Tag Archives: writing

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.

Window to the real world: student reflection and evaluation of their blogging experience (year 9s)

Marc Chagall, The Window

My focus for peer observation (as part of my Professional Learning Practice)  is my collaboration with Nick Fairlie and his 2 Year 9 English classes. Nick asked if I could help him do something different with his students, we decided to try out Posterous as a blogging platform. Readers of previous posts will know that we created a main teachers’ blog which we used for instruction and writing prompts, and the 2 classes of students created their own blogs which we linked to the teachers’ blog.

Our aims for this project:

  • to provide a collaborative and open online platform for student in the hope that an authentic and peer  readership (beyond that of the teacher) would develop an authentic writing voice.
  • to increase student motivation through the dialogue in the commenting section of the blogs as well as through the ownership of the students’ own personalised blogs.
  • to create a community of thinkers and writers across 2 classes by linking all blogs to Nick’s blog
  • to motivate students’ writing through dialogue with a broader and global reading audience
  • to provide opportunity for personal dialogue with Australian authors (Isobelle Carmody and Michael Gerard Bauer)

After blogging with 2 year 9 English classes for a year, it was time to provide students with the opportunity to reflect on and evaluate their experiences. I wrote a post entitled ‘Reflect about your blogging experience’ with a broad range of questions but open response format.

The students responded honestly and thoughtfully. Their reflections were based on a retrospective analysis of their blogging experiences and addressed a wide range of aspects to result in rich analysis and valuable metacognition. In all cases, despite varying degrees of recorded satisfaction with the blogging tasks, students acknowledged an enriching experience including learning they didn’t expect but appreciated.

The mix of personal writing in a public space was challenging, and we expected this. I’ve observed that initial apprehension was replaced by the excitement of being read by an authentic audience including that of peers and also of those from the other side of the world. Students felt increasingly safer in the supported environment with specific guidelines for appropriate and positive online responses and interaction.

It’s interesting that such a competitive and mark-oriented cohort has taken the time to write so much and so well in their own time when nothing was assessed. The comments in the students’ final evaluative post attest to engagement due to factors outside the reward of marks. The community of thinkers and writers which developed allowed students to feel that their writing mattered, and that their personalisation of their space and style enhanced their sense of self. Many students identified the blogs as a highlight of the year’s English classes and hoped to continue blogging next year.

Certainly the experience further developed students’ tolerance of others’ ideas, and pushed them out of the comfort of their own views, often resulting in a wider reading to gain a greater context for their own writing. In some cases students initiated further involvement in online writing and reviewing spaces for their personal satisfaction.

Our aim in this project was explore the possibilities of writing as metacognition, providing opportunities for students to think deeply, question and write honestly – not what they thought the teacher would want to read but as a form of personal consciousness. We were aware of the confronting nature of these tasks but we are also convinced that the outcomes have been even more valuable than expected. Although we focused on metacognition above pure writing exercises, we realised that the writing improved in sophistocation and fluency as a result of the flow of ideas.

In conclusion, this has been a highly motivating and enjoyable experience for us as teachers, and the students’ reflections and evaluations also attest to their enjoyment of the experience. There is always room for improvement, and the students have provided us with ideas for a modified approach for next year. We have been continually impressed with the high quality of thinking and writing overall, as has the global community of readers who have attested to this in their numbers and positive comments.

What follows is a very lengthy detailed description of featured student responses linked to their full posts. (Readers can stop here if they’ve had enough).

In his post, Simon has eloquently expressed the transformative possibilities of an open community of writers enabled by blogging.

“This Posterous adventure has brought a new beginning to my use of the social network. Looking back at the few posts I’ve published to the world, I can see the journey I have taken, but it is not over yet. For all I know, I may not be what I know; there are still some things I haven’t explored. This experience is like one of an engaging classroom; you never want the bell to ring. I have planted precious seeds that are now fully grown evergreen trees. I have the motivation to express my ideas and about myself, even if it is in the blog form. I have discovered new ways to express my word art. I have explored a vast network of shared information. I have discussed controversial issues. I have expressed myself. And now I am here. Reading everyone else’s comments and posts was also a fully rewarding experience. I could grasp the perceptions of things from different angles. I could get more takes on a different item. I could get to know other people. Blogging was a different experience, but it still is an open gate full of opportunity and answers. That’s how amazing it can be. So thank you everyone for staying with me till the end of the year.”

In his post, Krishnak appreciated being able to read what his peers had written:

“Reading other blogs also allowed me to gain a perspective on the opinions of others. What others thought about and what others wrote about opened my eyes to new ideas. The interaction between fellow bloggers allowed us to expand on new ideas and thoughts about life, and also helped me to gain an insight to what people with a different background thought about the same topic.”

In his post, “jialew” reflected on how blogging improved his writing:

“Writing had always been one of my many dislikes, with the help of classmates I started to grow out of that shell and approach the task. By reading their posts I gained an insight of what they had put into their posts, and most importantly what their views of the world is like.”

He understood how difficult good quality commenting actually was:

“Commenting may look simple, but I found it very hard, especially commenting on the friends’ posts. Thinking about it rendered my thoughts and contention blank, I had no clue what to do.”

He appreciated the global connections –

“Being able to connect to people outside of a restricted classroom is interesting, especially when you think about the distance that that separates the writers and viewers.”

Technical problems are unavoidable. Students should be given the opportunity to become independent problem solvers, not to expect everything to work smoothly, and not to be afraid of experimenting with solutions. He faced technical issues and worked through them.

“ I had some unfortunate issues with the technology within Posterous, at times it would freeze and reload the page when I’m nearly finished. To solve these issues I either just ignored it or wrote a brief plan for the topic; soon I would find out that I would either go off track or become focused on an unintended subject.”

In his post, Ashley admitted that blogging ended up being a valuable experience for him.

“Blogging this year has been an interesting and rewarding activity and I will continue to blog. I always thought that blogging was a boring outdated activity but after experiencing it for myself it has changed my mind. I recommend that everyone should be blogging even if it’s only occasionally because it is such a unique and unmissable activity.”

He understood the value of recording his thinking in his blog writing –
“Many times I’ve said to myself, “what is the point of writing it down when I know in my head I think what I will”. While this is true to a point, it is also very wrong. I thought I could remember it all but as I grow the more I have to remember. I think it is the same logic as why we take photos. Sure, we can remember things we did in them but they can still be forgotten and can remain fresher on photos.”

Kobie (post here) appreciated the reflective and open nature of the writing prompts which offered a freedom that assessment tasks did not have. The blog writing was not assessed.

Having in a sense, a homework assignment revolved around writing what you feel, was pretty refreshing a different… better than any assessment tasks!
I approached the task initially enthusiastic, but wary: I thought it’d be more of a ‘write this and make sure you do it to these requirements’ task. Once I realized it was about free expression and thought, I became more comfortable with it.

He also had trouble with commenting –

Commenting was… to be honest, difficult. Mostly because it felt awkward; being told to comment on your classmates writing and critique it felt strange…

My reflection:
This response is understandable for a few reasons. Firstly, commenting is responding to others’ writing, and should ideally be a natural and voluntary thing. Young people use commenting in a conversational way without any particular structure, often using ‘text speak’, and not necessarily as constructive criticism. Commenting is a valuable aspect of written dialogue which needs practice. To make it easier for students, we could provide examples of rich, authentic commenting. Students already have a choice as to which students’ posts they respond to.

Eric Wong (post here)
had blogged before but enjoyed the wider audience and interaction of this blog much more.

“This was actually not my first blogging experience as I had a previous one in year 8 where i had to blog about my experiences and findings when doing an assignment therefore i was pretty comfortable about blogging. This was not as significant as it didn’t have many comments and views. Using posterous spaces is so much better because of the various topics i receive from my teachers and it actually makes me think deeply about my life as a Melbourne High student.”

He eventually understood the value of the online writing community:

I initially didn’t like the fact that i had this blog to myself but as time passed, i found out that this blog belonged to the world and especially my classmates.

Hanan (post here) was one of many students who identified the valuable aspect of freedom in the blogging format. He comments on the fact that initial discomfort with the new form of writing disappears with practice and is replaced by enjoyment.

“Blogging gives me the freedom and time to express my thoughts and past and present experiences. As I write more, I enjoy it more and become more comfortable with it.”

He understood the importance of exposure to differing viewpoints:

“You may agree or disagree with other bloggers, but this creates an interesting conversation on what is being discussed.”

William (post here) understood the value of the open writing platform enabling a community of writers:
“The fact that we can see other blogs means we can get a profound and meaningful view into the minds of the people we learn, forge deep relationships with and see every day”.

