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'If students can't learn the way we teach, we must teach the way they learn' (Ignacio Estrada, via Tomlinson)

Archive for the ‘Learning and teaching’ Category

Children’s Books and how to choose them

Posted by Lisa Hill on July 27, 2010

Serendipity works in amazing ways.  Last night I discovered via Twitter that Dublin has been designated a UNESCO City of Literature, just as Melbourne is.  I blogged about my excitement about this on my ANZ LitLovers blog because I am travelling to Dublin later this year when I’m on Long Service Leave. 

This morning a reader of my blog from Dublin shared a link to the Children’s Books Ireland presence on Facebook, an initiative designed to promote books and reading to children.  And there I found a terrific series about how to choose children’s books, of interest not only to children’s librarians but to parents as well.

Here are the links:

Children’s Books: How to Choose Them, Part 1 – Introduction

Children’s Books: How to Choose Them, Part 2 – Subjective Appeal

Children’s Books: How to Choose Them, Part 3 – Themes

Children’s Books: How to Choose Them, Part 4 – Illustrations

Children’s Books: How to Choose Them, Part 5 – Stories

Children’s Books: How to Choose Them, Part 6 – Humor

Children’s Books: How to Choose Them, Part 7 – Developmental Value

You can subscribe to Aaron Mead’s blog by RSS if you want to follow up with further articles.  Please note that Children’s Books and Reviews is an American online bookstore.  LisaHillSchoolStuff does not endorse their products nor their association with Amazon; LisaHillSchoolStuff supports Australian books and writing and recommends independent bookshops such as Readings and Boomerang Books.  

Posted in Australian Children's Literature, Authors & Illustrators, Learning and teaching, News, School Library stuff | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

A Teacher’s Prayer

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 22, 2009

A friend of mine gave me a bookmark with this lovely poem printed on it:

A Teacher’s Prayer

I want to teach my students more than lessons in a book:

I want to teach them deeper things that people overlook –

The value of a rose in bloom, its use and beauty too,

A sense of curiosity to discover what is true;

How to think and how to choose the right above the wrong;

How to live and learn each day and grow up to be strong;

To teach them always how to gain in wisdom and in grace;

So they will someday make the world a brighter, better place;

So let me be a friend and guide to give these minds a start

Upon their way down life ‘s long road, then I’ll have done my part.

By Jill Wolf


Posted in Learning and teaching | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Wikipedia in simple English

Posted by Lisa Hill on July 26, 2009

Simple WikipediaI am indebted to one of my students for the discovery that there is a simple English version of Wikipedia, designed specifically to have simple English words and grammar for people learning English and for children.   Thank you Zahraa!

This is the URL or click here.

This is a good place for teachers to contribute kid-friendly info for projects – and if you do become a contributor, well, you’ll know straight away if the work’s been plagiarised, eh?

Posted in Learning and teaching, Resources to share | Comments Off on Wikipedia in simple English

Goodbye Mr Chips – and good riddance!

Posted by Lisa Hill on July 11, 2009


I blog the books I read over at ANZ LitLovers but some of the things I want to say about Goodbye Mr Chips seem more properly to belong here… 

It’s a slender book, only 128 pages long and written a long time ago in 1934.  It made James Hilton’s name as an author, was reprinted countless times and has been adapted for screen and stage, most notably in the 1939 British classic but also more recently as a TV series in 2002. 

The book and the film made Mr Chips a by-word for a good teacher.  Mr Chipping (to give him his correct name) teaches in a minor public school called Brookfield in England, and is much loved – the complete antithesis of brutal disciplinarians such as Charles Dickens’ Gradgrind in Hard Times who maintained discipline through fear.   He conquers his initial shyness,  learns to lighten up under the infuence of a lovely young wife who he met on a hiking holiday, and handles his grief at her death with stoicism and courage.  He shelves unrealistic ambitions when he realises that his indifferent degree precludes the headship and over time comes to represent the school itself:

a good school of the second rank.  Several notable families supported it; it supplied fair samples of the history-making men  of the age – judges, Members of Parliament, colonial administrators, a few peers and bishops.  Mostly, however, it turned out merchants, manufacturers and professional men, with a good sprinkling of country squires and parsons.  It was the sort of school which, when mentioned, would sometimes make snobbish people confess that they rather though they had heard of it.

But if it had not been that sort of school it would probably not have taken Chips.  For Chips, in any social or academic sense, was just as respectable, but no more brilliant, than Brookfield itself. (p19) 

Mr Chips teaches one of my favourite subjects at school – the Classics – but amongst other aspects of this book which made me revise my opinion of Mr Chips as a model teacher (an opinion based on vague memories of the 1939 film) was his indifference to the efforts of a new headmaster to move with the times.  Mr Chips begins his career in 1870, retires aged 65 in 1913, and is recalled as the casualties mount during WW1 – and in all that time changes nothing at all about his teaching.  Mr Ralston, the innovator, is presented as an amoral brash young headmaster who ‘wants to run Brookfield like a factory – a factory for turning out snob-culture based on money and machines’  (p76) and his ambitions to improve the school run counter to its traditions:

‘I aim to make Brookfield a thoroughly up-to-date school.  I’m a science man myself, but for all that, I have no objection to the classics -provided they are taught efficiently.  Because they are dead languages is no reason why they should be taught with a dead educational technique.  I understand, Mr Chipping, that your lessons are exactly the same as they were when I began here ten years ago?’ 

Chips answered, slowly and with pride: ‘For that matter – umph – they are the same as when your predecessor – Mr Meldrum – came here, and that -umph – was thirty-eight years ago’…..

…’Very interesting, Mr Chipping, but once again it proves my point – you live too much in the past, and not enough in the present and the future.  Times are changing, whether you realise it or not.  Modern parents are beginning to demand more for their three years’ school fees than a few scraps of languages that nobody speaks.  Besides, your boys don’t learn even what they’re supposed to learn.  None of them last year got through the Lower Certificate. (p75)

And what does this ‘noble’ character do, when confronted by a headmaster asking him to improve his performance? He refuses to discuss it, refuses to resign, and uses his influence with one of the Old Boys to ignore Ralston!

It’s not just that Mr Chips’s teaching is moribund, clinging to the idea that Brookfield should be teaching ‘a sense of proportion’ to balance the vulgarities of the new century (p77) – as if that should somehow preclude modernising his teaching methods so that his students might actually learn something.   It’s also that the much-lauded ‘jokes’ that Mr Chips makes are at the expense of his hapless students.  This is what this paragon of teaching says to one of his third generation students, seen in the film clip above  [1] taking tea with Mr Chips:

‘Colley, you are – umph – a splendid example of -umph – inherited traditions.  I remember your grandfather – umph – he could never grasp the  Ablative Absolute.  A stupid fellow, your grandfather.  And your father,  too – umph – I remember him – he used to sit in that far desk by the wall –  he wasn’t much better, either.  But I do believe – my dear Colley –  that you are – umph – the biggest fool of the lot!’  (p15)

The class roars with laughter at this, something I hope would not happen today.  Any teacher who tried to get his laughs by mocking a student and his family like that would be reprimanded by his principal these days, and we teach children not to tolerate this kind of bullying no matter where it comes from. 

Mr Chips, far from being a model of good teaching, is a failure.  He’s a bully, and a bore, and no amount of jolly scones and tea can make up for the fact that he was hopelessly old-fashioned and wouldn’t make any effort to move with the times. He represents the kind of arrogance still occasionally met in the profession, when individuals think that they alone know how to teach and reject research-based evidence that there’s a better way.

Goodbye Mr Chips may in its day have represented a more humane kind of teaching than its Victorian predecessors, but today it is an interesting museum piece, and that’s all. 

[1] if the site is blocked by your ISP.

Posted in Book Reviews, Learning and teaching | Tagged: | Comments Off on Goodbye Mr Chips – and good riddance!

Using Wikipedia wisely

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 14, 2009

Wikipedia is in constant use around the world today, and nearly all of us use it as a frontline source of information now.  Somewhere, I have read that while there can be inaccuracies, research showed that there were actually fewer errors in Wikipedia than in the Britannica, especially for more recent information.  Well, maybe that depends on the entry.  Wikipedia’s team of scrutineers monitor contentious topics (e.g. Israel/Palestine) and sometimes ‘lock’ them so that changes have to pass scrutiny; sometimes there is just a warning to be wary, as there was when I used the entry on Muhammed Ali  as a source for one of my students who had chosen him as a subject for our current Biography unit of work.   Overall, I find it remarkably helpful, especially when seeking information about countries that don’t feature so much in US/UK encyclopaedias – not least Australia!  Some of the entries are excellent, and have been written with clarity and expertise, as I found when I wanted to know more about Modernism, (see my post about it at ANZLitLovers). 

