Above: New Zealand artist Vanessa Redfern with some of her paintings.
Vanessa Redfern has a way of capturing beauty with crystal clear precision. Her brushstrokes are blended so finely that they are often not discernible to the eye - yet her paintings glow with depth, softness and a gentleness of tone that is somehow very painterly.
This is local painting at its finest and it’s hard to believe that Vanessa only picked up a brush eight years ago. A Northlander from the age of ten, Vanessa dabbled in painting as a child but gave it up when she felt her efforts were ‘quite hideous’ compared to the beauty she longed to reflect.
‘It took me thirty-eight years to find my calling’, Vanessa shares in her quiet-spoken way, ‘It was actually there all along, I just didn’t know it’.
Some of her inspirations include the work of local palette-knife artist Nemesh, and internationally renowned Akiane Kramarik. Like Akiane’s paintings, Vanessa’s paintings have a spiritual grounding and resonance that is inescapable.
When asked how she learned to paint at the age of 38, Vanessa replies ‘The world would say that I’m self-taught, but the truth is God spoke to me while I painted and taught me how’.
In 2010, while working as a cleaner, Vanessa saw a lot of amateur art on the walls of people’s homes, and felt drawn to try painting. Unable to afford professional lessons, Vanessa called a friend who knew how to paint and did a casual garage lesson where she created a self-described ‘hideous’ painting of grapes. She then bought materials and carried on painting at home: ‘I applied paint to the canvas until it looked right’.
For the first two years of her painting journey, Vanessa used acrylics but grew frustrated because it was difficult to blend the fast-drying medium to achieve the effects she wanted. She switched to oils, took a class, and ‘went home with God to play’, allowing her spectacular style to evolve. When she’s fired up, some painting sessions last up to 10 or 12 hours a day; some paintings have taken around 100 hours to complete.
When asked what she wants people to gain from her work, she replies ‘I want my viewers to see light, glory and beauty at its highest level. My goal is to create the brightest, shiniest, radiant, most colour-filled painting ever’. Vanessa’s paintings often depict the stunning tones and shapes of nature – flowers, landscapes, sunsets. In addition to her realist paintings, she is also exploring a more surreal style with ‘prophetic art’ – depicting visions or impressions that God has given her.
As soon as she began this painting, the areas of Vanessa's life that had been devastated were 'starting to prosper' again.
Unsurprisingly, Vanessa cites her biggest inspiration as ‘God Himself...I want to capture what He has already created' - after all, 'Nobody paints a sky like God does.’ Vanessa’s encouragement to anyone following their dream is ‘We’re happiest being ourselves - our true self. Wherever our passion lies is where we’ll be the most fulfilled and where we’ll have the most impact in the world.’
To see more of Vanessa Redfern’s art, check out her Facebook page: Redfern Art or email her for queries: firstname.lastname@example.org. Some of her paintings are also featured in The Gallery and Cafe at Helena Bay Hill, 1392 Old Russell Road, Whangarei.
- Article by Alicia Leitch
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We've probably all been freaked out by essay writing at some point in our lives.
It used to be that 'essay' was a general term for any written piece of substantial length, including creative/narrative writing. But these days the term refers more to a formal or relatively formal piece of writing that sets out an argument (an opinion) on a given topic.
In terms of English, there are two main types of essays: the literature essay and the 'argument/discursive' essay. Literature essays are written in response to a literature text e.g. after reading a poem, novel, short story, (and in the case of NCEA, a film is also considered a literature text). A basic literature essay question could be 'Describe a character and explain why he or she was important in the text you have studied'.
An argument/discursive essay is usually based around a topic that is current to society today, and the student will need to decide whether they agree, disagree or partly agree with a particular standpoint on that issue. An example of an argument essay topic could be 'People waste too much time on electronic devices. Do you agree?'
Essays are challenging to write because there are many things that need to be kept in mind simultaneously e.g. using formal vocabulary while at the same time focusing on a tight structure that argues the point effectively, so I wouldn't usually start teaching basic essay writing to a student until they are about 12 or 13 yrs old. Prior to this age, I've found that even the most able students have difficulty grasping essay writing.
So, are essays really necessary to an education, or can we just skip learning about this type of writing altogether and still be successful? I would argue that essay writing is an extremely worthwhile skill for a number of reasons:
1. Essays place value on individual opinions
Essay writing doesn't have to be dry and boring; in fact, if it is, we're doing something wrong. Essays can and should be a vibrant platform for students to express themselves, decide what their values are, and how they want to change the world for the better. In argument / discursive essays in particular, I would cover a wide range of current issues with students. Just a small sample of the many questions we might discuss are: Do we need more limits on Artificial Intelligence and robotics? Should we make more effort to reduce plastic? Should we be doing more to help refugees worldwide? Writing essays prompts students to think about the issues the world faces, and how often we can be proactive in solving problems even on an individual or household level. They learn through pre-essay-writing discussion that it's okay for them to have their own opinion, it's okay to disagree with others (even the tutor!), and it's great practice for them to be able to use their voice, and give reasons for their views. Many of the most ground-breaking, famous sermons and speeches in human history have been based on an essay structure - persuasive and compelling writing at its best, read out loud or recited for the world to hear.