William expresses beautifully the transition from initial apprehension to embracing the blog as a place for ‘soul searching’ and heartfelt writing:

“When we first began writing our blogs, I felt slightly apprehensive. I almost felt as if it was meaningless; who in the right mind would read the ramblings of teenage boys? This was the first time I had ever ‘blogged’, and I just followed the instructions of my teacher and the actions of my peers. But as I typed, I found it wasn’t hard at all. It was almost as if I was releasing a burden from my mind onto virtual paper. It was in a sense, soul searching. As I wrote, I started examining myself; my desires, my hopes and actions. I started examining the world and its happenings closer than I had ever done before. I explored key fundamental issues with today’s society and myself.
The apprehensiveness disappeared almost instantly. I enjoy writing immensely and it was a natural process; it felt productive (since it was homework and I was improving my English skills at the same time) and somewhat enjoyable at the same time. If only all our homework was like this! The liberty and freedom to express your creativity and thoughts is my favourite part of blogging. I didn’t have to think of things to write; it just came to me as I wrote in a logical order”.

Unlike some students, who found the open-endedness of post prompts challenging, William embraced them:

“Best of all, it felt casual. We were told that there was no pressure, and we could write anything we wanted. This lack of restriction meant that anything I thought would immediately get written down.
I feel blogging has been an invaluable experience and it has been the most enjoyable type of homework we get for English.”

Hayden’s response (post here) is testament to the challenge of writing prompts which encouraged higher order thinking and pushed students’ thinking and writing to a high standard:

“I found that the hardest part of blogging was always to start. I could never consider a way to start my blogs without serious thinking.”

He appreciated the ability to share his writing and read his peers’ writing:

“ I also find that having an audience for my blogs compels me to review what I have written much more thoroughly to ensure that I did not make any typing mistakes. The most important thing about these blogs were that my classmates had to do the same task as I, allowing me to see their views on the same topic, how they expressed it and what was good about it, allowing me to mimic their techniques as well.”

He understood the value of learning with and from his classmates:

“ I feel as though all of this was simply a program where we, the students, improve each other’s abilities without the assistance of a teacher. “

He appreciated being able to personalise his blog space:
“The fact that I could customize my wall meant that I was able to feel much comfortable with viewing my space and writing the blogs to my heart’s content”.

Simon (post here) understood the value of the global audience:
“ I think it’s great that we are writing for the world, and knowing that you are really makes you go that extra mile to make it the best.”

Tony (post here) solved his problem of writers’ block by broadening his reading and expanding his exposure to different ideas. This kind of independence and initative is undoubtedly valuable:

“When I started blogging on posterous, I felt the challenges of writing. My first blog was tedious and I couldn’t think of nothing to write about. I didn’t have developed ideas. The hardest part about blogging is thinking what to write which will impress the global audience. As a result, I began to read the newspaper daily to accumulate some fresh ideas. The editorial section was full of sophisticated ideas that I could not fully comprehend. As you read more and more, you take more in and begin to realise there are different ideas, elements and aspects you have not even thought about.”

He suggested that his writing had improved due to his reading audience:
“I am fully aware that my writing has changed over the course of my posting experience. My ideas, sentence structure and fluency have improved drastically, ameliorating my overall writing. I believe it is because I have to put lots of effort to come up with these deep thoughts.  It is important to have an audience for my writing because they can critique my work. They can help me find the flaws of my piece of work and improve it, make it unblemished.”

Tony’s blogging experience has led him to explore other online writing opportunities:
“Due to the fact I like blogging quite a lot, I have started writing blogs and comprehensive guides for several websites such as maplewiki and basilmarket. I write on them because I use to play the game MapleStory and I found it quite enjoyable. I want to help out new players in the best way possible. I already have about 24,000 views on my guides.I am going to continue blogging as a hobby. Thank you Mr Fairlie and Ms. Sheko for introducing this to me.”

This is an example of how an initial understanding of blogging satisfaction can lead to the initiation of further, authentic writing outside school. In this case the student has chosen to write for personal satisfaction, identifying an area of expertise and sharing this with a global audience. The student has gone beyond the confines of writing for assessment only.

Michael (post here) gave an honest and poetic evaluation of the value of his peers’ blog posts:

“As you scroll down the countless posts of the two classes of year 9, you will inevitably find shards of preciousness — sometimes golden dust; other times, fool’s gold.
But, undeniably, the thing that gives away the shine of a man is the title of his blog.
You really do dig deep with blogs.”

