Heart of the school – St Martin of Tours Primary Library

Today I was delighted to be invited by Kim Yeomans to visit her library at St Martin of Tours Primary School. Kim is a super teacher librarian with a massive heart who brings the library to life with the help of a library technician who comes once a week – although if you stepped into the library and looked around at the evidence of the wonderful things that take place there you would think that it was staffed by many more people.

As a secondary school teacher librarian, I appreciate stepping into a primary school library because it reminds me of all the hard work that occurs before students start secondary school. What I saw today was a beautiful space lovingly and thoughtfully created and recreated regularly for the pleasure of children who come to immerse themselves in the worlds of books and reading.

Kim’s library walls are creative, visual displays of the worlds that prep-grade 6 children step into when they read and create. It’s a warm, enticing and stimulating communal space with nooks here and there, soft seating and areas with tables and chairs inviting children to gather in small groups or as a class. Oversized 3 dimensional book characters, some created by children and parents,  are reminders of worlds that come to life through reading and shared activities.

This is a world in which you want to linger, snuggle into a beanbag or sunny corner with a view of trees, escape the mundane and make time stand still. The colourful reading chair seems to be shifting impatiently, ready for a story with an eager audience. What better environment than this to introduce a love of reading, fantasy, ideas and creative possibilities? What better place than this to grow literacies without the pain of prescribed lessons? Where would you find community as happily as in these walls?

Who would be mad enough to envisage a primary school without the library, without the teacher librarian whose role description and daily roster would intimidate the most hard working leading teacher? And yet there are schools who forget this – perhaps in the busyness of day to day routines or in the name of change and technologies – how absolutely precious and indispensable all primary school libraries are, just as they continue to be in secondary school and higher education.

Thank you, Kim, for inviting me into your gorgeous library and chatting to me about all the wonderful things you make happen for the children you love so much. You can read more about what happens in this library by reading the St Martin of Tours library blog.












Big Penguin and Panda come to visit our library

The multi-talented Sam Bi has kindly allowed his giant 3D paper origami animal figures, Penguin and Panda, to visit our library. They are nice and comfy on our shelves in the front of the library if you would like to come and see them.

Sam created them these beautiful paper sculptures with many, many small origami pieces. I can’t imagine how long it would have taken him!

We host a TeachMeet @MHS #tmmelb

Last Saturday we hosted a TeachMeet in the school library. A TeachMeet is an informal gathering of people working in the education sector coming together to share ideas and expertise. It’s a great way to hear about what educators are doing in the primary, secondary, tertiary and public (eg museums) sectors. TeachMeets happen all over the world and meetings are held wherever people are happy to host. The format is simple – you can turn up or you can volunteer to present for either 3 or 7 minutes. There is usually a break for refreshments halfway through and it’s also customary for the hosts to suggest a nearby venue for drinks or dinner after the Meet. And it’s free!

Using bots to teach kids coding (Steve Brophy)

You can see in the wiki that we had a decent number of people attending, from a range of educational backgrounds. I always find that, as a secondary school educator, I learn so much from the primary teachers, from e-learning leaders, from people who work in public libraries and museums. And since the sharing sessions are so short, there is time for what’s most important – the conversations. Many people are also on social media so it’s a good chance to keep in touch later on Twitter or through their blogs, for example.

Order of presentations (see TeachMeet link for shared presentations):

Steve Brophy @stevebrophy Ivanhoe Grammar School K-12: Paper and programming

Bernadette Mercieca @bernm9  Xavier College E-Learning coord/teacher: What are we doing to help early career teachers flourish?

Eleni Kyritsis @misskyritsis Firbank Grammar School: Student Inquiry

Jan Molloy @janpcim Immigration Museum P-tertiary:   #AskACurator Sept 16 Getting involved

Catherine Morton @gorokegirl Melbourne High School Teacher Librarian and Fiona Matthews Whitefriars College Lead Coach – Learning, Teaching and Technology : One Conversation at a Time: Peer Coaching

Kim Yeomans @kimyeo St Martin of Tours primary TL: Connecting with authors via Twitter.

