Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Quiet classrooms - thing of the past?

Allow me to be unusually controversial for a while:

When I visit a class of six year olds, I expect them to be able to write their own name legibly, copy my name and a book title from the board, and write a simple sentence about the story they have just heard, this latter with some encouragement and assistance.

I expect this because this has been my experience over the last six years of working in infant schools. Inevitably there would be probably one child who was less able or willing to participate, but with persistence and encouragement that child would produce a lovely piece of work, and the child and teacher would be thrilled.

Increasingly, it is my experience that these proportions of ability have been quite reversed: it is only a handful of children in the class who are able to manage the task, whilst most of the class struggle to scribble their own name, have no idea of what they are copying from the board, are not able to copy it accurately, or even approximately from the board, and are entirely flummoxed by the thought of having to write a short sentence, even with considerable help.

Teachers and classes of children vary enormously of course, but I am concerned that too many children are not learning how to sit quietly and concentrate on a piece of work. They are not expected to be able to achieve much, so they don’t. If they manage to get something scribbled down quickly they get to choose to do something fun, but they are not encouraged to try a bit harder, to do a little bit more.

This was illustrated tome very clearly in a school where I worked with two classes, a year 1 group and a year 2 group. The year 1 group listened well, actively participated then produced work of a consistently high standard. The year 2 group, a whole year older, were noisy, couldn’t think of any relevant questions to ask, and produced rather mediocre work.

In discussing this with staff later, I realised that the difference was not down to the ability of the children, but to the ability of the teachers involved. The year 2 teacher was excused as a “maths specialist”.

A maths specialist??

These children are 6 and 7 years old, they don’t need specialist subject teachers! They need teachers who can create an atmosphere where they can learn effectively, who can enthuse them, spark their imaginations. We need teachers who can TEACH! Sadly the year 2 group experience is by far the more widespread now.

I always know when a teacher has prepared for my visit by the quality of the questions the children ask in our “Q’s and A’s” session. Children who have been prepared well and encouraged to give some thought about what it might be like to be an author and how books are made, have fantastic questions to ask. Unprepared children tend ask irrelevant and unfocussed questions about dogs.

There are some great teachers out there who do a fantastic job under very difficult circumstances. I’m not knocking teachers. But I do wonder about the prevalent classroom culture that is disabling children from learning effectively.
This culture dictates that it is acceptable, or even normal for small children to make a lot of noise; that it’s acceptable to be told umpteen times to listen, that doing anything is better than doing nothing, rather than doing their best.
Let’s bring back quiet classrooms, the skill of concentration and the reward of hard work being the piece of work itself.

This is a deeply complex issue, and not least affected by the numbers of children displaying special needs that are now in mainstream classes, but let’s not be deflected: how can small children work properly in a noisy disruptive environment?

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Too many ideas!

Clearly, having too many ideas is not a rare occurrence on this blog - when I started typing it in, it remembered me from before!

Although January is usually a pleasantly quiet month for us, this year has got off to a roaring demanding start, and I am already upto my nose in ideas. And yes, I AM standing up, thanks.

I've been playing about with some ideas for Frog as superhero; kids love the picture of him as the Cake Crusader, so now he's gone off and found himself the full superhero outfit.

"Faster than a speeding bullet, is it a bird? is it a plane? NO! I'ts Super Book Dog!"

"As soon as Frog walks into a book shop or library, he becomes... SUPER BOOK DOG!"

I think SuperBook Dog will be part of the revamped "Frog's Five a Day" initiative. It seems that asking parents to spend ten minutes a day reading a story can be too much for some people, so I have decided to restyle with only FIVE minutes. I will be writing a series of stories that can be read in five minutes or less, to encourage the less determined to have a go, presenting them in a bedtime story style book. It's hard for me to understand how a ten minute story can be too long at bedtime, but I've heard enough parents say it to know it's a problem, so I shall address it.

I'm also going to be emphasising how Frog the Dog books bridge the gap between picture books with minimal text for under 5's, and the "young readers" books that have very few line drawings. Children in this critical stage of reading need every encouragement to keep reading, so lots of colour pictures are still important.

