Wednesday 10 October 2018

"The Heart of a Whale" by Anna Pignataro

I don't often review books on my blog, but tonight I had the absolute pleasure of losing myself in the magical language and illustrations within Anna Pignataro's gorgeous new picture book, The heart of a whale.
This book is a useful addition for those studying oceans, whales, ocean environments, loneliness, hope and friendship.  However, it is also one of those magical picture books that you just want to revisit and spend time with, as it touches you - a special dance between text and image.

It is a wonderful mentor text for exploring language in use. Anna shares the song of the whale through the metaphor of music, with specific musical terms inciting imagery including scenes involving a sonata, symphony, orchestra, ballet and lullaby, as the whale continues "warmly weaving a path of starlight" through the ocean.  

The language in this picture book appears simple, but is magical, for example, when the whale sighs, "His sigh drifted away like a wish. A wish that the ocean carefully gathered and carried for him."

Figurative language can be foregrounded using this book as a mentor text, including the author's use of simile and personification.  It would also be a wonderful choice for explicitly teaching visualising as a comprehension strategy.  

The water colour illustrations are divine, weaving together with the text to make this such a memorable read that will be enjoyed time and time again.  

What a wonderful gift this book would be!

Friday 22 June 2018

Teaching phonemic awareness and phonics - the hands-on way!

I have been having fun putting together some hands-on phonemic awareness and phonics sets for our classes.  I started purchasing some mini objects and then sorted them into their major vowel sound groups - both short and long vowel sounds.

This is a work in progress, but I thought I would share progress along the way :).  Approaches to the teaching of phonics are often contested, with teachers often having strong views about "the best way".  My interest in putting together these hands-on kits, was to support oral language development and hands-on manipulation of real life (miniature) objects.   I intend to link this with the exploration of examples of language in use through rich examples from children's literature.

The Australian Literacy Educators' Association (ALEA) has published a paper, Phonics: its place in the literacy story  by Robyn Ewing (University of Sydney) and Marguerite Maher (Notre Dame University).  ALEA has also published a free resource for download, The place of phonics in learning to read and write by Marie Emmitt, David Hornsby and Lorraine Wilson.  You may also be interested in David Hornsby's response to the proposed Year 1 Phonics Test in relation to the Australian Curriculum: English.  You can read that paper here.

These are just some of the miniature objects that are sorted according to their major vowel sounds (e.g. short /a/, long a etc.).   
This is a work in progress, so I will be posting updates, including my selected picture book titles for teaching the short and long vowel sounds.  My list will include picture books by Aussie authors and recently published titles, including books that can be used for shared reading, with repeated readings focusing on the explicit teaching of phonics in context.

Have a terrific week, everyone!

Saturday 11 November 2017

Constructions and representations of disasters

Today I am sharing something that has perplexed me for some years.  I do not have the answers, but I do have the wonderings...

Adventures in Thinking: creative thinking & co-operative talk in small groups by Joan Dalton was published in 1985.  For a pre-service teacher in her final year of study, it was an influential text that was published to support the development of creative and critical thinking, problem-solving, questioning and co-operative learning groups.

Dalton (1985) ascribes the artwork throughout the book to eight-year-old Yuri Chlebnikowski.  One page which has stuck with me for over thirty years is the introductory page to the section on creative thinking about disasters. 

What struck me about this page, is that when I think of 'disasters', I think of fire, famine and flood, amongst others.  The images on this page in the book, however, represent disasters in quite specific and different ways.  I started thinking (which is the purpose of the book, to inspire thinking, and often we don't have the answers to our own questions and ponderings, which is one of the reasons why encouraging children to share their own thinking is so powerful)...
Why did young Yuri, at eight years of age, represent 'disasters' with high-rise buildings, aircraft and parachutes?  
Let's contextualise this...The book was published in 1985 by Thomas Nelson Australia, in South Melbourne, Victoria. The events of September 11 were some twenty-six years later, after the book's date of publication.  Australia had no history of events such as 9/11, so why did young Yuri, at eight years of age, represent 'Disasters' in this way?  We certainly had a history in Australia of natural disasters, including fires, floods, cyclones, etc. but young Yuri's images depict man-made disasters, perhaps of imagined terrorist intent, and possibly pre-emptive of future world events.

I decided to research where young Yuri may be now, thirty-two years later, as a forty-year-old man.  I imagined that 'Yuri Chlebnikowski' would not be a common name, so I commenced my search. I found one website that attributed a Yuri Chlebnikowski to graphic design work in relation to Nick Chlebnikowski's fractal paintings.  Another, dated 2000, cited a 'Yuri Chlebnikowski' as an artist and graphic designer.  That would fit with the possible future of a young eight year old whose artworks were selected to be included in Joan Dalton's popular teacher professional development text.

I found another website with the suggestion that Yuri could be the son of Nick, a talented and well-known wine merchant, architect and artist from Melbourne, Victoria.  There was also the suggestion on another website that Yuri may have been Nick's grandson, now involved in running the family's liquor enterprise, Nicks Wine Merchants, in Doncaster, Victoria.  

Whether Yuri, is the son or grandson of Nick Chlebnikowski is unknown by me, however, what remains is the question of why Yuri represented disasters the way he did, as man-made constructions, in his illustrations as an eight-year-old Australian boy?  Why didn't he represent 'disasters' as Australian natural disasters such as bushfires, floods, cyclones, droughts etc?  Why did he choose to represent the concept of 'disasters' as involving aircraft and high-rise buildings?  

Was the author of the book, Joan Dalton, aware of this visual construction of 'disasters' and did it align to the content within that chapter?  Was young Yuri instructed or guided about what to draw on this title page to this section of the overall text?

The chapter on Disasters in the book, Adventures in Thinking, includes topics such as explosions, an escaped gorilla, equipment used in an emergency, fire at school, starving families, chaos at Melbourne airport, a disaster-proof home, bushfires, floods, cyclones, disease, war, drought, State Emergency Services, crime, a radiation leak at a city nuclear power station in the year 2000...but nothing suggesting a terror attack or planes flying into buildings as representations of disaster.

I don't have the answers, but the questions have been bubbling away now for over thirty years...and they probably still will...This is just one small example of the power of the visual text, over thirty years later!

I would love to hear from Joan or Yuri if they read this post :)

Saturday 15 July 2017

Text sets: Australian Aboriginal Identity 1

If you have been following my blog for a while, you will know that I love text sets. That is, picture books or junior novels that come together, sometimes eclectically, that have similar themes or teachings. I have been putting this blog post together for some time, in my thinking.

As literacy educators, we know it is important to encourage children to make text-to-text connections and creating text sets is one way to support students to do this. The titles in the text set at the top of this post came together around a similar concept about Australian Aboriginal Identity in relation to skin colour and indigeneity. 

Text sets combine multiple texts with different genre and text complexities to cater for students' interests and a wide range of abilities.  Multiple text approaches can give voice to marginalised groups, through the different representations of similar issues.  The collections of texts are sometimes referred to as Linked Text Sets (LTS).  For more on the power of text sets, see: 

Elish-Piper, L., Wold, L. S. and Schwingendorf, K. (2014), Scaffolding High School Students’ Reading of Complex Texts Using Linked Text Sets. J Adolesc Adult Liter, 57: 565–574. doi:10.1002/jaal.292

Robb, L. (2002). Multiple texts: Multiple opportunities for teaching and learning. Voices from the Middle9(4), 28.

Tracy, K. N., Menickelli, K., & Scales, R. Q. (2017). Courageous Voices: Using Text Sets to Inspire Change. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy60(5), 527-536.

"Black Fella White Fella" is a picture book by Neil Murray based on his iconic song lyrics for the song of the same title that he has performed with the Warumpi band. View a video of the song made with the Papunya school here.                                                                                                                           I love this picture book, not only because I love the song (and secretly Neil Murray LOL - shhh!), but also because it is illustrated by children around Australia and carries such an important message for the world!                                                                                 "Black Fella, White Fella" is such a popular picture book, that I had a little bit of trouble tracking it down. Perhaps it is going through a reprint?  
A big shout out and thank you to Sally from the  Sally Lawrence Education Consultancy who sourced a copy of the picture book for me at short notice and to Sarah from the North Coast Regional Indigenous Education Unit for sending it to me.  You can read more about Sally's work here and the My Island Home project here.  The My Island Home project involved Neil Murray and others mentoring 19 emerging Indigenous artists for a week of songwriting and recording.

To deepen comprehension, students might compare and contrast the picture book and performance versions of the text, "Black Fella, White Fella" by Neil Murray. The lyrics could also be deconstructed for comprehension purposes using my Collaborative Reading Workshop approach.  You can read more about this approach in relation to song lyrics and social justice here
Meyer, K. E. (2010). A collaborative approach to reading workshop in the middle years. The reading teacher63(6), 501-507.