Tania Sheko @taniatorikova Melbourne High School How to really get to know people online.

Mel Cashen @melcashen Princes Hill: My reflection from camp

Kristy Wood @Kristy_M_Wood Primary teacher K-6: Teacher wellbeing

If you are interested in learning more about the presentations – since you can’t really get much from the titles – I would encourage you to go to the wiki where some people have already shared links to their presentations next to their names in the program. I’m sure there will be more shared later so check in again.

When I wrote a blog post about my talk – how to really get to know people online – I shared it on Twitter with a few people whom I’d met in an online course (MOOC), Rhizo15. These were people I had mentioned in my post. The morning before the TeachMeet I noticed some feedback from these people (none of them in Australia) which I was able to quickly add to my slide presentation. It was a lovely example of how these relationships continue to evolve long after the course (MOOC) has finished. After the TeachMeet I noticed Kevin Hodgson had even created a comic for us – very special.

The best way to see some of the ideas and passion shared on this day is to look through the Storify below which captures some of the tweets and photos on Twitter.

[View the story “TeachMeet @MHS” on Storify]

Spelling Bee @MHS 2015

As I said last year, spelling is a serious sport at Melbourne High School. This year 10 competition drew crowds of enthusiastic and noisy spelling fans. Luckily for you, Reader, we caught some of the dramatic action on camera. Well done to all the finalists, and especially to Victor Fagundes of 10K who outspelled them all.

Poetry is dead – Staff vs Students Debate @MHS

So you missed the Students versus Staff Debate. Fear not, for we have at least some of it here in this blog post. Sadly two students were so relieved the debate was over that they threw their speeches into the bin. However we do still have speeches delivered by two of the teachers and one of the students, James Hayne, School Captain. Enjoy.

Poetry is dead was the topic for debate at Litfest 2015.

Representing the affirmative team were the teachers: Ms Amanda Carroll, Mr Sam Bryant and Mr Blair Mahoney.

Representing the negative team were the students: Alan Xue, Daniel Li and James Hayne.

Ms Amanda Carroll, first speaker for the affirmative team:

Who here saw the Year 9 Poetry Slam? [ hands up].  Poetry is dead.  I rest my case. Thank you and goodbye.[pretends to leave the stage]

No, I jest.

About leaving the stage.  Not about the death of poetry.  I actually applaud the year 9s attempts to resuscitate it (an act akin, if I may be so bold, an act akin to the desperate making out that goes on in the break out rooms at the Junior Social – if Junior Social was First Aid training and the body in question was Resuscitation Annie).


Believe it or not there was a time when poetry was everywhere…a happier time when people could be free in their love for poetry.  Free in their poetry, free in their love, even (ask Mr Cogo)  I mean their love of free poetry…

There was no shame.  Poetry was a form of art and it had the power to move people.

To give you an example, I have here a heartbreakingly beautiful poem.  A haiku (that brief but resonant form) that Mr Barham wrote for Mr Crocket: (I actually wonder whether I should even read this out) *pauses

Tall Man

Shake your beard shake it

More than a beard to me: leaves, water

Reflect in autumn

Oh yes, as this poem shows, poetry has been very much alive. Misunderstood, yes.  Misappropriated, maybe.  But alive, nevertheless.  Gloriously, shamelessly, thrillingly alive and that , dear friends, was poetry’s downfall. There was a time when the poet Lord Byron could wake up in the morning, drink a white wine spritzer, wrestle his pet bear, write a verse or two then make sweet love to his half-sister Augusta.

Who can say how poetry became associated with debauchery, but over time this is exactly what happened.  It became the p-word.   Held responsible for allowing people to say and feel too much, blamed for excessive expressions of emotion,  it went underground – it became contraband. Soon noone wanted to be caught looking at poetry.

