I’ve known Renita for a while now. Originally from America, Renita now lives in Wigtown, which the book town in Scotland, with the most stunning views across the estuary. When I’ve performed at the festival, the children have all been whipped up to a frenzy by Renita, who welcomes them in and “settles them down” [...]
I thought it would be fun to show how an ellipse is constructed, as they are the starting shape of so many drawings. You will need nails or pins and a hammer! Do not do this on a nice table! use an drawing board or something that is not expensive or important. Ask if you are not sure!
You can see this and my other videos in schools and libraries by going to my own video website, www.shoo-tube.com. You can embed the videos in your own blog, or school or library or personal website. Instructions here.
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Hooray! The Government seem to have seen sense and appear to have completely pulled out of the Forestry sell-off scheme. I’m sure there are a load of upset bankers who are wondering what they are now going to do with all their quanitativley-eased bonuses, but I’m not really bothered about them.
Good – that’s one bit of nonsense over and done with. Now we can put all our energy into the nonsense that is library closures. When will this Government realise that it’s Big Society is quite happy with the way things are run already. The Big Society says: No to change for changes sake.
What a great name – Clehonger – it’s a village to the west of Hereford and yesterday, Valentine’s Day, I visited the primary school for their Exciting Writing Week.The theme was Around The World, and I spent a bit of time trying to find around the world links to my books. Having done so, I hunted out some props from my visits to places I’ve lived or visited in my past that have inspired some of my books.
I talked about Viking Vik, who lives where my Norwegian Auntie has a summer house, and How the Rhioceros hot his skin, which is set somewhere around Aden, where I lived as a boy, and Axel Storm Jungle Fortress, which is set in a jungle very like one I visited on the Island of Guam. Japanese soldiers on Guam, that never surrendered until the 1970′s, were also an inspiration for this book.
I was interviewed by young journalists working on the school newspaper. I was flummoxed by one question, “Do you have any hobbies?”
Of course I don’t, Everything I do is my hobby! Thinking about it, with the children, I realised just how lucky I am. I think it is most people’s dream to be able to do what they enjoy most all day, and that’s pretty much what I get to do!
Thanks everyone for making it such a great day. I picked up a cold last week, so I hope I didn’t appear to be not working on all cylinders!
You wouldn’t expect a child to make a movie if they had never watched TV or visited the cinema. You’d never expect a child to make something if they’d never seen the tools being used or had never encountered the raw materials before, so why, oh why do we expect children to be able to write when they don’t read and aren’t encouraged to by the primary Literacy Strategy?
In the last ten years or so, the Literacy Strategy, which has supposedly been raising literacy standards, has failed dismally. Standards rose slightly at the beginning, but you would expect that as teachers taught to the test. After that, nothing happened. Why? Because reading was not part of the Literacy Strategy.
Endless comprehension of selected texts – yes, but reading – no. A whole generation of primary teachers have been brought up with this nonsense. Surely they must be beginning to suspect that they were sold a pup?
A whole generation of children have been brought up not reading books for pleasure. Their teachers were not taught about children’s books or how to read them to class. At one Literacy Coordinator’s conference I went to, that was all about “talking”, I actually heard two teachers in conversation at my lunch table, discussing what an amazing idea it was to read stories aloud to children in class. They seemed baffled about where and when in the busy curriculum they would be able to fit in such a new concept and how they would do it!
Do you know, I’ve been to some schools where they ask me if I have any tips to help the children improve their writing. I looked around their bare, empty classrooms, where not one book was on display, and suggested they get the children to read books. They’d honestly not thought of that. If you don’t celebrate books and tell stories, how are children ever going to know about them and how are they ever going to know that they are important, if teachers aren’t bothered? Some teachers don’t read for pleasure themselves and are certainly unaware of the latest trends and bestsellers in children’s literature.
Writing is a difficult skill but we seem to think that if we throw enough phonemes and pronouns at it, somehow children will learn to write amazing, imaginative stories.
Writing comes from three sources: Firstly experience – how can children write about stuff if they haven’t experienced anything in their lives, if risk assessments stop museum visits and weekends away? Secondly, writing comes from seeing it being done, and that means reading books – whole books- long books with beginnings and middles and satisfying ends, that grip the child’s imagination, making them laugh and cry and want to seek out more – to find out what lies over the horizon. And thirdly, there is grammar and style. This can and should be taught, Grammar is important, it’s how we make sense of writing, but it is not how we write. Grammar is merely a tool, Experience and reading are the raw materials.
I wrote a story for Barrington Stoke, who publish for Dyslexics. The manuscript of Craig Mnure was sent out to a large test group and came back covered with suggestions for making the text easier to read. Interestingly, the further into the book, the fewer the comments – this was because the children “got my voice” after a while. The voice takes over from the difficulties of reading. The voice carries the story along, gripping the reader who, only caring about the story, is not aware that they are also working on their reading skills. Who cares about comprehension and split infinitives – they want to know what happens. The skill comes as a by-product of the enjoyment. Yes, learning really can be fun – just read a good book!
When you read and engage with a book, you see the writing being done, like an apprentice at his master’s elbow, learning the skills of the trade. You see how the writer puts the words and ideas together, and by reading the whole story, by a process of osmosis, the writing skills improve and the imagination begins to grow as writers present new horizons for children to aim for.
Maybe reading for pleasure sounds like too much fun? It can’t be educational if you are having fun! Surely literacy must have great dollops of misery to make it stick?
We take reading for granted these days. It’s something that is done to you and your supposed to be able to do it by the end of year six, when reading finishes and secondary education begins.
But reading is an incredibly complex skill and like all skills, it needs to be worked on to improve, and it needs to be kept up to maintain the skill level you are at. You will never improve your writing unless you read and see how it is done by others. You need to read good and bad writing to become a discerning reader and competent writer.
I visit many primary schools. There is something about the schools that put a great emphasis on reading – an atmosphere the moment you walk over the threshold. They tend to be run by old-fashioned head teachers, (not managers, but teachers), who tell me that they have to explain the idea of reading for pleasure to new, young teachers and let them know that reading for pleasure is their school’s priority. It doesn’t matter where the school is or what kind of catchment area it has, the emphasis on reading infuses the school, the curriculum and the results with excitement, success and achievement.
Children who are proficient readers become self-starters, confident in their ability to read, research and find out on their own.
It is not a teacher’s job to cram stuff into children. Teacher’s are there to open children’s eyes and raise their sights, to facilitate the quest for knowledge, to create young people who can stand on their own two legs and and find things out for themselves. This is achieved by teaching the one and only really necessary skill – READING – every other school discipline comes seconadary to reading, most are unteachable without the ability to read.
If you want to raise your children’s writing standards, let them read books – hundreds of them. Blow the school budget, build a library, make it the heart of the school, have a branch library in every class room.
Put books and reading for pleasure first, stand back and watch your children grow and blossom like fireworks going off. I’ve seen it happen in many schools, then the head leaves and the grey miasma of Literacy descends once again as the vision leaves the building.
Want to improve your children’s writing standards? Let them read books!
I stayed Wednesday and Thursday nights in Rhos on Sea, close by Colwyn Bay in North Wales. I feel that with not a lot of work and someone of vision to drive it, the town could be revitalised and turned into quite a little goldmine. There is some wonderful Victorian and Edwardian architecture and little hints of seaside Art Deco too. The town has obviously gone down hill a bit since it’s heyday, but I feel sure it could be taken back up market. Look at this beautiful W H Smiths shop front – untouched since the thirties or forties.
Look at this fabulous Peacocks’ storefront too. It is Art Deco in an amazing, fascistic roman style. I hope it has a preservation order. It looks like it might have been a civic building once, a library or meeting room. I’d love to know what it’s like behind those windows. I imagine a wonderfully large space – probably crying out to be a gallery to pull the more-moneyed holiday-makers from Manchester and Liverpool.
The beach is wonderful too. a great long sweeping stretch of sand, unlike stony Llandudno, just over the other side of the Little Orm. Knowing Southwold in Suffolk well, and having holidayed there a few times, it is so sad to see the Colwyn Bay Victoria Pier closed and rusting away. Knowing what Southwold have done to their pier and how it has so helped the town, I can’t help feeling that this is where the town should put all it’s energy, to revitalise the local economy, which seems to involve a lot of drug and offender rehabilitation projects. Weston Super Mare had this problem too. They are working hard to change the image and have their pier right at the heart of their revitalisation too.
The rail and road connections are great, Snowdonia is on the doorstep, Welsh culture is all around, Bodnant Gardens down the road, They even have a marionette theatre. I’d have thought Colwyn Bay had everything going for it, as long as they don’t start pulling down more of what’s left and replace the old with horrid new blocks of seaside apartments.
Melyndra Standring, who organised the event, and kindly looked after me, was hoping we may get twenty families signed up. It’s easy to get a class of children to come and sit down and listen to a story, but it’s quite different to get the children to organise parents and carers to come into school for the afternoon. By Wednesday morning, we were fearing the worst and thought that we would only have about ten families.
We were greeted at the school by a happy Bernadette Thomas who informed us that seventy five families were coming! Duh! Melyndra didn’t have enough paperwork and had to quickly photocopy some more forms! I had met quite a few of the children on previous visits to Rhyl Library and their teachers had reminded them and shown them the drawings I had done for them before. I think that preparation was the cause of such a success.
When all the forms were filled in and everyone was settled down, I told the Rudyard Kipling Just So Story of How the Whale got His Tale, that I’ve revised and re illustrated. Then I got everyone to have a go at drawing the whale – adults too! They were fabulous drawings. Many of the adult’s told me they hadn’t done any drawing since they left school – such a shame, and one of the reasons I do my drawing school.. I think adults are scared of drawing and making a fool of themselves but, like any other skill, they just need someone to show them how.
It was a very special afternoon for me, seeing all the families joining in – there were quite a few dads there too, which is quite unusual. Well done kids for nagging the grown-ups and getting them organised and into school for the afternoon. Grown-ups can be such hard work sometimes – eh?
Thanks to everyone who finally got this session organised. It was quite a few months in the making. Good luck with the rest of the project and have a great day out for all those who last the course!
(Jelly fish was on the beach. I forgot to take and photos of the event!)
I had a terrific start to a long week of school visits at St. Aidan’s Church of England Primary School, where I didn’t take a pictures or video! (I overheard a wonderful story in the staff room that involved dolls that gave me all sorts of ideas that I had to write down, but I’m not telling in case anyone else gets the idea!)
I spent the whole day telling stories and drawing pictures and having a great time. Reception did some fabulous drawings with me too. I love how young children draw. Sometimes their misreading of where a line should go is quite inspiring and makes me think about drawing differently.
Thanks for a great day everyone and I hope toy don’t have anything else blowing off the roof of the church, next door!
I had a great day on Wednesday. St Oswald’s School, Longton, Nr Preston, asked me to come and officially open their new library. At a time when so many libraries are under threat is is heartening to know there are still people who recognise the importance of Libraries and do something about it.
Lynette Little certainly has been hard at work with help from some of the children. The space used to be an outdoor passage, but it has been roofed and walled in and turned into a haven of calm. A huge fish tank hovers in the corner like the engine of the Tardis, ready to transport readers to other times and places.
There was a huge display of drawing, inspired by my drawing school. You can see them in the video. They are all fab and wonderful to see how children interpret my lessons. I particularly like the Ferrari.
Oh… and cakes in the Staff Room! Delicious! I particularly liked the lemon drizzle.
Thanks for a wonderful day everyone and I hope you all use and enjoy your wonderful new library and all the fabulous new books.
I visited the Library last summer, just before it closed down for a refurbishment. Everything is now up and running and looking absolutely fabulous. The tops of the bookshelves have a curving design, which makes the library seem much bigger than it really is – a visual trick.
Children’s Librarian, Bethan Hughes, who I have known an worked with for many years, showed the children how to use the new borrowing system. Place your pile of books on a pad and it knows instantly what they are! It then prints out a supermarket type ticket which tells you when to bring them back and which other books you have on loan. Amazing. Watch Bethan run through the demonstration below.
Thanks for a great day and may Rhyl Library, and all who work there, continue with it’s great work through all the ups and downs that Libraries are facing in the future.