I didn’t post last weekend. I was revelling in the fact that it was still holidays and I really didn’t want to have to think about anything at all. I was also oblivious to the student who was about to start in my class on the Monday. This student gave me the most challenging start to the term that I have ever had.
Each new term is like starting a new year at our school. We constantly have new students arriving for their six-month program and students leaving to go to their mainstream schools. You know you’re in for a doozy of a student when the Student Welfare Co-ordinator asks to speak to you about a new student before the term has even begun. That was me last Monday.
So this student started. He immediately stuck out like a sore thumb. His demeanour was distracted and slightly nervous. He has probably the worst buck teeth that I have ever seen which makes it hard for him not to dribble. He has autism-like traits with different sensory issues and behaviours. He has been brought up by grandma and grandpa until now. Now he is living with Mum and Dad who are struggling to know how best to parent him. Thankfully, they are on board and are willing to get some assessments done to see what assistance he needs. At least we are not having to convince them that their son needs some sort of help. We are not a school that typically accepts students with special needs because our focus is on teaching English as an Additional Language but unless he gets a formal diagnosis, he might be staying with us.
He looks like he has the capacity to learn but to throw into the mix, he can be very naughty. He wanted to place paper into the sports bin because it looks like a rubbish bin. He wanted to continue picking flowers in sports time, despite two teachers telling him “No.” He wanted to take his shoes off because they annoyed his feet and he wanted to explore the telephone after I had needed to call the office. He may not have ever had much in the way of boundaries place on him. Certainly, by day four, he had worked out that he needs to speak to me in English. He said something to me in his first language. I just looked at him, even though I knew what he wanted. He looked at me and said, “Toilet, please.”
So in amongst starting a new term (ie. year), adjusting to the start of daylight savings, and having this child who has so many issues, I found last week overwhelming and somewhat traumatizing – to the point of being so exhausted I was numb. I had no ability to sit down and do anything that was relaxing or enjoyable after school because it was like my brain hurt.
When have you ever experienced a crazy week in teaching like this?
Have you ever been exhausted to the point of being numb? I’d love to know that I am not the only one. Let me know.
My students often tell me ‘Finish!’ (Yes, with that grammar and intonation!) when they are writing. Depending on what we are doing (or even my mood) I might look at their work and say “No you haven’t. What about the full-stops and capital letters? What about colouring in your pictures?” (Insert look of horror from them here!) Often though, what my students need to refer back to is the Learning Intentions and Success Criteria of the lesson, or what I expect from them from earlier lessons. They do look surprised when I keep insisting on capital letters and full-stops. Yes, I wanted full-stops and capital letters yesterday and I want them again today! Maybe one day they’ll get it.
As a writer then, how do you know when you have finished? I have found myself wondering this lately as I have discovered that I could tinker with my writing forever and a day.
So I posed this question to some writing friends on Facebook. I had a few quotes without sources given to me:
- ‘A book is never finished: it’s abandoned.’
- ‘A book is never finished, it’s just ready.’
I also had these ideas given to me:
- ‘The reader finishes your story, not you.’
- When beta readers’ feedback is relatively minor or differs with other beta readers only to be a matter of taste.
- When you can read through your MS without wanting to change much.
One of the responses also mentioned how a published writer confessed to secretly editing her books even after they had been printed!
My colleague, who is an editor, said you can submit your work for publication, but don’t be too precious because an editor will only pull your work apart anyway.
So, how do you know when you are ready to submit your work for publication?
I was going to post this blog post last weekend but then, life happened.
Last Saturday I spent an inspiring day at the East Melbourne Library participating in a Faber Writing Academy workshop run by Jane Godwin.
We learnt about the publishing industry in Australia and different aspects of getting published as a children’s author. Davina Bell, who is a writer and an editor also gave insights into what worked for authors and what editors are looking for. Jane then gave each participant feedback on the manuscripts that we submitted prior to the course.
For the manuscript that I submitted, she recommended that I mock up a little ‘dummy book’ and get a feel for how my pages and text might work together. She also recommended adding more tension to the resolution of my story because she felt it was anti-climactic! And then the next job will be to trial the story on appropriate children and see what their responses will be. She even suggested trying out my story on my EAL students in my classroom and seeing what their responses will be.
Since last Saturday, I have mocked up my story into a picture book (minus the pictures) and I read it to my EAL students on Wednesday. I told them that one day I want it to be a book like the books that they see on our bookshelf. One of my students said: “So you want to be an author?” Yep, I do! Anyway, my students were gorgeous. I asked them to draw or write what they liked best about the story, what they didn’t like and to draw a picture of what they thought the cat (the main character) might look like.
I was surprised by how well they managed to ‘picture’ of what was happening in the story as they are used to being supported by illustrations when it comes to reading. Many of my students had no part that they didn’t like. I can assume that that is good. Either that or they are lazy. 😉
How do you research whether your writing is ‘hitting’ your target audience?
Let me know.
Sheep are scary too. Apparently.
Last year, I blogged about Assumptions Not to Make in the English as an Additional Language Classroom. I had four assumptions not to make.
1: Don’t assume that students have had the same access to physical development programs as in your own country.
2: Don’t assume that students will correctly colour in the flag of your country.
3: Don’t assume that copying is easy.
4: Don’t assume a student knows how to use a scrapbook.
It’s time to add another assumption not to make.
Don’t assume that all students have had the same exposures to experiences that most students in your country would have had.
We went on an excursion to a farm in Melbourne last week. It was raining and pretty cold being the end of winter (and Melbourne doesn’t really warm up until late Spring). My students didn’t like the mud… we had told them to wear old shoes or gumboots. Some of my students couldn’t cope with the ‘dirtiness’ of the shed where we ate our picnic lunch.
