Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Fear of the 'other' - How books can help develop understanding

People have a tendency to fear the unknown, and this includes people who are different to us. I have argued in previous posts (here & here) that literature can teach us a great deal about life, including giving us greater understanding of people of other races, personalities, genders, faiths and so on.  Literature brings great pleasure but it also teaches us and can impact on us emotionally. It passes on aspects of our cultural traditions, it introduces us to other cultures and it teaches us about our world, its history, its people and what it is to be human. A piece of literature is more than just a good story. I wrote in one of my books (Pathways to Literacy, Cairney 1995, p.77-78) that literature can act as:

  • A mirror to enable readers to reflect on life problems and circumstances
  • A source of knowledge
  • A source of ideological challenge
  • A means to peer into the past, and the future
  • A vehicle to other places
  • A means to reflect on inner struggles
  • An introduction to the realities of life and death
  • A vehicle for the raising and discussion of social issues
In this post I revisit (essentially re-publish a previous older post) to look at a group of books that I would loosely term books that help children to become aware of the 'other'. The concept of 'otherness' has its roots in continental philosophy. The German philosopher Hegel was one of the first to use the concept. The notion of the 'Other' is important in defining our sense of self.  In the social sciences it is also used to help us understand the way we exclude groups within our society or across broad cultural boundaries.  The emergence of a sense of the ‘other’ is one of the ways that children first become aware of those who are different and to differentiate between that which can create fear, and that which is familiar and certain. Lithuanian-French philosopher Emmanuel LĂ©vinas helped to popularise the term in modern times and suggested that a sense of the other comes before our need to respond by ignoring, rejecting, helping and so on.

Hans Christian Andersen's classic fairy tale 'The Ugly Duckling' first published in 1843 is a fairytale that speaks directly to this theme.  As the young ducks grew older they could see that the last 'duck' was not like them: 'He's too big!" "You're appallingly ugly!" "I wish you were miles away". They struggle to work out how to deal with his difference, "But why should we care so long as you don't marry into our family?"  While the 'Ugly Duckling' and other stories often speak of many things, some have the wonderful quality of shifting children's focus beyond themselves, to become aware of the other, to understand their difference, and to re-shape their sense of self as they see themselves in relation to those who are 'other' than themselves.

The books that follow are just a 'light' sample of the many books available for young readers. I have mainly chosen picture books but there are many children's novels that include this theme. I may re-visit this theme for older readers later. I have also used some sub-headings to offer a sense of just some of the senses of 'difference' that are brought into focus.

1. The Aged

'Remember Me' by Margaret Wild & Dee Huxley (illustrator)

Margaret Wild's delightful book centres on the first person narrative of a grandmother who talks about her life and how frustrating it is when she forgets things. Her granddaughter is her little helper, enabling her to survive the day. While Wild's intent is to look specifically at memory loss and how it impacts on the aged, it also offers an insight into how this is read and responded to by others. In time the woman even forgets her granddaughter; but by mentally reliving her experience of the little girl (from birth to the present) she remembers her and the little girl promises that she'll be around to help her remember.  The older person with failing memory is not a problem, but someone to be loved, supported and learned from. And of course, in the process, our lives are enriched.

Other examples in this category include 'Wilfrid, Gordon McDonald Partridge' by Mem Fox & Julie Vivas (illustrator). This is probably my favourite Mem Fox book.  Another example is 'Waiting for May' by Thyrza Davey. In this wonderful story a social worker wants an old man 'Old Alec' living on a houseboat in Queensland with his dog to move to a retirement home. He 'escapes' to avoid this fate but in escaping his fate, a fierce storm and a little young boy change everything.

2. The person of different race or ethnicity

'The Burnt Stick' (1995) by Anthony Hill & Mark Sofilas (illustrator)

This novel for younger readers (8-10 years) is set in Australia prior to the 1960s.  It is the story of a young Australian aboriginal boy named John Jagamarra, who had been taken (like thousands of other Indigenous children) from his family. John was taken from his mother by the Welfare Department of the day, and sent to live with his white Father at the Pearl Bay Mission for Aboriginal Children. He grew up in this beautiful place, but he knew it was not like being home with his mother and his people.  He remembers how the 'Big Man from Welfare' had come and taken him away. His story illustrates how well intentioned government policy at the time failed to deal with the problems of Indigenous communities and failed to understand the full needs of people 'other' than themselves. While the story positions us as reader to see the tragedy of the 'Stolen Generation' through John's eyes, at the same time it offers child and adult readers the chance to consider the issues of racial difference and how we understand, live with and when necessary, reach out to people other than ourselves.

