Tag Archives: education

Author Week

It’s that time of year again at our little primary school, when we gather the children and throw them into a time machine, a fantasty world or, in this case, an evacuee’s body and transport them to another place. Welcome to this year’s theme: The Midnight Garden. Continue reading

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Bona Fide

A child approached my desk at work today and asked a question:

“Did you compete in writing competitions

when you were our age, Mrs D?”

My curiosity as to why he would ask such a question was stalled by my need to flex my credentials, describing writing competitions I had won from a young age and my experience of writing poetry and stories throughout my youth. Watching his expression of surprise and then understanding, I went back to my original response and asked him, why?

He surprised me. He said, “Because we do a lot more writing competitions now, more than before. I thought that it was because of you!”

It took me a moment to think about this. I couldn’t deny the fact that I supported and campaigned for many writing opportunities within the school – it just didn’t occur to me that I was huge part of the influence – or, at least, the children thought so. Being a part of a wonderful literacy team that pushes for children to have these opportunities didn’t necessarily mean that I was the reason for change. Maybe it had always been there, but not so prevalent as we have it now with all the clubs and enrichment days.

One might say I’m over-thinking it, but this child’s answer touched a nerve. You see, I have been fighting a complex for many years. The stigma of who we are when our super-writing coats hang back in our caves while we go out into the real world to fill our coffers has confused me. Am I a writer pretending to be a librarian or am I a librarian pretending to be a writer? Can I call myself a writer if I have not produced a book in that last few years or can I call myself a true librarian working part-time?

All these questions float around and stew…and stew…and stew! The way I identify myself during introductions has changed too. When I first decided to become a fully-fledged writer, I shyly mumbled that I was a wannabe author. After my first book, my shoulders pressed back and I declared my author status to friends and acquaintances. Now that a few years have passed since my last novel, I’m back to being a Librarian – the title of author gathering dust at the back of my cave.

Drawing back to my earlier conversation with said pupil, it dawned on me that I am one in the same person. I am a writer, author, librarian, sad cow who hypothesizes over her silly titles when she has so little time as it is and mother! I’m influencing young minds to read and write and enjoy it.  I’m fulfilling all roles, titles, whatever-you-want-to-call-it and it’s okay. I don’t have to be one thing and not acknowledge the other. As long as I stay true to my profession: someone who shares in the experience of the written word, in whatever capacity, I am being true to who I really am. And that pleases me immensely. I am a bona fide writer/librarian!

It’s a trivial thing but something I wanted to share with you. Do you find certain roles/titles waylaid as you plough through life? What’s your take on this subject?

What a week!

A while back I used to write a post called Saturday Confessions; it was a way of opening up and sharing things I had never shared with anyone else; kind of releasing the inner me onto you, the unsuspecting public! 
Well today I have woken up with that same feeling, due to the fact that I’ve achieved another awesome week at work, which I shall go into more detail about in a tick.  The other part is due to the incredible amount of work my fellow staff put in to make our school a cut above the rest.

Yesterday, I spent my break time duty walking around a playing field full of happy children, laughing together, singing in groups, challenging teachers on duty to races and encouraging them to play games, which the staff happily obliged in doing. The setting was almost too perfect to my cynical eye for the joy I felt was overwhelming. How on earth could 200+ students be so happy and content at the same time? I kid you not, those kids were beaming!

Now this leads me onto the reason why I was happy to volunteer to write an enrichment week for the teachers. Watching them and seeing just how much effort they put into their work, how much time and energy they place in getting the detail right to cater for every single child in their class and the support they provide for those lagging behind as well as the advanced students – it makes me proud to be a part of their support team. 

With careful consideration as to how we would utilise the resource, I had to write up themed lessons that would inspire the children to use their abilities in literacy and showcase their imagination, mixed in with technical writing skills for moderation. Not only that but giving the theme enough traction for the teachers to plan mathematics and science based lessons on it made it more challenging. With my Literacy Co-ordinator giving me her list of requirements, we banged out the objectives for the week and I began my planning. 

If I had to combine the time spent on creating the enrichment package, I would say it took me a week, maybe more, to get it right. That included meetings, editing and re-drafting of some lessons. Since time is not exactly free in this life, I spent my spare moments to piece this all together. 

Once the completed product was ready, I presented it to the deputy head (who is also the  head of junior literacy) and  Literacy Co-ordinator (who happens to be the head of early years Literacy). My theme was space, genre type: science fiction, and it roughly covered descriptive writing, diary entries, formal letter writing, code breaking, plotting a map and creating plants and animals found on a planet in our galaxy. There was, of course, more added details to make each day fun for the children and we included ideas (from the teachers) on artwork we could create during the week.

Once the package was approved, I made sure to role out a teacher pack and student pack so that everyone was on the same page. 

I’m not going to lie and say it’s an easy task or that there are no hiccups along the way. Some children respond beautifully to these specialised writing tasks, whilst others shut down completely and find it overwhelming. But that’s where the staff step in and make it all possible. Like superheroes, they descend onto the unsuspecting child struggling in the corner and sit with said child till they understand what is required of them. The teaching assistants work their butts off to support the teachers and by the end of the week, we have children from Reception through to year 6 using the same enrichment package and producing work on the same theme. 

It’s really exciting! 

For added effect, this year I included a link up with the National Space Centre in Leicester (from the midlands whereas we are based in the south of England) and we held a virtual classroom in the hall with all 200 children in attendance. They were so well behaved; we were very proud of them all. The space commander answered their prepared questions and the children got to interact with the presenter and watch video clips from NASA. They were pretty spellbound when they saw footage of the first jumping spider in space and I was hooked to the screen too!