And No one knows this better than Mr Mahoney’s mum. She passed her son’s bedroom door of a night and she knew.  She had heard the occasional sob or squeal of delight. She had seen the box of Kleenex on the floor.  (for the tears, gentlemen, the tears). She knew what was happening – her boy was growing up….reading poetry.

Indeed it was not so very long ago at all, that teachers of all disciplines taught using poetry – there was no shame.  Poetry wasn’t just something you did in English class.  Teachers used to rhyme in a happier time.

Ms Petrie used Hamlet to teach algebra: To be or not two be that was the question

Mr Bush used to cycle wistfully along the Yarra calling into his loudhailer: O Romeo, Romeo!

Mr DeKorte used to teach reclined on a chaise lounge, robes askew, eating grapes peeled by his 9H minons and he was all: if music be the food of love play on.  (He also said a load of other random stuff about volleyball but that was not in iambic pentameter)

But teachers began to realize that poetry was falling on deaf ears.  More disturbingly students couldn’t understand simple poetic devices. Staff members at Melbourne High School who had alliteration in their names had to have them changed by Depol because students simply couldn’t understand them.  Who were these staff members, I hear you ask?, Ray Rawson, Flick Fusden and Ken ‘the King’ Kong. (nevermore, nevermore).  The alliterative beauty of their birthright a burden too much to bear.

And that’s not counting those whose names had the resonance of assonance:  You look askance – you’re right it’s pants these giants of our school now ants.  So I want to pay homage to the tonnage of number oneage – the teachers who went to Depol because of poetry dumbage:

Richard Prichard. Barney Mahoney.  Betty Sette. (all changed, changed utterly)

You know the most shocking thing about the death of poetry is that while poetry took body blows over the years: the dumbing down of culture –messages in greeting cards; the emergence of emoji; clickbait; a Ludowyke assembly or two….it was here – in the classrooms of MHS that poetry finally expired.

The prime suspect?  The Year 9 boy who sits down to write a poem (too easy).  Hmmmmm “My heart beat fast”  What is fast?  What is a fast thing?  (this is hard!)…..  A cheetah is fast.  My heart beats as fast as a cheetah.  (He looks around.  Very pleased) Now.  What rhymes with cheetah?

Or perhaps it was this Valentine’s day effort from a Melbourne High year 10:

Roses are Red,

Violets are Blue

I can recite pi to 3.141592….65358979….323846264338327950288419716

and I think you know where this is going….

This kind ineptitude – murdering of the metaphor and strangling of the simile, of cliché ridden claptrap –  it took its toll on poetry.

Because Poetry could not stop for death He kindly stopped for Poetry

Yes, poetry is dead.  And the fact that you wouldn’t know a satirical take on an Emily Dickinson poem if it whisked you away to your Maker in a carriage is neither here nor there.  That poetry is dead is as clear as the skin on a Year 11’s face.

We might even ask, today, if it wasn’t the sheer ineptitude of MHS boys, was it plain ignorance that dealt poetry the mortal blow?

Let’s face it, the only Blake you guys know is the Lively blonde from Gossip Girl.  You think Yeats is a versatile range of horticultural supplies. The only Burns you have heard of is called Montgomery and you think Keats is a collective noun for geography teachers.

Whatever the case, the opposition will try to tell you Poetry lives.  They might try to pass something off as research.  Yes, “research”, you know: “Siri: is poetry dead?” In truth, they know nothing.  Their part in this collective ignorance will become apparent all too soon.

So…. let me school you.  You fools, you.  No more Captain My Captain. It got capped in the ass; it passed behind the arras; it lived but alas; Poetry stopped in its tracks:




Mr Blair Mahoney, third speaker for the affirmative team:
Of course poetry is dead, and I have the proof right here in my last royalty cheque for Poetry Reloaded and Poetry Remastered. I may as well retitle them Poetry Refinanced. In fact, this isn’t even a cheque, it’s just a cheque sized piece of paper that I cut out to use as a prop, but even then it’s still worth only slightly less than the real thing.
The truth is, there’s even less money in poetry than there is poetry in money.