2. Human behaviour and self-awareness
Literature studies provide a great way for students to reflect on human relationships, and even on their own strengths and flaws. When studying most types of literature, there is a lot of discussion around characters - what are their positive and negative traits? Why do characters behave they way they do? Literature essays often revolve around these considerations, and I believe they can help students process ideas around relational complexity in the world, and allow students to think consciously about which character traits they value the most in themselves and others.
3. Essays are inescapable
Essays are not restricted to the subject of 'English'. No matter what subject a student pursues in higher education, it's guaranteed that, most of the time, essay writing will be required. Essays are a tried and tested way for educators to see whether students have absorbed, synthesised and evaluated the information and skills they are learning about. From a nursing degree to a diploma in youth work to an engineering qualification, whether given as coursework assignments or part of an external examination, essays will be needed. Learning the foundational skills for essay writing at the age of about 13 gives students an excellent springboard to leap from when it comes to writing essays in higher education. I've sometimes taught students who have never written an essay prior to the year they sit their first formal examination (e.g. at the age of 15 or 16 for NCEA Level One or Cambridge IGCSE) and it's a real struggle for them to learn the basics of essay writing in such a short time frame (usually only 3 terms, given that the academic year finishes in Oct/Nov). To be fair on the student, I think it's best to start essay writing skills at around 13 so that they have time to get used to the formal writing register, and experimenting with different ways of constructing robust, convincing argumentation, addressing counter-arguments, etc.
4. Essay skills are relevant to everyday adult life
Time and again I've used the basic essay model in everyday life. I've had to write the occasional formal complaint about things I feel very strongly about to people in authority; the essay structure and register has served me well when emailing or writing letters in a professional or weighty context; businesses are far more likely to take a letter of complaint seriously if the writer takes care to present a reasoned argument with evidence compared to an emotional rant. I've also made a couple of submissions on proposed law changes that I was opposed to through an essay-like structure, giving feedback on the bill and providing reasons for my views. I've also found that having a grounding in persuasive writing helps me to put my views into words in conversation with others; when I disagree, it's easier for me to express my counter-argument (not in formal language of course, but in a way that's clear and tells the other person where I'm coming from). The ability to express a view clearly and concisely and persuasively is extremely valuable in our modern world.
So, whether you're an adult student who is just learning about essays now, or you have a child of your own who is reaching their teen years, essay writing is a skill that is totally worthwhile. It takes time and patience to learn how to write a good essay, and plenty of practice, but the benefits of being able to express a unique point of view on any subject are priceless.
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I tried to find You
I tried to find You
between pages of gold dust
in words of red
I searched for You
like You were my missing brother
looking through doorways
at the back of every pew
hoping to see
even the back of You
for a trace of Your voice on the stage
or, in the white smoke and lights
the silhouette of Your frame
I watched for You as if
You were my lost father,
my native tongue,
I tried to find Your name
on the list of delegates
registered for tomorrow's conference
I travelled to the stones of Bethel in the East
and back again to ceilings of white
out onto the concrete streets
Then I got tired of searching,
heart heavy with the weight
of blood on torn clothes
I started to plan Your funeral
I began the walk home
over tarnished paths
back through my battered door
into my small room
sitting on the floor
and opened my eyes to see
You, waiting here already
arms around me
tears falling on my neck
falling from a friend, a King
waiting for His lost son
His missing brother
Poem by Alicia Dawn
As a fun exercise I thought I'd do something I don't usually do: explain myself. Poetry is one of those things that can't be exactly and precisely pinned down, and I'm sure people will have their own individual ideas in connection with the poem. But I thought it would be cool to look at the interplay of images from my perspective. Poetry can be mysterious and slightly intimidating at times, so I hope this will demystify things a little.
Faith and spirituality are huge in my life, so the poem is mainly about how we search for God, or search for more of God. The poem directly speaks to God and describes some different ways that we might try to 'find' Him. The 'pages of gold dust' and 'words of red' refer to scripture; we might search for Him in ancient writings like the Bible but does this alone lead us closer to Him?
Looking for God as if He were a 'missing brother' or 'lost father' emphasises the raw hunger in humanity to find God's love; it's as if we were looking for a member of our own family, our DNA, a person we were born to know, and His absence, or perceived absence, sends us on journeys far and wide.
Some might search for God in churches 'at the back of every pew', 'on the stage', or in conferences. Or we might search by making pilgrimages to countries or places that are renowned for their spiritual resonance, the 'stones of Bethel in the East'.
But the speaker in the poem gets 'tired of searching' because they're looking for God as if He only lives in particular physical places or words, and this limited mentality yields a limited experience of God Himself. I'm not saying that God isn't in church or in the Bible, but that He, first and foremost, wants to be in us.
There are also allusions throughout the poem to the story of Joseph in the Bible, and to the story of the Prodigal Son. About half way through the poem these references become more emphatic - the speaker's heart is 'heavy with the weight / of blood on torn clothes' just as Joseph's father was heartbroken at the disappearance (and what he thought was the death) of his son (Genesis 37). He would have had a funeral for Joseph, thinking he was lost forever, because his brothers had told the lie that he was dead, rubbing animal blood on Joseph's clothes as seeming evidence. We, too, can get caught up in things that seem to prove God is dead without knowing the bigger picture and the lies we're being fed.