Mark Sofilas' wonderful charcoal images add a haunting and powerful additional dimension to the story. The Children's Book Council of Australia named it Book of the Year for Younger Readers in 1995.

Another more recent exploration of this theme is Matt Ottley's epic picture book 'Requiem for a Beast' (which I have reviewed HERE), that uses story (in picture book form), image and music to explore the painful experiences of the 'Stolen Generation' and in the process helps us to learn much about ourselves and how the non-Indigenous are positioned relative to Indigenous Australians. This book is a picture book for secondary aged readers, not young children.

Yet another wonderful book that offers a greater understanding of Indigenous Australians is 'Playground' (2011) that was compiled by Nadia Wheatley with illustrations and design by Ken Searle. It was short-listed for the 2011 Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Awards. This is an unusual book isn't quite a graphic novel, but then again, it isn't simply a reference book.  Drawing on the stories of 80 Indigenous Australian Elders, 20 Indigenous secondary students and with Indigenous Historian Dr Jackie Huggins as adviser and critical friend, Nadia Wheatley has created a unique collaborative work.  The book offers a wonderful insight into experiences of childhood for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from 1900 to the present.

With stunning photographs and illustrations, it takes us into the daily life of Indigenous children (past and present) who are connected with their land from birth. The stories and drawings help the reader to understand Indigenous life in all its facets - learning, playing, understanding and respecting the earth, the first days of life, relationships in families, what 'home' was, languages, daily food gathering and hunting, the place of song, dance, art and ceremony.  With the arrival of European people there have been adaptations, but Indigenous children remain embedded in their culture. Daily life is different, but Indigenous children are still learning from country and community. This book would be a good introduction for readers who want to know more about Indigenous people not simply read their stories.

I have written more about Indigenous literature here.

From the difficult, to the simpler rendering of this theme, Dr Seuss has also written a number of examples that touch on 'otherness'.  'The Sneetches' is an obvious one that tells of two types of creatures (Sneetches) one with a Star on their bellies and the other without. Needless to say one felt superior and the other inferior. One day a man arrives with the perfect solution, a machine that can add a star to the belly. But without the stars how could the 'superior' group differentiate itself? The man had the solution, his machine could take the stars off (!) the Sneetches who were the original 'Star Belly' kind.

But perhaps an example even closer to the theme is 'What was I scared of?' a funny story about a small creature who while walking at night is confronted by a pair of pale green pants that are out walking by themselves. He is terrified when on each walk he sees them. But of course it turns out that the pants were just as scared of him and finally all is resolved:

And, now we meet quite often,
Those empty pants and I,
And we never shake or tremble.
We both smile
And, we say

3. The person in different social circumstances

'Way Home' by Libby Hathorn & Gregory Rogers(illustrator)

This is the story of Shane, a young street kid (which isn't revealed until the end of the story), who finds a lost kitten. The story takes us through the city streets to Shane’s ‘house’; which the kitten will share with him. The illustrations by Gregory Rogers portray Sydney at night. They show the constant shift (which is part of Shane's life) from busy streets ablaze with lights to dark and sometimes threatening back alleyways. There are hazards and dangers for Shane and the tiny kitten at every turn. The story offers an insight into the life of the homeless and is a poignant story of two survivors. Suitable for 7-10 years olds.

4. Understanding the 'other' gender 

There have been many books that look at differences of gender. A recent author who has focused on this theme is Aaron Blabey. His first book 'Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley' is about friendship and relationships. Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley are the best of friends, but they are different in almost every way. Pearl likes solving mysteries and moves rather fast in the world; Charlie likes taking baths and watching his garden grow. So how can Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley be such good friends? Because that which is in the 'other' can complement that which is in him or her.  The book won the Children's Book Council Award for Picture Book of the year in 2009.

