Month: June 2013

‘A child’s day at school should make sense.

‘A child’s day at school should make sense. It should be about something. ideally the various activities should work together, building upon one another for some purpose.’  M. Simpson. 1990

For students to become engaged in exploring and expressing ideas, their learning must be relevant and purposeful. relevance and purpose help children establish the connections between prior knowledge and experience and new learning. It is this endless blending and connecting which is central to meaningful learning. How children learn and build understandings is affected by the complex of meaning structures that they already have in place which are, in turn, affected by emotions and intentions.

The affective aspect of learning has, I believe, become the neglected sphere of educational planning and practice. With the emphasis on levels of achievement, outcome statements and standardized test results, curriculum planners have tended to concentrate on the cognitive domain in order to develop concepts.

Although I am no longer involved in classroom teaching (Phew!), I still work with primary school students on a regular basis.  Talking with these youngsters about what they are working on at school is interesting and revealing. They can tell me what they are learning about and what the assessment piece is but they can’t tell me why they are studying the particular topic or how the study relates to their lives.

This concerns me.  Their school days have little meaning to them because they are not making sufficient connection between what they are studying and their own life experiences.

The use of narrative/stories is one way that the affective aspects of learning can be integrated with the desired cognitive outcomes. Stories provide information about feelings, motives and cause and effect situations in ways which pose few comprehension difficulties for children. Imagination is a powerful conceptual tool which is already well developed in school age children. It is, however, largely underused in the classroom. Children are expected to use their imaginations in creative writing lessons but they are not encouraged to be actively imaginative in other areas of study.

Why not?  Why not use the existing imagination skills of our students to fire up their desire for knowledge and understanding?

Imagine the possibilities!





Report Time and the Wisdom of Children

This is the final week of term for our primary school students. Parent/Teacher interviews have taken place and report cards have been handed out.

Last night, one of my students, Sam, arrived at the tutoring centre most upset about his report card. This child is in fourth grade and struggles with reading and spelling. He has problems with auditory discrimination so cannot easily hear the sounds that make up words. Because he can’t hear the sounds he can’t recognise the letters that make up those sounds when he tries to decode when reading.  Over the eighteen months that he has been having tutoring sessions, he has brought his reading level up from non-existent to about a year two level.

His parents are delighted with his progress and, usually, so is he.  But, last night, Sam shuffled into class, did not greet anyone, slid into his seat and sat with his head down.

His mother showed me his report card. It was as I had expected it to be. His teacher reported that he was still in the developing phase for many areas of English and had assigned the D that was required by the reporting rubric. In her comments, however, she wrote that he had made progress in all areas and could, with support, create narrative and persuasive texts using simple language. Overall the comments were positive throughout the report but all this young man had seen was the D in the rating column.

Sam had decided he was stupid.

His mother was distraught. She is well aware of how far her son has come with his learning and was having a hard time seeing him so very unhappy. What an impact one little letter D can have!

At the centre we work in groups of four, with each child working on an individual program. The children are of different ages and grade levels. They become friendly and supportive of each other as they meet up each week for class so, when they saw their friend unhappy last night, his group-mates wanted to know why.

I said nothing, just sat with the report card highlighting every positive word I could find. (Mum had given me a photocopy of the original one…I do not deface report cards!)  The other three kids were hanging over my shoulders reading along as best they could and soon realised what I was doing. Max, who is a bright-spark who comes for extension work, was counting how many good things we were finding.

‘Seventy- seven,’ he announced when we finished. ‘That’s a lot of good stuff.’

Following a discussion in which the kids compared their results with Sam’s, we blanked out the letter grades and made a graph to represent Sam’s results in each subject area.  Sam decided on a scale from nothing to brilliant where he thought he stood in each area.  Whenever he was too harsh on himself, someone was quick to point out the positive statements that been highlighted so that he would rethink his assessment.  Then I added some bars to the graph to show how I had been achieving at age 9. Good for English, reasonable for Maths, hopeless at PE, hopeless at technology ( yeah, they laughed when I told them computers hadn’t been invented way back then) and so on.  The other kids added bars too and there was our graph.

Now here is where the wisdom of children comes in.

So what did it show us?  There was much discussion. Group consensus was that it showed we are all different. We all have strengths and weaknesses and that we all have room to improve.  It definitely showed that none of us was stupid.  We celebrated with a lolly from the rewards jar and everybody settled down to work.