The speaker of the poem continues the journey to his own home, back to his 'small room', having given up on finding God in places, events and words alone. At this point of having nothing left to give, he closes his eyes, sitting on the floor, hopeless, and then God meets him here.
As he opens his eyes, he sees God has been with him always, waiting for a moment of intimacy so that He can show His reality - the man in the poem can't do anything to 'find' God because God has already found Him. God already wants to be in a relationship with him, as a 'friend', a 'King' and a 'brother'. Jesus has broken His heart and cried waiting for this moment to arrive - the moment where He can meet this son in a deep way, and reveal Himself as a real person, not a lofty concept contained in big buildings or elevated language.
Again, this moment with 'tears falling on my neck' echoes the story of Joseph, and that of the Prodigal Son. Joseph longed to be with his brothers and to see his father again with gut-wrenching grief, despite the wrongdoing that was perpetrated against him (his brothers sold him into slavery and, as a result, he hadn't seen his family or homeland for many years.) When his brothers and father came to see him after these years of separation, he couldn't restrain his emotions and he cried so loudly that the whole palace heard. He fell on their necks, kissed them and cried tears on their skin (Genesis 45-46). I believe Jesus feels the same about us - He's just waiting for us to see Him; He misses relationship with us like a grief-stricken man misses his lost brothers and father. In the Prodigal Son story, the father sees his wayward son returning home and He likewise runs to the son and kisses his neck, embracing him with incredible affection, reflecting the heart of our heavenly Father God towards us even when we have run away from Him (Luke 15:11-31).
The metaphors overlap and blur at times, and are 'slippery' as I like to say. I love this about poetry - one metaphor or symbol can morph or cross over with another, and I find the same thing happens throughout the Bible; there is such richness in that book, and when we pair our hunger for God with meeting His Spirit personally, we see that His methods of expressing love towards us are endlessly metamorphosing. He is the one finding us and pursuing us; we just need to surrender to Jesus' giant, engulfing love, and then we'll see Him everywhere.
So I hope that this has been an insight into my style (keep in mind everyone's style of writing is different, so by no means am I suggesting that anyone should emulate the way I write, or that they have to like it) - because my life is influenced by the morphing, million ways that God shows His affection, my images and symbolism often reflect this.
Feel free to check out my full poetry collection Sea Wings which contains this poem and others:
Kindle version: www.amazon.com.au/dp/B0771LXZKW
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Photo credit below: Caleb Ekeroth on Unsplash
Thinking about curriculum choices? Cambridge and NCEA are the two main options here in New Zealand. Cambridge and NCEA both have pros and cons, like any curricula; your decision depends on what you want and value, and what fits with your situation.
I've been an English tutor for many home-educated and school-educated students and have often helped older students work towards Cambridge or NCEA syllabuses. For this blog, I wanted to pass on some basic introductory knowledge to home educating parents who are considering Cambridge English.
1. Levels of study
As most of you know, the Cambridge International Examinations started in the UK but they have now become widely available and recognised by employers and universities in 160 countries around the world. This is one of the positive aspects of the program; having a Cambridge qual looks good on a CV and achievement levels are easy for employers to decipher as simple grades and percentage marks are given for subjects rather than the plethora of units listed out for NCEA. Students can work towards IGCSE level qualifications (for 14-16yr olds) which usually takes a year of study to complete, if students have the foundational skills needed prior to the course. IG is roughly equivalent to the old 'School Cert' level or NCEA Level One. AS level is the next qualification on the ladder (recommended for 17-18yr olds) and finally, students have the opportunity of sitting exams at the highest level, A level, in their final year. AS is roughly equivalent to a Year 12 course of study and A level can be seen as equivalent to Year 13/ University Entrance. Each level can be completed as a stand-alone qualification i.e. it's not necessary to complete IGCSE exams in order to study and sit AS exams. If students want, they can just sit the AS exam. If both AS level and A level courses are completed (usually over two years) then these two qualifications combine to form what is called an 'A level' overall. The A level qual is the only one that has an official prerequisite (completing AS level). Many schools who use Cambridge syllabuses will have students sitting IG level subjects in Year 11, 12 and 13, not just year 11. This means they can build up a wide portfolio of IG subject passes, and then select just two or three subjects that will be studied up to AS or A level.
There are several different syllabuses even within the subject of 'English' when it comes to Cambridge, and this can be a little confusing to the uninitiated (or to my generation, the last of the 'School C' brigade). Most people choose from the mainstream options of 'English - First Language' or 'English -Literature' as courses of study. Each of these is a comprehensive and rigorous syllabus in its own right, so if a student wanted to do both syllabuses, serious time commitment would be needed and it would be very challenging. I usually recommend that students either do one or the other. 'English - First Language' (or 'English - Language' as it is called at AS level) focuses on passage analysis, imaginative writing and persuasive writing in various genres. 'English - Literature' focuses purely on literature studies. A student will typically study a selection of poems, a novel, and two drama texts (plays, e.g. a Shakespearean play and another more modern play). English Literature exams consist solely of writing essays in response to these studied literature texts. For the English Language syllabus, the student will sit two exams at the end of the year for their final grade (typically) and English Literature students will also sit two exams. Some choose the less popular option of an English syllabus that involves some assessment via coursework during the year that counts towards the final grade, but all syllabus options include an exam or two.
