Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Year Ends

The year is nearly over. The last of the students turned up today, despite warnings that they would be required to clean up and would go home at the normal time,

Well, they went home at the normal time. The only students who did cleaning were some who wanted to. I think they enjoyed yesterday's cleaning day,when they got to do it to music of their choice. They washed the stairs down till the principal asked them not to, because people might slip on the wet floor.

The rest played chess, went on line or watched a movie in the Interactive Whiteboard room.

And I got to say goodbye to Khepi, a lovely young man who is having to return to Port Moresby because his Mum has completed her studies and has a job back home. I gave him a laminated photo of him with his Pathways fundraising team. He really enjoyed that task and said he'd miss his teammates.

His group cooked and sold pancakes, working from the Foods Room with another team who were making milk shakes. Both groups did nicely and pooled their profits to make them seem more impressive. ;-)

Afterwards, Khepi wrote a thank you note on the whiteboard, thanking the Foods teacher for allowing them to use her kitchen.

This year, the Year 8 students made $503.65 for Save The Children. My colleague Jasna and I told them we were proud of them and made certificates for them to put in a folder with future resumes or in a frame. And we gave them a party to celebrate the project's end.

They handed in their self assessments and generally admitted they had enjoyed it -"It was fun!"

Next year we will have to work out a way to do it in half the time. A challenge we are just going to have to meet!

My colleague and friend Jasna with the registered letter containing the cheque for Save The Children.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Year's End

The year is nearly over. The last of the students turned up today, despite warnings that they would be required to clean up and would go home at the normal time,

Well, they went home at the normal time. The only students who did cleaning were some who wanted to. I think they enjoyed yesterday's cleaning day,when they got to do it to music of their choice. They washed the stairs down till the principal asked them not to, because people might slip on the wet floor.

The rest played chess, went on line or watched a movie in the Interactive Whiteboard room.

And I got to say goodbye to Khepi, a lovely young man who is having to return to Port Moresby because his Mum has completed her studies and has a job back home. I gave him a laminated photo of him with his Pathways fundraising team. He really enjoyed that task and said he'd miss his teammates.

His group cooked and sold pancakes, working from the Foods Room with another team who were making milk shakes. Both groups did nicely and pooled their profits to make them seem more impressive. ;-)

Afterwards, Khepi wrote a thank you note on the whiteboard, thanking the Foods teacher for allowing them to use her kitchen.

This year, the Year 8 students made $503.65 for Save The Children. My colleague Jasna and I told them we were proud of them and made certificates for them to put in a folder with future resumes or in a frame. And we gave them a party to celebrate the project's end.

They handed in their self assessments and generally admitted they had enjoyed it -"It was fun!"

Next year we will have to work out a way to do it in half the time. A challenge we are just going to have to meet!

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Year's End And Year 8

I'm writing this as I wait for my DVD of Year 8 Literature Circles to burn. I have had no food since breakfast and haven't gone outside since 8 a.m. when I went to collect my copy of the Age from downstairs. I may end up being late to my mother's place because I don't want to leave my DVD burning while I leave the house and it may take too long. But it's finished. I can now start burning copies on Nero at work, for those students who want one. Last year I gave a copy to every student in the class, but I suspect not all of them will be interested this time, so I will take orders tomorrow, and those who have reason to be proud of their work will get a copy.

There's one more week of actual class time with my Year 8 and then the activities for two days before we get them cleaning and have our own end of year lunch (compulsory!).

And there's so much to do. We have finished the Year 8 Pathways project. There were a handful of kids, this time, instead of only one, who wasted time and did nothing, but the vast majority of them had a go and were pleased with themselves and the project.

Some projects flopped, such as the table tennis, where the students didn't turn up for their own event, and the dodgeball,which could have worked well, except they didn't do the pre-arrangement of the event, didn't get a list of players or take money. In the case of the dodgeball, they waited a short time and then announced that no one had turned up. Some of the flops were willing to try something else.

We had two girls who wanted to show a movie and bought sweets and popcorn to sell, but the Principal put his foot down on the movie they had chosen. I had seen the trailer and it looked okay, if a bit over the top, but the problem is, you can't do a PG movie and expect to get an audience at school. And the Principal wasn't going to take a chance on having parents complain, understandable enough. So Joy and Rhiannon instead ran a snack bar with the food they had bought and made a profit of $70! They handed in $100, though, refusing to recoup their spendings. It was their donation to Save The Children, our charity, they told me, and insisted on giving it.

There was a soccer match run by four lovely girls, which went over very well, but their real profit came from the icy poles they sold on the day! They did what they were requested to do, organising a team ahead of time, and got a couple of teachers to join in, which meant they had supervisors once the match got started and I could return to open the library. They gave all the players medals (party favours, very inexpensive, and all the proud players wore them to class) and an icy pole. One boy who came on the day said that 50c was too much to pay for an icy pole. I suggested he might like to pay $2 to play and then he would get an icy pole as part of the deal. "Okay," he agreed and handed over $2 instead of 50c!

There were events going regularly and my colleague Jasna and I had very little time to ourselves, but they were so worth it.

A group of boys sold icy poles as an activity. In the group were a couple of kids who normally waste time and do very little, but they did what we asked and made a profit even on a mild day. The next day was to be 38'. I told them that they didn't have to do another day, but that they would sell even better if they did. And they agreed! They spent the profits of that day to buy more icy poles and sold the lot in the summer heat.

There were truffles and cookies, made by the same group. A large profit!

On the last day we had about three events going. One of them was milk shakes, the other two events were a disco and pancakes, both done by the same group, who had been unable to agree on whether it was to be pancakes or disco and decided to do both. In the event, the disco was not too successful, but $16 was all profit, because it didn't cost anything to bring speakers and music. They did spend on glow sticks, but that was absorbed by the pancake profits.