"Feed your brain with Frog's Five a Day!" There, you heard it here first.

I have to go now, as Frog would say, it's time to cool down my brain.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

We have resolved....

Happy New Year!

We sincerely hope that the year ahead brings you everything you need and much of what you want, that the months ahead will be strewn with opportunities, fun filled and brimming over with contentment.

We have resolved this year to have even more fun despite the gloomy economic climate. We are planning to write a new book and aim to be seen and sold in new outlets. We will be refurbishing the content Frog's Wagsite and trimming up the Reading Heroes initiative to be even more focussed on helping parents and kids to read together easily.

We want to visit more schools to excite children about befreinding books, and hope to include extra visits to out of school groups like Brownie Guides to help with their Writer's Badges.

So much to do, so few fingers!

Watch out for "Feed your Brain with Frog's Five a Day" coming to a blog near you soon!
(Visit the FrogBlogDogLog to see what Frog did in the holidays....)

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Sharing the excitement!

We've had a very upbeat week with the launch of our Frog Blog Dog Log Song on itunes, with great coverage in the local press, and fantastic feedback and enthusiasm from everyone who has heard the song and seen the vid on youtube.

We are poised to hear it being broadcast on Radio Lancashire early next week, and have asked everyone we know to request it on all the local radio stations.
The challenge now is to convert that enthusiasm into sales, and to spread the song virally, to create a snowball effect that will carry us into mainstream audiences.
Any suggestions and offers of help gratefully received!

From a personal standpoint, I am realising how much more enjoyable it is to share a project like this, than it is to always work alone. I really appreciate having someone else getting over-excited with me. That's not to say that my family and friends don't support me, because they are all incredibly supportive, but it's the very special nature of sharing a creative idea, working to give it life, then witness it give pleasure to other people that is feeding my own enthusiasm.

Chris Carter, my co-conspiritor and the singers are all very local with strong local connections so were inundated with calls from well wishers after the local press coverage - a first full page pic spread for Frog and I on the front of the leisure section, with a follow-up story and another pic inside of all the singers - whereas my social network is thrown much wider so I didn't get that same initial response. I was grateful to be able to share their excitement, whilst it was just another day in the office here.

This has decided me to make sure that I share the experience of hearing our song played on the radio with Chris next week at the studios of the BFWSB so we can get a crowd atmosphere to celebrate. The BFWSB - the Blackpool Fylde and Wyre Society for the Blind, is a very fitting place to gather, as that is where Frog and I recorded our audio CD, "It's Frogtastic!" and first met Chris, who we then commissioned to write our original music.

Now I have to return to the less public work to start chasing retail buyers again - it's nearly Christmas you know!

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Dreadful Cat Doggerel

We have been waiting very impatiently since Monday 3rd for our Frog Blog Dog Log Song to go live on itunes - it's now two whole days overdue. so while we go berate the unforunates who live on the other end of the itunes helpdesk, try a bit of this, and if you don't go buy our song as soon as it IS ready, we'll just keep on writing more. You've been warned!

Dreadful Cat Doggerel.

Squeakers Maguire swaggered into the room,
The fur on his tail was quite patchy.
Three whiskers were bent, his claws ragged torn,
And he whistled a tune that was really quite annoying.

Squeakers Maguire sauntered up to the bar,
“A milkshake!” he bawled, “Make it snappy!”
The room turned to stare, Squeakers just didn’t care,
That the barman was not looking at all pleased.

Squeakers Maguire stared an amber eyed glare,
His tail shook with menacing twitches,
“A Milkshake, please sir,” he said, smoothing his fur,
“Or your face will need several sticking plasters!”

Squeakers Maguire took a step back or three,
As the barman snarled, spitting and growling,
“No milk served in here, we’re all dogs who drink beer,
So leave now and none of your lip!”