3. Time commitments
As mentioned, Cambridge is a rigorous curriculum, and many get caught in the trap of thinking they can prepare students for the exam in less than one year with just a few lessons to help them fine-tune their skills. In my experience, students need to start building their skills specifically towards the Cambridge syllabuses at least the year before they hope to sit the exam. Keep in mind that if they start tuition in the year they sit exams, you essentially only have three school term equivalents, which works out to be less than 30 weeks, to get them completely ready, as exams are sat in October and November if following mainstream choices. Cambridge's official recommendation is that students have 130 guided learning hours per subject over the duration of an IG course in order to be prepared. It's certainly not the sort of course that can be done with just a few haphazard hours of study here and there. If one-on-one tuition is undertaken, then less than 130 hours of guided learning time is needed, but this guideline gives some idea of the regular, consistent study required to build the skills needed for each course.
Students will need to register at a local Cambridge-curriculum school in order to sit their final exams. Each exam is up to 2 hours long depending on the English syllabus you have chosen. You will need to approach a school and discuss whether it's an option for your child to register with them. Some schools are accommodating; others are not. Schools are under no obligation to allow home educators to register and sit exams on their premises, so communication is based on goodwill, as far as I understand. Getting advice from other home educators is great if you're going down this road; they will be able to give you helpful info. I'm certainly not an expert in Cambridge liaison but this is my basic understanding of the situation.
5. Skills and knowledge
For English Language, some of the skill requirements are: reading passages (unknown passages that haven't been seen before; excerpts from longer texts) carefully, understanding and summarising the key points in the passage, identifying important language features in the passage and being able to explain the effects of these features in a specific and logical way, being able to write creatively/imaginatively on a given topic (usually there is a choice of about 3 topics), being able to write more formally in persuasive/argumentative/discursive tasks, adapting vocab, structure and style to suit the given purpose, knowing the purpose and typical features of a range of over a dozen different writing genres.
For English Literature, some of the skill requirements are: being able to read, understand and analyse the components of a literature text (components could include but are not limited to plot, characterisation, themes, setting, style), being able to read and understand specific essay questions about literature texts, being able to identify and analyse specific language devices used in the studied texts (I usually give my AS students a 6-page glossary of these devices - there are a lot of them), being able to write essay answers that are logical, structured, and evaluative, being able to memorise and use quotes from the studied literature texts during closed-book exams.
What does this all mean?
So, overall, Cambridge may seem intimidating if it's the first time you've looked at the syllabuses, but it produces readers and writers who can confidently evaluate a wide range of written texts, students who are able to produce compelling pieces that elucidate their own personal opinions about topical issues that affect the world today, and creative writers with flair and originality. It's well worth considering; and with a little hard work, the results can be excellent. Most of my students have achieved great grades in IG and AS Cambridge studies, with two students from little old New Zealand achieving 'Top in the World' awards for English.
It may not be a subject you can tackle all on your own in terms of teaching it to your child (unless you were a Bursary English buff!) because language devices like paradoxes, oxymorons, malaproprisms, consonance, and inversions are just not that easy to identify or explain, let's face it, and writing academic essays is an art-form that takes practice and precision, but you or a friend/family member might have a good-at-English side that will help to get your child going with their IG level skills, and there are always tutor websites where you'll be able to find the help you need for preparing your student further. There are official Cambridge textbooks but I have found these to be too limited and although they can provide a good foundation, they shouldn't be treated as an entire course of study. Please note that Cambridge does make revisions to its syllabuses on a regular basis so you can't take for granted that previous exam papers will be the same as the exams sat in your child's year of study. Check out Cambridge's official website for more detailed and up to date syllabus info: www.cambridgeinternational.org
I sometimes have time-slots available for IGCSE and AS level English Language tuition (via Skype video-call, anywhere in the country) so feel free to email me (email@example.com) or check out my website www.paperlamp.weebly.com or Facebook page for any queries or further info if this would be helpful: www.facebook.com/paperlamp7/ Click here for testimonials / references if you're interested: paperlamp.weebly.com/testimonials.html
All the best!
I've been surprised by the number of people I've talked to who have always wanted to do creative writing in some form. Many have a goal of writing their own novel someday; others write bits of poetry, blogs, or have started capturing their life story in words through journalling or autobiographical writing.
Because publishing books is easier than ever these days, I think this adds impetus to that exciting idea of putting yourself on the page.
So, for those who are wanting to do more writing, or those who have always wanted to but never known where to begin, what's the starting point?
Here are some basic ideas to get you going:
Some people find this practice to be perfect for loosening up those writing fingers. The idea of freewriting is that you write whatever comes to mind, no matter how mundane or boring or cliche it might seem, even if it just echoes your thoughts at the time. For example you could start out by writing the classic sentiment: "I'm feeling like I have no ideas right now but I'll keep writing anyway"...Your thoughts might ramble onto family, things you need to pick up at the grocery store, the bills that need to be paid, and many other random things; just keep going until you, perhaps, stumble on an idea that you would like to explore further. It might be an image of something you've seen, a thought about a person who could be a possible book character, or countless other things. After you've written a decent amount, stop freewriting and focus on that one idea that gets you going. Write further: what does it turn into? A descriptive piece, something that sounds like a novel opening, something poetic? Edit it and see if you can polish it even further.
