Category Archives: writing

The story ends #digiwrimo #storyjumper

I don’t know how they did it – I struggled to keep hold of the threads in chapter 10 already and it finished with 26  – but somehow a bunch of people from different parts of the world managed to write a story together. A digital story.

Here we all are. You can click on the circles on our faces (on the Thinglink) to read our chapters:

The final chapter is hilarious. I don’t think you could actually keep a straight face for too long while writing this story; it just becomes more and more absurd. The story is a long and winding one (yes, with Beatles references) so this summary might help.

I love that we come from such different places and come together for this bit of creative fun.

Being ill. (The Flu). How it plays with your mind and senses, your perspective.

I wrote this a little over a year ago and just found it. Thought I might give  it a home here.

During the very sick period, there is no joy to be experienced. Even in the first days of Spring. The blossoms are just there and pink. Sunshine is registered and associated with memories of past enjoyment. The disconnect between what should be felt and what isn’t being felt is part of the torture. And most of the time you are either sleeping, whining or taking a shocking number of pills – just in case they help. Where did they all come from?

Little things annoy you intensely. The stupid design on the tissue box – unbearable. Most of the people on TV are extremely ugly. You can’t stand looking at them. That speck of dust under the couch, the one you can’t bend down to reach… is plotting to kill you!

When you start feeling a very tiny bit better, it’s worse, in its own way. You feel an almost unnoticeable amount of energy has returned, that is to say, you can get up with a struggle and you don’t fall down straight away. You feel obliged to do something so you think to yourself, I’ll take advantage of the lovely sunshine and water a few neglected plants in the garden. You’re dragging your feet, but you push on, when suddenly you see all sorts of problems around the yard, rotting wood, dying plants, unswept verandah – things you didn’t see while you were well enough to go to work, and definitely not while you were feeling too, too sick to care about anything. And because of the lethargy, the withering muscles, the stiff joints from lying around for days, everything seems appalling, unmanageable. You wonder how you ever managed to get up every day and neglect the fact that these things were falling on your head.

And now the mind games. You try to do some of the things you have always done as part of your job. They have become obscenely worthless! There is no joy to be had from these meaningless tasks! You have been wasting your time, frittering away valuable hours from your receding life span, routinely repeating the same tasks – and for what!?

The memory of your past life (last week) alerts you to the probability that this dismal state of affairs is temporary and due to illness, and promises a return to a cheery purposefulness in life. You are suspicious of this and consider the possibility that illness has uncovered a vile truth which is truly unsettling but nevertheless a truth. You have been deceived into thinking your life has a purpose and value. You wonder if Nietzsche would have determined God as dead had he been of good health.

The Laureate Launch

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(This has been reposted from Melbourne High School Library blog)

The Melbourne High School student literary publication, Laureate, has been revived after a ten year hiatus. English teacher, Sam Bryant, has been instrumental in this revival. Melbourne High School celebrates worthy events in style, and thanks to Sam and his colleagues, the Laureate Launch was a successful event which included assistant principal, Dr Janet Prideaux, staff, students, parents and the guest speaker, Judith Rodriguez, renowned Australian poet, author and educator. Since the publication comprised of student writing from 2012, we were pleased to welcome back past students to receive their congratulations and a copy of Laureate.

Here is Sam Bryant’s speech delivered on the day (26 June 2013):

Special guest Judith Rodriguez, parents, students and staff,

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you here to this special occasion, the launch of the 2012 Laureate. On behalf of the Melbourne High English Department, I thank you for coming to celebrate the creative writing of MHS students.

Although this is the fourth edition of Laureate, it is now ten years since it was last published. Early last year it was decided that the magazine would be revived as it was recognised that once again there needed to be a student literary publication at Melbourne High School. The students of Melbourne High School have a long and rich tradition of creative writing, and it is fitting that their work will once again be published and shared with the wider school community.

The English Department extends its congratulations to the students who have been selected to appear in this year’s edition of Laureate. This is your publication. Nevertheless, many thanks should also go to the teachers of the English Department for their tireless work in nurturing the students in their creative endeavours, providing them with advice and feedback, and also for proofreading the work submitted for this publication.

It is envisaged that Laureate will now become an annual publication and that it will further the already thriving culture of creative writing at Melbourne High School. Hopefully, a gathering such as this is will become an anticipated event on the school calendar, and one that continues to celebrate and promote the literary talents of Melbourne High School students.

