How dictionaries can help children become independent readers

The first time a child reads a chapter book on their own is an exciting milestone in their literacy journey. Suddenly, they can explore the world of books at their own pace, without always relying on having an adult beside them. But is there a way of encouraging and supporting children in their early years of independent reading to ensure their love of books continues?

In my household, one of the signs of my seven-year-old son’s emerging ability to read independently was a new fascination with words, such as tremendous and astonished, which are rarely heard outside of Enid Blyton books. Similarly, we could all tell that my niece had also been reading Blyton’s books when she started calling her brother’s behaviour ‘horrid’.

However, it is not just quaint words from old English that have emerged as new words for my son since he started reading independently. I have also been surprised by his use of unusual and sophisticated language found in David Walliams’  bestselling books.

In Mr Stink, there is an item which the titular character has purloined and a cloud which is malevolent. The tramp is described as not just smelly, but malodorous, and Christmas songs play incongruously in the background.

In his books, Walliams does not talk down to children and uses words that might challenge the most literate of parents. And I think this is a good thing. It is extremely valuable for children to build their vocabulary, especially when reading unfamiliar words in the context of a sentence within a book they are enjoying.

But while I was happy my son was building his vocabulary, I worried that his need to keep getting out of bed to ask the meanings of words might frustrate him and stifle his enjoyment of reading.

One way that I found to solve this problem was to offer him a children’s dictionary so he could look up words he hadn’t seen before on his own. My seven-year-old son has started grabbing his Early Years Dictionary to find the meanings of unfamiliar words, and the very act of looking up and reading the correct definitions has become part of the fun of reading. The dictionary has proved to be a useful tool to encourage and support his independent reading and build his vocabulary.

In a paper titled Vocabulary, written as a Closing the Gap Initiative, Anne Bayetto wrote of the importance of the  increased vocabulary children gain through reading widely.

“The link between vocabulary and comprehension is strong and significantly influences academic success,” she wrote.

“Vocabulary knowledge is fundamental to being an independent and successful reader and writer and is comprised of the words that are understood when heard or read.”

As mentioned before, building one’s vocabulary does not have to be boring, and discovering new words is often part of the fun of reading.  In an article published in The Chronicle, Alberto Manguel remembers the experience of asking a teacher what a word meant and being directed to the dictionary.

“We never thought of this as a punishment. On the contrary: With this command we were given the keys to a magic cavern in which one word would lead without rhyme or reason (except an arbitrary alphabetical reason) to the next.”

And so, with the help of some good books and a dictionary, I am enjoying watching my son discover new words and broaden his vocabulary – even if it might involve describing his sister as ‘horrid’.

Definitions according to

Tremendous, adjective

1             Very great in amount, scale, or intensity.

‘Penny put in a tremendous amount of time’

‘there was a tremendous explosion’

Astonished, adjective

1             Greatly surprised or impressed; amazed.

‘he was astonished at the change in him’
‘we were astonished to hear of this decision’

Horrid, adjective

1             Causing horror.

‘a horrid nightmare’

Malodorous, adjective

1             Smelling very unpleasant.

‘leaking taps and malodorous drains’

Purloin, verb

1             Steal (something)

‘he must have managed to purloin a copy of the key’

Malevolent, adjective

1             Having or showing a wish to do evil to others.

‘the glint of dark, malevolent eyes’

Incongruous, adjective

1             Not in harmony or keeping with the surroundings or other aspects of something.

‘the duffel coat looked incongruous with the black dress she wore underneath’


The Oxford children’s dictionaries are available from Oxford Australia.


Oxford First Dictionary

How teachers can bring digital technology into the literacy classroom

Teachers know that change is a constant in the classroom, and this has  never been truer than in today’s digital world. New technologies are not only changing the way children live, but also how they are taught, and teachers are embracing these opportunities.

According to Australian Literacy Educators’ Association President Beryl Exley, a shift towards digital literacy is one of the main changes teachers are seeing in the classroom; other changes include the teaching of visual literacy, media literacy, critical literacy and  functional grammar, rather than just traditional grammar.

She described these changes not as trends, but as substantial parts of the curriculum. According to Ms Exley, digital technologies  offer great opportunities for literacy educators when used alongside more traditional methods.

“The digital world is the reality, and it brings certain challenges, not to replace existing curriculum but to extend it,” she said.