Popular culture and song lyrics have long been seen as a 'way in' to supporting adolescent literacy development.  To me, song lyrics are not only a 'way in' to literacy learning, but can also be a 'way in' to learning about culture, by 'reading the word and the world' (Freire & Macedo, 1987).
Freire, P., & Macedo, D. (1987). Reading the word and the world. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey.   

This set of picture books features iconic Australian songs and is published by One Day Hill publishing.  The titles in the iconic songs collection of picture books include:

  • Solid Rock by Shane Howard;
  • Took the Children Away by Archie Roach; and
  • My Island Home by Neil Murray.
This series includes the titles pictured above (the iconic songs set) and "From Little Things, Big Things Grow" by Paul Kelly, as well.  

Read more about Neil Murray's work at the publisher's site here or Neil Murray's blog here. You can also view the Warumpi band singing, "My Island Homehere.  

In a previous blog post, I share about Australian Indigenous Perspectives and more about further these iconic song titles.  You can read this post on the Australian Teachers' Collaborative blog here.

Well, that's enough for one day :)  I think this blog post is going to become part of a small series...If you made it this far, thanks so much for reading!  As usual, if you have other ideas, I would love to read them - please share in the comments section below.

Have a great week everyone!

Images reproduced from Magabala Books with permission.  I was unable to contact One Day Hill publishers for permission to reproduce the image of Neil Murray with "My Island Home".  Many attempts were made.

Saturday 24 June 2017

Refugee Week 2017: "With courage let us all combine"

Refugee Week is celebrated in Australia between 18 - 24 June 2017.  As Refugee Week draws to a close for another year, I thought it important to share some children's and young adult/youth literature about refugees and the courage it takes them to survive.
When I first began this post, I thought I would feature maybe one page of picture books that focus on the courage of refugees and their stories from around the world.  What became clear, was that this is a very big issue that affects so many people worldwide, and I started asking how its importance could be addressed significantly in just one short week?
I am going to keep this post brief, not to limit its importance, but rather to share links for further investigation.

I have several pinterest boards where I pin resources and ideas for supporting learning about refugees, migrants and other cultures.  The links are included below.


Refugees in Australia

Australian Multiculturalism





I also have some favourite resources that I use to study refugees, and one of them is the picture book, "My Two Blankets" by Irena Kobald, illustrated by Freya Blackwood.

You can read my previous blog post about this picture book, with links to free downloads and resources here.  Click on the image above to learn more about the resource I made to support the picture book, "My Two Blankets".  

This week, I will be giving away one copy of my resource for the picture book, "My Two Blankets" and also a copy of the picture book, "My Name is not Refugee" by Kate Milner.  

I actually ordered two copies of the picture book, "My Name is not Refugee" (by mistake on different days, as only I can!), so I am happy to gift one copy to one of my followers.  Both of these picture books have won awards in their own right, so I am happy to share them with you!

Please enter the Rafflecopter below if you are interested in scoring one (or both) of these resources.  I will keep the entry process really simple :)  Make sure you use the arrows on the rafflecopter to choose which giveway you wish to enter.  You are more than welcome to enter both :)  Click on the hyperlink below "a Rafflecopter giveaway" to enter, if the Rafflecopter image is not visible.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Have a terrific week everyone and happy school holidays to my teaching colleagues in Australia!

Please note that I am in no way affiliated with the authors, illustrators or book providers linked to in this post.

Sunday 11 June 2017

Mentor texts for letter writing

Letter writing is a terrific way to encourage children to write, particularly if they are writing for a real purpose and a real audience.

As part of modelled or collaborative writing, teachers could work with the students to compose letters to the Administration Team about issues of concern in the school grounds. 

I remember a few years ago, Prep students engaged in an enquiry into the dripping tap outside their classroom, including measuring how much water was lost over an hour and throughout a whole school day.  They used the data gathered to collaboratively write a persuasive letter to the Principal about the problem, the seriousness of it in relation to the data they had gathered and what they thought should be done to fix the problem (with the Prep teacher scribing their draft ideas and final copy).  It was a wonderful real-life, purposeful learning activity.  Students are often more highly motivated and engaged in writing activities if they have a real purpose and audience for their writing tasks.
The picture books above all involve letter writing in different contexts for different purposes across the curriculum.  Students may be motivated to write personal letters using the picture books above as a stimulus and as mentor texts for writing. 
Other resources for letter writing in the early years, include:

Australia Post - free letter writing resources including online interactive games and a template to make a replica Australia Post letter box.
Post Office Dramatic Play Ideas from Teaching Mama - with free printables, links to games, making a cardboard postbox, pretend play and more!

