The Joy of Reading

Whatever we read from intense curiosity gives us the model of how we should always read. Plodding along page after page with an equal attention to each word results in attention to mere words.

— Ernest Dimnet

Image courtesy of Idea go at

Reading is my world!

I love to read — always have and, hopefully, always will. Just now it occurred to me that my biggest fear is losing my eyesight, preventing me from reading.

Both of my grandparents on my mother’s side have macular degeneration; my grandmother on my father’s side had cataracts — what are my chances?

Sure, I could invest in audio books — but for me that’s not the same as being able to devour the words myself, flick back to reread parts … or, naughty I know, flick forward to see the ending because I just have to know now. There’s also the additional problem that I am not a good listener. I tend to lose concentration after the first five minutes.

There are a few people I know who don’t enjoy reading. That was in italics for a reason — I don’t get it. They find it boring to sit down and read! I feel deeply sorry for these people — and I find myself wondering what happened to make them feel this way.

I do have a theory though.

One word — school.

I feel I may have been very lucky at school. I do not recall even one of my primary school teachers not reading to my class — just for the sheer enjoyment. I remember my Year 4 teacher in particular. Mrs Connelly read us the entire Ramona series by Beverly Cleary. Every day, she read to us. We hung on to every word. If she was away, we had withdrawal. It made us look forward to Mondays. But the best thing was — we read for pure enjoyment!

Let me rephrase that: we did not do any work on the books. No story maps, no character analysis, no comprehension questions — we just read it and loved it.

Of course, there would be multiple other reasons why people end up not choosing to engage in reading as a leisure activity but I think the words: “We’ve just read this book, now here’s a sheet to do on it,” may not help. Just so you know, this starts in the first year of school … and gets worse every year.

Here’s an idea: let’s only choose boring books for novel study. They’re already boring, so we won’t be ruining an otherwise good story with the addition of multiple worksheets and endless analysis. Leave the really good books for … just reading!

And another idea: let’s add ‘reading for enjoyment with absolutely no work attached’ to the curriculum.

And yet another: yes, it’s good practice to encourage (read as: force) children to ‘read widely’ — but if we are making them read genre or topics they have no curiosity about then who are we really doing this for? If we are giving them ‘free choice’ then it should be. Who cares if they choose comic books every single time — at least they’re reading.

There’s a place in our lives for ‘reading because we have to, in order to gain information’ — I’m not saying there isn’t. What I am saying, however, is the place for ‘reading because we want to’ is getting smaller, and it’s time to bring it all back into perspective.



the naming of children

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet …

— William Shakespeare (Juliet, in Romeo and Juliet)

ID-100537418 rose
image courtesy of Interprophotos at

There was an article in the newspaper this morning with the title:

One in five grandparents hate their grandchild’s name

Hang about, I thought, since when do the grandparents have a say in naming another person’s child? They’ve had their turn already.

baby name

Naming your child can be as easy as pie, or an absolute nightmare of indecision —  but surely it is the sole right of the parent. Whether other people will like it shouldn’t  come into the decision process.  (The future impact of the name on the child is a whole different kettle of fish, but that’s not what this is about.)

The article talked about grandparent responses upon finding out the name of their new grandchild. These ranged from: “What?” to refusing to refer to the child by the chosen name, and directly expressing their dislike of the name to sucking it up and not saying anything (then either getting over it, or living a life of resentment).

I will admit reading the article made me wonder about my child’s grandparents (and great grandparents) and whether or not they ‘like’ the names I chose for my two children. I put that to bed quickly though; I don’t care because I like their names and, believe it or not, I did put quite a bit of thought into them — did they sound right? could any horrible nicknames be created? did the initials create an embarrassing acronym? Choosing my son’s name also had the added difficulty of not being able to start with J (because, as any teacher knows, you don’t use a J-name with boys).

As much as I stand up for the right of parents to choose their child’s name without the fear of it being disliked or ridiculed by the very people who should love you (and the child) the most — there are perhaps certain celebrities (and probably many non-celebrities too) whose parents should have intervened.

What do you think of Buddy Bear Maurice, River Rocket Blue, and Petal Blossom Rainbow? (Really, Jamie Oliver! You’re a sensational cook, but …). Or perhaps Blanket. (Now, that was Michael Jackson, so need I say more?) How about Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily? (Michael Hutchence and Paula Yates. Drug addled much? Or not?)