The digital environment can make an impact on the way grammar itself is taught, due to the new platforms on which language is used.

Traditional versus functional grammar

Changes in literacy teaching are evident in the increased emphasis on functional grammar alongside traditional grammar.

The difference between the two is that while traditional grammar is based on normative rules and the standards of edited English, and is mainly limited to describing the linguistic elements of written or spoken texts, functional grammar considers how language varies within the context of culture – whether  in visual, audio, spatial or gestural modes.

It is not hard to see that this shift towards teaching functional grammar is, in part, due to the changing landscape in which text and language is available.

The new emphasis on functional grammar was highlighted in the release of the Australian Curriculum English (ACE) by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), which drew upon the complementary methods of traditional Latin-based grammar and systemic functional linguistics (Parsing the Australian Curriculum English: Grammar, multimodality and cross-cultural texts by Beryl Exley and Kathy A Mills). The best of the past and the present, you could say.

A practical approach to bringing technology into the classroom

One way in which teachers have combined traditional and digital learning has been in developing a class blog about a certain subject. Ms Exley illustrated the role of  blogging in the modern classroom by citing a case study of primary school students using an online interactive blog to document their learning in science (The potentials of student initiated netspeak in a middle primary science-inspired multiliteracies project by Jay Ridgewell and Beryl Exley).

The study revealed that the blog extended the time and space available for student reflection outside the teacher-led class discussion. However, the project was not without its pitfalls:  Exley and her fellow researcher found that school-based blogs, “engaged students in ongoing dialogue about scientific content in different ways to programmed learning and real face-to-face class discussions”, but “…failed to develop important forms of scientific literacy, most notably evaluation”.

Crucially, traditional teaching and evaluation should underpin digital activities to ensure that other important elements of learning were not neglected in the contemporary classroom.

In another study, an eight-year-old boy engaged in travel blogging, an activity found to provide a pleasurable experience as well as pedagogic benefits (Children’s pedagogic rights in the web 2.0 era: A case study of a child’s open access interactive travel blog by Beryl Exley and Linda-Dianne Willis).

As students, even in their earliest years of education, become more comfortable in the digital sphere, literacy teachers have the opportunity to embrace newer technologies, while using existing methods to extend their learning experiences.

How schools can embrace the benefits of social media

Social media can be a valuable tool to help schools connect and engage with their communities. But just getting started can be intimidating for new users. Which channel is best for which purpose and how can pitfalls be avoided?

Marcellin College in Melbourne has achieved great success through its social media strategy, becoming the most followed secondary school on Twitter.

Deputy Principal Adriano Di Prato explains the college’s approach to social media, the benefits and opportunities of the channels it uses, and how other schools can get involved.

How do you use social media in your school (which channel)?

Marcellin utilises a range of social media to connect to different segments of our community. We use Twitter and LinkedIn to connect to parents, staff, Old Collegians and their families, businesses and other educational settings. We use YouTube to post videos that connect to our students, we use Facebook for a specific social justice award we promote to Old Collegians. We also use Instagram for promoting Visual Arts.

What is your following on social media (followers/likes)?

Marcellin remains the most followed secondary school on Twitter with an average of 500,000 views per month and over 3,659 followers.

Why did you start using social media in this way?

Without question, social media is the phenomenon of our time. One can’t ignore its reach and capacity to help us connect, collaborate and engage. We decided to use social media to share our remarkable story as a Catholic learning community, sharing broad opportunities and successes by our students and staff.

Social media is consistent with the college’s marketing guidelines and supports our desire to maintain the strength and brand of our college identity. It also supports our presence and attention in a competitive marketplace.

Our college has integrated Twitter into our online communication strategy, not as a marketing tool (a natural by-product, yes), but primarily as a platform to engage with our community. We use it to celebrate the diversity of all in our community, showcasing skill, ability, participation and family spirit. Twitter is the best way to connect with people and express ourselves, allowing our entire community to discover what’s happening. Twitter also helps our community create and share ideas and information, all posted in real time, inviting discourse and greater relationship connectivity.

Has your use of social media changed over time? Why?

The frequency of our use of Twitter has successfully been maintained by a larger group of key staff , who tweet and promote the rich and diverse opportunities at our school.