Whilst some of my students loved the guinea pigs, I had a few who were petrified of them. The guinea pigs were brought out on small baskets, no doubt to prevent the students getting ‘weed on’. The farmer explained what the students needed to do and a couple of my students couldn’t cope.
When we went off to the sheep pen, the farmer fed the sheep and most of my students milled around the sheep as they got stuck into their feed. Then I heard from one of my students – ‘Mrs Guscott! Look at Arman!’* I turned around and Arman and his friend were standing just inside the paddock. Arman had the most petrified look on his face that I had ever seen on one of my students and he was shaking. The sheep were nowhere near him. Most Aussie kids have had exposure to animals somewhere along the way in their growing up or schooling time.
I’m obviously still learning.
Source: S Guscott. Who wouldn’t like to get every last morsel of food at times?
If you teach students from other backgrounds, what would you add to the list of assumptions not to make?
Featured Image: S Guscott
*Student name has been changed for privacy.
In the merry old land of Aus, it is Father’s Day today. So Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads out there. Whether you are celebrating or not, know that you are special and important in the lives of your children.
I discovered the website 750words.com this week. It’s a site where you can write without really thinking too much about what you are writing as nobody sees it except for yourself. Once you get to 750 words, the site gives you points and you statistics as to how fast you typed and which words you used the most. It even tries to work out the type of mood you were in as you typed, based on the types of words and sentences you used.
I haven’t decided whether it is something that I will continue to use past my trial date. It takes me roughly 20 – 25 minutes to write 750 words if I am typing fast. But I keep thinking that is 20 – 25 minutes I could be putting towards something else or some other writing. The biggest positive that I can see with it at the moment is that it does encourage me to write fast and just get the ideas out. And sometimes that is what is needed.
I put it out there to my writing Facebook group this week, asking whether they have a ritual or hack that signals to the brain, ‘Hey, it’s writing time!’ I got some interesting suggestions back.
Tips and suggestions forwarded to me included:
- having a small room with a separate entrance that is just used for writing
- going for a drive
- going for a walk
- meditative housework!
- whenever characters pop into your head
- specific iTunes songs
- reading a chapter of ‘Writing Down the Bones’
- knowing I’m meeting with a writing buddy every week
- setting a timer for a specific period of time
- burning incense or essential oils
- playing the same album or soundtrack every time you want to write
- going to the library
- headphones with music
- scented candles
I love all the suggestions that I received. I think I would need to add chocolate to the list especially at report writing time, which I am currently going through again. Rather than procrastinate this time, I have been trying to go as fast as I can. There are too many other things I’d rather be doing than writing reports. OK, I did procrastinate a little before the first one but it always takes a little time to warm up for the first.
So tell me, what would you add to the list that tells your brain, ‘Hey, it’s time to start writing?’
This whole work/life balance thing seems to be a recurring theme for me. I wrote about it in my very first blog post. And it is something that I continue to wrestle with today.
Last Saturday, I took myself off to a careers counselling session run by a lady at my local library. It was funny articulating things that I didn’t know were buried inside me. I realised that I don’t want to be teaching for the next 25 years of my life – certainly not at full time capacity. It gave me the courage to put in a request for long service leave next year at one day per week at half pay, a request my union said I was entitled to ask.
So the dream is to transition more into writing by releasing teaching. The challenge for the moment though is that we need my income, so I can’t just drop everything teaching related. I may even find that teaching becomes more bearable because I am fulfilling a creative need and my life won’t feel like its revolving around School Strategic Plans and Mid-Year Performance reviews.
We had a cringe worthy Curriculum Day on Friday where we discussed why we may not have achieved our targets for the last four years, where Child Safe standards (a legal requirement) were discussed and how we think we measure up against the Framework for Improving Student Outcomes. Riveting stuff. It got me thinking though. Different people wrote all these documents…and probably got paid a fortune to do so. Writing is everywhere. Some is just a whole lot more interesting to read.
What’s your dream?
I had a fleeting moment of wondering whether I might write a novel about the last Castrato this past week. The subject of castratos became a dinner table topic of conversation with our kids one night. (I know – weird topic to discuss with kids, but there you have it!) It was fascinating to read the small pieces of information that Google retrieved on our phones about the lives and times of the castratos in the late 19th century. I then did a quick Amazon search and discovered that two books had been written called The Last Castrato within the last 25 years. Neither got amazing reviews. Who was I kidding that my contribution would be much better? Also, it’s not exactly a Young Adult topic of interest either is it?
But, for a moment I was curious. I have been listening to podcasts where authors talk about their research for their novels. One author has been to Shanghai twice as part of her research. Another has jetted off to London and another spent time in the Blue Mountains outside of Sydney. It got me thinking – how can I research and make my writing authentic when the opportunity to travel is just not possible at this moment in time? I have a job… and a loan to repay… and a family… (kids are expensive and they make holidays even more expensive…)
So I put the question out there to one of the Facebook groups that I belong to.
How do you research and make your writing authentic when you are unable to travel? I got a whole lot of responses and have made a list here. May they inspire you, as much as they have inspired me.
Researching other places
- Google Maps
- Travel logs
- Accounts about settings
- Stories set in the same place
- Location’s hashtag on Instagram
- News from that area
- Google Street view
- Armchair Travel
- YouTube and video in general
- Travel Blogs
- Lonely Planet guides
- Interviewing people who have been there
- Books – from the library or bookshops
- Google Earth
- Google app – Expeditions
- Checking out house photos via Airbnb
Would you add anything else? Have you used any of these as a research tool for your writing? I’d love to know.