Blabey continues tangentially with a variation on theme in his second and third books 'Sunday Chutney' and 'Stanley Paste'.  In these, his first person narratives are more focused on how the child copes with their difference rather than us coping with the other. The rather unusual girl Sunday Chutney is always moving from school to school due to her Dad's jobs, coping with difference and awkwardness all the time. 

In 'Stanley Paste' we learn of the very small boy (Stanley Paste), who hates his size, until one day a new girl arrives at school who is very tall. Like Stanley, she hates the way she is. They become good friends and see different things in each other than many of the other kids at school who have made their lives miserable.

Summing Up

Each of the books above does much more than just present the theme that I have pointed to. However, the concept of 'otherness' is an important one in life and each book offers children the opportunity to consider who they are and how do they situate themselves relative to the 'other'; This is just one example of how literature does more than simply present enjoyable narrative accounts.

Other posts

All previous 'Key Themes' posts HERE

Friday, July 26, 2013

'So Many Sounds' - Why do Kids Love Sounds?

Claire Chadwick has just publisher her first book titled 'So Many Sounds' (Rydell Books, 2013). Trevor Salter has been illustrated it. This post is part of a blog tour that features Claire and her book. From birth children are interested in sound. Indeed, there is evidence that suggests that they first listen to sound from the womb. Anyone who has children, or has spent time with children, will understand the power of sound to gain children's interest.

My 6th grandchild taught me not that long ago just how much I used sound to communicate with young children. One day while exploring the back yard together with my granddaughter Lydia - who at the time was just 15 month old - I suddenly realised that she was mimicking the sounds I made almost instinctively as we spent time together. As I lifted her up, tickled her belly, washed her hands, swung her around, or bounced her up and down, I would use a type of sound accompaniment to parallel our action. 'Squelch, shlopp, woosh...' as I washed her hands for lunch. 'Jkooo' as I tickled her belly. 'Whoosh' as I swung her through the air and 'Per-lop' as I placed her in the high chair. As we wandered around the yard, I noticed that Lydia was copying every one of my sounds. Her attention had not only been gained by my use of sounds, she had turned the 'game' back on me to get my attention.

In her first children's book Claire Chadwick has taken this natural love of sounds and tried to do what many other authors have tried to do before her. Authors like Dr Seuss, Roald Dahl and Pamela Allen have all made good use of sound, rhyme and the rhythm of language to good effect. Claire has used sound in association with a simple story structure to keep a basic narrative idea moving forward. Each day a little girl - the central character in this simple narrative - has a new experience associated with rich sounds, but always there is a promise that on Saturday something even more special will happen.

On Sunday we had a barbeque at 
Uncle Mike's house.
hissed the sausages
as they fried on the grill.
flapped the cotton tablecloth
as it fluttered in the air.
snored Granpa's nose
as he dozed under the gum tree.
Sunday was sensational.
So many sounds singing in my ears.
"Yes, but wait till you hear what happens
on Saturday," said Uncle Mike.

When Saturday comes the little girl is NOT disappointed. Congratulations to Claire on this first book that will delight children and 0-5 years. If you visit her website you will also find a number of free activities that relate to the book.

If you'd like a free electronic version of the book I have two copies to give away thanks to Claire.

Friday, July 19, 2013

How to excite boys about school and learning?

In a recent article in 'The Atlantic' Jessica Lahey called on schools to 'stop penalizing boys for not being able to sit still at school'. The article was motivated by her observations of boys as a secondary teacher and her reading of the findings of research on boys published by the International Boys’ Schools Coalition’s 'Teaching Boys: A global study of effective practices'. Her teaching of secondary school boys suggested that while some struggled at school, others thrived. What is the ingredient that leads to inconsistency? Is it simply within the boys, or are there factors external to the boys that are at work?

As a young boy I experienced first hand what it means to move from being a talented and successful boy in the primary school years, to being a struggling students who was often in trouble as a teenager. At secondary school I slipped from A classes to B classes and then found myself struggling with a number of subjects. However, my achievements varied across subject. While in some classes I was rebellious and disengaged, in others I was motivated and successful. This is not an uncommon experience for boys. Some teachers, subjects and even lessons work for boys, while others don't. Why? Is the answer in the curriculum? The content? The child? Or something else?