We’re also always reviewing new platforms and considering how they could enhance learning, community, relationships and connectivity.

What benefits does social media offer your school, its staff or its students?

It allows us to “control” our message and share our story with a broader community beyond our local context. It has also allowed for greater collaboration with educators and other Marist schools across the globe.

Our marketing strategy is fundamentally about making lasting and memorable connections.

We have over 90,000 visits per month to our website, with approximately 27% new visitors: based on Google Analytics, 85% of all new traffic to our website per month (primary message platform) comes directly from our social media platforms. These are impressive statistics.

How can other schools get involved?

Just do it!, but ensure that your social media use is part of a comprehensive communication and marketing strategy, which incorporates online, print and in-person methods.

Do you have any advice on the pitfalls or opportunities involved with the use of social media?

Research the best fit for your learning community – don’t just go with the biggest or latest fad. It’s important to understand that any social media strategy takes time to implement and cultivate in order to gain currency and authenticity.

Consideration must be given to a strategy and process to curate rich media content and commit time, each day, and to posting content that connects and engages.

Adriano Di Prato, Deputy Principal, Marcellin College

Marcellin College is a leading independent Catholic secondary school for boys in Melbourne, established by Marist Brothers in 1950. Explore Marcellin College’s Twitter activity @Marcellin


There are many reasons to adore libraries on Library Lovers’ Day

Modern libraries can take the form of a local book exchange to a huge community centre, complete with roof gardens and cafes.

The reasons why Australians love them are just as diverse. From the smell of books to the friendly librarian, there are plenty of reasons to visit, and to love, our libraries.

To mark Library Lovers’ Day, here are some of the OUP Australia staff’s favourites.


I did high school work experience at the library. I love books and so I spent a lot of time there; I wanted to see what it was like behind the scenes.

As a kid, I remember borrowing the Saddle Club books, or sitting in the kids’ section of my local library and reading.


I love libraries. My sister works at a law library, so when we were in New York, we visited the legal library there. We also went to the New York library with the lions out the front, and we visited libraries in Washington DC and Beverly Hills. We also visited the Beast’s Library from Beauty and the Beast at Disneyland. Pure Magic!.

I love taking photos of the buildings. The library in Boston had beautiful study rooms, with green lamps and high ceilings – it was really picturesque.

I also regularly go to my local library in Carnegie to borrow books.

I remember my primary school library, and story time with the librarian. When I started work at here, I was excited to see some of the books that I read at that time, by Robin Klein and Alison Lester, were published by Oxford.



I remember going to the school library when I arrived in Australia from Italy when I was 11. I used to go to learn English and there was a great librarian there – she was enthusiastic and friendly, and spent time going through the books with me. I still have a copy of the Wizard of Oz that I read at the time. There were books about learning English, but I liked the novels the best.

Now, I often go to my local library to borrow books.


I love my local library because I can go there to get all the new releases. It has great service and is nice and quiet. Usually, I reserve books and go there to pick them up, but sometimes, I go and browse or do some life admin or writing.

When I was at uni, I used to go to the State Library to study. There was a little nook in the Redmond Barry Reading Room that was nice and quiet, and it smelt good.


I’ve just joined the Bargoonga Nganjin North Fitzroy library. It’s in a beautiful, brand new building on St Georges Road. It has a roof top garden and a community centre, and hosts concerts and other events. It’s a really nice space.

I just borrowed my first book from it for book club – Extinctions by Josephine Wilson.


I have strong memories of starting to read ‘proper’ novels in high school. I remember reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and S.E. Hinton’s books, and wondering how I was ever going to make a dent in all of the books along those huge shelves.

At uni, I loved the quiet and sense of studiousness at the library. It was a peaceful escape from the activity at the college where I lived.

As a mother, I reacquainted myself with libraries, taking my children to Rhyme Time. It was a happy surprise to see how libraries had become much more than just books – they were gathering places and learning spaces, with the books at their centre.

Parents need better support to ensure the health and well-being of children

Parents play a more important role than any choice of school in the mental health, well-being and even earning potential of children.

That is the belief of Matthew Sanders, the founder of the hugely successful Triple-P (Positive Parenting Program). The program, developed at the University of Queensland, has helped millions of families with the help of more than 30 years of research, becoming one of the Australia’s greatest social science exports.