The milkshake makers, who shared the school kitchen with the pancake makers, were our more academic kids. Out of the group of five doing the other two activities, there were four who had issues of one kind or another. It's not that they weren't bright, but we had two integration students, one of whom hardly says a word, one restless boy who won't sit still for five minutes in class and one who is something of a loner, who hates doing group work, who rarely smiles and never laughs. The fifth boy was just a nice lad.

And yet... the loner put in his ideas, cooked pancakes all day, laughed and joked. The quiet boy offered to speak to staff and acted as that day's gofer. The other integration student, who had actually wanted another charity quite badly, threw himself into this one. He made pancakes - it was his recipe - and brought along a music mix and speakers for the disco. The restless boy showed leadership qualities. They were organised, they thought of everything, they answered every question we asked them.They even took a survey before committing to a project.

They were, I think, our greatest success story for this year.

We will have only fifty minutes a week for this subject next year. :-(

The vice principal said this activity was very valuable and we should keep doing it if we can. I agreed with him, but it's going to be hard. Still - it will have to be treated as a challenge - like the one I face as a teacher-librarian in a school which has cut back on library staffing and halved budgets over the last years.

Now for the last challenge of the year: taking them to the movies! But they've earned it.

I have yet to do the final count of the money, but students who added it up said we made over $500!

Monday, November 05, 2012

The YABBA Awards And Book Club

Tomorrow I am taking a small group of students to the YABBA Award ceremony - the Young Australian Best Books Award, the one young readers actually get to vote for. I would like to say one of my books is on the shortlist, but it isn't. Still, I wanted to go, and to take along some students.

At this stage, there will only be a handful. See, I work in the western suburbs of Melbourne and the ceremony is in the south east, in Kew, at a very expensive private boys' school. And it's on early, so I just can't go to Sunshine, pick up the students at school and take them out again. So I made the decision to take the Year 10s, who can meet me in town. I will be getting a couple of books signed for younger ones whom I couldn't take. I promised to take them on an excursion next year.

It's appropriate, really. These were my first book clubbers, at a time when I hadn't been able to get any interest going. They will be at Senior Campus next year. I will miss them terribly and as I couldn't take them to the Inkyfest, this was my last chance to spoil them before they go - Ryan, Thando,Paige, Selena, Dylan and Kristen.

It will be our chance to look around and see how it works. Any school can apply to host the ceremony, but as you need room for three hundred people it's no use applying if you don't have a school hall. I can manage two hundred in my library,  but that's still too small. We don't have a hall at the West Campus. The Senior hall is in use for exams at that time of year and is, anyway, a bit shabby. The only other campus with a hall is North, but I'd need support there. I'll need to research this. Stand by for more!

There will be some great writers there. Dylan got very excited when I mentioned Andy Griffiths. I asked him wasn't he a bit old for this writer. "Never!" he cried.

My friend George Ivanoff, who has visited our school, tells me there's a mile long queue to Andy's table and the rest of the writers are ignored, even, last year, Gabrielle Lord, who is VERY popular, but he thinks it worth doing and will be there anyway.

As the morning tea is for adults only, I'm taking some snacks for my dear students. BYO just isn't as much fun. I have bought them lamingtons, chips in  mini bags and cans of soft drink.

Time to get ready for tomorrow!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Charity Project 2012 begins - yay!

On Friday morning, our Year 8 students began to get into groups to discuss what they will do for this year's Pathways charity project. I'm not sure what will happen next year when Pathways has been cut back to one period a week because the maths department wanted more time, but for now, the kids are about to have a wonderful time and learn plenty. Perhaps, if we haven't all been moved to other campuses or had our allotments changed, we might be able to start a bit earlier in the year. I do hope this isn't the last time for a wonderful unit of work that engages even the less able students, as well as the capable ones, but you have no control over what the school wants you to do.

My colleague Jasna and I invited in some of last year's Year 8 students, not Year 9, to speak to the combined classes. Brittany, Taylor and Paige nattered away cheerfully about whathad worked, what didn't and how to make sure you choose the right group and handle things when you had two bossy people in the group - all the things we wanted them to know. Pepa, whom I invited to talk about what her group had done - truffle-making - also said what I hoped she would, that they had chosen an activity that didn't cost much, used ingredients you mostly had in your pantry, didn't take long to do and  made a very nice profit.

It was funny, really - she was part of a quiet, well-behaved group of girls who got on beautifully and never had arguments. The other group was a great bunch also, but far more passionate and likely to get into arguments (they themselves said they felt their group had been rather too large, though we allowed the large group because they were reliable). It was like having representatives of a board of directors and a hippie commune. And yet both groups did very well and made a large profit and the girls from the large group have chosen Business Studies this year, because they had enjoyed the project so much last year, and they will have the chance to do it again.

After the talk, we asked the guest speakers to walk around and chat with the groups, answering any questions they might have, which they did. Jasna and I watched, amazed, as the laziest boys in the class animatedly discussed the project.

Fingers crossed this  isn't the last time!

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Book Club Fights Back! From My Other Blog

It has just occurred to me that I haven't posted the original reference to my book club's Banned Books Week activity, so here it is.

Today Book Club and I, and one of the staff, Faye, filmed readings from banned or challenged books. Dylan wanted a copy of his file so he could put it on YouTube, but otherwise the understanding was that the readings would go on to a DVD which will only be used at school. Of course, all my readers will get a copy of the DVD and hopefully I can show it to staff at a meeting.

The project was a huge success! I have never seen my students so excited about anything. I am not sure how I could have done this with kids who don't like reading, but I'll think of something. Meanwhile, they looked at a list I had prepared, of books, some of them classics, that have been challenged or banned over the years. I only chose some that we probably had in the library so that they were available to be read immediately. They read the list, exclaimed in amazement - "They BANNED Harry Potter?" - and sat down to work out what they should choose. I had readings from Harry Potter, Vampire Academy, Twilight, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Hunger Games, Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider novel Snakehead and, from Faye, The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time. That one is being studied by our Year 10 students, who love it. Faye didn't want her face to be seen("I'm too ugly today!") so Dylan had to film her with her face behind the book. She said she thought she knew which bit had probably caused the ban and made sure that was the part she read.