It now gives me immense pleasure to introduce to you our special guest speaker, Judith Rodriguez.

Judith Rodriguez was born in Perth, but lived in Brisbane from the age four until she was twenty-four. Her years at Brisbane Girls’ Grammar School and the University of Queensland are among her fondest memories.

She has published thirteen volumes of poetry.

Judith’s first poetry collection was published in 1962 as part of Four Poets, the others being fellow Brisbane poets David Malouf, Rodney Hall and Don Maynard. In 1974 she began making woodcuts and linocuts for book decorations; these appear in several of her poetry collections, and have been exhibited. In 1978 she was awarded the inaugural South Australian Government Prize for Literature in for the collection, Water Life. Mudcrab at Gambaro’s received both the Sydney PEN Golden Jubilee Award for Poetry and the Artlook/Shell Literary Award in 1981. From 1979 to 1982, she was poetry editor for the literary journal Meanjin, and from 1988 to 1997 she was a poetry editor with the publisher Penguin Australia.

In 1994 she was awarded the Fellowship of Australian Writers C.J. Brennan Prize for Poetry.

Judith collaborated with Australian composer Moya Henderson on the opera Lindy, about Lindy Chamberlain, which premiered in 2003 at the Sydney Opera House, and with Robyn Archer on the play Poor Johanna, produced in Adelaide in 1994. Her long ballad, The Hanging of Minnie Thwaites, with an historical account of the life that led Thwaites, aged 26, to the gallows, was published only last year and along with many of her other works can be viewed on the table over there, and I encourage you to have a look at them after the presentations.

Yet it is significant that Judith has not only shared her passion for poetry and creative writing through her own works. She has also devoted her life to the teaching of creative writing. She taught English at La Trobe University from 1969 until 1985. In 1986 she was writer-in-residence at Rollins College, Florida, an experience commemorated in her ninth collection Floridian Poems (1986). In 1989 she took up a lectureship in writing at Victoria College, which in 1993 became part of Deakin University, where she continued to teach until 2003. Judith has taught literature and writing in universities on four continents and continues to teach at the Council of Adult Education in Melbourne. She is a life member of Writers Victoria, a member of the Australian Society of Authors Council, has chaired the Melbourne Shakespeare Society and continues to work for PEN International.

In 1994 Judith was made a Member of the Order of Australia, for services to Literature.

Thinking about teaching writing in a connected world

Image found here

The eye is naturally drawn to things you’ve been thinking about. So it was for me last night when I was browsing my Twitter feed and came across Susan Carter Morgan‘s retweet of Angela Stockman‘s link to her article The questions we ask when we begin to teach writing on the WNY Young Writers’ Studio  website. Angela asks:

“Is it possible to teach writing well if your students aren’t aware of what’s possible now? If they aren’t publishing online?”

An interesting question. Although I hadn’t exactly been phrasing it as specifically as this, I’ve been wondering about the task of teaching writing at a time when our publishing options are so many and varied; wondering whether we’re doing our students a disservice if we continue to teach writing the way we were taught. I mean without recognizing the opportunities for a broader, online audience. I’ve been rabbiting on about this for quite some time.

I also wonder why we are still predominantly text-centered with regard to storytelling options when there are so many other options for storytelling, particularly with the new digital possibilities.

“Composing isn’t just about text anymore.”

And it isn’t. That’s not to say it’s any less important to teach textual writing but there are so many other things to consider. If our students are reading stories online, enjoying graphic novels, following and creating stories in virtual worlds, then shouldn’t we be exploring these new forms of narrative with our students?

There’s a mounting list of technological applications which enable and enhance storytelling. These options incorporate visual and digital literacies, amongst others, but writing is still the crux, that is, creating plot, characters, setting. The story itself, is still a matter of writing. As Angela states:

“I don’t focus on genre or the writing itself at first either. I find myself asking questions about who the writers are, what kind of difference they want to make with their words, and for who.”

“When my grandmother died, she left behind her childhood journals and a whole bunch of letters,” someone mentions to me quietly. “Seeing her handwriting helps me hear her voice. It keeps her alive.” And I appreciate this. I know that when I look at my daughter’s blog and when I skim through her Flickr stream or her Facebook updates, I experience the same feeling. For me, it isn’t about the ink. But I’m not the only audience the writers I work with will have. In fact, one thing I do know for certain is that if I’m doing my job right, they won’t be writing for me—they’ll be writing for other people, and their purposes and the tools they will use to connect with them will vary. As a teacher, what I think and what I need doesn’t matter at all. It’s all about the writer.”