But there can be pitfalls, and I am indebted to my good friend Sue Terry, from Whispering Gums, for the following advice about using Wikipedia wisely.  All students should be made aware of these tips for sorting out the good from the bad:

  • check the footnotes/references: good Wikipedia articles cite their sources, not just as references at the end of the article, but in-line at the point statements are made.
  • make sure the sources are valid: look at the domain names (such as dot gov and dot edu) and the authority of the person or organisation behind that source. Blogs, for example, are great to read but they are not necessarily a reliable source for an encyclopedia article.
  • look for multiple sources: these can provide a double-check on statements made, particularly the more controversial ones
  • check that the sources themselves don’t cite each other: circular referencing can be common in the on-line information world.
  • look under the “Discussion” tab: this is where articles are assessed (though these are not always up to date) and where discussion about the article occurs – contentious issues, exclusion versus inclusion of information, definition of terms, etc, can be discussed here.
  • look under the “History” tab: while many Wikipedia editors are anonymous or semi-anonymous, you can get a sense of who has been involved and the level of their activity and involvement.
  • note any tags on the articles: editors tag articles that have problems, such as poor or no citation of sources, incomplete or minimal content, and so on. Some of this may be obvious but sometimes these tags can clue you in to how useful the article may be, where its weaknesses are.


Posted in Learning and teaching, School Library stuff | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

Prep unit of work: VELS Level 1, Wild Animals

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 11, 2009

Have uploaded a new unit for VELS Level 1 on the Goodies to Share page. It’s called Wild Animals and its focus is on introducing non-fiction to Preps.

Posted in Learning and teaching, Resources to share, School Library stuff | Tagged: | Comments Off on Prep unit of work: VELS Level 1, Wild Animals

Encouragement, praise and rewards

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 11, 2009

Today I stumbled on a really interesting article about the place of encouragement, praise and rewards in the classroom on the UK TES site. The article is called Good for You and it explores some research that says praising students for a job well done may be counter-productive in the long run…. 

Punishment, we all know, rarely solves anything and most of us spend our teaching day encouraging, praising and rewarding students in order to try and help them achieve their goals…

But what if we are creating a culture that precludes children from developing a sense of pride or satisfaction from a job well done? What if ‘rewards inflation’ means that children are no longer content with a sticker or a smile?

Read the article, it’s food for thought.

(Had to laugh about the schools that were offering iPods and mountain bikes and spending £30,000 on rewards!  Imagine having a school budget that meant you could afford to do that!)

Posted in Learning and teaching | Tagged: | Comments Off on Encouragement, praise and rewards

Why Wikis are wonderful!

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 4, 2009

On a day when I had all kinds of grief with the library server, a Prep tantrum and a flood of spam from an Educational DVD supplier, I also had one of those magic teaching moments when it’s all worthwhile.

Years 3 & 4 are doing projects on Australian Farming and although the plan was that they would research agricultural products such as cheese and honey, two groups chose to learn about chocolate and chewing-gum. Well, why not, if that’s what they’re interested in, I thought.  We had a couple of books about these topics: Chewing Gum, and Chocolate, both by Natalie Jane Prior (published by Hodder Children’s Books) so I thought it would be okay.

Alas, while these are great books,  the text is a bit difficult for primary students of this age group.  I thought the solution would be to set up a Rollyo search to help these students find appropriate information online, but couldn’t find anything that was easy enough….

Wiki chewinggumwiki chocolateSo I decided to write a wiki page myself on my new LisaHillSchoolStuff Wiki.  It took over an hour, because I didn’t know much myself about how chewing gum and chocolate were made, but it was worth every minute to see the kids’ reactions.  They had been struggling with the books and perhaps were regretting their choice, and then suddenly the task became easy.  They were rapt!  I had the Chocolate group using the circulation desk computer, with a laptop beside them so that they could write their newfound facts straight into the Inspiration template I’d made, while the Chewing Gum group did the same in the adjacent ICT lab and the rest of the groups were in the library classroom.  (We have large windows everywhere, and there were other teachers in the lab so there was plenty of supervision even without me racing around from one group to another. )

Quote of the day was, ‘It’s like information that’s written for grownups but it’s easy enough to read’.

BTW #1 I can’t upload the Inspiration template I designed for this task to EduBlogs, but if anyone wants a copy, leave a comment with a return email address and I will email it to you.  It will only work if you have Inspiration 7 or above.

BTW #2 Just in case you’re wondering why the children needed a laptop and a computer and used them in a different workspace, it was because the network was down and the WiFi was misbehaving. (There had been some sort of problem beyond our control in the city yesterday and it’s not fully resolved).  The children couldn’t access the work they’d done the previous week which was stored on the library drive, and while the internet was working on some but not all of the computers in the lab, it wouldn’t work in the library at all.   So I’d had to race around at recess with a USB and install the template into My Documents on each of my five laptops, so that the children could start again and save their new work in the laptop’s My Docs, so that come what may, at least next week they’ll be able to get at their work.  This is a reality that teachers have to deal with all the time – no matter how creative and innovative and keen we are, we need reliable IT to make it all happen.  