Patrick (post here) appreciated the development of quality writing through the posts, and acknowledged an improvement:
This was the first time I had made a blog which is why in the beginning of my Posterous space, my posts were short and had little content for pondering. As time goes by and as I practise, my posts get longer and contains a far better quality of content up until now although there had been some variations. This made me to believe that creating a blog could actually supplement and even improve my English writing skills.

We had no trouble with inappropriate comments, as Patrick stated:
“Fortunately there was no cases of trolling or cyber bullying which is unlikely due to the nature of my audience.”

Alan (post here) identified the peer and global audience responsible for the improvement and enhancement of writing skills and broadening of perspective:

“Through the blogging my writing has changed. Ideas are easier to put into words and I now have a different perspective on topics. I feel it is important to be able to read other people’s blogs so that you can gain another perspective on the topic an it is also important to be able to comment and ask questions so that you can fully understand what they are saying. It is also important to comment with overseas people so that we can get an even wider view on the topic. Overseas commentator also made the blogging experience more enjoyable as you felt your views were being read by more people. Through blogging I was able to get a better understanding of myself and others.”

Vinh (post here) was honest in his evaluation of the blogging experience. Blogging opened up experiences he would not normally seek out:

“A blog, in its core, is basically a part of your mind. Just typed out, and shared with the world. I don’t see myself in the future as being the artsy, blog-keeping type but i think this years experience has opened me up to a whole new side to the internet, which I would never have bothered to explore.”

Writing to a public audience was challenging to Vinh:
“I don’t really like putting myself and my thoughts up for public judgement. Even if its anonymous. In a way, you could call me quote introverted, i like keeping things to myself.”

He found writing fluency of ideas challenging, especially since English is his second language. The example of metacognition here is worth noting:

“At first, I had quite a bit of difficulty making my writing fluid and connecting ideas effectively, just because I was, literally, translating my thoughts as i wrote them down. The way I think also made this harder as I tend to think in chunks of ideas, rather than words or single ideas. Sometimes these chunks all link together nicely and so i write fluently and quickly. Other times i get stuck. Having these chunks in Vietnamese also doesn’t help the block.”

Blogging has opened up a new world for Nathan (post here):

“Blogging hasn’t changed my style of writing, but it has reignited my passion to do some recreational reading and writing. I now realise that the world of literature and writing is endless and I should never be empty of ideas if I have the right determination and will.”

Lachie (post here) appreciated the value of having an authentic audience for writing:
“It was also a great experience to have such a diverse audience to write for. Writing without an audience is pointless. You may as well be talking to a wall. Nobody hears your opinions, your beliefs if you have no audience.”

He summed up the value of a global audience nicely:

“Having people from Finland and America or any other country viewing and commenting on my work is truly a great privilege and honor. However, with this comes a greater responsibility to only write appropriate comments and pieces. These connections made me feel as if my writing actually meant something, that people enjoy my writing”.

He gained a valuable insight into his peers through their writing.  Herein lies the value of sharing writing with peers.
“The insight that I have gained from blogging is that there is more to people than meets the eye. That is, that you cant judge people from their exterior but what its on the inside that you should judge and that counts.”

Andrew (post here) commented that the quality of writing follows the sophistocation of thoughts expressed:
“The insight that I have gained from blogging is that there is more to people than meets the eye. That is, that you can’t judge people from their exterior but what its on the inside that you should judge and that counts”.

He offered some insights into how writing prompts could be more engaging to students:

“For one, I feel as though the topics were too abstract, and too different from student life. Having debates about school curriculums, education systems and subjects, sounds slightly more appealing than having broad, abstract ideas, that don’t really relate too much. Though I enjoyed it, I believe having debates on things that we can relate to, would be better. The ideas can still be abstract and broad; just more relatable to education, or student life.”

“xiangxxu” (post here) identified the personal space of the blog and audience as affirming:

“Having a blog that i can control and customise as i please made me feel responsible and important, as i can do as i please on the blog and it was up to me to control what i would like to express, thus making me feel responsible. Also it made me felt important as narcissistic this may sound, but i felt more valued as a person when i have people from around the globe able to read my thoughts on multiple issues.”

Less confident students have acknowledged a development of confidence in writing, as well as the value of being able to read others’ posts. “Flaming ball of doom” (post here) reflects honestly on his shaky beginnings:

“I was reluctant at first as I wondered why would anyone want to read what I had to say? Then I realized nobody was forced to read it and the people who did would hopefully like it. When I began to write my first post I was slighty nervous but excited and as I kept writing I stopped being nervous. My readers’ comments on my posts helped me a lot as it allowed me to see how others interpreted my posts and I had to answer some tough questions.”