The research work by Dr Michael Reichert and Dr Richard Hawley set out to find answers to questions such as these, and concluded that the problem wasn't just within the boys. They interviewed teachers and students and observed effective lessons in eighteen participating schools from North America, UK, South Africa and Australasia. They found that the most effective lessons for boys included a number of common elements:
  • They required students to be active learners (physical activities were a key)
  • The teacher embedded desired learning outcomes in the form of a game or fun activities
  • The lessons required individuals or groups of students to build, design, or create something that was judged competitively by classmates
  • They required students to present the outcome of their work to other students
  • They asked students to assume a role, declare and defend a position, or speak persuasively about something
  • The lessons held student attention by surprising them with some kind of novelty element
  • Lessons addressed something deep and personal in the boys’ lives; they engaged at a deeper personal level.
Getting a sense of scale!

Reichart and Hawley concluded that the learning problem wasn't due to the limitations of the boys, but rather the failure of lessons to actively engage them. What they found when they observed effective lessons in the eighteen participating schools from North America, UK, South Africa and Australasia, was that relatively simple changes in classroom pedagogy made a difference for boys.

The common features in successful lessons for boys were active learning, movement, teamwork, competition, consequential performance, risk taking, and surprise.  They concluded that successful lessons required teachers to engage and energize boys. They also found that boys were deeply relational and that the establishment of a positive relationship between teachers and boys is critical.

This last point is important. Over many years I have often asked students to name a great teacher and then to say why. The reasons given vary, and are typically idiosyncratic. But within each of the responses, invariably the student indicates that the teacher 'took an interest in them', 'understood them', 'saw some potential in them', 'got them interested in learning' and generally excited and engaged them. The general thrust of this work and its findings is that rather than simply blaming boys for their under performance, we need to seek different approaches in our classrooms to help to engage them as learners.

The excitement of chemistry

In my own life I can think of three teachers who made a difference to my life - Mr Campbell (Grade 4), Mr Blaze (Grade 7) and Mr Hoddle (Grade 11). My memories of them are rich but the methods they used to engage me were very simple (and in one case unconventional). All had a deep commitment to their teaching and empathy for their students. They wanted me to learn and saw potential within me that other teachers weren't able to see. Mr Campbell when confronted with a new aquarium in his classroom turned to me one day and said, "I'd like you to find out all that you can about tropic fish". He gave me a book and sent me off to find out about them and how to care for them. Several weeks later he asked me to present a mini-lesson to the class on tropical fish.  I was now the school expert on tropical fish!

My grade 6 maths teacher Mr Blaze (he was also my home room teacher, and cricket coach) overheard a student ridiculing me one day in class because I was overweight. He turned to the boy and said "I'll tell you what Meli, I bet TC will beat you in the cross-country race this week". He proceeded to set a wager, with the winner to receive $10 from his pocket. Now I had no intention prior to this of going in that race. But I did, and ended up $10 richer.

Mr Hoddle simply showed me that geography could be exciting by sharing his love of the subject and something of his life with a small group of senior students. He made it interesting by setting tasks that made us explore, solve problems and work collaboratively with others. And all the while he was interested in our lives and us.

The power of experience
None of these teachers used startling methods, and Mr Blaze used one that was positively dodgy, but all showed an ability to understand me and to try to reach and engage me. They also sought to understand me relationally, treating me with respect, believing in me and somehow, helping me to believe in myself. That's the art of good teaching for boys (and girls as well).

Boys and girls are different and as such at times require us to seek different approaches and forms of engagement. It is easy to dismiss boys who act out in classrooms as simply a pain in the neck for the teacher, but the acting out usually has some source and foundation. Just what is it, and how do we respond? The work of Michael Reichert and Richard Hawley offer us some clues and ways forward.

Jessica Lahey concludes her excellent article with these wise words:

"Educators should strive to teach all children, both girls and boys by acknowledging, rather than dismissing, their particular and distinctive educational needs."