We even had a Year 7 student who said,"How wonderful!" and joined in. My Year 8 student Robert went to his locker to fetch a Robert Harris book, which was well-loved, judging by its battered state. I didn't hear his reading as I had to go check out a library book, but I overheard someone say "My God, no wonder it was banned!" Well, I'm not his mother and she is okay with it, as far as I know.

Dylan took over the filming, only stopping to get Selena to film him reading from Harry Potter And The Half-blood Prince. Selena was halfway through her reading of Snakehead(she read the entire Alex Rider series, followed by  Charlie Higson's Young James Bond and Gabrielle Lord's Conspiracy 365 series... For such a mild-mannered young woman, she is amazingly keen on action-adventure!) when the camera battery ran out and we had to recharge it. There were three more readings to do at that stage and while Dylan, Selena and Ryan were going to be there, Kristen had to go to her Foods class, so I promised to come and fetch her when the camera was running again. In the event, she changed her mind, as she was not feeling well and had substantial work to do in class, so I did a reading instead, from Harry Potter And The Chamber of Secrets. I am sure I can film her early next term if she's up to it, because nothing is actually  going on YouTube except Dylan's file and maybe mine; these holidays I will edit it in iMovie and I can simply add a scene for her before I finish and burn it to DVD. Thando was reading while I was off in Kristen's class, so I have no idea what she read, but it should be a nice surprise. Paige may not have been at school today and will perhaps want to add to the film when she returns; I can film her if/when I do Kristen.

 Taylor made a mistake and stopped, waving her arms in frustration; I might keep those bits for a blooper reel. Brittany, like Faye, read with the book held up to cover her face, while her little brother Braydon, a true camera ham, read with his face showing, of course.

After the holidays, the first Book Club event will be an opening screening of what Dylan wants to call "Book Club Fights Back". He suggested we have a group scene with all the readers giving the finger to censorship. Perhaps, if time, but not on YouTube, I'm afraid - I'm not allowed!

This is one of my National Year of Reading events. It's nice to be able to do something, even after my budget has run out, and I am very lucky to have such wonderful young men and women in my class and my library.

Editing "Book Club Fights Back" from my other blog

First published on The Great Raven - I have since fiddled with it a bit more and my friend and colleague Jasna has said she wants to add a readout. With Emily's reading to finish, I can add it easily enough before finishing and burning.

I have to turn off and head for my mother's place shortly, but after a long evening spent on editing my book club movie last night I had to come back and do a little more today. I still have to add Emily's reading when i get back; I couldn't get it downloaded before I left, or the scene where my students all gave the finger to book bans crying, "Book bans suck!" For some reason the computer didn't recognise the card reader that it had happily recognised for all the other downloads from the camera, but the day I get back I will have a computer technician to consult, Tam, who is with us for another term or so.

I've done this before, with last year's Literature Circles movie (and I finally managed to download the last video to this year's Lit Circles movie), but I still have plenty to learn. For example, putting together the first set of credits and the first scene into a single chapter. I'm hoping that if I do Play All on the DVD it might work. The tune I chose to go with the opening credits also plays over a delightfully silly scene Dylan shot by accident, in which some of our Psychology students (also book clubbers) are on their laptops between the library shelves while Selena is choosing her reading and Dylan jokes that he is filming them before realising he actually IS filming, then another credits page which pays tribute to a certain space TV series, before the first reading. It works well and that scene was too good to put in the bloopers, but the chapters are separate.

I put the readings in a certain order, with individual books broken up, but also readings in order from the first three Twilight books - Natasha, Taylor and Braydon and three Harry Potter books - Caitlyn, myself and Dylan. Then there are the bloopers, readings that were messed up or interrupted - we did this in the school library and there were bells between periods, announcements over the PA and students coming out of the library's interactive whiteboard room, on their way to their next class. Finally, there is me doing the reading I put up on YouTube, in the DVD "extras" - and a final bunch of credits giving names and books they read. The final credits need some music to go with them, but it's a matter of finding something appropriate that fits within the length. The music may not be Creative Commons because it's not going on line, just in my library and given to the readers, so I have a bigger choice.

Anyway, it's been great fun and highly successful and I look forward to showing it in the library at lunchtime when we get back, and hopefully to staff at a staff meeting, as an example of how you can engage students. These were all enthusiastic readers, but I think I could find a way to use it to engage reluctant ones. I have a few in my Year 8 who might enjoy it.

Fingers crossed the finished product works as well as I think it will!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Last shopping of the year( from my other blog)

First published on The Great Raven

I'm in Ganache chocolate shop having a pot of chai tea and some truffles as a reward to myself for making the best of my tiny budget. I do have a little more money, but most of it has to pay for renewals.

With the $300 I allowed myself this time(including postage) I've bought sequels to things the students are reading, a  joke book- something the younger ones always want, but I can't supply new - a couple of Horrible Histories and a Horrible Science, an Inky Shortlisted book, some football books(one AFL, one soccer and one Rugby League, sports books are so expensive!), two new Oliver Phommavanh books for his fans, Oscar Wilde's short stories for Ryan, who is finishing The Picture Of Dorian Gray and is keen to try "The Canterville Ghost", a new YA novel by Louis Nowra for Selena, who is interested to read it, some Shakespeare for Natasha, who wants to read A Midsummer Night's Dream - this one is a beauty, with original and translation on facing pages and it was CHEAP - After by Morris Gleitzman for Michael, an Ally Carter book for his friend Mung, a Pittacus Lore book for Dylan, who would otherwise miss out, as there were no Catherine McPhail thrillers on the shelves - sorry, Dylan, maybe next year when you can borrow them on inter library loan from Senior Campus.

