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

Posts Tagged ‘SLAV Conference’

Seeing Things Differently: SLAV conference Keynote address by Dr Mark Norman

Posted by Lisa Hill on November 13, 2009

Dr Mark Norman is the author of a number of books in my school library: Birds in Suits, The Octopus’s Garden, The Great Barrier Reef, Sharks with Attitude, and Living in the Freezer and we love them all.  He’s passionate about the idea of encouraging children to escape into reality, and while he acknowledges that kids are fascinated by the Lord of the Rings monsters and fantasy creatures, he thinks the natural world is intriguing for kids.  He showed us some wonderful slides of deep sea animals that are ugly grotesque and gross, but they’re beautiful too.

So Dr Norman wants us to see things differently – to look around us more than we do.  He’s a very entertaining speaker, and a great role model for kids becoming interested in science.  He says we have to get our eye in – because sometimes we can’t see things because we’re not looking in the right way.  He himself thought he had failed in his first research project on the Great Barrier Reef because he failed to see movement of camouflaged octopi.

Dr Normans’ books for kids are all based on his research but they’re not dumbed down.  They’re predicated on the idea that the visual is critical to not only engaging interest but also providing information that is critical to  understanding.  There’s a narrative behind the photos too: he told us about one photo that took ages and ages to get because the octopus kept squititng ink to avoid the photographer.  The creepy details of these creatures behaviour is of course very appealing to kids and these real stories can compete the silly stuff kids see in the popular media: the important thing is to have this information in kid friendly language.

At Black Dog books, Dr Norman learned to

  • play with stereotypes
  • space and place
  • time

The Shark Book, Fish with Attitude: challenges the stuff about sharks being a terrible threat to humans: gentle giants like the whale shark and tiny little sharks in the deep that never get near humans.  We are much more of the threat than they are to us.  Koala the Real Story challenges the lack of detail about some that we think we know a lot about. Koalas have huge noses because they need to sniff out which of the leaves they eat are the least toxic.  (This book is due for release soon).  He adds jazzy facts to his text comparing the scale of the koala embryo and its mother to a human child and multi storey buildings.  Let’s call creatures silky instead of slimy; let’s recognise the engineering feats of the house fly.  (Hmm, not too sure about that one!) There are many stories to tell about these creatures…

Place and scale can be explored and you’ll find living creatures anywhere, even places that seem like sterile concrete deserts.  In the inner city, planting a few native plants and the creatures will come.  Get to know your local creatures and then build on that. Another new books is about the Deep, down through the different layers of our oceans, exploring the most common creatures on our planet that most people don’t know about because we can’t go deeper than 6km into the deep.  These books involve complex visual literacy, including scales to show how deep the creatures are, graphics, text and striking background.  Another forthcoming book explodes the myth than penguins and polar bears live together: these will be vertical books, not horizontal…

Loved his suggestion that an ovenight sleepover or a twilight activity at school can introduce children to their local creatures that only come out at night!

Interesting aso to compare the local area: the time scale at your own place during the indigenous period, and during pre human history.

Design and accessibility for weak readers incudes non linera narrative, side bars, storng graphics and making information available in mutliple ways.  The Octopus’s Garden even includes DVDs showing film without a narration, which draws kids back to the book including the fact files in the back of the book which can be read by adults interpreting the books for children.

Kids and Climate Change: inevitable that it will affect us but Al Gore’s book was focussed on the problem and not enough on the solution.  We need to give kids the idea that they are part of the solution.  The narrative that’s needed will empower children so that they do what they can…

This entire presentation was given in a darkened Cleminger Theatre: it was a rivetting slideshow featuring the amazing creatures that Dr Norman talked about.  This post can’t p ossiblyconvey the power of the visual images that he stressed were so important – you had to be here!

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Seeing Things Differently, SLAV Conference 2009

Posted by Lisa Hill on November 13, 2009

Blogged live at the conference, so typos and errors will be tidied up later at home!

The focus of this conference is to explore multiliteracies and visual learning, and so the NGV as venue is ideal.  The opening address reminded us of the interdisciplinary aspects of learning in the 21st century.  Learning through the visual arts is championed by not only educational  experts, but is also recognised by political leaders such as Barack Obama.  The arts teaches children that there are multiple solutions to probelms, and make vivid that neither words nor numbers exhaust everything we can know, especially when considering feelings and emotions.

