Planning for simultaneous “Arthur”


I have organised a wiki activity page based on the picture book, Arthur by Amanda Graham and Donna Gynell, which is the book being used for the upcoming ALIA National Simultaneous Storytime on Wednesday 21st May at 11.00 am (Term Two, Week 5). A group of nearby Priority Schools Programs (PSP) schools have recently formed a professional network, to prepare for our forthcoming interactive whiteboards. The Penrith Reading Project: Books from Birth (another local PSP initiative, containing different local schools), has also been invited to join us for the reading.

My colleague, Kerrie Mead, and I have been brainstorming possible activities to support Simultaneous Reading Day. Here’s what a draft of what we plan to present to the staff of our own school on Monday, and we’ll be making the material available online – as a blog and wiki – for the other schools. (An email today tells me that the ALIA site offers even more activities, many downloadable.)

On Wednesday 21st May 2008, at 11.00 am, children all over Australia will be reading, listening to and commenting on the same story at the same time. The featured book is Arthur by Amanda Graham and Donna Gynell.

At 11:00 am we could:

* Gather in the hall and listen to the story en masse: one reader, readers from a single group (class, Student Representative Council members, captains and prefects, teachers, parents or __________________ ).

* Gather in three groups (Early Stage 1 and Stage 1; Stage 2; Stage 3) in the hall, upstairs area and library and read the story as above.

Before the day: (in class, at Stage meeting, at assemblies)

* Let the students know about it – the purpose of the exercise, the significance of this kind of literary activity, how it might be the same/different in each school. (Great Circle Time material!)

* Familiarise your students with the text. (See ideas below.)

* Outline how the event will be held – ask for ideas which the students think might improve the plan and let us know before the day!

* Promote the event in the school newsletter.

* Signage around the school for parents and students.

* Check out the official ALIA page, and links to free blackline activity sheets.

* Supplement our resources with official posters and the link to Era Publications.

After the event:

* Ask your students for feedback – eg. The best thing was… ; I didn’t expect that to happen; next time… , etc.

* Tell the PSP committee what you really think.

Some ideas to familarise your students in all the wonderful ways you know how to capture their imagination! (Our school has rounded up several copies of the Arthur picture book, a big book version, two sequels and an Arthur hand puppet.)

Early Stage 1/Stage 1:

Who is in the story? Where does it take place? (eg. Paint Arthur or your pet, write a list, make a shop diagram, role play, add a pet image to the wiki.)

What is Arthur’s problem? How does he try to solve it? (eg. Feelings barometer, descriptive writing, pet ownership graph, alliterative pet adjectives for the wiki – perfect pup, quaint quarrion, timid tabby.)

Pets need… – but what might pets want?

If I was a pet I’d like to be a ………………………. because …………………………

Interactive learning objects from TaLe (click on Primary and use search engine).

Stage 2:

Any or all of the above, plus

Descriptor matrix (eg. “Purple, spotty, three-headed wombat”) – and then create it.

Research – eg. Which animals are the most difficult to keep as pets and why? What is the best dog breed for (type of person/situation)? Who is the most famous pet and why?

Extend-a-story – eg. What other pets could Arthur have imitated and what would he have done? Write a new version of the story. Compare this book with the similarly-themed Edward the emu by Sheena Knowles and Rod Clement.

The perfect pet for ………………….. would be a …………………… because.

Stage 3:

As above, plus

“Unpack” the form of the story (repetition, chorusing, types of words used).

What are the conventions of picture books? Examine favourites from home and the school library to discover similarities/differences. Write and illustrate your own picture book.

Read the story with your buddy (Buddy Classes – pairs of students from different stages) and ask them some prepared questions about it.

What is the moral of the story? What is a moral? what is the point of stories with morals? What other moral stories (and traditional fables) do you know? Which ones make good sense… or not?

Check out the interactive Stage 3 learning objects from TaLe (click on Primary and use search engine).

Sitting in the dark


After a 4:20 am start yesterday, I practically fell into bed last night, after having already spent an hour in the dark all by myself – well, with just the bewildered Jack Russell terrier for company, who was racing around the house trying to work out why I’d switched off everything electrical and all was now in the blackness. The battery in the emergency Dolphin torch lasted all of four minutes into Earth Hour, and it was impossible to read by the light of flickering candles. How did they do it in the old days?

But, of course, I’d forgotten to change the “Auto” setting on the alarm clock – and it dutifully woke me up, bright and early this morning. On a Sunday, when I didn’t have to be anywhere.