Writing descriptions can be a way of escaping the inner pressure we put on ourselves to have some sort of plot or storyline to our writing. What if there didn't need to be a storyline? What if you just chose something (a person, a pet, a sight out the window). Just describe the details of shape, line, colour, texture, and so forth, as much as you can. See where it goes. After writing your description, try editing it with the deeper goal of creating some sort of underlying mood that will pull the reader in - for example a lively mood, eerie mood, or a calm mood, based on the concrete details and connotations of certain words that you choose. Descriptions can easily evolve into other things later - novel or short story openings, poems, parts of chapters.
3. Don't worry about getting a perfect opening
From the time we were tiny tots, we've been taught that stories, poems, and descriptions need to have grand openings. Just about every five year old will resort to the cliche 'One day' or 'once upon a time' as openings for their stories if they can't think of another way to start. This idea of an 'opening' sets up unnecessary pressure when writing because we think the very first sentence we write needs to 'sound right', hook in the reader, etc. But when we're just starting out at draft stage, it's a good practice to begin writing and not worry about whether the first sentence 'sounds like a good opening' at all. Quite often if you take this approach, after you've finished writing your poem, segment, blog, etc, you'll have a clearer idea of what would make a good opening and can come back later to edit it.
4. Have fun!
Creative writing should be fun, so if the end result isn't what you want, just be pleased that you've actually done something and, even though it may not feel like it, you will be learning things as you go about what works and what doesn't, refining your writer's instinct somewhere in the deep regions of your writer's mind.
It can also be a good idea to get feedback on your writing after you've written a few starter pieces, even if it's scary. A close friend or family member will be supportive of you but ask them to also be honest and they'll tell you where you might be able to improve, where things might need to be clarified for the reader. Be sure to tell them what genre the writing is, or what you were aiming for in writing it (for example, if it's just a description, tell them this, so that they won't critique you on not having a plot-line, which may not have been your goal anyway). I am also available to give feedback and currently have a special offer of giving 100-150 words feedback on a 1,000-wd or less submission for just $20 NZD. See the link and scroll down for details. Editing services also available for those who want more detailed commentary and changes to their writing:https://paperlamp.weebly.com/adults.html
If you're way ahead and ready to publish, I also have a self-publishing guide that will help:
Kindle Version www.amazon.com.au/dp/B076RCDB89
Paperback Version http:www.lulu.com/shop/alicia-dawn/self-publishing-a-guide-for-australians-and-new-zealanders/paperback/product-23421840.html
Enjoy your writing journey!
The academic year goes so fast - before you know it, there are just a few weeks until final exams. We all know that learning the content of the syllabus is important, but what about learning how to function under pressure?
I've helped many students prepare for their tests, assessments and exams over the years; a couple of them have achieved 'Top in New Zealand' or 'Top in the World' titles, some have achieved A grades, some have achieved less than an A grade but have worked just as hard. They all have one thing in common - they've done their best, and I'm proud of them. I firmly believe that being the best you can be is the by-product of following some very humble principles. Being able to handle making mistakes, for example, is one of the keys to optimising achievement. Aiming for perfection is not.
I never tell my students to aim for 100% in their exams, yet a couple of them have achieved this because they were simply working hard, they had learned to be resilient and recover from their mistakes without panicking, and were well-trained for a pressured environment. Here's a reminder of the ways we can develop a great exam technique:
1. Practice hand writing with time constraints
When there are only two or three months until exams (in a full-year course), start setting homework or in-lesson tasks that have time limits. You may not want to make these limits as strict as an exam just yet, but writing an essay in an hour maximum, for example, will take you in the right direction. Using time constraints will alert you to any red flags early on - for example, some students find that they struggle with perfectionism. The problem is easily disguised if they are allowed to spend as much time as they want on assignments because they can spend hours editing and reworking. When time limits are set, they may find that they become easily frustrated or even tearful in attempting to complete the task. They might even be paralysed with indecision and not be able to finish. These problems are not insurmountable but it's great if they're identified sooner rather than later.
2. Work on any mechanical problems that may arise
In practicing hand-written pieces under time constraints, mechanical problems will become obvious. It can be beneficial to type out written tasks at the beginning of the year; this gives students a chance to order and re-order their ideas, edit, and work to a high standard. With practice, those neural pathways will be more established and they will be able to do more thinking 'on the go' while hand writing. Hand writing will highlight spelling, punctuation or grammar problems that need to be worked on. Having quality content is more important than mechanical accuracy in exams generally, but if there are intrusive mechanical errors, it can affect the mark substantially. Construct spelling lists of the words that are incorrect; learn these, and find resources to work on apostrophe usage, comma usage, etc, if these are weak areas. Limit 'crossing out' if possible (it becomes like visual static to examiners and can affect students' grades as they waste time crossing out phrases and thinking of how to reword them). Students may need practice with minimising crossing out by being more accepting of sentences that are adequate, even if they're not excellent. When crossing out is totally unavoidable, use one single line to cross out, not a mess of scribbles.
