some basic steps in introducing poetry in the classroom.

We should firstly understand that poetry should be a year long classroom staple, a friend to be valued through out the year and a cause for celebration. Poetry can be used to begin the day, end the day or introduced at a time when it just feels right to share words of wonder. Poetry should above all move us to feel a range of emotions and should inspire our own writing efforts. Poetry might be the genre of choice for our students when they wish to respond to a prevailing thought, an issue of importance or a significant event. Poetry might be used to persuade, inform or entertain an audience. Let poetry be utilized at will. Avoid pigeon-holing it.

To feel completely at ease with teaching students to write poetry, requires a knowledge extending beyond what constitutes poetry.  it requires a teacher to understand how it is made. This knowledge is essential to fully appreciating poetry for its uniqueness as a form of expression. As Jacqueline Woodson writes, ‘Poetry is about joy and urgency in tiny spaces.’

We must avoid asking students to write poetry before they have been fully immersed in a close study of poetry- its range and complexity. -Its potential and possibilities. We need to dunk them in poetry soup!  

Young writers need this time to get to know poetry and how to react to it. It is critical that they understand how it is different to prose.  The one criteria we must set when choosing poems to share with students is to choose poems that have immediate appeal. If we as adults don’t enjoy a particular poem, don’t read it to impressionable students. Our distaste, our reservation will be obvious to our reading audience. Never waste valuable classroom time reading poetry, you don’t feel a connection too. 

Practice reading a poem aloud several times before sharing it with an audience of young poetry consumers. Get the feel of the poem –its words and it rhythm. Know it well, so you read it as it feels.  Children hear poetry from an early age. They eagerly recite it. The next logical step is to get them reading it and from their discoveries and observations, develop a desire to create their own.

Poetry needs to go beyond stylized Haiku and acrostic poetry using student names. Many teachers limit the poetic possibilities to this narrow framework. Their own trepidation about poetry is on display here. Each year this is the meagre diet some students are dished up. Opportunities abound to expose student writers to much more than this pale poetic portion. 

Teaching poetry is not for wimps. It requires the input of brave writers of all ages. 

And yet, poetry has for so long been poorly taught in too many classrooms. Words like – abused, ignored, misinterpreted, misunderstood, underutilized come to mind when one considers the history of poetry in schools. At the same time there have been teachers and students who have been enriched by the power and beauty of poetry. In such classes poetry has been presented with energy and verve.- Poetry taught in this way is both wild and wonderful. It possesses the potential to engage the imagination and provide real opportunities for students to more fully engage in authentic learning. 

Poetry should be an essential ingredient in our classrooms –not some washed out, half hearted afterthought. There exists in poetry a rich language source that can be made readily accessible to the hearts and minds of students and their teachers. Through poetry teachers have an opportunity to encourage a genuine sense of mindfulness about what is being read, written and shared. 

Running alongside this aspirational goal is the fact that when poetry is presented in a gradual and scaffolded manner students discover that poetry is easily accessed. If we set up the best possible conditions for poetry to emerge, it’s more likely to happen. So, as the guardians of poetry we must guide students to a place where poems live and words and ideas abound They might just  discover that writing poetry is enjoyable, rewarding and brings with it the opportunity to learn much about themselves. Jane Yolen refers to teachers as the code masters of poetry. Especially when they write poems for children. Poetry is  certainly not for the faint-hearted.

Go to for some practical ways to promote poetry with your student writers.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Summertime And The Writing Teacher

The Writes

 of Summer

Another school year is drawing to a close in Australia and in many schools planning for 2017 is underway. It seems timely to appeal to teachers and urge them to take up the challenge of being a teacher who writes and a writer who teaches. Join an ever expanding number of educators who write for and with their students. Teachers who lead by example and can confidently look their curious learners straight in the eye and proudly announce- 'I'm a writer, just like you.'  

Entries gathered in your very own writer's notebook  serve as examples to share with their students. Entries that show students how their teacher interacts with the world. It sends a clear message that as a teacher, you value writing.

Such entries are rich, varied and authentic examples of writing.  Such writing might lead to the extinction of the whole class topic, 'My Holidays' as a yearly starting point for writing! It saddens me when this happens. It frustrated me as a student. It has continued to irritate me as an educator and writer.  It sets the bar of expectation so low for your teaching, and denies what we know about effective writing instruction.

Much better that classrooms hum with rich conversation about what is important to write about for each individual writer. Time invested in pre-writing activities such as -drawing, discussing, brainstorming, listing, planning and reading enables student writers to gather the necessary ingredients to write about what matters most to them. A sea of talk lays a great foundation for launching the goal of establishing a community of writers.  

 The student writer receives a clear message from the teacher:

 -I trust you to come up with ideas! I'm not going to tell you what to write, but I am going to do everything in my power to support you to find out what it is you want to say as a writer! I want you to find your true voice as a writer.