They should arrive next week, perhaps in time to process a few to take home for the holidays.

I wish I could have bought more, especially in sport; most of our sports books are old and battered and I want to cry when I see a student with an ancient soccer book. But I have to work with what I've got and sports books aren't cheap, alas! Next year I will call Melbourne Sports Books and pin them down to a date.

Still - the new Guinness Book of Records is available for review...

Monday, August 20, 2012

They're working! (at last)

If you have to teach English to students who have not been working the whole year, it is so nice when you think you may have gotten through, for whatever reason.

Three boys in my class had not responded at all to Literature Circles, or rather, they responded in the wrong way. They treated it as an opportunity to socialise. I have tried very hard with them. I made sure they got a book they were likely to enjoy, if they could enjoy anything, Jenny Mounfield's The Ice Cream Man. In it, three boys do something stupid in their annoyance at an ice cream man who won't stop for them one hot day and find themselves being stalked. There is a twist at the end of this tale, and basically, it's an introduction to the thriller genre for teens, with a lot of meat for discussion, because they're not bad boys, really - in fact, the author tells me her son was one of them, the one in the wheelchair, who did something dumb and luckily didn't go through what happened to the boys in the book.

I have sat down with them to discuss what had happened in the story. One of the things you do in Literature Circles is compare it to real life. I invited them to think about what resemblance they might find. When they said there was nothing, I asked, "Oh, really? These three boys don't remind you of any three boys you might know?" and got a grin from them as a reward. I asked them how they had met, seeing they spend so much time together and one of them confessed, "Actually, we met when we all got into trouble together." That made me grin.

The rest of the class, who have mostly finished their books, are working on a creative response to what they have read. Yesterday I handed them their copies of The Ice Cream Man and said, "Sorry, guys, but you can't do a response to a book you haven't read."
"Fair enough," said the boy who had told me how they met and they actually got stuck into it. He got to page 122, and when I asked him what was happening, he was able to tell me! I made sure that his literacy teacher told him today that I was pleased with himand so was she.

A survey I took a while back told me that all but one of the class wanted to learn, and the one who said no was being silly.

I just need to get through the barrier of laziness with some.

Monday, August 13, 2012

What I did at the E-literacy Conference

First published in our staff newsletter March 23 2012

Back in March I had the privilege of attending what may be the best conference I have ever done, run by the School Library Association of Victoria. I am still getting my head around all the wonderfully useful information I received and the notes I took; I have been downloading teaching apps on my iPad and started following teacher-librarians i met there on Twitter, though that's blocked on our school network. Pity - it's a useful tool. (And I encountered and started following a tech-loving ESL teacher in Canada, who shares information in his tweets).
Attendees were encouraged to use their devices – laptops, phones and iPads. I had my iPad with me and I was able to go online in the conference’s wifi connection. As the speakers shared their web sites and software information with us, I went on-line, checked and bookmarked some sites we can use in teaching. We were able to tweet on the conference’s special Twitter session; some used it to take notes, others for comments on the session. I came away with a couple of new followers and teachers I am now following.

We had a demonstration from Mill Park Secondary College, a school which had been part of a program that enabled students to use various bits of software and hardware to produce a science presentation that went way beyond the usual PowerPoint. There were also speakers from VCAA.

Dr Ross Todd of Rutgers University in New Jersey was our keynote speaker. Dr Todd had done a survey of New York school libraries and chosen twelve that had the most positive attitude towards their libraries and library professionals, considered part of the curriculum team to improve student outcomes. These were schools like ours, with very little money. They were prepared to put it into their libraries and the teacher-librarians running them. Actually, the sentence he used was "the schools where the principal had the guts to invest in their libraries did the best". That didn't go into my school report, I'm adding it here.

His talk was very inspiring, as was the entire day, and I rushed off to check out all those new sites. I've used some since then and run PDs using them.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Filming 8B and others

I have just spent the last couple of periods finding and downloading movie files that my student Emily took of her classmates in Literature Circles last week. There are still a few more she needs to film and tomorrow she will begin to edit it, something I did on my own last year. I will help, of course. All she needs to do for the single period we have together tomorrow is view them.

It wasn't as easy as last year. There were some good discussions going, but there were problems with students who couldn't be bothered doing anything but socialise, students who were too shy to speak up, students who didn't finish their books despite being allowed to take them home, students sick for several weeks, students who had to leave class for music or SRC, and in one case, a student who left the school unexpectedly, and he was the one leading any discussions they had, and there were only two students left in his group, one of whom was up to Page 62 on the last day of Lit Circles!

Next year I may do some short stories for the first couple of weeks as practice (I did one this year) and hope that there will be something better than this year.

And still, from what I have seen on playback (and I did help Emily with a couple of groups that needed encouraging) I think we may have some good stuff there. Where we just couldn't get a discussion going I asked the students to talk about the book - why they had chosen it and how they felt about it at the end (in one case it was "I thought it would be a romance and it wasn't!")

Another thing I found on the card I took from the camera was a stack of Harmony Day files, with students and some staff talking about their cultural heritage (nobody asked me, which is one of the disadvantages of being in the library where no one thinks to go for these things! I did offer... Oh, well...). One of those talking was Vincent, the lovely boy who went off to a boys' school, leaving his teachers and classmates devastated. I took that to add to the Literature Circles movie, even though it has no connection with the topic, because his classmates will like to have it there, and so will I.

Thing is, I don't think anyone did anything with those Harmony Day files and I'd really like to see it on DVD, edited for next year and as a record of what we do at this school. Not long ago, a former student from one of our other campuses went on national TV to perform and told the whole country that she had been threatened at school by bullies wielding knives! This was to gain audience sympathy and votes, must have been, because she was a popular girl at school, we were all proud of her and nobody wields knives here; for YEARS the school was talking about one incident where someone came from outside with a samurai sword to attack a student. And that happened well before my arrival and I have been there since the late 1990s.