The growth of technology saturates everyday life, and children are swamped by it.  42% of children prefer to learn visually, and this is a statistic we can’t ignore.  Linking learning with the arts, at the NGV or any other gallery is therefore a valuable learning experience that is intellectually challenging outside of the school walls.  It enriches children by teaching tolerance, flexibility and originality.

Michelle Stockley from the NGV talked about narrative and story-telling.  Her first example was the wonderful painting of The banquet of Cleopatra, and she reminded us that while most people can correctly interpret the status of the painting’s participants and other visual cues, but the story behind it – Cleopatra’s bet with markl Anthony needs to be told – or they can read the labels on the wall at the gallery, or the touch screens but these involved not just the ability to read but also the knowledge about where to find it.   Basic museum literacy involves reading objects and full competence means being able to draw on all the resources of the gallery to make sense of the experience.  A museum literate visitor can not only make sense of the pciture but also its place in the gallery – the 18th century gallery that it’s sited in.  It means being able to compare it with other paintings around it including works by the same and other artists.

Michelle referred to Gombirch’s The Story of Art, which was enduringly popular because it was a narrative about art that people found easy to enjoy and understand,  But there were voices missing: indigenous artists, women, photographers and other forms of new media.  The narrative view of the development has been challenged in recent years, and is now more inclusive.  

Sometimes the story behind an acquisition is fascinating.  How did we come to have Tiepolo’s painting here at the NGV?  It came on the market because the USSR thought its subject matter degenerate, and sold it to fund its Stalinist programs.  Negotiating its purchase was therefore politically incorrect, but we bought it anyway.

Critical literacy is important too.  Some of the nationalistic paintings that are so popular omitted women’s experience and the indigenous experience.  Diana Jones, shearing the Rams 2001 appropriates Tom Robert’s pitcture and puts in indigenous shearers in the picture.  Some recent exhibitions place side by side with iconic paintings that we know, different topical views of the same issue.

Stories from behind the scenes are fascinating too.  The restoration of  Arthur Streeton’s Spring involved removing stripping off Estapol over many months (and you can read about this online if you Google “The fine Art of Stripping” though it may be safer to use Arthur Streeton’s Spring as a search term!)  Michelle also explained that the way an exhibition is set up – the colour of the gallery walls, the sounds and lighting used all contribute to the narrative of the art works.

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SLAV Conference: Concurrent sessions & Featured Address

Posted by Lisa Hill on November 16, 2008

chipper-cover-newThe first of the concurrent sessions I went to was a presentation by Jan Letta.  Jan is a wildlife photographer who has made it her life’s work to photograph endangered animals in their natural habitat and bring their stories to life for children.  She has produced some very fine little books about lions, cheetahs, tigers and so on, in a series called True to Life Books – each with simple text that makes them perfect for beginner readers.  The ABC persuaded her to document her adventures in Africa, India and China in a magnificent hardcover book, Diary of a Wildlife Photographer but what I found interesting was Jan’s explanation about the economics of publishing books like hers.  The cost of including full-colour photographs is prohibitive for the educational publishing market, but she is able to produce them at a reasonable price because she designs and publishes them herself, selling them at school visits and on the internet.  Another example of cottage industry thriving on the web!

garden-of-empressAfter lunch there was a most interesting presentation by Gabrielle Wang, author of The Garden of Empress Cassia, The Pearl of Tiger Bay, and the forthcoming A Ghost in My Suitcase.  Gabrielle is of Chinese descent, and her fiction explores belonging and shared cultures.  I liked what she had to say about imagination – our culture tends to disparage it, but everything man-made that we see was once imagination.  Reading is an act of imagination that should be cherished.

jane-godwinIn the second concurrent session, I heard Jane Godwin’s talk:  Publishing and Writing: How These Worlds Connect. There were lots of auditory distractions in the Function Space – the clinking of crockery in the cafe, and very noisy contruction work outside.  It seems odd that a space like this in an award winning design like Federation Square couldn’t be closed off properly to reduce the noise. Did the architects and designers really think that curtains would achieve this?