My Previous Posts on Boys

I have written a number of posts on education for boys HERE

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Ideas for enriching the learning of gifted children

Broadening our understanding of giftedness

There was a time when giftedness in children was narrowly defined in terms of intellectual skills and knowledge that could be tested by a narrow range of intelligence tests. However, in recent decades our understanding of giftedness has broadened based on our growing understanding that intelligence can have many manifestations (see for example my post on Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences). And so, while we know some gifted children can demonstrate exceptional abilities across a wide range of capabilities (e.g. memory, language, mathematics, problem solving etc), others are extremely gifted in narrower and more specific ways (e.g. visual arts, music, leadership, sport etc).

The Queensland Government's document 'Framework for Gifted Education' offers a helpful broad definition of giftedness:
Students who are gifted excel, or are capable of excelling, in one or more areas such as 
a) General intelligence,
b) Specific academic studies,
c) Visual and performing arts, Physical ability,
d) Creative thinking,
e) Interpersonal and intrapersonal skills.
Giftedness in a student is commonly characterised by an advanced pace of learning, quality of thinking or capability for remarkably high standards of performance compared to students of the same age. 

In relation to the narrower understanding of general academic giftedness, the following well-known definition by Joseph Renzulli is helpful.

Giftedness consists of an interaction among three basic clusters of human traits:
Above average general abilities
High levels of task commitment
High levels of creativity 

How do I recognise giftedness in my children?

6yr old drawing of Blue Tongue via eyes of a predator
If you live with a gifted child or have one in your class there is a good chance you will begin to recognise a number of characteristics that differentiate them from most children, even most capable children.  While many parents feel their children are gifted purely due to their observations of the pace of their development in the early preschool years, exceptional giftedness is much more rare. While some teachers tend to assume that gifted children can take care of themselves and so require less attention, this can be a dangerous assumption. Life for the highly gifted child can be an extremely frustrating, confusing and at times lonely experience if their giftedness isn't identified and supported. If your child demonstrates, to a significantly greater extent a large number of the following characteristics, they may be gifted and will need support, encouragement and some adaptation by teachers and parents.
  • The ability to invent or create novel or original things, or look at their world in unusual ways. 
  • The desire and ability to investigate their immediate world, to see the unusual and observe things that others don't notice.
  • Extreme curiosity demonstrated by experimentation, investigation and in depth study.
  • Using extended vocabulary, complex sentence structure and varied language forms.
  • Understanding and using imagery and metaphorical language at a young age (often under 5 years).
  • Exploring varied interests often at depth, well beyond their years.
  • Being able to learn rapidly and easily compared to other children.
  • Gaining great pleasure and excitement when they are learning new and difficult things.
  • Outstanding memory demonstrated by encyclopaedic recall.
  • A desire to spend time with older children or adults and to learn with and from them.
  • Being able to cope with the introduction of many new ideas, sometimes simultaneously.
  • Wanting to spend large amounts of time learning about a favourite topic.
  • Capable of generating many solutions to verbal or mathematical problems.
  • Enjoying and seeking out frequent intellectual challenges.
  • Demonstrating unusual imagination that is stimulated easily and sometimes independently.
  • Ability to generate multiple ideas and solutions to problems.
  • Showing preparedness to question assumed knowledge or ways of doing things.
  • Often preferring individual work rather than group work and able to work well independently.
  • Demonstrating a highly mature and unusual sense of humour.
  • Sometimes having expectations of themselves that are too demanding and unrealistic.
  • Demonstrating single-mindedness and extreme determination when pursuing interests.
If you think about the above characteristics it should be easy to see how they might well be misinterpreted by teachers and parents who don't understand giftedness. For example, wanting to work independently could be seen as anti-social, single-mindedness can be seen as self-focussed, questioning the assumed knowledge of the teacher could be seen as rudeness and so on. This is why the gifted need to be understood and supported; they are different.

How do I support a gifted child?

There are two main approaches to meeting the needs of the gifted.

a) Acceleration - This involves allowing students to complete curriculum faster, or to advance through school more rapidly, based on their readiness, motivation and capability. It allows the pace of instruction to be adjusted to meet their needs and, it offers new more appropriate challenges.

b) Enrichment - This involves the modification of the curriculum to allow gifted learners to explore topics in greater depth or breadth, to permit the use of varied skills, and generally to promote a higher level of thinking, investigation and exploration. It often involves integration of varied learning areas, creative outcomes and products, and the use of supplementary materials beyond the normal range.