3. Plan time allocation for the exam
As soon as possible, get hold of previous exams (Cambridge has some online at www.cie.org.uk). It's important to work out how many minutes students will have for each section of the exam. Set time limits in accordance with the exam. Look at the overall time given to complete the exam, then look at the various sections/questions and the weighting of each question (e.g. some questions are only worth 10 marks while others might be worth more) to determine your time allocation. If an exam has two main questions and is a two-hour exam, and each question is worth equal marks, the student will have an hour to finish each question. Practice some past questions individually under the time constraints that you've worked out.
4. Do mock exams
It's essential to set aside time for sitting mock exams (practice exams). Some who are registered with schools will automatically have to sit these exams as part of school process. Those who are home educated and not sitting mock exams at a school will need to find a previous exam, set aside a quiet room with time to complete the whole exam in one sitting (as per the instructions on the exam or syllabus info). Keep strictly to the time limits of the exam, even if the student is alarmed or upset at not completing the exam. Some students will find they run out of time because they went overtime on a particular question, or froze with fear. Others may find themselves in adrenaline mode where they will rush, finish too early, and produce low quality work. A few may even be overly confident in their abilities and not realise that they have a lot to work on until their work is graded/marked. It's only when students have completed a whole mock exam will they realise where their strengths and weaknesses lie.
5. Be prepared to make mistakes and develop strategies to recover from these
It's common to become frustrated or upset when problems become obvious, but it's important to emphasise that every single student can improve their exam technique, and an imperfect performance doesn't reflect lack of intelligence or potential. Having a meltdown or 'brainfreeze' is not the end of the world; when coaching a student, downplay problems if he or she is lacking confidence. Have a calm, specific discussion with them about what they did well - even if it is as simple as not giving up, or getting a few words on the page when they were feeling paralysed. Create strategies to overcome weaknesses that emerge - for example, if a student is prone to not completing an exam, get them to practice smaller supervised writing exercises, figuring out whether they're stalling at the planning or writing stage, asking them what they're thinking when they stall (they might have an idea but be questioning it) until they can write what they need in the time allocated. If they struggle with brainfreeze (a blank mind), make a silly acronym that they can write down as soon as they get in the exam which will help them remember the key points they need. There are many strategies that can help; just use some creativity and persist with practice even when there might be some resistance due to a lack of confidence.
As a tutor, teacher, or student, we need to speak positively even when we see a perceived 'failure'; stay calm and realise that we're all human, we all have good days and bad days, we all make mistakes, and the true mark of success is being able to get up again and work hard after a setback.
For those interested, I have some limited time-slots left for online tutoring in the area of English, so feel free to click this link for further info: paperlamp.weebly.com/children-and-teens.html
For other online resources: http://paperlamp.weebly.com/be-inspired.html
Poetry can be a fantastic learning tool and a powerful vehicle of expression. Some of us have had good experiences with poetry; others have been put off by bad experiences (a few of you will already be having flashbacks of fifth-form English teachers cramming obscure poems down your throat!). Even when I was at University doing an English degree, many of the English students admitted that they were intimidated by poetry studies. I believe poetry is often under-utilised because of the many preconceptions surrounding it.
But if we embrace the slight mystery of poetry, the fact that its creation and meaning cannot be whittled down to a formula, the fact that poets love experimenting with language and form, we can then appreciate poetry more and use it as an incredible medium for children (and teenagers, and adults!) to enjoy reading and writing. Over the years I've seen so many students, in schools and home education, connecting with poetry in dynamic ways, even if they have been reluctant writers or readers.
Here are the reasons why I'm such a big fan of using poetry in education (and in general):
1. Poetry can suit any learning style
If your child or student isn't a sit-at-a-desk kind of learner, poetry could be the ideal way to get them engaged. Poems are great for kinaesthetic learners because children can create poems by cutting out shapes on card and writing in the middle (a shape poem). Poems generally don't take up much space, so children could be encouraged to do artwork on the page surrounding their poems (drawing, colouring, collage, etc). For those who learn best by listening and speaking, fun exercises can include memorising and reciting a favourite rhyming poem (maybe even get children to 'tag-team' reciting lines of the poem with actions, puppets or dress-up to accompany it). Putting on a family or class show could be a way to engage auditory learners. If a poem rhymes, the sound can also help young children to understand the phonetics of English; how sounds are similar and different. Reciting a poem out loud together, knowing when a rhyming word is coming, can help children to feel included and more confident in reading or speaking out loud in front of others even if they aren't fluent readers yet. Poetry is, of course, also a great thing to read quietly from a book on a rainy day; it can be as quiet or loud as you want!
2. It's a non-threatening activity for reluctant readers and writers
Poetry is generally easier to read than prose (sentences, paragraphs). The words don't go right across the page, there are less words in a poem than in a story (generally) and there are often visuals that go along with poems in books. This means poetry can be an ideal entry-point for children who are reluctant to read or write, or who have had negative experiences in these areas due to learning disabilities. In terms of writing, poems don't have to rhyme and the simplest poem may just have one word on each line - a list. Children can also connect their everyday experiences with poetry, so writing can be seen as a way of expressing their excitement as they explore the world rather than a chore to be done (see point 4 for more details). Poetry gives children permission to embrace their silly side (making up words, using phrases in ways that they wouldn't usually be used, etc - check out the 'slithy toves' and 'borograves' of Jaberwocky by Lewis Carroll, a classic). Diving into poetry is a great way to take the focus off the 'rules' of writing and enter into the fun of it!