Because writers are essentially storytellers, time and energy must be invested in establishing this belief among our students. Encourage student writers to initially ‘tell’ their stories. Tell them more than once. Tell them to someone at home. This is rehearsal for writing. It will ensure that the words which eventually appear on the pages of their notebooks will be superior to the words teachers read when writing is offered with a cold start, and no preparation. 

Writers spend as much time thinking about their writing as they actually spend in the act. This must become an established belief and practice for writing to flourish in your classroom.

All the time pre-writing is becoming an established practice in the classroom. The teacher is  simultaneously sharing examples of their writing as well as great examples from quality literature, guiding writers to find a focus for writing, asking lots of questions and establishing a conscious sense of community.  

So, I urge my fellow teachers to dive straight in and start filling the pages of your own notebook with words, drawing, maps, adding photographs, quotes and the like.  Your own writing is such a powerful model for your students. I urge you to take the risk. You must be a brave writer in order for your students to follow your bold lead. Writers make decisions. They take action. You have an entire summer break in which you can go collecting, gathering, harvesting your writing ideas. Spread them out across the pages of your very own notebook. You could find many reasons to avoid writing or you could find the one important reason you need to get started. Dive straight in, the water's fine. After all, it's summertime ...

Those who are just beginning to develop their writing lives often request examples of the types of entries one might gather when starting out on this journey of discovering.

If you are experiencing trouble launching into your own  writing, maybe these ideas might prompt your thinking. They may spark a connection to a topic/idea you feel strongly about; -enough to get the pen moving across the page...

  I offer up these possibilities:

Write about the first book you remember reading
Create a Life Map to show events in your life so far 
Write an entry about one of the items on your Life Map. 
Write an entry over any topic of your choosing. Write about your personal opinion 
Write a response to a book you are currently reading 
Write about the meaning behind a treasured object - what memories do you associate with that object? 
Create a plan for a memoir piece
Write a memoir including all the sensory details and what you discovered about yourself from that slice of life experience
Make a list of your personal choosing. E.g. Things that take too much time
Write to influence - Choose an issue that is important to you, and write an opinion piece
Respond to an issue in the news
Write a short narrative about being sick as a child
Write about a place you would go right now and why
Write about something that was no fun at all
Make a list of things you still wish to do
Write about a time when you knew you were in trouble 
How did you spend your pocket money?
Write about an embarrassing moment
Write about your relationship with weekends
Write a list about things you don’t need
Write about noise
Write about silence
Write about pretending
Write about disappointment
Write about joy
Make a list of settings you have been in during the holidays
Make a list of questions you wished you had asked
Write about your feet
Write about your treasures
Write about something that has changed
Write about something you consider to be fake
Write about something you wish you could still do
Write and DRAW about a place that is important to you
Create a map of a place you recall from your childhood
Good Luck. Happy times writing...

Thursday, December 1, 2016

VIDEO -Poetry BOOK 'I Bet There's No Broccoli On The Moon'

Now SEE This!

Hello everyone. Here for your information and entertainment is a short video about my brand new poetry book, I Bet There's No Broccoli On The Moon. Just click on the link below and it will take you directly to the poetry zone!


Monday, November 28, 2016

Matt Glover and Alan Wright in Adelaide in 2017

With the wonderful support of Lisa Burman Consulting, I am pleased to announce that I will be presenting in Adelaide on June 16 alongside, American Educator and Author, Matt Glover. I look forward to being part of this professional learning day. It's a rare opportunity to listen to Matt, while I look forward to sharing insight into how writing can be most effectively presented with older students. Hope to see you in Adelaide.

Matt Glover & Alan Wright in Adelaide 2017!


Matt Glover

Matt Glover is making his first trip to Australia and we have him here in Adelaide! As many of you already know, Matt is one of the key influences in our Bookmaking Approach. In fact, every time I read one of Matt's books, I almost feel like I could have written it, we are so 'in tune' with each other's values and beliefs. The details, including conference titles and content, are still being worked out, but I wanted to share the news with you all so you can share in my excitement! 

Alan Wright

Alan Wright is a sought-after consultant, speaker and "Poet in Residence". He lives to write and inspires many to also live like a writer, closely observing the world, collecting ideas and inspiration in our Writer's Notebooks and crafting words for the most powerful impact on the reader. Alan has worked with children and educators in USA and throughout Australia. His pedagogy perfectly builds on the work of Matt Glover in the Early Years, with a focus on teaching children HOW to write, not what to write. You'll be inspired and also leave with many practical ideas you can bring into your own Writing Workshops. the date/s and include this in your budgets - it will a wonderful opportunity of teams to participate together. Friday 16 June has been purposefully designed to enable schools to have 'Child-free Days'.
Numbers will be strictly limited and registrations will open in Term 1 2017. 
  Thursday 15 June 2017
Making Books Masterclass with Matt Glover
Friday 16 June 2017
Making Books Masterclass with Matt Glover
Writer's Notebook Masterclass with Alan Wright