Dr Sanders will launch The Power of Positive Parenting book, celebrating three decades of the program’s development, at the University of Queensland on Wednesday, 7 February.

As part of the release of the book, Dr Sanders is urging the Australian government to take a population-wide approach to parenting to improve the future of families, describing an emphasis on parenting as a major public health initiative.

“Statewide availability of The University of Queensland-developed Triple P – Positive Parenting Program in Queensland is an example of a forward-thinking, community health approach that supports parents to promote positive outcomes for children across the state,” he said.

“Unfortunately, there is not enough of this kind of thinking when it comes to government spending. Too often, when evidence-based or non-evidence parenting services are offered, support is limited to the most vulnerable, those who have been identified and targeted by agencies as needing help.

“While well-meaning, such an approach will never shift rates of children’s early onset mental health issues or child maltreatment. A mindset that views parents as the problem, rather than part of the solution and singles them out for attention is only going to send parents away from the very support we are trying to give them.”

Dr Sanders is concerned that parents’ about the outsourcing in public policy of parents’ responsibilities – of schools charged with improving children’s resilience and mental health and of the medical profession to deal with the common and everyday issues parents face in raising children.

He said that the way children are parented profoundly affects their long-term health, their ability to learn, their mental well-being and how they get on with others. Ultimately, it can determine their likelihood of ending up in jail, taking drugs, becoming violent, or alternatively, participating meaningfully in society.

“Evidence-based parenting programs can help parents and children regulate their emotions and behaviour, using competently trained and supervised staff, or robustly evaluated online interventions. They have an active coaching component and allow for the practice of skills as part of their core curriculum.”

Rather than blaming parents for society’s problems, Dr Sanders believes we needed to start supporting them with a public health approach informed by evidence.

Find out more about The Power of Positive Parenting  or listen to Dr Sanders speak about parenting on Talking Lifestyle

Power of positive parenting

Oxford Word of the Month: February – doing the doors

WotM header

noun: (of a politician) giving doorstop interviews to the media, especially at Parliament House.



A favourite tactic of journalists seeking comment from politicians is to conduct a brief interview with them as they enter or leave a building. In Australia this kind of interview has been known since the early 1980s as doorstopping or a doorstop (‘I doorstopped the Premier, who ruled out an early election’; ‘cabinet members didn’t hold the usual doorstops before their weekly meeting’). In theory the doorstop is an impromptu occasion, but it is often used as an opportunity for a party or government to deliver a scripted message. It is a familiar piece of theatre on the nightly news.

In the twenty-first century we find a new term for this activity: doing the doors (‘the Member for Barcoo is doing the doors today’). The term casts politicians as agents seeking to be interviewed, rather than as innocent victims of doorstopping. The earliest recorded evidence shows that the ‘impromptu’ interview is often planned:

A new Labor backbencher has admitted the federal Government has a roster of MPs primed and ready to deliver the message of the day to waiting media as they walk through the doors of Parliament House every morning.
Doing the doors’ gives politicians a chance to comment on the issues of the day, to turn round negative stories in the papers and breakfast radio and TV, or add to their opponents’ discomfort. (The Australian, 19 June 2008)

Doing the doors in the political sense is an Australian English term. An older meaning exists for the same expression in Australia and elsewhere; it describes the job of a bouncer, who controls the intake of patrons at clubs and pubs, or the job of a door person, who sells tickets at the door of an event or performance.

A sense of performance is certainly inherent in the Australian meaning, and critical reviews are not uncommon. One commentator referred to the politicians who ‘do the doors’ at the bidding of their leaders as ‘puppets reciting their prepared statements when allocated the task of “doing the doors” for the television grabs’. (Crikey, 10 June 2011) Another described doing the doors as ‘the cute ritual of pollies lining up at the main entrance on the Reps side of the building to deploy pithy one-liners for the assembled media hacks’. (West Australian, 1 December 2009)

But doing the doors continues to be an important ritual for media and politicians, and, despite cold winters and frosty mornings in the nation’s capital, the show must go on:

Frost lay on the ground. Hot air balloons hung in the sky. At 7.50am in the national capital, Eric Abetz was doing the doors. (Sydney Morning Herald, 2 June 2010)


Doing the doors will be considered for inclusion in the next edition of the Australian National Dictionary.


WotM footer

WotM signature