So having some film with kids talking about their backgrounds with a definite sense of IDIC (check out your Star Trek references) should tell you more about this school than some girl spouting nonsense on TV and to the newspapers.

Time to go home and prepare tomorrow's classes.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Book Week Coming

...and I still haven't read all the books and the winner will probably be one I haven't read. The shortlisted books are mostly out anyway, which I suppose is a good thing, though it meant I couldn't use them on Friday afternoon, of which more presently.
My friend Sharon Hayes, who hosted us a week ago, emailed me some photos of my students with Isobelle Carmody. I printed one of them out. There was a lot of red-eye and Braydon looked like a demon child out of The Omen. I did fix the red- eye on both photos, using iPhoto, but not till Thursday night and in one of them, the demon-Braydon stayed demonic! Is there something we don't know about him?(g)

 Braydon didn't turn up to book club, where I showed the photos to his friends, and later came to ask me,"Miss, is it true I look weird in the photos?" I told him yes and he wanted a look and then he wanted the photos as they were! Seems he likes looking scary.;-)

Anyway, at the book club meeting on Thursday we discussed Book Week. No real plans for the week beyond the usual trivia quiz ( and Braydon said later he wanted a Readathon, perhaps a bit late to arrange, but we could have readings at lunchtime or I could film them reading aloud from favourite books). But as the theme is "Champions Read" I asked them who would be okay with being photographed for a library display doing sport while reading a book. My class were finishing the week with PE so it was a perfect opportunity. Most of the shortlist books were out, so I decided just to get a pile of books they could choose from. Natasha suggested a podium with readers holding books and wearing gold, silver and bronze medals, a great idea if we can get something to pretend is a podium. I will check tomorrow with the woodwork teacher, whom I am pretty sure has a step somewhere, and there are a couple of library steps to shelve books from. I will have to find some way to fake the medals, perhaps get the students to make them in cardboard. Dylan and Kristen suggested table tennis tables with readers playing but holding books ( Kristen wanted to slump over the table with her book).

Friday afternoon I took my camera out to the basketball courts where 8B were throwing frisbees ( it was a lovely sunny afternoon) and Natasha, Karyn and Braydon happily posed with frisbees and books. Ann-Marie and Nusaiba thought it looked like fun and joined us. Nusaiba did ask if she could hide her face behind her book lest someone laughed at her, but I pointed out that with her headscarf people would recognise her anyway. She had to concede that and agreed not to hide.

Hopefully this year we will have a good Book Week.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Year 8 Community Project 2012

And so it starts again, the community project which we've been doing since one of my colleagues and I returned from Term 3 holidays after the tsunami in Samoa with the same idea - to get our kids to raise money and goods for relief. We joined forces and had a huge success, because it's the sort of task that any student, academic or not, can get something  out of. And as word has spread, each year the Year 8 students ask,"When are we starting?" They can't wait!

Today I was checking a boy's work, advising him that if he wants anyone to be convinced that they should choose his charity for the fundraising,he needs to give them the right information and show a little passion for it. And he shrugged and said that he didn't actually care much about charities or see any point in them, since there wasn't much that could be done and there were so many problems, what was the point in trying? I was shocked. I hadn't expected to hear that from this student in particular; even the worst-behaved students make an effort, usually, and are ashamed of themselves if they realise later that they didn't do much. Heck, there were two of my laziest students sitting side by side and preparing their presentation for Save The Children! And when we actually do our fundraising they will have the fun of arranging a sports event. Some kids choose a charity because a member of their family is affected. And here was my nice quiet student saying he didn't care.
I gave him a talk about making a difference, even if it was a small difference, and when I said that Make A Wish couldn't actually save children's lives but made a difference, he said he'd seen a case during his research in which it had. I said,"Well, use it! Look it up again!"

Hopefully, he will.

It's early in the piece and my colleague and I are still having meetings to discuss what is working and what needs fixing, but it's great to see that there is already enthusiasm showing among our students, and each year when we do this I feel just a little proud of their achievements and ours.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Middle Grade Reading: Booktalkers 2 for 2012

First published on The Great Raven blog

Tonight I went to the State Library for Booktalkers, which this time was on the subject of middle grade books. The speakers were Gabrielle Wang, Kate Constable and Tom Taylor, a writer of graphic novels, aka comic books. Tom was the only one I had never heard of, but he proved to be very entertaining. I have actually read most of Gabrielle's books and all of Kate's.

The first half of the program featured the two ladies. Gabrielle spoke about the process of writing her Our Australian Girl historical fiction commission from Penguin. She said she was nervous about historical fiction, not having done any history before apart from Little Paradise, which was a personal thing about her parents(and I know how she feels; I took on historical fiction for Ford Street and longed to throw in a spaceship or a unicorn, but had to learn how to handle straight history!), but she chose the Gold Rush era because her great grandparents came out to Australia then. Her heroine was part Chinese, part Aborigine. She felt a connection with indigenous Australians because of being non-white and spoke warmly of her advisers.

Kate talked about Girlfriend Fiction. She was invited to submit at an Allen and Unwin Christmas party. She said she was worried about doing straight mainstream fiction after writing all that fantasy. There were strict guidelines, including words not to use and a hint of romance. She thought of girl with girl romance (Being McKenzie - I actually remember reading that one and thinking she was brave to do that in a YA romance where the girl readers are waiting for the heroine to end up with the gorgeous boy). She said she actstrictly key the strict guidelines; it meant all sorts of decisions didn't have to be made. She likes to write of girls12-13 years old and sees herself as more of a children's writer than YA.

Gabrielle Wang said she gravitates to 8-12 years old.

They were both invited to say what is in the works? Kate Constable has just done a YA novel, but next after that will be another middle-grade time slip story.

Gabrielle has a fantasy novel with her publisher, The Wishbird.

Both writers said they felt their audiences were female. During question time I told Kate that, in fact, there were boys reading her Chanters of Tremaris series and Gabrielle that two boys had read and enjoyed A Ghost In My Suitcase for Literature Circles.

