Laptops and Homophones

By Vita Forest

At school, during Literacy groups, where three different activities run concurrently under my leadership and another is outside reading with a parent, we had, what you might call, an incident.

Martin, at ten years old, was becoming frustrated with a program he was interacting with on a laptop.  The cursor was not cooperating.  His responses were not being recorded.  He couldn’t move around the screen as he wished.  Some of his peers looked up like meerkats and turned their heads in his direction, while other class members jumped up to look over his shoulder and offer suggestions.  But all too soon, his muttering and irritation escalated into shouting and rage.  Along with the increase in volume, came a quickly accelerating wave and then explosion of fury which saw him slam down the lid of the laptop and raise it above his head all the better to hurl it across the room…

“Martin!” I shrieked with obvious great authority and calmness.

It was all I could do, being across the other side of the room deeply involved in deciphering his classmates’ handwriting and how they were responding to the latest chapter of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Luckily it distracted him long enough to hesitate and in that moment of hesitation I was able to sprint across the distance and gently press the weapon back down onto the benign surface of the desk.  He took some deep breaths and blinked.

‘Do you need to get some fresh air?’ I asked in a quieter tone, kneeling beside him.

He nodded and stood and marched out of the classroom.  I sent an extremely calm student out to follow him on his walk.

The meerkats returned to their work and the classroom returned to the more normal level of noise for Literacy Groups.  Martin returned after ten minutes walking in the sunshine, calmer, with his earlier meltdown forgotten.

Later, as I was marking the stack of books containing the students’ responses to ‘Troublesome Homophones’, I came across the following sentence used by Jason to demonstrate his knowledge of thecorrect way of spelling ‘there’  “The laptop was thrown over there.”

I called him over to my desk and pointed to the sentence nodding in appreciation.

‘Good use of ‘there’,’ I said.

He grinned.

‘I like to look around and get inspiration from what’s going on around me,’ he said.

Indeed.

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Overhead… in the playground

By Vita Forest

This is from last week but too good not to share.

While on playground duty I was approached by a very small boy.  He addressed me with these words, ‘Excuse me, have you seen any dried blood?  I need it for my master.’

I had not, so he went on his way, while i wondered who was his master and if we were harbouring any vampires in our midst…

Stretching rainbows

By Vita Forest

Sitting under hats around the table

Blindingly silver in the sunlight

Waiting for the ripening buds of leaves

to burst into green shade

Two ten year-old girls creep closer

Slatted against tree trunks

Pressing their grins into calloused bark

Stifling laughter

Remembering them at six, at seven

When their mouths held gaps and Tahlia astonished

with her description

of a dog’s soft wet nose

And their two heads bent over a stretch of rainbow

Building waves of red and yellow and green

When their hair was longer

And their legs were shorter

Fox prints

By Vita Forest

Have you read Margaret Wild’s Fox?  It is a searing tale of friendship, jealousy, temptation, grief and loss.  Did I mention it’s a children’s picture book?

My class has been examining it closely.  Noticing the similes, the use of present tense, the metaphors, the personification, the colours used by the illustrator Ron Brooks, the layout of the pages and the unusual scratchy lettering.

This week,  after a boring old handwriting lesson (“check your pencil grip, stay on the lines, sit up straight, trace slowly and carefully, form your letters in just the right way”) we changed gear to explore how Ron Brooks’ lettering contributed to the story.

He experimented and took some time to get it just right.  Brooks ended up writing the text by hand and using his left hand (he is right handed), hacking out the words, tracing some of the letters over and over, writing them down and then up the sides of pages, on diagonals, in capitals (screaming).  In short, breaking all the handwriting rules.

We looked at the book again and focused on the writing, looking not at what it said but how it said it.  The kids had a play on little whiteboards, swapping their usual writing hands, using capitals where they should have used lowercase, reversing their letters, looking away when they wrote, turning their boards upside down, writing over and over in the same space.  Then they chose a piece of coloured paper, a handful of oil pastels and went away to make their marks as one of the three characters – half-blind, trusting Dog, griefing, wary Magpie or sly, jealous, lonely Fox.  The stipulation – they could only write the name of their character, nothing more, nothing less.

Miss Sadie, rather cheeky and daring, stared me in the face and screwed up her paper into a ball.  I stared back at her and said, “Yes!  If you are Fox, that might be just what you would do.”  (They have witnessed one of their classmates do this same action on a rather regular basis when he is distressed and in the midst of a meltdown).  Suddenly, there was scrunching, there was ripping, there was smudging, there was scraping.  Some of them wrote their character’s name just once, others repeated the lines over and over and over again.

Another happy accident occurred when I handed out some black mounting paper that I had cut in half to what I thought was a good size to frame their work.  It turned out it was too small.  “Stick it on an angle,” I advised.  And the artworks looked better than they would have with a neat black border.

The next day, we sat in a circle and held up the artworks for others to see.  The students went around the circle and explained what they did, how they did it and why.  Amongst the “I did it coz that’s what I felt like” there were some gems.  Kelly left space around Magpie’s name because she was left all alone.   Sharni wrote Dog’s name without looking at the paper because Dog was blind and Lana ripped away a piece of Fox’s signature because his heart was broken in two.

Don’t tell me kids can’t understand difficult stories…

Everyone has problems

By Vita Forest

They listen holding breath

to a tale about a convict boy

No older than they

Crawling up a smouldering chimney

Into blackness

                                           Into nightmare

                                                          Scraping off the soot

Feet calloused and cut

Stomach growling

Eyes squinting into the

grimy yellow smog of daylight

waiting for the day

when he’ll be too big to shimmy

and crawl and worm his way through

the secret innards of other people’s houses

Til he’s stuck

til he’s sold again

til he’s out of luck

We close that book

Let out our breath

and open another

And they complain

about the tracing

and the posture

and the pain

in their fingers from holding

the pencil

Handwriting is hard

Almost as hard as being a chimney sweep in eighteenth century London? I suggest

They stare and nod

Yes.

This week

By Vita Forest

This week I have been

READING Unpolished Gem by Alice Pung

WRITING my novel

CONDUCTING 27 parent teacher interviews! (Nearly finished) while

CONTINUING to teach 28 children and therefore

FEELING exhausted…

ATTENDING a local writers circle (which was very inspiring)

SLEEPING in on the weekend and

SWIMMING at Balmoral Beach (the hottest temperatures in April for forty years)

MEETING for a coffee with Vastra and Saskia

This week

By Vita Forest

This week I have been

WRITING

READING

  • The Northern Lights by Philip Pullman
  • Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody

VISITING

  • Balmoral Beach for a refreshing dip
  • The Art Gallery of New South Wales for the wonderful The Lady and the Unicorn exhibition

  • The Coal Loader at Waverton

WANDERING the streets of Sydney around Martin Place and Wynyard

EATING a whole lot of Easter goodies

CATCHING up with my family and Saskia

WATCHING

  • some catch-up episodes of The Good Fight on SBS On-Demand (how did I miss that it was back on?
  • The Goonies with Max (classic!)