Girls and Bullying: what to do about it?

Yesterday someone told me what had happened to the daughter of a friend.

The quiet and fairly studious Year Seven girl was having a birthday party.  She invited four girls from her class – girls that she thought she got on with OK, although they weren’t close friends. They all accepted the invitations.

The mother did the preparations and the girl looked forward to the occasion.

On the day, none of the four girls turned up.  None.

I can well imagine the anger of the mother who had prepared the party, but I can’t begin imagine the misery, hurt and humiliation of her daughter or the loss of self-esteem and anxiety about having to go back to school on Monday to face those girls.

I can’t be bothered trying to work out why they might have done this.  Was there a ring-leader who peer-pressured the others into going along with her nasty little plan?  Who knows? Perhaps they did it simply because they could.

But I spent a lot of time wondering what I would do in this situation if it happened to my daughter.

If I thought my daughter could carry it off, I’d remind her that ‘living well is the best revenge’ – or, in this case, appearing to live well.  I’d suggest that on Monday she go up to the girls, singly or in their group, and say something like, ‘I’m sorry you couldn’t come on Saturday.  You missed a great party!  Perhaps next time ….’

But that would probably be a tough ask for a girl crippled by the cruelty exhibited towards her.

Probably I’d talk to the teacher – not with any desire to have this particular incident addressed at school because that might put my daughter in an even more unpleasant position in relation to these girls – but certainly so that the teacher was aware of the bullying that was occurring and alert to future manifestations.

Having said that, the kind of subtle bullying in which girls engage – the raised eyebrow, the facial expression, the turned back, the refusal to share  – can be very hard to pin down.  The girl on the receiving end can hardly draw attention to the bullying by complaining about being ‘looked at’ in a particular way.

Which makes it all the more vital that teachers notice this kind of thing, and having noticed it, act to make it clear that this kind of behaviour is not acceptable in the classroom.

Would I try to speak to the parents of the girls?  Probably not.  I find it difficult to believe that they would have been aware of what was happening and, unfortunately, it’s often the case that parents are so protective and blinkered when it comes to their children, that they wouldn’t believe them capable of such cruelty, anyway.  … But they are.

Bullying of any kind is one of the (many) reasons why the teaching of literature in our schools is  so important.  Literature encourages the use of  imagination, and with imagination we are able to develop  empathy and compassion. Empathy is exactly what these girls lacked: they had no idea what it would be like for the girl whom they so thoughtlessly snubbed – which is what enabled them to act the way they did.

If you’re a parent, what would you do if it were your child in the situation I’ve just described?

If you’re a teacher, and you were told about this situation occurring among students in your class, how would you handle it?




Gamification: using game design to encourage learning and provide motivation for students.

Why is it that I feel so uneasy about the claims made for gamification?

Perhaps it’s because some of the curriculum-specific resources that claim to use gamification, and ride on the back of the (fairly scarce) research, in fact are little more than a number of activities whose completion leads to a series of ‘rewards’.  They have not been designed to meet specific learning outcomes, and often  rely on the tag of ‘problem-based learning’ to give them credibility.

Are children really learning?  Certainly they’re engaged, there’s no doubt about that – and that’s definitely a positive.

My problem is that I simply don’t believe that learning happens by stealth.  I don’t think we can ‘trick’ children into learning.

Being engaged, playing a game and getting results doesn’t necessarily result in the transference of any learning into another situation .  Not unless the learning is made specific.  Significant research into learning talks about the importance of sharing learning intentions with children, making sure that they know what it is that they’re learning and helping them to assess later whether or not they have been successful.  Research supports ‘visible’ learning and involving students in the learning process.

Rewards systems are problematic. Yes, I know children like them.  Well, actually, I know that they are liked by children who are likely to be successful. I’m not so sure about the others. Ranking systems are also problematic.  Again, great for the successful children, but not very motivating for those who aren’t successful at high levels.  Any focus on learning is necessarily undermined by this approach.

And we’ve all read the research about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.  We know that intrinsic motivation is much more conducive to learning.  But gamification is all about extrinsic motivation … Those rewards again.

When curriculum-specific gamification resources do more than simply offer superficial instant gratification to students, they can be highly effective – especially when used thoughtfully by teachers who have selected them for sound educational purposes that are transparent to the children.

Aware of the pitfalls associated with gamification, when developing our online literacy resource ( we deliberately stayed away from gamification elements. Instead we use pedagogical strategies that make clear to children what it is that they are learning and encourage multiple attempts to complete the activity before they access an explanation.  After engaging in activities that are intended to consolidate the learning, children are asked to apply that learning in other situations.  Finally they are encouraged to reflect on what they have learned, and how successfully.

Check us out at

Using the reading strategy: Making connections

For parents
This builds on last week’s blog which explored how you can improve children’s comprehension by asking them to ‘make connections’.

Text-to-self connections
As you read to or with your child you can demonstrate this strategy by thinking out loud, making your own connections. For example,

‘I think I saw a monkey like that at the zoo.  I remember that the zoo-keeper was feeding him lots of vegetables.’
‘I can remember when my mother did something like that!  I was very cross!’
‘This reminds me of …’

(But, of course, don’t overdo it.  If you’re reading with your child the strategies that you demonstrate shouldn’t take away from the pleasure of the reading itself.)

After you have made a connection as you think aloud, you could go on to say something that helps your child to understand the value of the connection:

‘So I already know what monkeys eat.  But I don’t know where they come from, or how long they live.  Let’s see if this book tells us about that.’
‘That helps me to understand how the girl in this story feels’.

 When you do this, you’re showing your child how to make connections that help reading comprehension.

Choose books that reflect close-to-home experiences, ones with which the child can identify, so that you have an opportunity to encourage the making of connections.  You can prompt your child to make his/her own connections by asking questions such as

  • ‘Have you ever felt like that?’
  • ‘Has anything like that ever happened to you?’
  • ‘Why do you think X behaved like that?’
  • ‘How many different kinds of  (dogs/spiders/whatever is the focus of the informative book) do you know?

And to make sure that they understand how the connection helps them to understand, you can ask:
‘How do you think that will that help you to understand this book/character?’

At first they might not be able to do this, but with frequent practice and assistance from you they will come to see how making connections helps their understanding. Good readers often make the connections unconsciously, but some children will need help to do so.

Text-to-text connections
You can assist your child to make text-to-text connections by choosing:

  • books by the same author that have the same character
  • short stories of a similar genre (adventure, horror, comedy, mystery etc)
  • poems that follow a similar theme (eg poems about animals or a similar idea)
  • books by the same illustrator (eg Shaun Tan, Graeme Base)
  • books that provide different versions of familiar stories (eg The Three  Little Pigs)
  • resources that present comparable information  (eg a couple of books on whales or dinosaurs, two websites on the same topic).

When reading with your child, ask questions such as:

  • Do you think that Harry is different in this book?  Why?  Why not?
  • Isn’t this book a bit like that other one we read?
  • Which book/website do you think is more useful to you?  Why?
  • Which Anthony Browne book do you like best? Why?
  • What are some of the things that are the same/different about these two stories?

Text-to-world connections
It is only to a very small extent that our own experience helps us to learn about the world, the people in it and the events that occur.  Most of what we learn about the world we learn from books, magazines, television programs, film and the Internet.

So for readers to be able to make text-to-world connections, they need a reasonable knowledge of the world.

  • Have conversations with your children about (appropriate) things that happen in the news.
  • Encourage them to watch documentaries appropriate to their age group and talk about what they have learned.  Re-telling in their own words what they have read or viewed is another strategy that can be used to help develop understanding.
  • When reading a book with your child, ask questions such as
    – Have you heard this idea before?
    – Have you heard about this problem before? What do you remember about it?
    – Is this what happens in the world?  Would people really behave that way?  Does this make sense?
  • Make your own text-to-world connections in order to demonstrate how it is done:
    – This is like what I heard about on the news the other night …
    – I read about this in the newspaper …

Teachers try to develop these text-to-world connections in all aspects of the curriculum.  Helping your child to build his or her background knowledge in order to be able to develop these connections will increase understanding in many school subjects.

A reading comprehension strategy: making connections

For parents

Good readers use what they already know to help them to understand new ideas and experiences that they come across in books.  They make links between what they are reading and their own lives and experiences; they make links between what they are reading and other books, newspaper or magazines they have read or films or television shows they have seen or websites they have visited; they make links between what they are reading and what they know of the world in general and how people behave in that world and how things ‘are’.

The process of recognising something or someone in the story that reminds the reader of their own experiences, is sometimes referred to as a text-to-self connection.  Young readers are usually most interested in themselves and how everything connects to them, so this kind of connection is the one that they make first.

As they read, they are thinking, ‘This part reminds me of a time when I ….’ Or ‘My grandma is like that!’ or ‘I sometimes feel scared, too.’

Making these kinds of connections helps readers to understand how a character feels and why a character might behave the way he or she does.  It also reminds the reader what he or she already knows about the topic which might be the focus of an informative book, thus helping them to make connections and better understand the new material in the book.

Good readers also make connections between what they’re reading now and what they’ve read or viewed before.  This process is sometimes referred to as a text-to-text connection and is the kind of connection that comes after text-to-self connections.  For good readers it will happen naturally; others will need somebody to point out the connections before they start to develop and use the strategy for themselves.

‘This is just like that other book I read by this author.  It was about a boy and his father, too.’

‘This book really reminds me of that other one I read about a footballer.  The boy in that book had lots of difficulties to overcome, too, and he was successful in the end, as well.’

‘This is a different story about the three little pigs.  This story is told from the wolf’s point of view!’

‘ Hey, the documentary about whales said that too!’

When readers make connections between different things that they read and view, they are learning to recognise patterns.  They recognise patterns in terms of a particular author’s style and the kinds of things he or she writes about; they recognise patterns in terms of story outlines; they recognise patterns in illustrations by a particular illustrator.  In this way everything they read does not come to them as something completely new: there are familiar signs that they know and understand and this helps them to understand the parts that are different and new.

When reading informative books good readers are able to recognise information that they have seen elsewhere and so are able to confirm that it is likely to be reliable information.  When they read contradictory information, good readers know that they will need to check further to see which piece of information is correct.

The most sophisticated kind of connection is the one that is made between what the reader is reading and what he or she knows of the world as a whole – a text-to-worId connection.   Very young readers don’t know much about the world and so this kind of connection is a difficult one for them to make.  Older readers, however, know more about their immediate community and what happens in it, as well as the world presented to them via the media.  They hear about events in the news and view examples of how the wider world operates by watching various shows on television and in films.  When they make connections between what they read and what they know of the world, they are adding to their understanding.  They begin to understand ‘big ideas’ or themes which are relevant to their lives.

In the next blog we’ll look at ways in which you can help your children to develop this comprehension strategy.