Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Finding the Window

In my experience a good lesson uses a variety of teaching strategies to capture the interest of each individual learner in the class. The time sequence needs to be flexible and reflect the interest of the group as a whole. When teaching a second language, I generally change to a new activity every 5-10 minutes, depending on the age and ability of the group. If the class is engaged in the activity then I allow them to continue. But each individual learner comes to the situation with different experiences to the others and they will react differently to each new activity as it is introduced. What interests one child may not interest another.

When a child is 'interested', when he/she is 'engaged', then that is your chance as a teacher or parent. That is your Window of Opportunity.

For very young children, children for whom English is a second language and children with learning difficulties, this window of opportunity offers them the chance to succeed. Finding this window of opportunity for children with learning difficulties can also be the key to teaching them to read.

Recently I came across The Fun Funnel, a picture book written by Robbie Cameron, an Australian author from Byron Bay. This picture book speaks, sings and dances across the page. It appeals to the visual and auditory learner on a variety of levels. It offers children a window; children with learning difficulties who have not previously understood that those squiggly marks on the page are in fact the words of the story.

To achieve this Robbie Cameron has successfully taken the karaoke idea and transformed it into a picture book with DVD.

The book is displayed on the screen as it is 'read', showing the turning of each page etc, while the child holds the book. What impressed me most was how each word 'bounced' on the page as it was read aloud in a clear Australian accent, making it obvious to the child which word they were up to. The cheerful illustrations are also animated, bringing to life the light-hearted tale of a grumpy old man who (like the Grinch who stole Christmas) tries to steal all the fun.

I tested The Fun Funnel out on my niece and nephew, who are 2 and 5 years old. First I gave them the book and as avid book lovers they devoured it while I read it aloud a couple of times. We then watched the DVD together with the book and that is when the window opened. The words on the page started moving and my nephew followed with his finger on the word in the book. Later that day my sister found him copying the words from the book onto a page. He had never done that before.

The Fun Funnel has proven to be successful with children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Downs Syndrome. The parent of one boy with Aspergers had this to say about The Fun Funnel: "The jumping words have sparked his interest in individual words and he often points to words in other books now and asks What's that?" There are many more similar testimonials on Robbie Cameron's website with an overwhelmingly positive response from parents.

If you have a child who has difficulty reading or is just starting to read, then The Fun Funnel may be just the window of opportunity you are looking for.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Picture Book Illustrating

At the moment I'm working on picture book illustrations for the CYA competition. Three illustrations with accompanied text (mine) have to be submitted by the 30th June. I'm not sure that I'll make it, but what I like about this comp is that it forces me to be still and focus. With three weeks left to go, one illustration is pretty much ready and without too much distraction (from family etc) the other two should come together in time.

I am working in watercolour and colour pencil as I like the soft effect against the white paper. Jan Ormerod, Freya Blackwood and Julie Vivas are three of my favourite picture book artists, whose depiction of children has influenced me. My characters have their own 'look' and I am slowly coming to recognise this as my style. This style has been with me since forever and no matter how much more experienced I am now, this 'look' keeps emerging. It annoyed me at first, but now I own it. My characters can border on being cartoony as I did draw a lot of cartoons all through childhood and into my twenties, even my wedding invitation.

For the last three years I have been under the tutelage of Tony Champ at The Gold Coast Art School. Tony used to be the resident illustrator for the Courier Mail and Sunday Mail , during which time he won the coveted 'Stanley Award' for Black and White Illustration three times. He has also taught illustration at Illustration House in Brisbane with the likes of Gregory Rogers.

Last year I entered the CYA comp and was placed 7th in the illustration category. The illustrations were done for my picture book manuscript Roly-poly Baby and show a cheeky one year old climbing out of his cot. My daughter did this repeatedly and it is also my first childhood memory. The illustrations are on Arches smooth 300gm watercolour paper.

I really love drawing children. I hope you enjoy these ones above from last year...