Anyway, Jane soldiered on, and I liked what she had to say.  She’s not a fan of what she called ‘heavy-handed social issue picture books’ and I certainly agree.  She says that even though they are well-intentioned,  such books are cruel to little children, because they’re a lesson not a story.  Good literature is not didactic.  If we want to explore these issues we should use fairy tales because they are removed from the child’s real world.  She believes that young people don’t understand hindsight, and therefore although horrors can be examined, they should usually be righted.  Happy endings are psychologically important for children – and why not?

little-catJane’s work includes Little Cat and the Big Red Bus; The True Story of Mary Who Wanted to Stand on her Head, Millie Starts School, and the young adult novel Falling From Grace.  There’s also the non-fiction title When Elephants Lived in the Sea which looks as if it could be useful for the Life on Earth unit that I am currently doing with Year 5 & 6 because it explores evolution.

Little Cat and the Big Red Bus is an interesting story, because it features a male bus driver caring for a little one who falls asleep on the school bus.  Jane told us that she was asked to change the gender of the driver, but she refused: she wanted to depict the kindness of strangers who care for us when we need it as children, and she wanted to show that men can be good and kind.  I think it is a beautiful book, and I think it is very sad that marketers are so paranoid about child abuse that they are spooked by an image of a man carrying a little child to safety.

Jane finished up by reminding us of something that Ian McEwan wrote after 9/11: Imagining yourself into the lives of another is the beginning of compassion and morality.  It was a most engaging session.

After that, I did something really foolish: I went to the wrong session.  Instead of going to E-Readers and E-texts which I was really looking forward to, I went by mistake to ACMI 2 and not ACMI 1.  It was all about changing the reading culture at a very challenging school in the northern suburbs, but it was not what I wanted to go to! By the time I realised what I’d done, it was too late to barge into the right session so I slithered out of my seat and took an early train home.

Posted in Australian Children's Literature, Authors & Illustrators, Conferences Attended, Learning and teaching, Opinion, Professional Development, School Library stuff | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

SLAV Conference: Tohby Riddle

Posted by Lisa Hill on November 16, 2008

This keynote address was brilliant. tohby-riddleTohby Riddle is a wonderful author-illustrator of quirky picture books that never fail to engage children’s interest.   He uses literature and art to break out of habitual thinking and enter the world of imagination – with humour, enchantment and surprise.

Fiction, he says, is a word that can be used perjoratively.  The world created must not seem false – it must feel authentic and real.  To create his worlds, he starts out with a real situation, then mixes in the imaginative elements in small steps.  While his animals are metaphors for humans, he says it’s important when anthromorphising animals not to overdo it – he tries to keep his animals as close to reality as possible, and he retains their essential natures: in The Great Escape from the City Zoo, for example, they don’t talk and their undoing happens because they are true to their natures.  (The elephant can’t resist playing in the fountain). 

irving-the-magicianTohby recognises that sometimes the ’emotional feel’ of a book is what stays with us, not the facts, and he gave the example of Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. I think this is certainly true of Irving the Magician. I read this just recently to Years 3 and 4, and what stays with me from the brilliant images and simple text is the powerful idea that a child who believes in himself can wreak magic on lonely, empty lives around him, but what is heart-achingly real is the sadness of their lives before Irving achieves his little miracle.

great-escapeTohby’s art work owes some of its technical brilliance to his studies in architecture. He pointed out that in architecture, every line that’s drawn is something to be built, in 3D. So there’s a discipline to his drawings and even when a situation is quite zany, the pictures seem very realistic. He talked at length about the influences on his art, and in the Great Escape from the City Zoo in particular. I loved the way he references 1930s New York architecture with the Empire State Building and the anteater, but he’s also included ideas from the Steve McQueen film, stills from B/W film noir, and the Beatles Abbey Rd image. There are Nighthawks and Homer Simpson memes, and when his animals set off in the truck there’s even a reference to the John Steinbeck Grapes of Wrath film scene .

There are other titles by this brilliant author that I must buy for our library when I have some more money next year: The Tip at the End of Our Street; The Singing Hat; and The Royal Guest.

Books, says Tohby, are old technology you can hold in your hand to go to another world, and return to this one better for it.

This was the best session of the conference.

Posted in Authors & Illustrators, Book Reviews, Conferences Attended, Opinion, School Library stuff | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »