This week I spent four days in Blackall, doing writing with the kids at Blackall State School. To give you an idea of how big Australia is (which we all forget sometimes!) it took me about 7 hours and two flights to get there, and the same to get home to Melbourne. I was amazed to see how green it was. When the rain comes to the outback, it really does burst into life, with long grass, things flowering and everything fresh and sprouting.
The sign above outside the school reminded me of those church signs you used to see: The End is Coming! Hopefully the kids at Blackall didn't feel like that about me!
Blackall is, of course, the home of the Black Stump which was originally used by land surveyors to rest their surveying instruments on. It's a common saying in Australia that if you are going a long, long way outback, you're heading beyond the Black Stump. Never thought I'd actually see it (it's not the original but the spirit of it is there in this one).
I was very lucky to be taken out to a nearby cattle and sheep property to meet the owner and have a look around. Their shearing shed (above) is very old - many of the main beams and posts are made out of logs, and it was easy to imagine the pens full of sheep, the shearers bending over with their shears and the wool spread across the classing tables.
I also met a lovely colt who proceeded to nibble my arm and make me feel welcome!
And while we were there, the sun went down and I got a couple of beautiful sunset photos. On the trip out there and back, we saw lots of kangaroos, some bush turkeys and big lizards (dragons). A big thank you to Karla for looking after me so well!
The kids at the school did some great writing. After my previous rant here on this blog about Naplan testing, it was interesting to go into a school and see how it affects both teachers and students. I hope that what I said was helpful, and that my strategies were useful!
I'm about to go to an international conference on the teaching of writing, and there will be several sessions on the issues surrounding how to grade creative writing - what criteria you use, what level you're aiming at your students achieving, and how on earth anyone can analytically grade originality. I'm looking forward to hearing what other teachers think about it.