Drawing by Jacob just 4 years after a trip to the aquarium. Drawing is from the unusual vantage point of the fish & shows his view of 'Grandad looking into the aquarium', as seen by the fish.

While there are classes set up for extremely gifted children and some schools that establish specific groups for gifted and talented children, for most gifted children, the mainstream classroom is where they spend most of their time. Both acceleration and enrichment usually occurs within mainstream schools and at times under the sponsorship of external organisations.

Joseph Renzulli's Triad Model has been influential for schools and parents that have tried to provide enrichment for children. His triad suggests three types of enrichment:

Type 1 - General Interest/Exploratory Activities. These offer a wide range of experiences, e.g. excursions, guest experts, clubs, special classes etc.

Type 2 - Group Training Activities. These aim to develop thinking skills and include activities that facilitate experimentation, analysis, classification skills, critical thinking and communication. 

Type 3 - Individual & Small Group Investigation and Problem Solving. This type allows children to apply the skills acquired in Type 1 & 2 to real life problems of interest to them. They then present their findings in some form to other, e.g. written reports, video presentation, website, debate, a journal etc.

The reality for many parents of gifted children is that they end up having to make a lot of effort themselves to provide for their gifted child. In the rest of this post I will suggest a number simple ways to enrich the education of the gifted. While all of these ideas could be seen as relevant for children of average ability, they offer additional opportunities for the gifted.

1. Ensure that the child experiences a rich and stimulating life outside school. 

This could include:

  • Opportunities to play and learn with other gifted children, older children and adults who have similar interests and can stimulate their imagination, offer new experiences, and challenge them with new areas of learning.
  • Lots of first-hand experiences, including visits to museums, zoos, galleries, musical performance and drama, film, outdoor exploration, keeping and studying pets, nature walks, and gardening.
  • Providing opportunities for hobbies that offer depth of new learning, for example, collecting rocks, stamps, chess, photograph, movie making, astronomy, and animation.
  • Introducing them to varied ways to respond to learning or present knowledge (e.g. creative arts, drama, video and audio presentations, public presentations etc).

2. Provide opportunities for children to extend their knowledge in areas of special interest.

This might include:

  • Project-based work.
  • Library research.
  • Digital Storytelling (see my previous post here).
  • Webquests.
  • Learning a musical instrument.
  • Learning a new language.

3. Introduce a variety of enrichment activities at regular intervals

While it isn't possible for any teacher or parent to offer individual activities for gifted children there are many wonderful activities that all children will enjoy which can also accommodate the needs of the gifted. The following are some examples of the types of enrichment activities I mean.

a) Story in a Box strategy

This involves placing 5-6 objects in a box that have some relationship to one another. Sometimes I might include a single object that is unrelated, to allow additional creativity. Children are then encouraged to talk about the objects and then create stories that relate to them.  The teacher or parent would usually need to model the process of story creation before asking children to do it.  You might also jointly construct a story or two with children before letting them do it independently. With that proviso, here are just some of the ways I'd suggest you might use the strategy:

1. A group of 5-7 year-olds might explore the objects in a box and try to tell a joint story or simply take turns creating individual stories. You could allow them to supplement the box with a dress-up box if there is a need for children to become specific characters or take on roles.

2. A group of 6-12 year old children might discuss the objects and then prepare a joint monologue to be presented to others (with the objects used as artefacts or aids). Alternatively, a group story or picture book could be produced based on the objects.

3. The box of objects might simply be used to create a digital story (individually or in groups). Have a look at Daniel Meadows' 'Scissors' video to see what might be produced, as well as my previous post on digital storytelling (here). This approach could also be used with high school children.