To close the week off, we all dressed up as book characters, the staff choosing to dress as aliens in underpants! I’ll share a pic with you that my Headteacher took which I assumed was of just the book but included me. We ran an assembly celebrating the work from each year group and listened to stories read out from their missions. I got to read Aliens in Underpants Save Earth to the children and we all had a good look at the artwork created throughout the week.

Yes, as I said, it was a lot of hard work and creating the package was wonderful, but watching it get rolled out across the school made it all worthwhile.

Last year, the children went on a quest to save a baby Phoenix; this year they became space cadets and had to save the world and travel to Proximate B. If I’m asked to write the enrichment again, where will I take them next year and what will they become? Who knows, we might just go back in time or become something fantastic! 

Sunday, December 2016

Hello,

I’m so glad I have an opportunity to write to you after a manic November. As successful as it was, the pace made me question whether I would make it to the end. I did though and am pleased to announce that a high number of the children taking part in the NaNoWriMo Challenge for 2016 met their word targets and surpassed them considerably.  Students that participated last year took it upon themselves to really challenge their abilities and their stories have shown what one year’s education can do for them. The plans were stronger and more efficient, their writing was of a higher standard and I’m pleased to say they are actually looking at their edits and correcting them, compared to the tears and tantrums I had to deal with this time last year.

For the younger students, it was a baptism by fire! Some thought it was just another fairy story without a strong middle or a relevant end. After making them sit down and read their stories out to their friends at Library Club, they soon realised that a storyteller has to have much more than pretty pink dresses and matching pink sparkly shoes to make his or her story interesting.  It was a fantastic way for them to work on their stories too, as one child found out that her story had a huge gap and mixed characters, a flaw her audience refused to accept.  After looking at me with woeful eyes, I suggested she ask her friends to help her fill in the gaps and they gladly skipped off to work the story map again and find a solution to the problem.  Hopefully, this will give them the tools to use in class to finish their work in the same way. Check your work, edit out the mistakes and check it again, just in case.  They’ll probably detest the sight of me by the end of January next year as I am determined to make them have more responsibility over the stories they submit for the Children’s Anthology.

My youngest writers surprised me. Their determination to finish and be a part of the process was amazing and I’m incredibly proud of them. Once all the stories are edited and checked again for improvements, I will be busy putting them together into the anthology which will be available for the parents to purchase and of course, I will keep a book or two in our school library for the children to read.

The proudest moment I had out of this whole process was when I read a story written by a year 5 student and was blown away by the style and structure of the story.  It was a typical zombie story but the style was similar to the horror genre on the market at the moment.  I started to get the feeling that maybe, just maybe, she had copied that style and even the storyline.  So, I decided to question said writer about how she managed to get such a good script written and who was her inspiration. She shocked me by telling me it came from a story she had read in the Children’s Anthology I created from last year’s writers! Of course, I wracked my brain trying to think of who had written a decent tale of zombies to inspire another writer to such an extent.  The real surprise was when she pointed out it was a story written by my daughter called Live or Die! That pretty much made my day. She is currently looking over her story and working ways of improving the end part which wasn’t as strong as the start, but still very good.

From aliens, to many many visits to Candy Land, from princesses with Gobbins under bridges to foxes and witches, the children have created their own special worlds where readers can lose themselves and go on a magical ride, thanks to their hard work and perseverance.

A special thank you to all the parents who take an interest in their children’s writing – you don’t know what a huge impact you are making on your children just by listening to their stories or sparing a moment to help them overcome the monsters and find solutions to how the princess will find her shoes again.  These children will have more confidence because of your time and energy in helping them, so thank you.

Making waves into oceans

Setting dreams into motion.

Mello-Elo

Building A Tree – Building Imagination

For those of you who follow me on Facebook, you might be aware that I started building a tree earlier this year in the library where I work. Well, with a lot of effort and help from an amazing artist, Nicci, and my daughter, Savi, we finished her.  She now resides in her little alcove where we used to have an ICT suite, recumbent against a mural backdrop of a forest filled with dappled light and birch trees.  Her branches reach up to the ceiling and give the impression that she has broken through to find the blue sky above.

Some of the teachers and parents smile and nod when I try to explain why I would build a tree in a library and my answer is, why not?  We need to motivate our children to read and enjoy books.  What better way than bringing in a source of old stories, fairytales, adventures and the paper the books are printed on…a tree!  Putting it in such a simple way demeans the principle of Grandmother Tree’s existence.  She has created a space where children can laugh and play under the safety of her branches.  They cuddle Sir Sid Quirell, the resident squirrel and postman who helps deliver the letters written to children who have re-discovered the art of writing letters to their beloved tree. Grandmother Tree might understand technology, but relies on corresponding through the written word and pictures sent her way by the postbox next to her tree trunk.

The children are waiting to hear her story.  They want to know her age and what she has seen in her lifetime, the books she has read and whether or not she has met Dr Who!  Their excitement and fervour to write about themselves and their likes and dislikes encourage this old tree to share her tales.  When the time comes to comfort a child or calm the storm clouds threatening tantrums, what better way than sitting on the bench near her and discussing their troubles?

As a librarian, I try to encourage children to respect books, read them and return them to the library.  With Jabba the Postbox ready to accept returns and Grandmother Tree aware of the children’s efforts to read more, I have more books returning each week than I have had in the past two years running the library.  It’s a positive effect that is pleasing to teachers and children alike.  It reduces disappointment when they are refused a new book until they return their old one.

Yes, I realise that the novelty of having a tree in the library with slowly taper off.  But, as we reach a new season, she will change her leaves, adopt the persona of a snow queen or a cherry blossom as the seasons demand.  The carpet will soon turn green and lush with artificial grass so that the children can honestly be swept away from the world when they enter their own magical forest in their school library.  Now, who said a librarian’s job is boring!