Friday, 11 March 2016

Somerset Celebration of Literature 2016: Gabrielle Tozer

The Somerset Celebration of Literature is a festival hosted by Somerset College dedicated to the celebration of all things reading and writing. 

On Thursday 10 March I was fortunate to accompany a Year 10 cohort on an excursion I didn't have to organise. This will be understood as something of a blessing by those readers who happen to be teachers who have at one point or another attempted to extricate students from the confines of the classroom to provide them with an experience that cannot be had any other way.

This is the first of three posts reflecting on the authors I saw on the day. Each is carving out their place in the world with a mix of passion, purpose and persistence.

Gabrielle Tozer - Awkward moments are hilarious

The first author of the day was Gabrielle Tozer, an author, journalist, editor and copywriter whose passion for the written word was on display for all to see. With two Young Adult novels already under her belt, a third on the way in 2016, a picture book in development and a 2015 recipient of an Inky Award, Tozer lamented the fact that she was regularly asked about her beginnings as a writer.

That was until a journalist asked about her 'Origin Story.'

Just like Superman, Tozer was now the subject of an epic tale and donned the requisite cape. Beginning with a recount of her DIY approach to magazine publishing, she passed through her degree in communications, creative writing and journalism and the various writing and editing jobs she has completed as a freelance writer before arriving at the process of writing books.

Flying by the seat of your pants seems like a tough way to write a book given the amount of words required, yet that is exactly how Tozer completed her first novel. The second time around she decided to use a more organised approach, plotting out the entire story on index cards (as shown below).

It is these passing insights into process that, in my opinion, are the most valuable takeaways for the students in attendance. It is all well and good for a teacher in the classroom to say that attempting to 'just write' a story will probably be a hard slog. Most teachers at some point will probably suggest a more structured approach to planning the key elements of the story. And there are without doubt many students who will actually heed the advice. But hearing the same information out of the mouth of someone whose livelihood depends on their ability to get it right certainly can't hurt.
Have taken to wearing my Superman cape in front of an audience of 150 teenagers at Somerset Celebration of Literature....
Posted by Gabrielle Tozer on Thursday, March 10, 2016

While the cape was probably a last-minute addition following her visit to Movie World earlier in the week, Tozer's selection of props for her presentation really brought her origin story to life. From the first editions of her self-made magazines to the German edition of her first novel, The Intern, it was wonderful for the audience to see tangible evidence of her journey.

To close the presentation, Tozer recounted a personal tale that would mortify most teenagers. I won't spoil any future talks by providing the details here, but the takeaway for the students was, in the fullness of time, an appreciation for the quirky experiences that make up our lives can open up a myriad of storytelling possibilities.

I feel like these photos deserve some kind of story?

Go on then.

I've got nothing.

Well this is awkward...

And hilari...


Saturday, 8 August 2015

Ipswich One-Act Play Festival 2015 - Youth Results

Best Play: The Higgledy-Piggledy Whooping Book of Tales, Dramaworks

Best Director: Louisa Snelling, The Higgledy-Piggledy Whooping Book of Tales, Dramaworks

Best Youth Actor: Lachlan Smith as Narrator & Nora in Tracking The Gang, KSP Theatre Inc. (Juniors)

Best Youth Actress: Anastasia Baggley as TW (The Witch) in The Higgledy-Piggledy Whooping Book of Tales, Dramaworks

Best Supporting Youth Actor: Dalton Webb as Eric in The Gallery, Rivermount College

Best Supporting Youth Actress: Courtney Neville as Pirate Pete in The Higgledy-Piggledy Whooping Book of Tales, Dramaworks

Best Youth Actor Minor Role: Robert Ashworth as Ant (Male) in The Gallery, Rivermount College

Best Youth Actress Minor Role: Pascalle Fargnoli as Katara in The Higgledy-Piggledy Whooping Book of Tales, Dramaworks

Youth Incentive Awards: Erin Kelly as Izzy in The Higgledy-Piggledy Whooping Book of Tales, Dramaworks; Brooke Springall as Prince Daniel in The Higgledy-Piggledy Whooping Book of Tales, Dramaworks; Vanessa Chertes as Ant (Female) in The Gallery, Rivermount College

Adjudicator: Lesley Stevenson

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Beenleigh Festival of One-Act Plays 2015 - Youth Results