After intermission, there was one more speaker, Tom Taylor, who has had several careers, including juggling in the street, but is now doing very well writing graphic novels for reluctant readers. He is the author of many Star Wars graphic novels (he killed off Bobba Fett not long ago and will have to admit it to the actor, Jeremy Bulloch) but mainly writes The Deep series, about a multi-ethnic family of undersea explorers, which is popular in every country. It contains peril and humour, but no violence. Tom admires Joss Whedon, whom he described as an influence. He says that even when he was a playwright he was more influenced by graphic novel writers than anything else.

He showed a scene from The Deep, which seems very funny and included a pet fish called Jeffrey being taught to fetch.

How difficult was it writing in an established universe?

There are a lot of constraints, he said. Five sets of eyes have to look at each book. It's about continuity. Actually, I'm wondering who gave him permission to kill off Bobba Fett, but someone must have.

Tom said, however, that he gets away with a lot , such as giggling storm troopers.
He nelieves thay comics are an Incredible storytelling medium. They are only an issue here; France, the US, Japan, all celebrate comics. Reluctant readers already love them, they just don't know it!

He ended his talk recommending a number of comics.

Personally, my only problem with comics is how very expensive they are! And especially manga tends to come in multiple volumes, which is very difficult when your budget is as tiny as mine, alas!:-(

The evening ended soon after. It was enjoyable. There was no bookstall this time - disappointing but probably better for my wallet and my bookshelves!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Education Cuts - Grrr!

One of the pleasures of Sunday morning is checking out the papers on line. This morning's Age has further details of the State Budget's cuts to state schools. The EMA funding which supports kids as poor as many of those who attend my own school has been slashed savagely. Parents will still get something, but much less, and schools will get nothing.

We use this money to subsidise excursions, camps, equipment, etc. The college principal says we'll be losing around $100,000 and that we're going to have to go more "user pays". Pays how? Last year, when deciding which students to recommend for a Western Chances Scholarship (for bright kids who have little money but could do well with support) I discovered about two thirds of my wonderful, much-loved class were on EMA support - I was spoiled for choice!

Now those of them who can't afford to pay won't get what everyone else can have.

It's very simple. The western suburbs are safe Labor seats. Why bother when there are no votes to be had? The same, of course, applies to any government.

This man, Baillieu, who went to Melbourne Grammar and was born into wealth and privilege doesn't get it, or want to. Maybe our students should start growing forelocks to tug at their "betters".

I work so hard to meet the challenge of my limited budget, which is probably less than Scotch College spent on a balloon to launch the National Year of Reading. I find cheap or free options so the students can have a taste of book-related pleasure. Last year I was very lucky to be offered a free visit by the State Library for which I must thank Adele Walsh. This year we went to the library for the Persian exhibition and a tour of the Domed Reading Room. Soon, we will be enjoying a visit to another school which is sharing an author visit with us. I've done book launches and encouraged entry in writing competitions and arranged for our students to read manuscripts for a publisher. I've taken them to Booktalkers and th Melbourne Writers' Festival - all things cheap or free. Sometimes I have used a bit of my tiny budget to subsidise these excursions, or taken from my own pocket.

Looks like I'm going to have to do all this for a long time to come - or more.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Thinking of Teachers Past

First published on The Great Raven. I thought it might be more appropriate for this blog.

Someone on Twitter wrote a post about What Is Wrong With Teachng, about how students shouldn't be stuffed with information. Well, der! We don't do this any more. Sometimes the attempt not to do it, mind you, can go over the top. One PD woman turned up in a costume to attract attention! We keep being told we have to "engage" them, one of the latest buzz terms. And that word "pedagogy"! I have a vague memory that the pedagogue was the slave who walked children to school, though I could be wrong. :-)

 Anyway, it brought back memories of teachers who "engaged" me. Odd how many of them were when I was in Year 11. There was my history teacher, who, on the one hand, made us stand by our desks till she was satisfied no one was going to talk and then spent more of the period telling us we mustn't waste time! However, once the lesson got going, she had much to offer. She remembered pre- World War II Italy and told us about her desperate urge to draw moustache and glasses on huge portraits of Mussolini. She told us of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand as a "how it nearly didn't work". And what was best of all, she was the first teacher who encouraged us to question what was in the history books, on the lines of, " what's in it for him? Was he a friend of the dictator whose biography he wrote?" and so on.

 The same year I had an art teacher who encouraged me in my work, making small suggestions and somehow improving my standard till I was told it was good enough for me to do art in Year 12. My Year 11 English teacher got me interested in Richard III and brought her guitar in and sang us the little ditty about the bridge disaster and Henry Bolte, that went to the tune of "Michael row the boat ashore".

 Of course, there were others. I rather fancied our Year 7 history teacher. :-) It helped he was young and good looking. But one thing he taught us, about the handmaiden in the huge Mesopotamian burial, the one with the silver ribbon in her pocket, stuck in my mind and eventually made its way into my book Time TravellersAdventures In Archaeology. It turned out to have been in Leonard Woolley's account of his excavation at Ur. There was our Year 10 French teacher, who showed us a nonsense word that proved the weirdness of the English language.You write "ghoti" which, using several strange English pronunciations, should read"fish". I still use this in my literacy classes to show ESL kids that, no, they're not going crazy. I want to thank all those teachers - and others - for enriching my life.

Easter Bunnies and Goddesses

An Easter card from 1907

First published on Good Friday on The Great Raven

As I lie in bed with my trusty iPad, I must, of course, pay tribute to the day and the festival. Soon I'll be getting up to go out for some tin-rattling on behalf of the Royal Children's Hospital. This is an annual tradition on Good Friday and one that my friends and I have done for many years. Good Friday is not my holy day, but I do have one beginning tonight, Passover, which, this year, coincides with Easter.