3. Poetry encourages quality word choice and a wider vocabulary
Sometimes children get the idea that the more they write, the better, and they'll pat themselves on the back for writing a 'long' story rather than a short one. If they can write a five page story, that's great, but it's also great to step back and sometimes do exercises that promote quality rather than just quantity. Poetry allows us to focus on quality word choice. When reading poems, it's helpful to talk about any new or unusual words that are noticed and perhaps add these new words to a 'word bank' (a vocab list) that children can keep somewhere visible. You may want to even create extension activities around these new words so that the child can remember them long-term and perhaps use them in their own writing. When a child is creating his or her own poem, it's often a good idea to brainstorm ideas first. This will allow the child to make more thoughtful and effective word choices, and perhaps focus on a particular word group - for example, you may want to make a poem out of a list of adjectives, encouraging the child to pick only the 'best' adjectives that they feel will describe the subject of their poem.
4. Flexibility: connection with our daily lives, learning through play, and unique interests
Poetry is such a flexible genre in terms of structure and content. Poems can be written about literally anything. If children are inexperienced with writing, they can begin to learn that writing connects directly with their own day-to-day lives. Poems don't have to be about flowers and rainbows. I've taught poetry lessons where students have written about anything from cows to dinosaurs to spiders to places they love to visit. Poems can be imaginary, so children who love creating fiction will be able to invent or envision their own scenes, animals, etc. Alternatively, poetry can be based on observation and experiences. Most children love to go outside, taking a clipboard or tablet with them, writing down ideas about objects or things they notice in the world around them (or dictating to a parent or teacher). They can then come inside and 'construct' their poem based on the brainstormed ideas.
I hope this article has been helpful - I've been facilitating workshops and tutorials in Creative Writing for over ten years, and I'm always amazed at just how excited kids get about gathering ideas and writing poems! So even if poetry is not your 'thing', be encouraged to give it a go!
Please feel free to click the link below for further ideas:
Other creative activities / ideas:
It's hard to beat painting as a fun, timeless, (screen-free!) activity for the kids. It can even help them develop their spatial and motor skills. Painting is also a great way for adults to experiment with their artistic side - I still dabble in painting because I feel relaxed when I don't need to think in words - instead I can think in colours, textures, lines and shape. Acrylics are a great medium to start with because they are water-based, quick-drying, and supplies for everything you'll need are so accessible. Being a Kiwi, I usually get my supplies from the Warehouse or Warehouse Stationery but dollar stores would probably also have them. If you want to dip your toe into the world of paint (maybe even literally!) then here are some basic tips:
1. Choose your surface
The surface is the thing that the paint gets slapped onto. I wouldn't recommend standard A4 computer paper or writing paper as this will become soggy. But there are a range of other cheap options that work well with acrylics. The least expensive material to use is what most people would call cartridge paper. It's thicker than computer paper and can be found in 'artist sketch pads'. The only disadvantage is that you'll need more paint to cover the surface as it does tend to absorb into the paper a little.
Another possible surface is a 'Watercolour Pad'. This is similar to cardboard and it's textured so that it almost feels like canvas. Acrylics sit quite well on it, despite it being labelled as a Watercolour surface.
The third option I'd recommend is 'stretched canvas' around a wooden frame ( check the back of the product to see the wooden frame. I would not recommend canvas stretched over board for beginners because it's difficult to hang/display). Look out for sales because the Warehouse Stationery sometimes has up to 60% off canvas prices. These are usually pre-primed and ready to be painted straight away. This surface is ridiculously easy to hang on your wall if you want to display your finished work. Just go to a framer and ask if they can put a string on the back for the cost of a couple of bucks (they will also give you a picture hook) then it's ready to hang; no glass or external framing needed. The three surfaces are pictured left to right below. They can all come in a variety of sizes:
2. Choose your paint and brushes
The same stores that I've mentioned will likely sell Acrylic paint in a variety of colours. If you have a limited budget, just buy the primary colours blue, red and yellow in any brand because, of course, you can create more colours by mixing these (blue and red = purple; yellow and red = orange; yellow and blue = green). White is also essential. Many people think that black is essential but I would beg to differ. I hardly ever use black in my paintings because I find it easily overpowers the picture and you can create a colour that will read as a more subtle 'black' by combining red, blue and yellow paint together (mostly blue combined with slightly less red and just a little yellow - experiment with mixing until you get a very dark brown/blackish/purplish shade). Any paintbrushes from anywhere will be fine. If you decide to do painting more seriously, then look at getting ox or hog hair brushes because these are much easier to clean, re-use, and will distribute the paint in a more precise way.
If you want to do an abstract painting, you probably don't need to draw anything before you paint. Just go for it! There can be great freedom in trying an abstract style. Likewise, if you're painting with small children, then pencilling isn't important. But for older children, or if you're aiming for a more naturalistic or realistic painting yourself (where people can tell what it is they're looking at once the painting is done) then you'll need to pencil your outlines before you paint. Any kind of pencil (except for a very dark pencil) is fine for the surfaces mentioned. You can use an ordinary eraser to rub out mistakes. The outlines you create will be the 'bones' of your painting so be sure to make sure that angles and proportions are as accurate as you can get them. Aim to fill the page or canvas with your subject so that there isn't too much 'empty space'.
Last but not least, crack open those tubes of paint! Sometimes I like to start with the background of the painting, then work on the main subject. Other times, I do it the other way around. Often I think of the painting as a jigsaw puzzle and work on one part at a time (e.g. one petal at a time in the painting I've shown here). I don't believe there are any hard and fast rules but the main mistakes I've seen people making (and I've made myself) would be:
(a) Not using enough paint. Many people (including children) end up with a weird 'dry brush' effect with a lot of fuzziness and no clear lines because they don't put enough paint on the brush to start with. When pushing your brush up to an outline of something, make sure there is enough paint on the brush to form a little blob, then carefully angle the brush so that the paint is sweeping the line that you want to trace.
(b) Overworking the painting. Don't do too much mixing of colours once the paint is on the surface. Mixing and blending too much with a brush could cause muddiness of colour. Being overly perfectionistic will also kill the painting, and kill the fun, in my view, so decide when you'll stop working on it - and stick to that.
5. Finishing touches
When you've filled in the whole painting with colour, let it dry and then consider doing a second coat or touch-ups. A painting will rarely look solid or finished with just one coat of paint so perhaps apply more paint, at least to the areas that you want to be highlights and shadows (the darkest and lightest parts of the painting). This will really give your painting depth, as you can see by the touched-up painting below. As mentioned, you could easily hang a stretched canvas painting once it's done. Paintings done on paper can be framed behind glass, either professionally or you could simply put it in a photo frame.
Happy painting! If you want to check out more of my paintings and read about the personal meanings behind some of them, click on the link and scroll down when you get there: http://paperlamp.weebly.com/be-inspired.html
English is an inescapable subject. English skills are needed if we're aiming to sit English exams in order to receive a qualification, but we also need reading and writing skills in order to learn all other subjects, particularly at higher levels - even Maths requires us to read questions carefully in order to come to a correct answer. As we know, English is important in the 'real world' too - teens who have good foundational skills in English will become adults who can read and write emails, do reports and presentations for their jobs if necessary, and communicate effectively with those around them.
I've been teaching children and teens in the subject of English for over ten years now, building them up towards either NCEA or Cambridge syllabuses, and preparing them to communicate clearly to the world around them. (Feel free to email me with queries about Skype or group tuition: firstname.lastname@example.org or check out my website for details: http://paperlamp.weebly.com/)
These are the foundational areas of English that students aged 11-14 years generally need to be equipped in or building towards:
1. Literature studies
Literatures studies are a very significant element of both NCEA and Cambridge International syllabuses for English. More importantly, studying literature can help us to learn about human nature, world views and emotional IQ. A literature study will involve reading (or watching) a literature 'text'. A literature text could be a good quality novel, short story, film, drama (play) or poem. To study the text, the first step is to read or watch it carefully. Next, students need to be taken to deeper levels of study where they can discuss the characters (behaviour, personalities, motivations, decision making), setting, plot, themes and style of the text in detail, where applicable.
2. Language Features
In my opinion, it's ideal if students start learning about language features at around the age of 11-14 years so that they can analyse the way that good writers use language and improve their own powers of expression. Language features include similes, metaphors, personification, and a whole host of other terms. It's great if students can learn to recognise these features in a sentence, and at higher levels they can learn to explain and analyse the effect of such features in writing, connecting the use of particular features with the author's overall purpose. They will also learn to incorporate more interesting, varied and creative language into their own writing by becoming more aware of language features.
3. Reading Comprehension
Reading comprehension is something that children usually begin to grasp from a young age. It's important that we continue to develop these skills as children get older. It's helpful to read a range of written material for meaning e.g. stories, articles, letters or emails, encyclopaedia entries. We need to teach students to read not only on a surface level to obtain facts, but on a deeper level, thinking about the underlying message of the piece or the association that a particular phrase has. It's here that students learn to identify the attitude of the writer, and perhaps the mood that is being created in the written piece. Consequently, they can think about their own response to this.
4. Writing in a variety of forms
When students reach 11-14 years, it's crucial that they begin to write a variety of text types, reinforcing the idea that each piece of writing has a different purpose, therefore it has a different form and possibly different language features that are appropriate. Creative writing, reviews, letters, information reports, speeches, articles and essays each have a different purpose and form. During the process of writing, students need to learn to self-edit (looking in particular at correct usage of punctuation, spelling and grammar) in order to communicate their ideas clearly. At this age, it's great if students can learn the basics of argument (persuasive) essay writing as this will set them up well for further study and also in life - they will learn how to present their unique opinion on a wide range of issues clearly and confidently.
The end result of learning these skills is never just seeing great exam results in English, although that is definitely valid and I encourage all of my students who are sitting exams to aim high. But ultimately, I'd love to see a generation who grow up with the ability to be aware of the messages behind whatever they are reading; to express themselves well in speech and writing; to write emails to friends, family, or even Ministers of government; to be successful in their chosen field; to be aware that the power of language is not to be taken lightly; they will know when someone corrupt is trying to manipulate them with slick words, able to speak up for themselves, able to speak up for others, able to make their way in the world.
Alicia Leitch has been a tutor for over ten years, mainly in the subject of English. She has worked extensively with both home educated and school educated students. Alicia is also interested in Art and has her own creative pursuits in writing and painting. She loves encouraging people to reach their creative and expressive potential.