Best Play: Us and Them, BTG JETS
2nd Best Play: The Gallery, Rivermount College
Best Director: Benjamin Bray, Us and Them, BTG JETS
Best Actor - Male: Robert Ashworth as Ant (Male) in The Gallery, Rivermount College
Best Actor - Female: Anastasia Baggley as TW (The Witch) in The Higgledy-Piggledy Whooping Book of Tales, Dramaworks
Best Supporting Actor - Male: Dalton Webb as Eric in The Gallery, Rivermount College
Best Supporting Actor - Female: Courtney Neville as Pirate Pete in The Higgledy-Piggledy Whooping Book of Tales, Dramaworks
Adjudicator's Awards: BTG JETS for costumes; Mikalea Cohen as Zee in The Gallery, Rivermount College; Dayna Van Heerdyn as Fairy Godmother in The Higgledy Piggledy Whooping Book of Tales, Dramaworks

Adjudicator: Nigel Munro-Wallis

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Somerset Celebration of Literature

The Somerset Celebration of Literature is a festival hosted by Somerset College dedicated to the celebration of all things reading and writing.

With more than 30 authors from around Australia in attendance and over 100 individual events scheduled across the three days of the festival, attendees have the opportunity to interact with authors, illustrators and each other as they explore the art of storytelling through a variety of workshops and presentations.

Having been fortunate enough to attend last year and experienced the energy and passion that Danny Katz and Tiffany Hall bring to their writing first hand, I was pleased to be able to take advantage of the opportunity to attend again. These are the lessons I took away from the day.

Enthusiasm is contagious

Over the course of the day it became evident that even the toughest nuts had been cracked by the enthusiasm, passion and skill of the authors we had seen. On a day when temperatures were well into the 30's and the audience could have easily drifted off to the sound of the fans whirring above their heads, the first two sessions in The Great Hall conducted by George Ivanoff and R.A. Spratt respectively seemed to fly by thanks to their enthusiasm for their craft and a willingness and capacity to share it with the audience. The relief provided by the air-conditioning in the final venue for the day afforded Richard Newsome the opportunity to take a more nuanced, yet equally effective approach.

Ability is no barrier to enjoyment

Ivanoff told a wonderful story at the beginning of his presentation about what it means to be a reader.

Growing up, Ivanoff was a slow reader. And a reluctant reader. It is easy to attribute the latter as a result of the former.

Now Ivanoff is...still a slow reader. But he made it clear that he reads books as fast as his self-described slow reading rate will allow him to.

The key was finding content that he found engaging. Once he was hooked, in his case by Science Fiction, his ability was no barrier to his enjoyment.

A little structure goes a long way

The final act of Ivanoff's presentation was a spellbinding piece of structured improvisation. Having established a basic story structure he developed in partnership with the audience, he proceeded to weave a tale that we all knew the ending to (because we had decided what it would be just minutes earlier) in such a manner that by the time the ending was 'revealed', the audience cheered for their hero (Bob) and the successful completion of his quest.

The talent of Ivanoff as a presenter and a storyteller certainly contributed to the success of the story as an event to be experienced, but the simplicity of the structure ensured that there was little opportunity for it to fail.

All shapes and sizes

When R.A. Spratt took to the stage, she did so with a bugle, a hat and a brief history of writing up to 40 30-word jokes a day for three years at Good News Week.

What was interesting about Spratt's presentation was her approach to storytelling seemed a lot like I imagine her perfectly-crafted 30-word jokes. Similar to Ivanoff, the structure was central to the success of the ideas being communicated. Each anecdote was bite-size with a closing line that wrapped it up brilliantly.

On first impressions...
"When you have a hat, people look at your hat and then your face."

On the difficulties associated with being a creative writer...
"Knowing what day of the week it is can be a big issue."

On getting people's attention...
"I highly recommend getting a bugle."

Newsome was at the other end of the scale in terms of his storytelling. In contrast with Spratt's quick-fire stories, Newsome had a meandering approach that just kept drawing you in with characters, details and events that seemed to flow effortlessly from moment to the next. In the 40 minute presentation we got as far as the train trip he took to a small fishing village in India as part of his research for one of his book. And such was the nature of our engagement, we were happy to go on the journey wherever he was happy to take us.

Getting it right takes time

Newsome had some home truths to offer to the students about drafting. All of the authors had mentioned the drafting process at some point in their presentation, but Newsome had the benefit of a 240-page notebook, filled with the first draft of one of this book. There was an audible moan when the students realised that three months of work would produce just a draft. For some of them, the draft is the work that is produced the night before it is due, then roundly ignored until the night before the final is due. That you would dedicate so much time to something knowing full well that it will still be incomplete when you have 'finished' it was totally incompatible with their usual approach to writing.