Now that I’ve slept on the events of the last two information-overload days of the ASLA conference (see my last two entries), I realise exactly which bits of my material I should have used on Friday (my ten-minute segment of a 70-minute panel), when the captive audience was huge. It’s all so clear now; I should have started off the panel talk on the Saturday with a public reading of my favourite student-written fable. I’d been so focused on using it to kick off my tutorial yesterday (a one-hour session), which was in a comparatively tiny room, and a much smaller group. Sigh…

In the clearing haze of my ruined slumber at 6:00 am this morning, I asked myself: Why is everything always so obvious the day after the event?

This photograph is from my last imposed (but extended) blackout – my desperate attempts to finish a novel when the power went out across the entire suburb during a violent storm last January. I was very tempted to go and fetch the solar-powered “rock” lights again (the yard looked very eerie last night, which my garden statues being the only things lit up during Earth Hour), but I figured by this time I only had about 55 minutes to wait it out.

Rockin’ reading

School libraries leading learning: Day 2

The alarm clock was again set to go off at 6:00 am and, of course, I was awake – wide awake – at 4:20 am. Nothing to do except turn on my computer, dig through all my hand-scrawled notes from Circle Time evaluations of last year’s Kindergarten wiki fables project, and add them to the new wiki page I intended to use in my presentation today.

Yesterday, Dr Ross J Todd had challenged the conference presenters – and all the teacher-librarian attendees – to embrace evidence-based practice when presenting educational research results. Although I had the students’ opening comments (scribed quotes from oral statements) on a page of my school library wiki site – ready for my tutorial session today – I had not yet planned to divulge all of the the evaluation comments (scroll down the page of the same URL) from the culmination of the unit (lest I decided to use the information elsewhere).

Oh well. I’m glad I decided to appease Ross, and fill in my time until breakfast, compiling the students’ final responses onto the wiki page, and uploading it ready for today’s talk. I’d quite forgotten how informative the students’ final comments were. (“Why did we use a wiki to write and publish our core value fables?” One answer: “Pencils run out of lead”.) Comparing these closing comments against the syllabus outcomes, over the next few months, is going to be very interesting.

By 11:00 am, my session was over for the conference – I was a free man! – and had a great and more relaxed time – especially by attending: author Paul Stafford‘s fascinating talk about his Dead Bones Society (targeting reluctant young male readers) and how he has taught creative writing to hardened criminals; and an equally stimulating session, chaired by Kathy Rushton, on the Indij series of books, written by groups of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

A highlight of Day 2 was the closing panel, hosted by bookseller/teacher Paul MacDonald, and featuring several popular Australian children’s authors, including Libby Gleeson, James Roy, Kate Forsythe and Deb Abela. They were all contributing to a discussion on “Multiliteracies in a digital world”, including postulating whether “the book” was as dead as the dead trees of which books are made. (While text books and hardcopy encyclopedias may well be on their way out, none of the guests seemed to feel that children’s picture books or other fiction in book form were in too much danger – yet. Well, except for the rising cost of paper.)

Interestingly, the Kindergarten students’ work I was showcasing today backed up the professional authors’ feelings about books. One student’s response to my question of “What should we do next (ie. now that our wiki project is over)?” was:

“More drawings! Make lots more fables. Make a book with page numbers.”

School libraries leading learning

I’ve been invited to speak at two sessions of the State Conference of ASLA (Australian School Library Association) NSW Inc, which is being coordinated in partnership with the School Libraries and Information Literacy Unit (NSW Department of Education & Training).

This is quite an honour, especially as I cast my eyes down the list of guests – what the ASLA website is calling an “exciting line up of challenging speakers”.

When one is deep into daily life at the so-called coalface of primary education, the many deadlines of every day go whizzing past at typical breakneck speed. It’s often a shock to pop one’s head up above ground, ever now and then, and realise one might actually know enough to start imparting some of that knowledge to one’s colleagues in other places of learning. You know, I didn’t know I knew about wikis and blogs until I started doing my own, and I certainly didn’t think I’d know enough to be using them with students in teaching and learning situations (so soon) – until those first few attempts bore sufficient fruit to make me want to gloat about it (just a little). It was almost: “Look, everyone, look what I did – and on purpose…!”

During the week, our school newsletter came out, reprinting one of the Kindergarten students’ jointly-constructed fables from last year, along with the URL for the School Library’s wiki. One of the Stage 1 teachers reported that her whole class were engaged as she read the fable to them aloud. As several of the Early Stage 1 graduates are in her new class, it was quite amusing when they proudly claimed ownership – in February 2008 – of certain phrases, words and punctuation devised last November.

‘Irritated’!”, says one student confidently (every time he hears someone reading the fable aloud). “That was my word in that sentence.”

A parent noted that her child is able to read back to her all four wiki fables, even though the texts are a higher lever, jointly-constructed, language that is of a more difficult standard.

These little anecdotes, so often forgotten a few minutes after they are told, are invaluable for spurring me on to bigger and more challenging projects. And note that I really don’t mean those infamous “projects on cardboard” that some of us know way too well.

The conference is themed: School Libraries Leading Learning, and will run from Friday 28th to Saturday 29th March, 2008. The three main strands will be Quality teaching, School libraries in a Web 2.0 world, and Literacies. On the Friday, I’m joining Dr Ross J Todd and Lyn Hay on the panel, “How do you see Library 2.0 working in Australian schools?” On the Saturday, I’m running a workshop, “Web 2.0: Working with wikis for K-6”.

I’m very glad I spent some of January getting my thoughts in order, and that I made many notes and recorded my observations last term. Just as I experimented with including elements of diverse, “new” strategies (such as Circle Time and Guided Inquiry), it is exciting to think that people may soon be utilising my ideas and experiences re wikis with Kindergarten, and creating something else quite unique with their students.

Kindergarten weaves a wiki

Zebra with spots

Last November, I bit the bullet and leaped into the next era of ICT (information communications technology) and taught a dozen Kindergarten students (and myself, slightly one step ahead) how to design a wiki.Now, I’ve dabbled in adding and editing an existing wiki (eg. Wikipedia, Star Trek Memory Alpha and Memory Beta, etc), but this time I had to work out how to design one, and how to help the students to build up a narrative (in fable form, complete with a motto) – and post it to the wiki. Welcome, students, to the world of Web 2.0!

We’d already spent a few weeks researching and modelling the nature of fables (The hare and the tortoise, The fox and the grapes, et al) and normally I’d have done a group construction of a narrative on butcher’s paper, and edited it with a felt pen. Instead, we used a free wiki service – at (Peanut butter wiki) and, within a few moments of launch of our first fable, our fledgling wiki web pages were being looked at by two different Internet surfers in California, USA. Amazing!

Young students are simply not scared to (literally) push that newest button in modern technology. The next day we had visitors from several parts of Europe, more Californians, interstate Australians and even “a visitor from parts unknown”, according to pbwiki.

A week later, Selwa Anthony, Australian literary agent extraordinaire, held her annual all-day seminar and gala dinner for her ever-growing network of amazing authors. Once again at the Novatel Hotel in Brighton-le-Sands, Succeed – It’s Great in 2008 was as stimulating as the first one I attended (way back in November 1993, Succeed Some More in ’94.) The seminars take their title from a little self-help book, Succeed with me, which Selwa once wrote with Jimmy Thomson – and it’s now available in audio by Bolinda Audio; we received a freebie in our goodie bag upon arrival!

Despite the fact that, so far, I haven’t earned Selwa any percentages, she keeps inviting me back. These seminars have certainly directed me into numerous opportunities over the years but so far nothing commercial enough that would earn Selwa her percentage. Yet. Selwa continues to have faith in me, but I always feel quite humble in the talented company of Selwa’s network.

Anyway, the first speaker was a no-show. So compere, Mark Macleod, offered up what he called “one-minute spots”, over the course of the day, to anyone wanting to share something special to the rest of the network. A few people availed themselves of the opportunity and, in the morning tea break, I was boasting to friend and author/journalist Sue Williams about my Kindergarten students’ recent work writing fables on the World Wide Web via a wiki.

Sue’s eyes lit up and she said, “Go and tell Mark you’ll do a one minute spot!”

The next thing I knew, I was sharing my young students’ work – from memory! – with the likes of Tara Moss, Kim Wilkins, Ian Irvine, new children’s author Amanda Holohan, and so many other Australian literary luminaries. It was a highly energizing experience, and it made sooooooo twitchy to get to the keyboard and write about the students’ (and my) successes. Maybe there’ll be a chance for a much longer session at the next seminar?

Check out the final drafts of the students’ wiki fables and accompanying artwork at: