Posts Tagged ‘Creative Writing’

How many times, as a child, have we heard this phrase?

Illustration by Warwick Goble to Beauty and th...

Illustration by Warwick Goble to Beauty and the Beast: the heroine is the youngest daughter in her family. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If I get you to think about what it means in your mind, like a Pavlovian response, you’d have your imagination firing off possibilities. Quite possibly incorporating images of Fairy Tales, Fantasy, stories set in an indeterminate past. Princes and princesses and simple moral codes. Quite possibly it suggests other or further ideas for you. It was only when my daughter was watching Play School on TV recently, when a presenter began a story with this well-worn phrase

Once upon a time

that I gave it closer scrutiny. And I realised that I, for one, had not really given much (any?) thought as to what this actually means. My own coding sees my mind shift straight away into the premise that I am about to be told a story, quite possibly with an authoritative voice and my own position as listener being that of (or similar to) a child. But thinking about this phrase more closely, it struck me as odd. It sounds like a point being placed on a timeline, when the event that you are about to hear takes place – surely this is not a particularly striking idea to put into a child’s mind? At worst it sounds too clinical – like some kind of science experiment, rather than a story involving flights of fancy and fantasy. Perhaps this is the reason that teachers soon steer students away from using this cliched start in their own writing.

A few years ago, I recall hearing an actor discussing his role as Richard in Shakespeare’s play Richard III. The opening lines will be familiar to many:

Now is the winter of our discontent

Made glorious summer by this son of York;

What made this interview noteworthy was his observation that he (and I apologise for being unable to remember the actor’s name) had, for some weeks, been rehearsing these lines without actually understanding what they meant. My memory of the interview was that having admitted to this and saying that this was, it appeared, a not uncommon mistake, he did not go on to clarify what the two lines meant. This set me musing on them, and wondering whether it involved the use of double negatives, which often confused people at the best of times (the “I haven’t done nothing” kind of thing). My understanding of the line is that, from Richard’s perspective, he means the following: If it is the winter of your unhappiness, then are the times actually good for you (the opposite being the summer of your happiness, rather than the summer of your unhappiness, if that make’s sense). Thus the “glorious summer” is a real downer for Richard – who revels when the times are bad, making the most of his own political run when chaos reigns.

What other phrases do we take at face value, rather than giving them the necessary scrutiny?

The blogging boomerangIt has been six months since my first post. This, after setting up my WordPress account (via a colleague at the school I teach at) in November 2011. At the time I had no idea what I was going to write about, so it lay “fallow” for half a year. In what has been probably the best new thing I’ve done in 2012, you can work out, by association, that my knowledge of blogging has come about behind the process of blogging itself – therefore, less than six months of experience. This includes ideas such as (as obvious as it might seem now), reading other blogs, commenting and “liking” on other blogs, as well as finding ways of promoting your voice more broadly.
During this time (and I type this as a mere acolyte!), I have come across a range of other blogs, bloggers and topics. This has included the “super” bloggers, who command readerships in the many thousands, down to the minnows who, like me, are relative newcomers to the blogosphere. And the way that I have come to engage with the blogging community has changed as well.
Initially, I would seek out the established blogs, hoping both to find the ‘secret’ to a wider audience, as well as seeking the wisdom of those who had been doing this for years. What were they writing about? How did they use voice? Did their content change much to reflect different topics or was it consistent for the most part.
Now I find myself looking for the diamond in the rough – the newer or smaller blog. It is affirming to find new, fresh content and I know from personal experience, there is a compelling child-at-Christmas-like (in keeping with the current festive season) wonderment for the blogger, whose site you visit and like or comment on. This goes even more so for those moments when you discover that they are in a different country to your own, asking yourself, How is it that they came to view my site?
Not that I want to say I’ve left the “big” blogs behind- I haven’t. It’s just that I’m also enjoying finding the rarer gem. I’m equating it to a “Blogging Boomerang” – an analogy along the what-goes-around-comes-around concept, except that the small boomerang that you throw out, in the shape of contributing on other sites, returns to you as a much larger device, in the form of fresh interest in your own site, coming from the reciprocal viewing that might take place, along with other passers by who observe your comment on that visited site, never mind all the varied reading that you discover along the way.
So then, in my blogging greenness, I profess to not being adept at finding these sites. I’ve used Freshly Pressed and this offers up a good smattering of possibilities. Likewise, I’ve typed in various topics (such as ‘Education’ in my case, as one example) into the Reader setting, but with limited success. I know that there are over 58 million WordPress Blogs alone, so even taking out 50 million as private blogs, “dead” blogs or even ones that never got “started”, there should still be a gold mine worth of content to find out there (and, I’m guessing, a lot of under explored sites).
Put simply, I’m not sure I’m doing the searching the best way I can. Ideally, I’m looking to keep it reasonably “in house” using the WordPress platform, rather than go “out” to Google and search more broadly that way. Is that a mistake or a limitation on my part?

So, a promise to anyone who has got this far in reading this (hello!), as a relative “minnow newbie”, I will come and peruse your site should you let me know you’ve been to mine – and hope to grow your readership too. If you have tips of how to find those burgeoning sites (or even some great ones to look at that you think I’d appreciate), I’d love to hear from you, as always.
Till next time then…

For those reading my blog overseas wondering What is Naplan?, think of a series of standardised tests, undertaken in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 in Australia. For those reading in Australia, I’m guessing you’re already aware of it.

There has been a fair bit of coverage in the media of late about Naplan, including, of late, the stress that it has put students under. For a good overview, see Jewel Topsfield’s article in the Sydney Morning Herald this week. I have “taught” Naplan a few times now – to Year 7 classes mostly and, this year, to a Year 9 class. This is also the first year that my own son, in Year 3, completed the tests. Topsfield’s article captures most perspectives accurately. I think both sides have important points to make. Naplan certainly provides a snapshot of where your child “is” and should, over several years, give an indication of how they have developed in relation to larger cohorts (school and nation, for example). However, I am also conscious that some schools spend ridiculous amounts of time “teaching” Naplan skills. I’m reminded of the excellent Heckler article, again from the SMH in March, from a teacher – Testing Times for Teachers and its amusing take on the pressures to prepare for the upcoming Naplan test, even though it’s months away. The idea that we jettison valuable content opportunities for a wholesale (and, let’s face it, dull) process of teaching to one test is disconcerting. Again, I’m reminded of a number of talks by Ken Robinson – well worth viewing – including the one illustrated by RSA, Are Schools Killing Creativity? 

I also have a larger concern and this is it: I wonder whether Naplan might be testing what it is setting out to test? I’ll give one example to highlight my idea.

This year, once again, the main focus in the extended writing task in English has been on Persuasive Writing. This, in varying guises, goes across all the age groups. Thus students are taught/drilled in ways of writing a piece of writing that aims to persuade the reader of a position, along with an understanding of the various text considerations that are representative of Persuasive Writing. All good so far.

But, I would like to think that Naplan is not so much about skills that have been rote learned. So, let’s say that, instead of writing an extended piece on Persuasive Writing, we were to switch it at the last minute for a piece of Creative Writing. In theory, for some of the students, this would have been an aspect examined by Naplan until only recently. And, I understand, it is due to be switched back to this at some point in the future.

Then one could see how a student ‘stands’ at that point in time, on a piece that they would have developed skills in, as part of a larger curriculum, over the last two years (since their earlier Naplan examination). So rather than a process built, mass-produced response that everyone is building towards, we could explore how students are faring more broadly.

Perhaps a more flippant way of looking at it is to compare it to a scene in the film Rain Main. Dustin Hoffman’s savant character Raymond is fantastic at counting cards for selfish brother Charlie in the casino, yet cannot distinguish between the price of a candy bar and a car which are both “about a hundred dollars”.


Maybe we should be looking at Naplan and assessing its value in fresh ways as well.