Vincent (post here) loved the opportunity for dialogue with the Finnish students:

“Having the ability to communicate with Finnish students provided a wonderful knowledge and insight into the way they live.”

Andrew (post here) valued the authentic audience:

“Of course, without an audience, writing would be somewhat pointless. Nobody hears what we have to say, our opinions, our beliefs are just ignored”.

In his post, Sasank described his initial apprehension about sharing his thoughts with a public audience online, and admitted being reassured by the secure and supported blogging space:

“Before this year, i had never blogged as i was protective of my privacy. I was afraid of entering a new world, where i would be sharing things very personal to strangers. HOwever, as the year has gone by, i have developed a confidence in myself and others, as my views have been accepted and constructively commented on”.

His observations underlined the importance of giving students the opportunity to learn constructive feedback and tolerance of others’ opinions:

“ I had to comment on things which i did not agree to, and i still had to be ‘nice’.”

It was interesting to read that the blogging tasks set for homework were experienced differently to other homework:

“It also provided a great diversion from other homework, and basically just gave me some time to myself.”

He admitted that this experience had given him new confidence in his own ideas and writing:

“Again, it gave me more confidence and i came to know what others thought about my style of writing.”

Ilan (post here) acknowledges that a good blog post takes much thinking, time and rigorous editing.

“At the start blogging was a bit of a challenge. I had all of these ideas in my head, most were absolutely terrible, a couple I could form into a semi reasonable post but there is a big difference between half thought out ideas and a well written posterous post. The problem was transferring a thought front my head onto the page and making it make sense.”

The open and personal nature of post prompts allowed students to express their thoughts in a way unrelated to curriculum, and students were able to focus on refining their writing to best express their ideas:

“This didn’t only help get the ideas out, it also helped refine them and make them more logical and understandable.”

Brendan (post here) was initially sceptical about using social media for serious writing but he was soon convinced otherwise:

“At first I was skeptical because I thought it would be just another Facebook however the passages written by my fellow students were not stupid and useless such as ‘I’m bored’.”
If you’ve read to the bottom of this page, I hope you appreciate as much as I do the value of students’ reflection and evaluation of their blogging experiences, using Posterous spaces to create a community of thinkers and readers. Nick and I have found the experience extremely rewarding, and we’ve learned as much from the students as they have from us. I hope to continue to provide deep learning opportunities using social media next year.

What’s been happening – term 3 has been a busy one

I’m not the only one remarking on the lapses between blog posts. The blog is no longer the main platform for sharing and communicating – there is a long, long list of online places which need to be fed and looked after – for me that includes other blogs, Twitter, Pinterest, Scoop.it, Diigo, Slideshare, Vimeo, Libguides, Facebook and all its groups, and more. So I thought I’d drop in and do a quick update on what may be worth checking out in case it’s helpful or even interesting.

My school library blog has been keeping up with reading ambassadors for the National Year of Reading (#nyor12). These short and informal interviews are a pleasure to read, and reveal thoughtful responses to reading preferences. We’ve also recently celebrated 2012 Book Week with a hugely enjoyable ‘party’ in the library. I’ve included photos I think you’ll enjoy of our costume and cake competitions so that’s definitely worth checking out. This is the first Book Week celebration I’ve attended at Melbourne High School since I started a year ago, and it was fantastic. I was so impressed by the willingness of staff and students to dress up and play the part. The creativity displayed in our book-themed cake competition added a gastronomical dimension – who can resist cake? Yes, we did go on a bit about the cakes looking too good to eat but it didn’t last long.

I’ve been having such a good time resourcing the art curriculum in the last few months. My art blog churns out a diverse selection of inspiration to art students and teachers (I hope). This includes images, photography, design and animation.

Our students explored links to websites with antiquated encyclopedia images to create their ‘transformations’ which I combined in a slide show. The reduced image size doesn’t do justice to the details in the students’ work, so have a look at larger ones in Mihaela’s new art blog.