Sam went home smiling. What a difference! He was no longer just a D. He was someone who had learned stuff this term and been recognised for his progress, however small that progress had been, by a group of people whose opinion mattered to him.

Well done, kids.   A+

Taya Bayliss – Code breaker

In the dream Taya was cold. The sun was shining but the breeze that was ruffling her hair was chilly. She was sitting with her knees drawn up and her hands clasped underneath them. Beside her, the boy lay pale and still. She knew she should help him, but she couldn’t move. She felt like a statue, frozen in place, watching as the world moved on around her.  She wanted to cry out but she was so dreadfully afraid that she couldn’t make a sound.

Twice now the dream had disturbed her rest in the early morning hours and she had woken shaking and confused. She had lain in the warm safety of her bed trying to recall the images that had frightened her. She didn’t know what was worse, the sight of the poor boy or the feeling of complete helplessness; the feeling that something terrible was about to happen.

The car in which she was travelling drew to a halt and the driver turned to face her.

‘Okay, Taya, here we are,’ Mr Comino said with a gentle smile. ‘I’ll go back to the hospital now. I’m sure Chris will call you when he comes home.’

Taya thanked Mr Comino for bringing her home as she climbed out of the car. She stood watching as it slowly moved off down Grange Road. It had been an eventful afternoon. She sighed and went into the building.

‘There you are at last. I was beginning to worry about you,’ said Julia Bayliss when she heard her daughter enter the apartment.

‘Oh no, not again,’ Taya sighed as her eyes swept around the room. There were open suitcases on the couch and several boxes lined up beside the coffee table. ‘Please tell me we’re not going away again.  We’ve only just come home from one of Dad’s trips.’

‘You’re late,’ Mrs Bayliss continued. ‘I expected you an hour ago.’

‘Didn’t you get my text? I sent you a message when we were at the hospital,’ Taya replied. She took her jacket off, hung it in the small closet near the door and turned to face her mother.

‘Hospital? I thought you were going with the Cominos to watch Chris play football. What were you doing at the hospital?’

‘Yes. I did but, just before half-time, Chris had the ball and he was about to kick it when this huge guy from the other team raced over and tackled him, smashed him to the ground and sort of fell on top of him.  Chris was knocked out and his arm was all bent and weird so the paramedics took him off to hospital. The doctors said that Chris has to have surgery to set the bones in his arm so Mr Comino brought me home and now he’s gone back to wait with Mrs C. until the operation is over.’ Taya paused, took a deep breath and inspected one of the suitcases. ‘I sent you a message so you would know where I was. Mum, what’s happening?’

Mrs Bayliss checked her phone. ‘Oh, it needs charging. I keep forgetting to plug it in. So, Chris is going to be okay then, is he? Was it just his arm that was hurt?’

Taya perched on the arm of the sofa and shrugged her shoulders.

‘They x-rayed him and the doctor just said that he had two broken bones in his arm and that he would have to have an operation to set them.  He looked awful, Mum. He was really white and he said he was dizzy. You should have seen him lying there on the ground, unconscious.  For a minute I thought he was…’ Taya shivered as she remembered the moment. It was just like the dream, she thought.

Being Bullied

A couple of afternoons a week you will find me at a tutoring centre working with primary school children.  Most of them are there for remedial attention but some come for extension work. They are aware that I am an author and several of them have read my books and provided feedback in one form or another. I have reviews from two young ladies on my website much to their delight…and mine too.  (

Of course, they can read the books far more quickly than I can produce them and so I find myself being bullied.  Yes, bullied!  

Every week I am greeted as they bounce into the centre not with “Hi Miss Erica. How are you?” but by “Have you finished it yet?” 

Now whilst this a fine form of motivation for me…obviously they enjoy my stories and are eager to read more…I am feeling somewhat pressured to up my output levels. I find myself waking up at ungodly hours mentally writing a new paragraph or two.  This has proved disconcerting for my husband. It seems he doesn’t really think clearly at 2.30 a.m. because he can’t provide sensible answers when I ask him his opinion of the proposed next move for Taya. 

With a two week holiday break looming, I guess I will have to forget about relaxation and set about cranking out Taya Bayliss – Code Breaker. So far the outline is done, and the detailed writing is up to Chapter 3.   I must apply myself diligently to the task. I really do not want to think about the barrage of horrified exclamations if I should arrive at class on the first day of the new term and cannot say, “Yes, it’s finished and it’s with my editor.”

Kids! Gotta love ’em.