I wrote about something similar in a post a long time ago when I found my grandmother’s old autograph book, remarking:

The autograph book demonstrates a lovely collection of shared sentiments, but at the same time, this generation is collaborating in newly found ways to create.

The tools are always secondary to what is being created. Angela says:

“Our first task is to connect writers to themselves, their needs, their vision for the difference they will make, and their ideas. Who do they want to move with their writing? What is the best way to accomplish this? What’s possible, given the range and access of tools that are available today?” (my emphasis)

Trying out blogging as a platform with year 9 students has shifted something seminal to successful and convincing writing. I was nodding when I read Angela’s words:

“My work involves helping writers develop and share their own. What they are writing has to matter to them. It also has to matter to someone else. Otherwise, they will not persevere as writers. It’s as simple as that. School teachers can force kids to write by threatening them with failing grades. Fortunately, we don’t have that awful luxury at Studio, and I’m grateful for this. It keeps us honest. It keeps our writing real. It helps us persevere.”

In her excellent article Remaining seated: lessons learned by writing Judith M. Jester advises teachers to write if they’re teaching writing.

“As a teacher of writing, I consider writing to
be one of the most important things I can do for
my kids. I need to put myself in their place on a
continual basis so that I more fully understand
what I am asking them to do. How can I know
what difficulties they face if I don’t face them, too?
How will I know what strategies to suggest if I
have not tried them first? How will I know the
joy they experience when they are genuinely
pleased with a draft if I have not felt the same joy?”

It’s a shame that teachers are so busy teaching, assessing and writing reports that they don’t have time to do what they teach. Judith is passionate about the teacher modelling writing:

“What they fail to understand is that they will produce better writers if they pick up a pen for something more than evaluation. If they do, they will learn far more about teaching writing than any instructor’s manual can ever tell them.”

I’m not sure that teachers have much of an opportunity to do much more than keep up with teaching their classes, correcting work and writing reports. The expectation of schools, of a curriculum which drives teachers and students towards the final assessments in senior years so that students enter tertiary institutions of their choice – does this allow much room for senior school teachers to choose between what they want to do and what they must do?

The article gives food for thought. Judith writes about the power of process, the power of feedback, the power of audience, the power of modeling, the power of thinking. Definitely worth reading and thinking about.

Wouldn’t it be nice if teachers’ lives were balanced to allow time for themselves – to think, to try things out, to model what they teach, to alleviate the relentless pressure and give them some space just to be. Teachers should be nurtured as learners too, not just have their last juices squeezed out of them.

Image found here.

Writing – audience optional

For a very, very long time we have accepted the fact that teaching writing to students takes place without an authentic audience. Students’ writing is the property of one subject teacher, and if the students are lucky, they’re permitted to read their piece to the class. Generally it’s considered that learning takes place once the student has received a mark and feedback from the teacher.

There is a much better way, and students are often finding this independently, outside school. This is why, as moderator of my school’s Competition Writing Group, I’ve created a blog and a Facebook Group so that students can share their writing, receive feedback and feel like part of a like-minded, community. It’s taken a while for the conversation to develop as students gradually embrace ownership of the group, and that’s when I can pull back to allow peer learning to take over.

I’d like to post something written by a student who has experienced the benefits of a global writers’ community. Best to hear it from the source.

As a young writer looking to develop my skills, I started writing many short stories, and novellas and the like. After having written a large amount of stuff over the course of a year, I was faced with another problem. I was in need of feedback, but wary of going outside of my immediate circle of friends to find it.

One option was suggested to me, and that was to submit some things to competitions for students. I thought about doing this for a long time, before I realised I had a problem with that as well. Friends of mine had submitted things only to get a reply email saying they hadn’t made the shortlist, and that that was the end of that.

This was something I didn’t want. I wanted somebody who was good at writing themselves to look at my work and maybe leave me some constructive feedback, and the seemingly faceless judges of these competitions didn’t seem to be too willing to do that.