Do you know what the bestselling Australian poetry book was last year and how much its author earned? Would you be surprised if I told that that it was Les Murray’s New Selected Poems, which sold just 934 copies, earning its author the paltry sum in royalties of $1800? You should be surprised, because I just made that up, but the point stands that the term “bestselling poetry book” is an oxymoron. The last time anyone made some money from poetry was when Bill Shakespeare dedicated his sonnets to someone called W.H. and received 20 guineas, a small herd of livestock and a year’s supply of writing quills in payment.

Meanwhile, Eminem’s 2004 album Encore has sold more than five million copies thanks to lyrics like “I ain’t never seen an ass like that. The way you move it, you make my pee-pee go doing-doing-doing.’’ Apart from the fact that he clearly needs to see a doctor you can see why the author of lines like “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? / Thou art more lovely and more temperate,” would be turning in his grave in recognition of the fact that poetry is truly dead.

Alas poor poetry, I knew it, Horatio; a literary form of most infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.

The negative team has been trying to tell you that poetry isn’t dead, that it’s just resting, it’s stunned, or it’s pining for the fjords, but we know very well that it is no more, it’s ceased to be, it’s expired and gone to meet its maker. If they hadn’t nailed poetry to its perch it’d be pushing up daisies.

If I asked any of these supposed poetry lovers on the negative team who their favourite living poet was, they’d look flummoxed and then throw out a few names like Robert Frost (dead), Dylan Thomas (drank himself to death), Christopher Marlowe (stabbed in the eye in an argument over a bar tab), Sylvia Plath (stuck her head in the oven and gassed herself) or Edgar Allen Poe (found delirious in a gutter wearing another man’s clothes and died four days later). There was a reason the film was called ‘Dead Poet’s Society’…
The reason poetry is dead is because as much as we English teachers have tried to resuscitate poetry, to reanimate his corpse for the benefit and enlightenment of you students, you’ve spurned him. We’re not the villains here in this trial, as we gather round the fallen body of this once noble literary form. No, it’s you guys. You’re the ones that killed poetry. He used to be so full of life, so gay. And then we introduced him to you guys, and you started snickering about the word “gay.” We said, “Hey, calm down now. Poetry is great you just need to get to know him better to fully appreciate his charms.” And you started moaning about how “difficult” he was, how he just “didn’t make any sense.” And then we turned our back for a second and before we knew it you’d slammed poetry [pause] out of the window from the top floor of the N building and he was lying splattered on the concrete below. There’s no need to call in CSI for this case: you’ve got poetry’s blood all over your hands and a little water will not clear you of this deed.

If we’d had better students it could have been a different story. Come teach at Melbourne High, the brochures said. The smartest students in the state, Mr Ludowyke promised. So Mr Bryant and I gave up our lucrative positions in private schools and Ms Carroll winged her way home to Australia from England, a place where being able to quote a bit of John Donne is enough to land you a job as an investment banker. Here is educational utopia we thought. How wrong we were. Our efforts to share the delights of iambic pentameter were met with blank stares. Our hearts would lift a little at the sight of a raised hand only to plummet again when it turned out to be a request to go to the toilet. So many bladder problems amongst young men these days… Day after day we see poetry beaten down by the supposedly superior seductions of specialist maths and those websites where you can try to calculate your ATAR. Is it any wonder that poetry didn’t survive in the face of such callous indifference and literary ineptitude?

But poetry didn’t have to die. Occasionally we English teachers dream of a better world, one where people can quote lines from Seamus Heaney without shame, a world where people can rhyme… all the time, a world where poetic techniques such as similes live on, like something that lives for a really long time, a Galapagos turtle or something. At times we think we can even catch a glimpse of it, a place where the students aren’t afraid to study Literature for VCE because it means they have to read a few poems: it’s called Mac.Rob…

James Hayne was a student speaker for the negative team. (James is School Captain.)

Boys, poetry isn’t dead. It isn’t even dying. It’s simply being reloaded. Which brings me to the textbook reference for the reloading of poetry. Poetry reloaded by…. Wait a minute…. Mr Blair Mahoney. Today, I thought I’d theme my speech along the biblical words of Mr Mahoney himself.

Chapter 1: Poetry gets Started

It’s well known that poetry is like every schoolies trip. In the morning, poetry is fine. But by 3pm, poetry turns you to drink until you’re drunk and passed out on the floor. To prove this point, I’d like detail how my Sunday night went.

6:00pm: Opened Poetry Reloaded and read 2 pages.

6:05pm: Was bombarded with terms such as alliteration, analogy, near rhyme, metaphors and similes

6:06pm: Drunk half a bottle of vodka.

6:07pm: Wondered why the page had just turned green and chunky

6:08pm Passed out

8:00am the next morning: Woke up and realized that I’d have to battle through assembly while hung over

Some may wonder why I recounted those events. I’d like to submit today that poetry is a rite of passage. Having had Ms Carroll for English in Year 10, I know first hand how poetry changes your life. In year 10, Ms Carroll pushed me to ‘just let your feelings flow out onto the page’. And having done so, she then crushed my hopes of becoming a poet by saying ‘try to make your poem happier next time’. That’s when I realised what poetry was. It’s like Thursday’s Child, Death of a Salesman and Merchant of Venice. It’s part of the English curriculum just to infuriate you. And poetry only just got started.

Chapters 2 through 4: Mr Mahoney makes insightful commentaries about seemingly mindless poems.

One cannot tackle poetry without tackling poetry analysis. Poetry analysis is the singular most hated thing at MHS. Having read Mr Mahoney’s textbook, I realized what English teachers are employed to do – tell their students that everything has a deeper meaning.

I thought I’d provide three examples from Mr Mahoney’s textbook:

  • From the poem Daffodils by Wordsworth: ‘Continuous as the stars that shine and twinkle on the Milky way’. What did the poet mean when he wrote this? Ironically the poet is reflecting on the Syrian crisis. His use of the lexime ‘continuous’ explores the economic and social harms of the crisis. Further, the symbolism of ‘the milky way’ refers readers to the galactic impact of the crisis on ties between the USA and Syria.
  • From the poem The Stolen Child by Yeats: ‘to and fro we leap and chase the frothy bubbles’. What did the poet want the reader to feel when he wrote this? Obviously the poet wants the reader to reflect upon Guantanamo Bay. The use of phrasing such as ‘to and fro we leap’ exposes how ‘Guantanamo’ comes from the Algerian term ‘Guanlepo’ which means ‘to leap’. Yeat’s reference to the ‘frothy bubbles’ reveals how bubble baths are popular among inmates at the prison.
  • From the poem Love Song by Parker: ‘the ways are fair to his roaming feet’. What did the poet intend to do? Although many students believe she was reflecting upon the recent Chinese economic downturn, Parker was just talking about how there are many ways to walk to her husband.

Yet, as I conclude today, I thought it best to turn to one of Mr Mahoney’s many poetry activities. In Chapter 5: Poetry falls in love, Mr Mahoney suggests to his readers that they write a love poem. Having provided examples of love poems that could have the girls dropping to their knees at social next year, I decided to write one myself.

Love, by James Hayne as inspired the works of Bryant, Carroll and Mahoney

How do I love you? Let me count the ways.

Mr Mahoney you write textbooks of poetry

Filled with anaphora, pentameter and limerick that you set ablaze

As you 420 blaze it for many days

Ms Carroll you taught me how to analyse.

I made sure I filled my essays with word level analysis

I talked about symbolism, alliteration and caesuras until I agonized

Then, on my final exam, you gave me 12/25.