Squeakers Maguire turned slowly to go,
Pretending he cared not a hoot,
When he got to the door, did a wee on the floor,
Then fled as the dogs chased him right down the street.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Not a dogumentary

Here it is - it's not a dogumentary, it's a pop song and vid!
We'd love to know what you think - it's already proving popular with the under fives who demand to see it over and over.
Make yourself a coffee, turn up the volume, and enjoy some unashamed fun!

The song goes live on itunes et al on Monday 3rd November, so we've been waiting until this week to send out the promo packs to radio stations and press.

We're hoping to upload the video to a site that will enable us to sell the vid for a few pennies for mobile phone use, as we're keen to promote and utilise the digital technology to share the message that books are fun.

Even a short time ago we would not have been able to do this, but this is so exciting - book characters are no longer confined to the flat page, but live and play in any of the many places where kids have access. Maybe not every child has access to the internet at home, but they nearly all have mobile phones, heaven help us! In presenting Frog the Dog as a friend and advocate of safe, silly, and exciting fun, we hope to reach a wider audience than the printed word could achieve.


Chris Carter of Bluebird Recording Studios and I both need this to go large for us. We work hard at our respective businesses, but we both need the break into mainstream recognition. We believe this song is good enough to do this for us both.

Please, there is plenty you can do to help, and we need your help to get noticed.

It would be be amazing if you could do any or all of these:

Buy the song from itunes, Napster, Rhapsody of Amazon MP3

Watch it, rate it and review it on youtube -

Be our friend and spread the word on myspace -

Watch the vid and leave us an encouraging message - It gets lonely here sometimes!

Send these links to your friends, and tell every child you meet about Frog the Dog or maybe treat them to a book or toy for Christmas - suitable for kids upto 8yrs old for the books and CD's, and any age for the Frog Ted toy - he's very cool :)

Thank you!

I have to go send out press packs, and then cross my fingers that this takes off so that both Chris and I get noticed enough to earn a salary soon!

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Back at the blogs

Hey, did you miss us? No??
We simply had to take some time out to work on the new drawings for the Frog Blog Dog Log video, and I find that the only way not to get distracted it to turn the computer right off!
So I had a blissfull week creating some new images, and realised how little time I get to create new work for it's own sake. A piece of art always has to have a purpose, to fit a specific brief, usually to illustrate a story.
I couldnt wait to get started on this tuba playing pic!
The video has been a collaboration with our good chum Chris Carter of Bluebird Recording Studios who wrote the original music for us, and who was keen to develop that into a pop song. I really wanted a video short that would amuse everyone and be a good promo tool, so we set about planning.

Because we have such a strong international following, I thought it would be good fun to have Frog with the most famous London Landmarks, and to have clips of our own dear beach here in Fleetwood; if we can do our bit to promote the tourism in Fleetwood, I would be very happy.

I also wanted a mix of Frog in his various guises, cartoon, plush toy and real dog. So the plan emerged that we would use brief shots of a mix of all these to create an animated effect with stills, but being the creative silly people we are, we couldnt resist a little stop animation with a Frog Ted. No cakes were harmed or eaten during the making of this video!

Having assembled over 80 photos, and a range of cartoons, I then spent a week storyboarding the pics into position, humming the song as I worked to give a rough plan. Then it was into the studio to work on the stop animation, where Chris excelled himself, and there was much giggling as we put it together and saw how it looked. We (Chris) spent quite some time going over and over it to get the synchronisation right, so when we finally finished very late that night, it was very hard indeed to go home and NOT share the results until the next morning!

We really want the song and the vid to be something for the kids to enjoy that they can access themselves through their mobile phones/mp3 players. We know that kids who are too old for the books still enjoy the whole concept and character of Frog and his friends, so like the blog, this song and vid are a new way of being friends with Frog.

So after that brief but exciting burst of creativity it's back to the marketing and selling in the run upto Christmas. Back to arranging signing events and book orders; but it's great fun telling everyone that we have a pop song out and how much fun it is. Stand by your ipod - launch day is 3rd Nov - we're nearly there!
PS: We'd be so appreciative of your support - if you can spare the time to comment, rate or review our vid on youtube, we'd be really gratefull!
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