I’m hoping that if other staff join me in writing kid-friendly information pages, this Wiki will become a really useful resource.

Posted in Learning and teaching, School Library stuff | Comments Off on Why Wikis are wonderful!

Assistive technology in the classroom: ICT for students with literacy problems

Posted by Lisa Hill on May 31, 2009

I went to two sessions at the ICTEV Conference that explored software that enhances learning for kids with literacy problems, and was impressed.  More than that, I think that any education system that is serious about making provision for all students (and has jazzy little slogans like ‘every child, every opportunity’ ) ought to provide funding for every school to have access to this type of software.  It ought to be installed on every computer used by students, including in secondary schools.  Make it cheap, and make it mandatory.

These sessions were presented by Yvonne Lynch, Jo Evans, and Pat Minton from SPELD, and Mary Delahunty from St James PS,  (not the journalist Mary Delahunty!)

Of the programs I saw, I was most impressed by

TextHelp is an interface which works across many programs, with its own toolbar at the top of the monitor screen.

TextHelp toolbarThis program will

  • convert text to speech, reading aloud, for example, from a web search on Wikipedia;
  • check spelling, offering not only alternative spellings but also dictionary meanings of each alternative so that students choose the right one;
  • sort out homophone confusion;
  • predict words from even the most bizarre invented spelling;
  • and more.

The reason I think this program should be standard equipment in schools is not just because research shows that 20% of students anywhere everywhere have learning difficulties.  It’s also because here in Victoria we have a large Non English Speaking Background student population, for whom this program has huge potential.  When the student is using any MS Office program, TextHELP can intercede to help them with pronunciation, grammar, idiom and spelling.  It can help with study skills like summarising – and solve the plagiarism problem with the click of a mouse.  You have to see it at work to see the possibilities – it really is amazing.

I was lucky enough to win the door prize, which was a demo copy of Dragon Naturally Speaking. This is speech recognition software which is ideal for people with dyslexia and is a million times better than the version that comes with MS Word.  It has perfect spelling, and once it ‘learns’ your voice you can dictate email, spreadsheets and documents.  Although it doesn’t work for everyone with a speech disability, it can in some cases also learn to recognise their speech so it is sometimes a brilliant tool for people with physical disabilities.   What I really liked about it was that you can dictate a sentence, and then tell the computer to ‘scratch that’ – and it does!

This software also has possibilities for mainstream students (or adults).  Speech can be recorded on a digital voice recorder and then when you connect it to the PC, it automatically downloads and transcribes the recording.  I could take a DVR with me when I walk the dogs in the morning, dictate a chapter of The Great Australian Novel as I go round the block, and Dragon would transcribe it straight to text for me!  (I wonder what Dragon would make of the barking when we go past the big shaggy dog on the corner LOL).

I really do admire the software developers who create these wonderful tools that support kids with special needs!  Contact Jo at EdSoft for more information – and when you’ve checked out the programs, then contact

if you agree that these programs should be in every school.

Posted in Conferences Attended, Learning and teaching, Opinion | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

More than Blogs

Posted by Lisa Hill on May 30, 2009

There’s More to Blogs than Blogging was a great presentation, all about moving on from simple blogging to more sophisticated use, and you can check out the presentation through this Wiki link.

Oh no, I’m running out of netbook battery!

(I must remember to bring the charger next time…)

PS From home, on Sunday.

This really was an inspirational session – and I nearly didn’t go to it because I was tired and had already been to a session on blogging!

John Pierce from Salty Solutions Educational Consultancy and Rick Kayler-Thomson from Bellaire PS had so many wonderful ideas, it’s hard to know where to begin.  I loved the Passion Projects which have led to students continuing to blog on their area of interest even after leaving the school and going on to secondary college. Pete and Byro Films shows an extraordinary level of competence with animation and game-making – (and the Basketball game is horribly addictive till you figure out how to score a goal)!  The Goss is a repository of student short talks on all kinds of jazzy subjects from dust storms to the Roswell Incident, all downloadable as podcasts.  You can tell that the kids love doing this….could I get my act together to do something similar with the talks my Y5&6 students are doing for their Fame (Biography) projects?  I shall have a play around on my practice blog to see if I can learn how to do it in time.  (Having a practice blog is another idea recommended at the conference – I’ve had one since I did the Web 2.o course last year, and I’ve kept it to use whenever there’s something I want to try without mucking up my real blogs).  The Puzzler Blog is another clever idea that is worth a try as well.

A talented and enthusiastic teacher combined with consultancy expertise = fantastic opportunities for kids.  I am so impressed by this team!

Check out John’s blog as well.

Posted in Conferences Attended, Learning and teaching | Tagged: | 2 Comments »