Yes! Our head of art now has a blog, and so do her students. This term our year 9s and 10s were lucky enough to get iPads, so we decided to get them to create Posterous blogs which we linked to Mihaela’s ‘mother blog’ and encouraged them to start snapping away with their iPad cameras so that they could develop a store of visual inspiration for their work. The beauty of a mobile device is the opportunity to capture photos as you go about your everyday activities. I’ve found the best images are the unexpected ones. I was inspired to get the art students blogging when I saw my dear friend, Marie Salinger’s, student blogs. Marie’s students have realised the rich potential of blogs in terms of journalling, reflecting, evaluating and just plain sharing. A blog is visual, it’s sequential, easy to access online and share with others; it invites responses and conversation. In her Visual Arts blog, Marie has reflected about the way in which iPads have enriched learning for her girls. The way Marie’s students used their blog to experiment with and evaluate iPad apps for drawing, then share with others, inspired me to talk to Mihaela about doing the same. Consequently I went into obsessive mode and lived and breathed art and apps for a couple of weeks, adding an Art Apps page in our LibGuides, my art blog, Pinterest, Flickr and Diigo.

Robot I am Apps used: Blender Pixeltwist                 (iphoneart.com)

Recently a dedicated team of students from the co-curricular group, Writing Competition, successfully wrote a book in a day. They had to collaboratively write at least 8,000 words and illustrate their story. The whole thing had to be done within 12 hours. I was very proud of the way they managed to work together and fuse their ideas and talents to produce a fantasy story for the Children’s Hospital. I hope to be able to share their book once I check the copyright.

Well, that’s it for now. Hope some of this has been useful to you.

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.

Our students were told to get lost – online

Yes, it’s true, our blogging boys were told by Nick to ‘get lost’

Have you ever had the pleasure of being lost? Not just a bit disoriented, but utterly, irredeemably confounded?

The excitement of not knowing what’s literally around the corner mingles with the terrifying possibility of never finding your way back home and the result is the humbling revelation that you’re not the centre of the universe after all; your known world is a tiny speck on the edge of a vast and beckoning globe. Bliss!

I’m amused by the esoteric nature of the student tasks, and how well they’ve embraced each new challenge, putting in their heart and soul in most cases. I don’t think they’ve ever been told to ‘get lost’ online, never been asked to think about and document the randomness of online browsing, to think about how it made them feel. One of the students commented at the end of his post –

Meh. By far the weirdest task so far –

but on the whole, students have good-naturedly played along and produced writing which was well worth reading.

Nathan is an example of this:

I soon ended up at the New York Public Library which was pretty bizarre considering that I started off with moths.

However, it wasnt the outcome of my research that left me spellbound. It was how I felt. I was reading article after article that I soon lost track of time. I was so engaged with these articles that I became lost.

The beauty of getting lost online is no matter how hard you try, you may never be able to retrace each individual step of getting lost. Each time you get lost online, its always a different story; always something new.

This task has inspired me to learn in a more positive light, that the online world has more power and is more influential than we know!  

Lachie was quite enthusiastic about the whole thing:

This task has inspired me to play endless hours of the wikipedia game to satisfy my now addicted curiosity of being lost. So goodbye satnavs and goodbye readers as hours of drooling over my keyboard tirelessly playing the wikipedia game await me!

Andrew did a lot of thinking and reflecting, coming to an honest conclusion about the task of documenting the process of getting lost online –

But, this gets me thinking. If getting something that you do conciously, to become something you do subconciously, is it harder the other way around?
Immeasureable amounts of information are processed subconciously. Can we get something we do subconciously, to become something we do consciously?

I honestly have no idea.

Fantastic! Questions leading to more questions – surely this is the beginning of a healthy thinking habit.

Richard started searching ‘purple’ and got lost on the way through the wrong meaning of ‘shade’, coming across an article about ‘umbrellas used about a Bulgarian who was killied by a dose of ricin injected by a modified umbrella.’ to secret police, methods of torture and finally thought experiments and Schroedinger’s cat.

I only just realised that I was well and truly lost online, here I was reading about some wierd paradox that I have absolutely no IDEA how I ended up here. So I guess curiosity takes over the feeling of being lost online. This activity took over an hour, but it was totall worth it and I have learned a lot more about the world. Looking back on this task, I am amazed and perplexed how I started from a simple colour, purple, to a brain-frying paradox.
It must be so much more satisfying to receive a comment from your class mate than your teacher, wouldn’t you think?
On first impression, the chain of links that you followed seems rather strange, but when I read your reasoning , I felt that the process by which you got to Schrodinger’s Cat was perfectly logical and quite coherent, which surprised me as the human thought process can be quite difficult to comprehend at all. It is testament to your very well-written and highly enjoyable writing style that people will be able to read this article and connect with it.P.S. Nice one on the Schrodinger’s Cat paradox. Have you heard about Wigner’s Friend. Read it, you’ll find it quite interesting.
It’s clear when comparing first posts with those recently written that students have moved away from the kind of formal writing they consider appropriate for submission to their teacher. They’ve relaxed and become quite comfortable with writing using their own voice. They are no longer writing for the teacher in a prescriptive manner; they are writing for their peer audience, and also for their wider audience. Most of them are openly enjoying the writing task, despite the ‘weirdness’, and occasionally a student expresses criticism at what he perceives to be a meaningless task. We noticed definite cynicism expressed by a particular student recently, but, as Nick says, ‘the positive spin on …’s post is that he is thinking about his mind, and forming opinions about productive ways to use it.’
This is why we both feel the blogging experience has been valuable – students are thinking. They are thinking about the world, knowledge, themselves and about thinking itself. Their writing comes from real perceptions and is aimed at real people. And more than that, they’re sharing their thoughts with class mates and the wider world.

2 Year 9 classes, a teacher, a teacher librarian, a couple of Australian YA authors and lots of blogs

This is a progress report for our blogging Year 9s (2 classes). Let me first say that I am loving, loving the learning that’s happening with this cohort. Following Michael Gerard Bauer‘s guest post, ‘I blog therefore I am‘, Nick and I were wondering how to respond and which direction to take. We loved the fact that Michael had tuned into what the boys were writing about. Michael has been generous to my students before – several years ago at my previous school. He has a brilliant way of speaking directly to the students in an informal way, combining humour with a serious message. Nick and I wanted the students to respond to his post, and to develop a theme in a post of their own. We decided to pull out Michael’s final message to the students:

So I encourage you to keep up the writing boys. Words are powerful, amazing and life changing things. Don’t pass up this opportunity to find your own and share them.

I like the idea of teachers modeling what they want their students to do, and happy that Nick agreed to both of us writing our own posts about the power of words. In doing this we lift the barrier between teacher and student, and we also let the students see a little of ourselves. I was also toying with the idea of introducing hyperlinked writing to the boys. I’ve written about the importance of hyperlinked writing before, and since then I’ve read an excellent post by Silvia Tolisano about it. Jenny Luca has referred to Silvia’s post in her own recently.  I believe it’s something we should take seriously – it’s the way we read online so all the more reason to incorporate hyperlinked writing in our set of literacies. Modeling is a good way to make a start. And so Nick and I both wrote posts using hyperlinked writing.

Nick’s post was entitled ‘Find the right words’, linking back to the earlier theme of ‘you are what you know’ and highlighting the idea of learning not just for school but ‘for the person you want to be’.

At school, we are constantly engaged in the getting and using of knowledge, and the main thing that makes this possible (even more so than an iPad!) is language.

Nick talked about poetry and revealed that he looked to

‘poets to reveal to me the ideas about life I sense in my gut, but don’t always have the words for myself.’

In his final paragraph Nick asked the students to

respond to Michael Gerard Bauer’s clarion call to embrace the power of language. Reflect on what this means to you. Perhaps think of a time when choosing just the right words was important.

The students were asked to read my response to the theme of the power of words, and to comment on three other posts, and see what kinds of ideas their classmates came up with.

More than anything else, I love the way we are all entwined in ideas which have been shared and developed – 2 year 9 classes, a teacher, a teacher librarian, a couple of Australian authors and the 2 classes of student blogs housed in the teacher’s blog. It really does become a form of diary, but not that of a solitary person, on the contrary, a shared document which traces the collaboration of ideas and dialogue as they develop over time.

It’s words, and it’s also so much more than words.

Please read some of our students’ posts (their blogs are linked on the right hand side of the main blog. We would love to hear your comments and ideas.

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/13768695 w=400&h=225]

WORDS from Everynone on Vimeo.

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, fanfiction.net and fictionpress.com, from a friend of mine.

Fictionpress.com 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.

Fanfiction.net 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 fanfiction.net and move to fictionpress.com. One of the reasons for this is that fanfiction.net provides writers who want to improve their writing without spending enormous amounts of time creating a world and creating characters. On fanfiction.net, 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.

Writing for an authentic audience, being real. Thanks Isobelle Carmody.

Nick and I are very excited about the way our Year 9 blogs are developing. But before I go any further – Isobelle Carmody has visited us in a guest post!! Isobelle has been very gracious and has taken the time to write down her thoughts for our boys. I would like to share her entire post with you:

I was never much for diaries, and then I read the Diary of Anne Frank, and it was so vivid and real and it felt so true, that I have on and off again over the years, tried to write diaries. I was never very good at them, perhaps because I was the only audience and it seemed to me that I poured the best of myself, the truest words I could write, into my books. You might smirk at this, given I am captive in the fantasy genre corral (save when I can jump the fence and go for a midnight roam in the other paddocks or even out into the wild, where there are no rules or fences). But I don’t see the best fantasy as escapism. I see it as an attempt mostly to try to look at human existence from the outside. To get outside of ourselves, because reality always feels like I am too close to the mirror to see properly. You know when someone shows you something and they hold it too close?  For me right from the age of 14 when I first started to write, I was striving to get some distance, some breathing and thinking space, and fantasy and science fiction allowed this. For me it is a very philosophical genre – it allows me to grapple with the great questions of human existence. Why am I here?  What is the nature of existence?  Am I (are we) FOR anything? Why are humans capable of such wonderful and dreadful extremes of behavior? etc
When Ms Sheko asked if I would like to post on your site, I came to visit to see how I would fit in there. I was immediately taken by the techno-beetle, and then that lovely quote from Thomas Mann had me hooked. It was also timely because having resisted blogging as I resist all new things that force me to pay attention to the world and hence to neglect the worlds I am building in my imagination, I was asked by the State Library blog for a month Inside a Dog. I was intrigued and agreed before I could stop myself. So, ten days and five posts in, I am really fascinated and interested in the process, because it seems to me like a diary and yet it does have an audience and feeling that, it causes me to treat the material I want to talk about differently. Unlike books, it does exactly what Mr Fairlie talks about in your site – it allows me to try out ideas on paper (well, cyberpaper) for an audience that may or may not read me, but they might, and so I have to take their presence seriously. It allows me to find out what I think about things- that in fact is what I think all writing should be about. Writers figuring out the world for themselves.So, good luck to all of you and take full advantage of this site. It really does help you to think better.

Oh, and if any of you would like to visit me, either send me a friend request on Facebook or better still, come visit me this month on Inside the Dog– it is a lot less unsavoury than it sounds. Here is the link to the latest blog and you can read down and back from there. There are lots of other fabulous blogs too, and you gcan get to all of them.http://www.insideadog.com.au/blog/short-story-pt-1

best wishes

Isobelle Carmody

I particularly love this section of Isobelle’s post

I am really fascinated and interested in the process, because it seems to me like a diary and yet it does have an audience and feeling that, it causes me to treat the material I want to talk about differently. Unlike books, it does exactly what Mr Fairlie talks about in your site – it allows me to try out ideas on paper (well, cyberpaper) for an audience that may or may not read me, but they might, and so I have to take their presence seriously.

Having an audience, even a potential one, apart from the teacher and outside the classroom, sets the boys in a completely different space. I know that because I’ve been writing blogs for a few years, and although I’m never sure who will read my writing, I have a sense that somebody out there might, and so I write for that somebody. That’s entirely different to writing a prescribed piece of writing you know your teacher will read – not for pleasure, but in order to give a mark.

Amazingly, Nick has already seen evidence of this awareness in our boys within a very short time –

They are all really experimenting with voices. I love the difference in voice between the first and subsequent posts. They very often go over the top, and mimic what they think is an adult voice. This is so much better than what they usually produce, which is the voice they think is the ‘right’ one (bland and devoid of personality).

I’m overwhelmed by what is happening in these blog spaces within such a short time. The boys have demonstrated some excellent philosophical thinking. In the second task they have reflected on what constitutes learning, whether this happens in or out of school and about their ideal learning context. They have been reading each others’ posts and have started to have meaningful discussions. This is a far cry from the banal commenting which is often associated with teenage social media environments. This is high quality writing, reflection, evaluation and interaction.

Most of all, the boys are feeling their way into their blog spaces. They are starting to feel comfortable in their blogs and are finding their authentic voices. As Nick has observed, the quality of their writing has increased noticeably. Some are using images to complement their writing. It hasn’t taken long at all.

Who says deep learning isn’t possible within social media?

Take a look at the boys’ blogs, their online conversations. Please come in here and leave a comment.

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.

[googleapps domain=”docs” dir=”present/embed” query=”id=dcb397dn_157f26fq4dh” width=”410″ height=”342″ /]

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.