So it was by pure chance that I discovered another medium to gather feedback for my various writings, one that I still participate in today, and one that has led me on a literary journey of amazing experiences and wonderful creations. I discovered two websites, and, from a friend of mine. was more relevant to me to begin with, because it is a site where authors can effectively post any kind of original material, and the wide variety of reviewers and other authors on the site can respond. I found the society there to be highly constructive, and highly informative. These days, some three years later since I began that journey, many things have changed. I now give tips more than I take them, but that is a perfect example of how the site has affected me. It breeds a community, where new people get help, become experienced people and cycle goes on and on. With many friendly people, the experience has been brilliant to be engaged in, and while it is also a faceless medium, it is certainly far more constructive than entering competitions. wasn’t something that I got involved with until later, when I became more confident in my writing skills. Ironically, most people step the other way, and begin with and move to One of the reasons for this is that provides writers who want to improve their writing without spending enormous amounts of time creating a world and creating characters. On, the worlds and characters have already been created for you, which is sometimes really useful. All the writer has to do is invent a plot and write.

The site is also particularly good because the community is very friendly and very informative. When I first began to work on this site, people critiqued my writing effectively, and in return I critiqued theirs, and since, I have had some amazing opportunities through the community. I have had the opportunity to review works by some truly outstanding writers, and the opportunity to work on things collaboratively with up to as many as five authors from all over the world. The experience is amazing, and the friendliness of all involved has been outstanding.

Overall, I like the online community because of its productive kindness, as opposed to judges for a writing competition who are mostly nameless, faceless and not really helpful at all.

Cheers, Leon 

Thanks, Leon.

Hello, anybody out there? Writing for someone

Somehow I managed to create a visual presentation in the period before coming into a Year 9 English class to talk to the boys about blogging. My focus was on the motivation for writing and the reason why you would want to write a blog. I wanted the students to think about people writing from earliest times, what motivated people to write so that others would read. Whether it’s the love message scratched onto a tree or the messages on the back of a toilet door – or on Facebook – people seem to want others to read what they have to say. I told the boys that when I was their age, in order to have your writing in print, you had to either be super talented or important, or perhaps succeed in having your letter to the editor make the local paper. Not so anymore – we can all be published online and enjoy the satisfaction of audience participation through comments.

I’m sharing the visual part of this lesson in case anyone else finds it useful.

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Kick Start Activity 2 – Advanced – Posts! The heartbeat of the Blog.

First of all, how important is it for a blog post to be effective?

That may seem like a stupid question but I think that it’s reasonable considering many bloggers would say they’re not out to score points. At the same time, whether we like it or not, we write for an audience (even if we also write for ourselves). Who doesn’t like feedback and discussion? The question is, how to attract readers and consequently a network, however small, so that we can share our thoughts and have them challenged and extended by others.

One of the ways to do this is to think about how to write an effective post.


from my Flickr photostream

1.  Even adults like looking at pictures

Although this has nothing to do with the writing, but a picture always enhances the blog post. After my initial rave, you may have been relieved to receive the visual distraction, and obviously the picture should be relevant to the post. You can be clever with the picture and use it either to illustrate the message using humour, metaphor, surprise, cryptic association or accompanied by a quotation. Either way, it breaks up the mass of text. I like to use more than one picture if I have enough time to find what I need.

2. The heading should not be too boring and preferably interesting

I’m not saying you have to knock people out with the heading but at least have a hook. When I read Joyce Valenza’s award winning post, Things I think teacher librarians should unlearn (20 and counting), I immediately zoomed in on ‘unlearn’. Not sure why, maybe because I get sick of reading about what we should learn, and unlearning seems a little subversive. I was very curious about what Joyce would consider unlearning.

3. Experience

A heading can be catchy but the content of the post is even more important. Going on to read Joyce’s list of what teacher librarians should unlearn, it was clear that Joyce’s experience enabled her to punch out so many excellent points. An blog post is effective when the author writes from experience.  Even though we might feel we are not saying anything new, there is always someone who will appreciate our perspective, for whom our experiences and observations are new and interesting.

4.  Generosity

People jump at a post which shares generously, such as Joyce Seitzinger’s Moodle tool guide for teachers post. In this case, Joyce adapted a social media cheat sheet with a business/marketing focus to one relevant to education. When you do the hard work and share a resource you’ve created in your post, it’s a winner.

5.  Honesty

Jeremy Harmer’s post, Why I walked out – but would you?, was shortlisted in the Edublogs influential blog post category. It’s a good example of an anecdotal post which I always enjoy reading and also writing. Jeremy writes honestly about walking out of Marc Prensky’s conference session – that in itself attracts the reader’s attention. I think the post works because it’s so reflective, and invites the reader to respond to a series of questions.