Then again — although I feel sorry for these kids, what business is it of mine?

Nobody has ever passed a negative comment, in my hearing, about the names I chose for my children. I may have avoided this, though,  by listening to my grandfather. I was going to call my son Huw at one stage. I liked the name — Pop didn’t. “Don’t call him that,” he said. “Everyone will call to him ‘Hey-you’.”

I listened and did what I was told. I doubt very much that anything further would have been said if I hadn’t listened, although Pop did say to me a few years later, “Aren’t you glad you didn’t call him Huw?”


However, I feel I’ve got the last say — one of the main characters in my (nearly finished) novel is called Huw. And he’s modelled on my son.


learning not so simple

A good deal of education consists of unlearning — the breaking of bad habits as with a tennis serve.

— Mary McCarthy

ID-10075505 unlearning
image courtesy of thaikrit at

The minute I read this quote I was instantly transported back about twenty years to the day I realised I had taught one of my students to spell a word — incorrectly. I can no longer remember what the word was, although I suspect it had one of the many confusing multiple ways of spelling (and/or was an ance/ence word).

What I do remember is the feeling, a good six months after the event, of seeing this word in the dictionary and going ‘Oh —shit!’

It was too late — not only because it was the Christmas holidays and the unsuspecting child (who was proud of her spelling ability) was no longer in my class; the word had been learned and, as such, etched into her brain.

Unlearning a word you’ve ‘learned’ how to spell is like untying a frayed, triple-knotted, wet shoelace. (Trust me, I’ve had to do that too — not impossible but nearly.) I have no doubt this child (now an adult) still struggles with this word.

If you are reading this, I humbly apologise.

I’ve often lamented the fact that students seem best able to learn the stuff we don’t want them too, but take forever to learn what we deem necessary.

A somewhat worrisome example of this occurred about ten years ago when I was supervising a pre-service teacher deliver an introductory lesson on Volume and Capacity. The lesson itself was not a bad one —  but she mixed up the two definitions.

My bad that I let it go at that moment. I didn’t want to disrupt her flow and thought it would be an easy fix. I think I was also hoping I may have misheard her.

Turns out I didn’t — and an easy fix it wasn’t.

I ended up spending the rest of the year un-teaching it. (And, again, I suspect that some of those students continue to mix up volume and capacity to this day.)

Some things in our education have to be unlearned, such as methods and procedures in ICT and other skill areas where progress and, ahem, improvement (this is doubtful in some cases) is continually being made.

However, some things could, and should, be avoided.

The absolute worst example I can think of, when it comes to unlearning, is the year the NSW Department of Education (spearheaded by the NSW Government at the time) decided to totally reinvent the way we teach grammar. I’m not talking of methodology here, but terminology.

Functional Grammar was in; traditional grammar was out. Nouns were now to be called participants … yada yada yada.

Old text books and teacher resources were thrown out (literally — and if you’re a teacher you’ll know just how drastic this was); new teaching materials and curriculum documents were printed and distributed — statewide! All primary teachers (and I mean ALL — statewide) were provided with a week of intensive professional learning on Functional Grammar. Thousands upon thousands of dollars were spent. We all had to learn totally new terminology and start using it in our classrooms.

Then, after these new words had just become ingrained, we had an election.

A new government came in; the current government was ousted — and with it went Functional Grammar.

The only saving grace was that we had only just started to impart our new knowledge on the students, so they had not yet had time to absorb anything much.

Still on the subject of grammar: adverbs.

The teaching of adverbs as a way to enhance writing has come to bug me — since I embarked on my crusade to be ‘a writer’.

When I was at school, I was drilled in the need to add adverbs (and adjectives) to my writing in order to make it more interesting. Indeed, if we used more adverbs, we got better marks.

Little has changed — we are still doing this; adverbs are in the curriculum.

Stephen King (one of my writing heroes) has been quoted as saying: The road to hell is paved with adverbs. He argues that the adverb is not your friend and states that a well-chosen verb negates the need for an adverb. Poor writers pepper their writing with adverbs because they are easy to use.

I do not disagree with this at all BUT, because I was drilled in the importance of the adverb, and because it is in the curriculum, I struggle with the desire NOT to encourage their use.

At the start of this term I packed off my picture book manuscript to the staff at my school and asked them to share it with their classes and give me some good honest feedback. (Scariest thing I’ve ever done.) I received some brilliant comments and suggestions — both positive and constructive — but the one that resonated the most: ‘You need more adverbs.’

Unlearning the use of adverbs, and re-learning the use of a strong verb is mighty difficult, but it’s important. When I go back to mainstream teaching, I commit to imparting the wisdom of Stephen King (maybe dumbing down the road to hell bit.)

So, why are we learning all of this stuff if it isn’t relevant, or true, or useful? When will I ever need this? would have to be the most common complaint in schools.

It’s a valid complaint when you think about it, but my question would have to be:

Why are we learning things that must be unlearned later?

As much as there is said to be freedom in what we teach and how, the reality is we are very much bound by a prescriptive curriculum that still fails to address individual needs.

And this, perhaps, is the central cause of the need for unlearning.






music tastes

Still like that old time rock ‘n’ roll
That kind of music just soothes the soul ooh
I reminisce about the days of old
With that old time rock ‘n’ roll
Won’t go to hear them play a tango
I’d rather hear some blues or funky old soul
There’s only one sure way to get me to go
Start playing old time rock ‘n’ roll
Call me a relic, call me what you will
Say I’m old-fashioned, say I’m over the hill
Today’s music ain’t got the same soul
I like that old time rock ‘n’ roll

— Bob Seger (Old Time Rock and Roll)

It wasn’t until I found myself singing along to ‘old stuff’ that I realised – I may have become my father! (image courtesy of duron123 at

Throughout my childhood and adolescence I would frequently despair at my father’s choice of music. He loved the classic rock ‘n’ roll and other music from his era — Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, Johnny Cash, Fats Domino, The Beatles … the list goes on forever.

As if this wasn’t bad enough (I thought), Dad also loved music from the 20’s! This was way before his time — nearly three decades before his time, in fact. I remember everyone saying he must have been here before — why else would he like that music?

Our car radio is most frequently tuned to Mix 106.3. They promote themselves as playing ‘Canberra’s Greatest Hits’ — I think from the 70’s to now, or something like that. I like this radio station; I like how it plays songs from my adolescence (and sometimes before that) but also plays new music … some, no most, of which I enjoy.

My teenage daughter fails to agree, “They only play old stuff,” she complains. I fail to see how a new release song qualifies as ‘old stuff’, but apparently because they play the new stuff so often, it becomes old stuff rather quickly.

I don’t get it — but what would I know?

It’s my car though, so I get to choose the radio station!

It was only the other day, when I was tapping — okay, singing — along to Bob Seger in the car, that I saw the pattern:

My father enjoyed music from his era and a few decades before, but also liked some ‘modern stuff’.

I thought his music choices were awful.

I now enjoy music from my era, a few decades before (yes, I also choose to listen to some singers my Dad liked, from the 50’s and 60’s) and some of the ‘modern stuff’.

My daughter thinks my music choices are generally awful.

Hmmm — I wonder if I should put it to her that, when she is older, she will choose to listen to the likes of ABBA, Prince, Bananarama and Pseudo Echo! Maybe not, after all, I wouldn’t have believed my father if he’d told me that I would voluntarily purchase Johnny Cash and Big Bopper music (among others) AND sing along to Bob Seger on the radio.

I don’t know whether my music tastes have changed — or whether they’ve just broadened and developed. What I do know, though, is that it would be a boring old world if we all liked the same music.

The other thing I know too: even though I have come around to a lot of ‘Dad’s music’ — I will never, ever enjoy listening to Buddy Holly.

Sorry Dad!


‘fighting’ cancer

You have to fight to reach your dream. You have to sacrifice and work hard for it.

— Lionel Messi

Connie Johnson
image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Connie Johnson passed away on Friday.

I don’t know anybody who doesn’t know who she is or what she has done. If you don’t, because perhaps you live outside of Australia in a place where our news doesn’t reach you, just do an internet search on her name.

Her story is amazing.

The hearts she touched are innumerable.

Her legacy will go on forever.

A newspaper headline I saw read something like: Connie Johnson has lost her fight against cancer.

It is here I have an issue: Connie Johnson has not LOST at anything.

She has passed away; is no longer with her family and loved ones in body; she has died of cancer — but she has not lost.

She has worked hard to build a community; to build awareness of the terribleness of cancer and the importance of early detection; and to build hope and love in thousands upon thousands of people around this country.

She has not lost!

She knew what was coming and she stayed proud and upbeat and committed to her cause, her family and her friends right to the end.

She passed on with dignity — knowing she had made a difference and, hopefully knowing that this difference will be long-lasting.

Nobody LOSES their fight or their battle (or whatever you want to call it) with cancer or any other terminal illness.

Some people (like myself) are lucky enough to have been given the ‘all clear’ (for now) — but I would not say we have WON.

People deal with their lives the best way they know how; in a way that works for them and their families.

To say that people who have passed away because of cancer have LOST their battle somehow lessens their achievements and devalues their impact.

taking interest


I just wanted to say a few words about this — because it’s important and because I just can’t go past that cute little face that really pulls at my heart-strings.

I have been guilty of causing this face: as a teacher; as a parent; and as a friend.

These are not excuses, but: often our minds are just filled with so much of our own stuff to take in another person’s joy; there are so many demands on our time, it seems impossible to devote a few extra minutes to something else; and not everyone shares the same interests.

But who cares?

If someone you value wants to share something with you — wants to share their pride, their joy, their happiness — then surely we should feel honoured, not obliged.

It’s a hard lesson to learn when you suddenly realise that someone is no longer taking the time to share little parts of their life with you.

And you can’t get this opportunity back. Once you’ve repeatedly shown someone that you aren’t interested, there’s no going back. Not easily, anyway.

This photo was a kickstarter for me. I’m trying to stop and listen — ask questions, show an interest, acknowledge the person who has chosen me to share their life with.

I’m not always successful in this endeavour — sometimes it’s an epic fail! But I’m learning stuff. About my kids, other kids, my friends … and about me.


Father’s Day

My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me.

— Jim Valvano


Six Father’s Days have now passed without my Dad … and two without my Pop.

I miss them both every day, and occasions like Father’s Day and birthdays only serve as reminders of what we are all missing. Somehow, going to the crematorium with a bunch of flowers and looking at their plaques doesn’t really cut it — which is why I tend not to do this on those special days, but at other random times of the year instead.

I don’t know why, but what really hit me hard yesterday (Father’s Day in Australia) was not my own sense of loss, but the thought of what they have missed this past year.

Both my father and my grandfather were family men. They doted on their kids, grandkids and, in the case of Pop, great-grandkids. They shared in our successes (and failures) as if they were their own.

Every year has its mix of highlights and lowlights — but the last twelve months seem to have had more than the usual share of highs, and I found myself wishing Dad and Pop had been here to see what went down.

This is what I would share with them if they were to walk through the door right now:

♥  Can you believe Geordie is in Year 6? This year has been huge for him, after so many struggles in previous years, he has finally found his feet and is really loving the responsibilities associated with Year 6. He is participating like he never has before — and enjoying it! For the first time, I am feeling confident about his transition to high school — and so is he.

♥  Come, sit and watch these amazing iMovie videos Geordie and his best mate have been making all year. They are so funny. Clever, original mini-movies … and to sit there and watch/listen to their repartee as they make them — priceless!

Dad, you’d be so proud of your ‘little mate’.

♥  From wherever you were, I have no doubt you could have heard Ashlea yelling at us during a dragon-boat race from her position as drummer. She owned us in those races! I bet you never pictured her as someone who could do this. You would be so impressed with her confidence, her poise (and her ability to balance from a tiny stool— or squat and not fall in the time the stool fell off mid-race in Orange!)

♥  Ashlea is in Year 8 now — grappling with the stereotypical adolescent traits — but she has maintained her resilience, her compassion and her sense of self. She is fair, kind and generous — but doesn’t put up with any bullshit and remains true to herself and her values.

Your ‘sweetie-pie’ has become a young lady, Dad, but has retained her sweetness.

♥  Yes, I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the start of the year — but guess what? I kicked that sucker! My last scan showed no cancer! I don’t do ‘sick’ — just like you, Pop.

♥  Finally, I’d love to be able to share some of my writing with you both. I’ve had a couple of things ‘published’ — sorry, Pop, it’s not a money-earner yet … but I’m working on it. Both of you inspire my writing everyday … because I know you’d both tell me to take the bull by the horns and go for it!

Our successes are for both of you — because you both believed in us and gave us the gift of believing in ourselves.