I could talk about related books, such as the Haggadah and, going on from there, the gorgeous Sarajevo Haggadah and Geraldine Brooks and Howard Fast, and maybe Terry Pratchett's Soul Cake Duck which lays chocolate eggs, but these will wait for another post. I want to do that justice. Today I'm talking about goddesses and eggs and bunnies -er, hares.

And one book at least. Jacob Grimm wrote a book about Germanic mythology, along with the fairy tales. In it, he mentioned a certain goddess from whose name Easter was taken and argued it was the real thing, because even in those days there were scholars arguing the whole thing had been made up by the Venerable Bede.

 Let's start with eggs. We may think they're just an add-on, but they could be the oldest part of the whole feast. In the northern hemisphere, where Easter began, it's spring, the time when new life begins, grass grows, buds swell. The egg is a symbol of new life. It's certainly a part of the Orthodox Easter; I remember my Greek friend Denise bringing along an extra red-painted egg for me so we could smash the shells together and eat the hard- boiled eggs inside.

And there's a symbolic egg on the Passover table, too. It's hard- boiled and the shell partly burned. It symbolises new life, just as the Easter egg does, but also reminds us of the sacrifices in the Temple.

Eostre and hare
 The Easter bunny began life as a hare. Some stories link it with the Goddess, capital G, and there's a beautiful song by Maddy Pryor of Steeleye Span fame about this. So of course, it's also got witchy familiar connections, and there's the goddess Eostre who may have been a goddess of the dawn, with hares carrying lights as she arrives. This is what it says in Wikipedia, anyway. But the Easter hare is something I read about long ago. Freya, after whom Friday is named, got around in a chariot pulled by cats, but also was associated with hares. A lot of the trappings of our current religions do go back to earlier ones. The Puritans sure believed that and cancelled Christmas for that reason.  Bah humbug!

I'm going to go out and get some money for research at the Royal Children's Hospital and then I'm going to eat some of the eggs of the Soul Cake Duck, brought by the Easter Hare, companion of the Goddess. Have a good holiday, everyone!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Taking Students To The Sunshine Library

First published on The Great Raven.

Tuesday February 14 was not only Valentine's Day, it was the launch of the National Year of Reading. All over the country, libraries and other such institutions celebrated reading.

There was one at Sunshine Library, where the GoH was John Marsden, author of the Tomorrow When The War Began series. I went there with four students from 8B, my homeroom. Three of them, Vincent, Natasha and Braydon, are members of my book club. The fourth, Corey, is Dylan's brother. He isn't a keen reader himself, but asked if he might come and of course, I was delighted to have him with me.

We set off right after school. Natasha and I walked together, while the boys charged ahead, but fortunately, by the time we got as far as our senior campus we found them again - oddly, behind us!

It was a warm day, quite a hot walk. By the time we got to the library, we were all very thirsty. I'd brought a bottle of water, but it wasn't very cool, so we were all pleased to get inside the library, where cold cordial was on offer. I took photos of the students with books in hand, outside the library; it will be submitted for the college newsletter and hopefully for the magazine, but without parental permission, I can't show them here, so instead, here's a photo of the cake, which was cut after the launch.

Pretty, isn't it? Tasted good, too.

After a speech by one of the library staff, we heard John Marsden. He only spoke for a few minutes, about how he loves libraries, and shared memories of his childhood experiences in the school library, which was divided by grade level, only he finished all the Grade 3 books before the end of the year, so had run out of books.

After John's talk, he very generously handed out copies of a couple of his books to the children and teens. Corey thoughtfully took a copy of a novel for Robert, a great Marsden fan who couldn't make it that day. He and Vincent left for the Sunshine Plaza, with parents' permission, but Braydon and Natasha were waiting for their parents to pick them up, so got their books signed (more photos for the school magazine!) A photographer wandering around asked permission to take their photos for the library's web site, but permission had to wait till Braydon's mother arrived (Natasha declined the offer).

The photographer photographed him lounging on the library's "Reading Chair"; we will be looking out for him on the web site as soon as the disc is delivered to the library. He certainly enjoyed having his picture taken!

We all had cake and received a library bag with a few goodies in it (balloon, USB bracelet, a heart-shaped chocolate). I waited with Natasha for her father to pick her up and we had a chat about the Sunshine Harvester on display outside the library.

She said she'd had a good time and thanked me for taking her.

I headed for the station, exhausted after the long day, and met Carmel Shute, head of Sisters In Crime, who works in Sunshine and lives out my way, so I had someone to discuss books with most of the way home.

An enjoyable, if tiring, afternoon.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

NYR - First Activity!

I'm back at school, with a new class and the same library. If there had been time to set up, even time for a library meeting with other campuses, perhaps we'd be doing our own launch this Tuesday. However, I have plans anyway. I've arranged to take some book clubbers to the launch at our local library, where the GoH will be John Marsden. Truth is, I I only found out about it because Selena, one of my older members, mentioned it. She got the date wrong, fortunately - she thought it was last Thursday, but the web site said Tuesday, which seems to be the general launch day all over the country. So we had time to organise. I will be taking six to eight students after school, the younger ones, as the older ones will all be doing VCE subjects that day, but they can make their own way. Dylan said it was Valentine's Day, Miss, and he wanted to go out with his girlfriend. "Take her along," I suggested."She loves books." I whipped up a letter to parents. When I handed it out to students in my own class, Rhiannon, who isn't in book club, said,"Wait. Is this the author of Tomorrow When The War Began?" and when I said yes, she held out her hand for a letter. :-) I must see if I can recruit her for the club. I really need some younger ones, because the founding members are all in Year 10 and doing at least one VCE subject(Selena is doing two). I will miss them when they go. Meanwhile, it's nice to be doing my first activity for the Year of Reading. Simple and free, something even I, with my $3000 budget, can do.

Saturday, January 07, 2012


First published on The Great Raven.