Which brings me to my last point:

6.  Conversation

An effective blog post invites readers to join the conversation. This is something I strive to do because there’s nothing more satisfying than engaging people in dialogue, and perhaps influencing them to come back to the blog regularly.

from my photostream

I hope that my post has given you enough to savour, something to chew on.

Five Card Flickr – what a great lesson

Teaching is such an up and down thing. I always hesitate to say ‘teaching’ because I’m a teacher librarian, and we don’t teach the same way teachers teach. Our role is so diverse, and we are sometimes seen in the classroom and other times seen at our computers, madly reading or researching and creating stuff for teachers and students. But teachers we are, so it’s teaching that we do.

Anyway, as I was saying, I think most teachers would agree that during a typical school week it’s common to experience ups and downs, and sometimes so many of these that you just want out.

This week just past was one such week. Most of the time it seemed that it would just be a downward roll but somehow the last lesson of the week was so enjoyable that it redeemed the rest.

Sometimes simple things can work so well. So it was when I joined a teacher and his Year 9 English class to give Five Card Flickr a go. It’s one of the writing  prompts in my new blog called Storyteller. It seemed simple, we both decided to give it a go. Secretly I thought it might bomb since this was the last period of the week, and after all, these were Year 9 boys.

But lo and behold! it was a success! After a brief explanation the boys were bent over their laptops typing away. And they kept typing! Now I have to explain that our lessons are over an hour long so I thought there was no way that this activity would take up the rest of the period. But it did! There’s something heart-warming when you see a room full of 14-15 year olds engrossed in something at school.

So what’s Five Card Flickr? Simple: you go to the website and you’re presented with five photos pulled from Flickr – so they’re photos people have shared. Real people, and you can check out a little about these people because their usernames are hyperlinked to their Flickr page. So you can have a look at what else they have been  photographing.

Ok, so out of these five photos, you choose one, and as soon as you click on it, a new set of 5 photos appear, and so it goes until you have 5 photos which you’ve chosen for your piece of writing. Then you add your username, a title for your story and write it directly into the box provided. You save and then it’s added to a gallery, and you can also share it as a permanent link.

Photo courtesy of Nicholas Valbusa on Flickr

As soon as the boys started writing, they peered across to the student next to them to see what they were writing. Mr T. was also writing a story and his was projected onto the screen, and it was cool to see it evolve as a process along with the editing. After they’d written their first story, the boys were curious to read everyone’s contribution in the gallery. And that’s the whole point of this kind of technology – to open up to the group; kids like the social aspect of writing. They like to compare and have a laugh at each other’s stories. The sharing becomes the most important, most satisfying part of the experience. Compare that to writing something for the teacher full stop.

I think they were also chuffed to see their stories on the Web; they liked the fact that other people – people they didn’t know – would read them. I think it made them feel like mini celebrities. Never know who will read your stuff.

Five Card Flickr could be used in so many ways – in English class, ESL, foreign language. You could allow any kind of written response – we said write whatever. So they could write a poem, prose, a song, first person, third person, etc. After the first one we decided to specify genre, so they had to write a horror story. There are as many possibilities here as your imagination allows.

Pictures are such a good prompt for writing, and Five Card Flickr is a winner. You should try it.

Here are some of our boys’ responses:

Collaborate with an artist to write an online story – Storybird

This has been cross-posted from Storyteller.

Thanks to Judith @brightideasblog for the Storybird tip.

Storybird is a very easy way of creating an e-story using picture sets shared by various artists. It’s easy and it’s cool.

This would be an enjoyable writing exercise in the English, LOTE or ESL classroom.

Once you have an account, you can browse existing stories or just click createand write your own.

I whipped one up in a matter of minutes (so it’s not great) but it looks good! You can read my story here. Once you choose an artist, you just drag the pictures you like onto your page, then keep creating (or deleting) pages until you’ve finished.

You can write your own story or collaborate with a friend.

If you scroll down this page, you can search images by theme.

I like the way you can use somebody’s shared art. The artist I chose is Dwell Deep (Sam) and you can read a little about her here. She has a website and a blog. It’s a good feeling to have created a story in collaboration with an artist.

Students speak about success of global project

As part of the evaluation of this project, I interviewed a few students to get their feedback. You have no idea how long it took me to convert the interviews to film and embed them in this blog. Sorry about background noise. We will also ask all students in the global cohort to give feedback in a survey. Stay tuned!