There is no substitute for being in the presence of a professional

Excursions are incredibly disruptive to the structure of the traditional school day. The students miss out on lessons in their regular subjects and it is difficult to validate or quantify whether the experience has been successful. Having said that, there is little doubt in my mind that the value of being in the same space as a professional working at their craft is worth the effort that it takes to get them out of the classroom.

As Behrendt and Franklin, authors of A Review of Research on School Field Trips and Their Value in Education highlight in their conclusion:

The outcome of an experience depends on a person’s interests, motivation, life circumstances at that time, needs, and prior experiences and knowledge (Rennie, 2007). Field trips offer an opportunity to motivate and connect students to appreciate and understand classroom concepts, which increase a student’s knowledge foundation, promoting further learning and higher level thinking strategies. With understanding comes confidence and intrinsic motivation.

The final word

Reading fiction makes you a better person.

It teaches you empathy.

People are kooky.

There are lots of kooky people in the world.

R.A. Spratt

Monday, 2 February 2015


While listening to Episode 70 of the Osher G├╝nsberg Podcast with Stephen Herchen I found myself drawn to an example of creativity that could probably be applied to any field, but reminds me particularly of the developing works I see in the Drama classroom.

I've condensed the audio a little by removing some of the conversational elements so it sounds a little more declarative than it does in the original, but I don't think I've altered the intent of the words in any way.

How do you make something exist if it didn't exist previously? You have to start from something that you know. The elegance of the creative process is in being able to find or choose a starting point and then figure out how to manipulate what you have in order to produce a result.

And what of the result? How do you know you have achieved what you set out to achieve? You test it, even if you can't see what it is that you're testing. Throw some light on it and see how the light reacts.

Bringing it back to the classroom - my advice to students is to be prepared to show your work before you can see what it is that you're testing. By 'throwing some light' on your creation, you might just develop a better understanding of what it is that you've created.

Friday, 23 January 2015

LMS and Google Drive

The learning management system (LMS) that is a feature of the software package used at my school incorporates four different types of "learning objects":
  • Resource
  • Question
  • Online Test
  • Activity
Each learning object has different characteristics that are geared toward particular uses, however, today's post is about Resources.


Resource learning objects, once assigned to a group or a class, are available to students at all times during a reporting period. Resources assigned to a Question, Online Test or Activity learning object requires those respective learning objects to be assigned to a group or a class before being accessible. 

Despite the title, Resources are not actually resources, but placeholders or containers that reference a document, image, url, flash, audio or video object. Understanding that a 'resource' (according to the LMS) isn't actually the resource (the document, image, etc.) is crucial to establishing a workflow that takes into account the manner in which you can manipulate various elements that make up a 'resource'.

These are my workflows for the three main resource types I have used over the past couple of years.

Document: Create document > Export as PDF > Create the Resource in the LMS (including uploading the document).

Image: Create / Save image > Create the Resource in the LMS (including uploading the image).

URL: Create the Resource in the LMS, referencing the URL

Once a Resource is created, it can then be assigned to a class or group or added to one of the three remaining learning object categories as, unsurprisingly, a resource.

Once a resource is created, it is possible to edit it. As you can see from the workflows above, this means different things for different types of resources.

If you are the create of a URL resource, then editing the target of the URL is reflected automatically when a student follows the link from the LMS. The only reason you would need to edit a URL resource within the LMS would be if the URL changed.

Document and image edits both require an original file to be edited before being uploaded to the LMS resource as a replacement file.

As our school makes use of Google Apps for Education (GAFE), it is my intention this year to streamline the delivery of resources available via the LMS to be primarily URL based, as this will negate the need for double handling (editing and uploading replacement files) should edits be required in the resources I create.

By creating my resources in Google Drive and using the publish option available for a variety of object types, I can create URL resources within the LMS that will reference published objects in Google Drive allowing me to make changes to the original without having to worry about manually 'editing' the object within the LMS.

What do you think? It would be great to get some feedback on my proposed course of action. Feel free to comment below.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Where do good ideas come from?

"Chance favours the connected mind"

"Collisons between smaller hunches that come together to make something bigger than themselves."

"Good ideas need time to incubate."

"We have to create systems that allow the hunches to come together and turn into something bigger than the sum of their parts."

"So many new ways to connect and so many new ways to reach out and find other people who have that missing piece that will complete the idea we're working, or to stumble serendipitously across some amazing new piece of information that we can use to build and improve our own ideas."