Post Office Theme for Preschool - includes picture book links, games, letter writing, construction, finger plays and more!

Pinterest ideas for Post Office play, crafts, other dramatic play ideas and more!

Free printable Post Office play set - free templates to download

Over 15 Post Office Play ideas - includes links to picture books (not in my list above), art and craft activities, kindness postcards and links to plenty of other ideas!

There are plenty of games and educational activities from the Educatall Team about Postal Services, including Science, Social Studies, gross motor activities, games, writing tasks and many more, with free downloads!

Other activities include ideas for a Preschool Post Office theme, Pinterest Letter Writing pins and more!

How to write a friendly letter by Brianne Cronk on YouTube.

STOP THE PRESS!!!  NEW RELEASE (July 2017) AVAILABLE NOW!!!   Eric, the echidna, has big dreams to be the best postman ever!  This tale of following your ambitions/dreams, being persistent, overcoming obstacles and developing creative solutions, is written and illustrated by Matt Shanks.  The illustrations are adorable and focus on the strengths Eric brings to the position of 'postie' with regard to his individual traits as an echidna.  This is a 'must-have' addition to any study around mail delivery, persistence, resilience, Australian animals, postal services, community and following your dreams.
I just found this terrific post from This Picture Book Life about picture books about mail:  
I also found another recently published Australian title, "Tom the Outback Mailman", so this is a very popular topic (the mail) that is so useful as a stimulus for teaching letter writing. 

You can view a YouTube  introduction to the picture book here

The song, The Mailman of the Outback might be useful for contextualising the picture book. 

A Book Trailer  can be found here.

Free teacher notes for "Tom the Outback Mailman" are available from Scholastic.  Read more about the title here and here.  "Tom the Outback Mailman" was Winner of the CBCA 2013 Eve Pownall Award for Information Books, so it is a terrific title to add to your collection.

This title is also useful for integrating Australian History and Geography (HASS) outcomes in the curriculum.  

YouTube clips to assist with contextualising include our very own Aussie legend, Tom Kruse:

Back of Beyond - Tom Kruse - Excerpt (1954) 2:19
Birdsville Mailman dead at 96 (2:01)  This is more a celebration of Tom Kruse's achievements than a sad story.  The description of the clip states that he died at 96, but the clip states he was 93.  This is a wonderful clip about Aussie identity and survival in the outback.
Tom Kruse Tribute (12:25)  This is awesome :)
Birdsville Track - Outback - Australia (4:55) 2012 images

Please let me know in the comments below if you have a favourite picture book for letter writing or know of any other great ideas...

Have a terrific week everyone :)

Sunday 21 May 2017

How about you? "I'm Australian Too" by Mem Fox giveaway

What journeys we have travelled, from countries near and far! Together now, we live in peace, beneath the Southern Star.
Mem Fox's latest picture book, "I'm Australian Too" is a celebration of Australia's cultural diversity.   Touching on themes around Australia's multiculturalism, immigration and refugees, the book captures many of the reasons why and how people came to live in Australia and that regardless of our differences, we are all Australians.    

View a YouTube clip of a read aloud of the story, "I'm Australian Too"  here.

"I'm Australian Too" is steeped in themes of inclusivity which would make it a wonderful partner text with, "Whoever You Are", another story of inclusivity and acceptance by Mem Fox.  The blurb of "Whoever You Are" reinforces the importance of the acceptance of individual differences: 

"Every day all over the world, children are laughing and crying, playing and learning, eating and sleeping. They may not look the same. They may not speak the same language. Their lives may be quite different. But inside, they are all alike."

Access free lesson plan ideas for other Mem Fox titles here.

Click on the red hyperlinks to find more resources and ideas about Australian Multiculturalism and Refugees in Australia.

Teaching ideas for "I'm Australian Too" can be found on the Educate. Empower. website.

A lesson plan for "Whoever You Are" is provided by Community Services, ACT.

I have accumulated WAY TOO MANY picture books and I have often ordered a second copy before the first copy arrives so I will be doing regular giveaways on my blog over the next few weeks to give away the additional new copies I have ordered!!!  

In the giveaway this week, you can score yourself a brand new hardback copy of "I'm Australian Too" by Mem Fox.   Unfortunately, due to postage costs, this giveaway is open to Australian residents only, unless followers overseas would like to enter and cover the costs of the overseas postage themselves.

Please share this post with your networks :)  If the Rafflecopter rectangle does not show up, please just click on the link below.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Have a terrific week everyone :)