This is the National Year of Reading in Australia. There are discussions going on all over the web and ideas thrown around for how to do stuff to encourage reading. I don’t think I can add to these discussions, but I can talk about what I’m hoping to do and make suggestions for things that can be done in a school library with a tiny budget and limited staffing.

A library like mine.

I’ve experimented with most of these suggestions and am planning to have a go at the others. My book club had better watch out, because I am going to ask them to give a hand.

There are the obvious ones, which any school can do if they have time and/or money. The Premier’s Reading Challenge, for example. Reader’s Cup. MS Readathon. But all those are team efforts. They need to be a school effort, not just that of the teacher-librarian. If you can arrange that, fine.

However, I’m going to make a few suggestions that you can do with limited staff help and funding, though they do rather rely on students co-operating. But hey, the students are what it’s about and who it’s for and if you can’t get student co-operation you might as well not bother!

These things all need effort. There’s no way you can get around that. But they work, as long as you’re prepared to be obnoxious and make a fuss till you get some support, however little. Here they are, in no special order – if you have some more you’ve tried out, why not add them here?

  1. Offer to do book launches for new writers. In this era of internet contact, it’s not hard to track down a new writer who might be willing and able to have a go. It’s win-win. It gives the author promotion and practice in speaking to young readers and they can bring books to sell. Students get to meet a writer at the start of their career You have to have some copies in the library and promote like mad for days before the visitor arrives for the launch. Call the local press. That’s good for everyone. When my book Starwalkers was being launched in a school library, I persuaded my publisher to give us some goodies and a few dollars towards the lollies and cordial. The TL called the local press and did a space-themed trivia quiz before I arrived and held the final round during the launch. I signed copies of the book for all four students. It was very successful. Since then, I’ve had a number of launches myself.

  1. Start a book or library blog, if you don’t have one already. You can review new books, which can then go to your library, and you can invite students to review books on it. If you’re planning on doing something for IYR, you probably have a blog of one kind or another anyway.

  1. Start a lunchtime book club. Yes, it can be exhausting and you need to work out what it will involve, with your students, but believe me when I say it’s well worth the effort. And these students can become “reading ambassadors” and help with activities you might plan and choose books for the library.

  1. Join YABBA (Young Australians Best Books Award). This is CHEAP! Even I was able to afford it last year. You get posters and stuff and the students can nominate and vote for Australian books they like. It helps to have the support of English staff for this one, but you can also get your reading ambassadors to encourage their fellow students to nominate and vote.

  1. Why not check out Banned Books Week? It’s amazing how many books in your library have been banned at one time or another. Last year I experimented, doing it myself and putting it up on Youtube, but how about encouraging students to do this? Even if it doesn’t go on Youtube, why not film it anyway and have a festival of readings in the library? Have a prize – it doesn’t have to be big and you’ll probably have some review books put aside anyway. There’s also Teachertube, which is less likely to be blocked!

  1. How about a book trailer competition? I haven’t had the opportunity to do it in the library yet, but last year I did it with my English class. I got the idea when Random House, my publishers, ran their annual teenage book trailer comp. Teachertube has a very good book trailer presentation that gives you information about Creative Commons web sites that will let you use the images, music, etc, free. Check it out. My English students were given the chance to prepare a book trailer as a creative response to their Literature Circles books. These were so very good that I put them together on DVD and will be showing them to other staff. I gave all my class members a copy to take away as a souvenir. Teenagers are better at this sort of thing than we are, being familiar with the software. The trailers can be shown in the library during Book Week, perhaps, or Banned Books Week. You do have to model this, though, and I prepared my own trailer for Wolfborn, which I expected them to laugh at, and go do a better job, but they liked it. You can also go on-line and find trailers made by students to show them. I used Teachertube. We had everything from Morris Gleitzman’s Once as a sort of PowerPoint with music to a performance of a scene from Wuthering Heights done as a modern American soap opera!

  1. How about a Book Week lunchtime trivia quiz? Prizes can be small. You can buy bags of fun-sized chocolate bars for $3 to $5 at the supermarket. I’ve done this many times and it always works, though last year I gave up on Book Week altogether when my book club helpers all went off to camp. Oh, well. The beauty of this is that you can create a quiz that can be varied a bit each year, but doesn’t have to be completely new each time. Sometimes, I grab students in the library and invite them to think up a question for the quiz. Only one each. That way they only know the answer to one in advance. ;-) You will need a barrel girl/boy to mark and record the scores of each group on the whiteboard, but there’s bound to be a staff member who is happy to give a hand.

  1. How about an on-line interview with a favourite write?  Check out the ones I’ve published on The Great Raven. All but the interview with Miffy were done by my students. They have been among the most popular posts on the blog. I sat down with them and had a chat about their questions. I gave these questions a light edit before submitting them to the author, but otherwise the questions belong to the students who wrote them. Not all authors will be willing or able to help. Sometimes they’re just too busy writing and we do want them to get on with producing more for us to read. Sometimes they don’t include a contact email on their web sites. Sometimes you get a response from an agent who sees your request, not as an opportunity for promotion, but as a nuisance.

But most of the writers we queried were simply wonderful. Every one of the interviews we received was better than we could possibly have expected.

Some publishers will actually offer an interview. This is where I got the idea; Juliet Marillier’s publisher said she was doing interviews that month and as I’d only read one of her books at the time and I had a student who was a passionate Marillier fan, I asked if she could do it. “Sure!” said the publisher. The rest is history.

If you have any ideas of your own, do respond here. Library folk have to look after each other and why reinvent the wheel?

Monday, January 02, 2012


I'm still trying to work out why this blog doesn't seem to have a comments option. It's laid out exactly the same way as The Great Raven, which doesn't get many comments, but does have the option there. I've sent in a feedback to Google, but that's not very helpful - they have "forums" but don't actually answer your question themselves. Meanwhile, if you want to say something about a post, feel free to email me and I'll put up a special comments post.