Mr Bryant you just look like verse.

When I think of poetry, I think of you

Because when you recite rhyme, your students disperse

As they realize that English simply cant worse.

Why do I love you? Of reasons, I only know three.

Students of MHS, poetry is like an STD.

It won’t kill you but it will bug you forever,

Because poetry will make you fail VCE.

How to get ready for Cross Country if you’re creative

How to get ready for Cross Country if you’re creative –

Firstly, you have an idea for what you’re going to wear. You gather fabric, needle and thread, scissors, etc.

You start sewing but time is running out so you enlist friends.

Hmmm… let’s see how this is going…

It’s coming together…

A few details

A bit of fun in between…

Now help me put this on…

Hurry, sew me up so I can get to Albert Park Lake on time for the run!

Is our library a Makerspace? Sure is!

Brilliant, Sam Bi. And great work helping out, Karan Luthra!

Samhita Arni visits MHS for annual Book Week Literature Festival

The Year 9 students were privileged to see guest speaker Samhita Arni this week as part of our annual Book Week Literature Festival. Samhita was visiting Australia for the Melbourne Writers Festival and we were very lucky that she had time to come to MHS as well. She talked to the students about her books, including The Mahabharata: A Child’s View (published when she was just 11 years old; she said that opportunity for publication just arose through luck). She said that her first book arose out of her voracious reading and love of mythology combined with the loneliness she felt after moving back to India after living in Pakistan. She showed some of the beautiful images in her bestselling graphic novel Sita’s Ramayana(illustrated by Moyna Chitrakar) and explained the historical background behind retellings of this Indian epic from a woman’s point of view as well as the implications of the renewed reverence for the story in modern India. She also talked about her most recent novel, The Missing Queen, which is another retelling of the Ramayana, this time in the form of a thriller set in the modern world. Other projects she mentioned included her participation in the cross-country anthology Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean, and her online project, Out of Print, which provides a platform for writing about sexual violence in South Asia.

The students were very positive about her talk, some of them saying afterwards that it was “an eye-opener,” exposing them to a side of India that they weren’t familiar with. One student said he really appreciated the way she conveyed feminism in an interesting and approachable way, arising out of her life experiences and her books. Another student commented that he found it fascinating the way she explained the relevance of ancient Indian epics to modern day life, reinvigorating mythology. The overall consensus seemed to be: “Brilliant!” (written by Mr Blair Mahoney)

Samhita Arni has been interested in Hindu mythology since she was a child. She has written The Mahabaharata: A Child’s View, a version of another great Indian epic, which has been translated into seven languages and was named Book of the Month by the German Academy for Youth Literature and Media, and one of the Best Published Books of 2004 by the Spanish Ministry of Culture. It also won the Elsa Morante Literary Award (Department of Culture, Campania, Italy). Samhita has also written scripts for film and television and is currently working on a thriller based on The Ramayana. She lives in Bangalore, India. (Source: Goodreads)

Sita’s Ramayana

The Missing Queen

Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean

A collection of sci-fi and fantasy writing, including six graphic stories, showcasing twenty stellar writers and artists from India and Australia: Isobelle Carmody, Penni Russon, Justine Larbalestier, Margo Lanagan, Lily Mae Martin, Kuzhali Manickavel, Prabha Mallya, Annie Zaidi, Kate Constable, Vandana Singh, Mandy Ord, Priya Kuriyan, Manjula Padmanabhan, Samhita Arni, Alyssa Brugman, Nicki Greenberg and Amruta Patil. (Source:Goodreads)

When she was eight, Samhita Arni started writing and illustrating her first book. “The Mahabharata – A Child’s View” went on to be published in seven language editions and sell 50,000 copies worldwide, winning the Elsa Morante Literary Award, and receiving commendations from the German Academy for Youth Literature and Media and The Spanish Ministry of Culture. (Source: Amazon)