You can read a longer post on this topic here.

b) Using a book as the focus for an excursion to its setting

I wrote a post back in January 2009 (here) about a family excursion to explore part of Sydney that was the setting for the wonderful book 'My Place' (Nadia Wheatley & Donna Rawlins). 'My Place' was published in 1987 for distribution in Australia’s bicentennial year (1988) and makes a strong statement about the fact that Indigenous Australians were here for thousands of years before white settlement (there isn't space to unpack this). It is a very clever book that takes one suburban block (and the surrounding area) and tells the story of this place in reverse chronological sequence, decade by decade, from 1988 back to 1788 when the first British Fleet landed at Botany Bay. The overall meaning of the book is shaped by multiple narrative recounts of the families who have lived in this spot, 'my Place' and the changing nature of the physical landscape and built environment.

Our excursion as a family around the streets of Tempe and St Peters in Sydney enriched my appreciation of the book and my grandchildren's sense of the place. As well, it gave my grandchildren a great introduction to Australia's history since white settlement in 1788 and it deepened our understanding of the book. The book has been used as the basis of a television series that screened recently in Australia (here).

There are many other wonderful books that are situated in specific places that can be explored after, before or during the reading of a book. Here are three more.

c) Offering Stimulating Firsthand experiences

I have written previously about the 'The Language Experience Approach' to literacy on this blog (here). Typically, it occurs when a teacher or parent opportunistically seizes an experience as a basis for learning. Many are basic:
  • The squelch of mud between toes on a wet day in the back yard
  • Running on a sandy beach for the first time
  • Watching a worm wiggle in the palm of a small hand
  • Building a cubby house from boxes in the back yard
  • Watching a bird build its nest in a tree in the playground in spring
  • Doing hand painting
  • Observing chickens as they grow bigger day by day
The experience becomes a focus for discussion and exploration and eventually is recorded as a written text in some way. There is great power in new experiences to enrich learning - seeing new places, doing things for the first time, tasting new food, finding yourself immersed in a significant event - new experiences have a major impact on learning and our use of language to describe these events. Such experiences teach us new things and move us to use language to make sense of the experience and tell others about it.

The approach has four main elements:
  • Sharing an experience
  • Talking about the experience
  • Making some record of the experience (words, pictures, sound recording, photographs, video)
  • Finally, using the recorded experience for further reading, discussion and the stimulation of further writing
d) Using blogging to stimulate children's learning

As a keen blogger I know the various benefits of blogging as I'm sure do the readers of this blog. But how might we make better use of blogging with children? Many teachers have already experimented with blogging for children, as have some parents. Most children don't need to be convinced of the wonder and worth of the Internet, but could we make better use of the Blogosphere?

There seem some obvious reasons for using blogs in the classroom or at home:

1. The act of writing a blog post can lead to significant research and related learning. For example, it is an excellent way to develop web comprehension and research skills.

2. Blogs offer authentic readers and audiences for children. So much classroom writing is simply for the teacher 'as examiner', but blogs offer 'real' readers who will respond as learners and fellow writers. This is powerful.

3. Blogs can offer a means for children of many nationalities to communicate and share their ideas across the globe.

4. Blogging can offer a wonderful means for children to practice a second language.

5. Using blogs as creators as well as consumers highlights the need for children to consider issues such as truth and fiction, privacy, copyright and so on.

You can read my post on 'Children as Bloggers' here.

e) Using film making and animation

Filmmaking and animation is another wonderful way to enrich the learning of gifted children. I have written a previous post on some varied resources for animation. One of them was 'The Klutz Book of Animation' by John Cassidy and Nicholas Berger. It is excellent aid for young filmmakers. The book provides step by step guidance to primary aged children to make simple animations using a video camera (as simple as a web cam), a computer and a variety of props, objects, plasticine and so on. The publishers provide a number of videos online that teach children the fundamentals of animation and filmmaking (here). At the Klutz site you can download free instructional videos (here), free sound effects (here) and sample videos made by children (here). Below is a sample using the Klutz methodology. This is a great resource for young filmmakers. Steven Spielberg would have loved to have this as a child.

You can read a full post on animation and film making tools for children here.

Summing Up

It is important that truly gifted and talented children be identified and supported through varied forms of enrichment. To teach classes to the middle and ignore giftedness is as wrong as ignoring students with learning disabilities. The gifted can become just as frustrated with inappropriate learning tasks as students who have learning difficulties.