Monday, October 23, 2017

Lessons from Matilda Wormwood, the teacher.

My musings here were published by Good Teacher magazine.

The world belongs to those who read

Roald Dahl knew that keeping the questioning spirit alive is an important key to success in life, and his book characters reflect the magic that is all around us in the world if we take the time to look. Matilda shows us that it is never too late to learn about the world though the magic of stories.
Matilda notices that although there are people all around her and they are talking, she doesn’t hear their words when she is engrossed in a book.

It is quiet and I am warm. Like I’ve sailed into the eye of a storm
From Matilda, the musical

 Did you know that there are more than 300 public libraries in New Zealand? And that more than 100,000 people visit a public library every day?  Did you use your local library card during the school holidays? Are you aware which of the students in your class have library cards?  Have you encouraged those who haven’t yet, to join up? 

‘A library card is the start of a lifelong adventure.’
Lilian Jackson Braun


The need for access to knowledge is as essential for us today as it was for Roald Dahl’s Matilda, but access is not evenly distributed in society and our school libraries are in danger of being seen as a poor relation when it comes to funding when forced to compete with technology. Matilda reminds us that the physical space a library occupies is needed as learning transitions from analogue to digital, from institutions of collectors and keepers of the knowledge to institutions that share and preserve society through digital archiving.  We have a duty to support our local library spaces to ensure that the gap between the haves and the have- nots in our society does not become progressively wider and more divisive.

The Wormwood family is exclusively hooked on television. Matilda teaches us that reading can give us ways to understand and to be understood by those we are in contact with, thus expanding our knowledge of the world we live in. It all adds up. If you read for just 15 minutes every day then in a year you will have read more than a million words. To precis the words of Roald Dahl… All the words you have r will give you a view of the world that non-readers don’t have.
And there is the added advantage of no commercials to have to suffer first!
Matilda’s booklist can be found at
Check them out. They are great classics to share with a class.

1.     Questions are really important.
‘Did you know,’ said Matilda suddenly, ’that the heart of a mouse beats at the rate of six hundred and fifty times a second?’
‘I did not,’ said Miss Honey, smiling. ‘How absolutely fascinating. Where did you read that?’
‘In a book from the library,’ Matilda said. ‘And it means that it goes so fast you can’t even hear the separate beats. It must sound like a buzz.’
‘It must,’ Miss Honey said.
From the book ‘Matilda’ by Roald Dahl.
Children are constantly attempting to make sense of their place in the world and the world around them and good books are invaluable. 

‘The greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.’
Roald Dahl. 

One way that teachers can build on the issues raised in books is to ask questions that are open to enquiry and lead to further questioning and are not easily answered. Questions about meaning, truth, value, knowledge and reality. Thinking about and making distinctions between concepts helps students develop verbal reasoning. Good questions are ones that are difficult to answer.
Here’s a couple to be going on with…
Of all the things that you are learning, what do you think will be the most useful to you when you are an adult?  Why do you think that?
What’s the difference between pretending and lying?
Is there a difference between wanting and needing?
For a list of questions for juniors with a free printable
For older students there is a great online portal
The more opportunities that students have to discuss why things are as they are and to think about possible choices and consequences, the better prepared they are when they meet with difficulties and challenges.

To stimulate a philosophical discussion from a book that you are reading to the class…
Read part of the story then ask is there anything strange or interesting or puzzling to you?
(Have one or two big questions of your own ready to contribute just in case it takes a while to get going)
Collect the questions that the students ask and use them as a focus for in depth discussion.
Sophisticated picture books are great to use as a basis for this. Three to get you started…
The Red Tree by Sean Tan  ISBN 9780734411372
How to live forever by Colin Thompson   ISBN 9780099461814
Little Mouse’s big book of Fears by Emily Gravett   ISBN9780330503976

1.     Be confident and have faith in yourself. 

I always said to myself that if a little pocket calculator could do that, then why shoudn't I?
Matilda, Roald Dahl.

Don’t be afraid to highlight your strengths. None of the main characters in Dahl’s books fit in with the crowd, and have to take matters into their own hands in order to find happiness. Matilda reminds us that we need to be able to take responsibility for our own outcomes and we can use our brain power to triumph over stupidity. Mistakes are valuable as long as you learn from them. We all respect inspirational teachers. What are your strengths? If you are not sure what you are good at then ask the students! They will know!

1.     Age is irrelevant.

‘Just because you find that life’s not fair, it doesn’t mean that you have to grin and bear it.
If you always take it on the chin and wear it, nothing will change.
Even if you’re little you can do a lot.
You mustn’t let a little thing like ‘little’ stop you.
Matilda, the musical.
Lyrics by Tim Minchkin

Have you read ‘The Ripple Effect’ by Tony Ryan? It is a powerful proponent of the idea that anyone can make a difference with their everyday actions. We all have the power within ourselves to create change or to inspire others to make a difference, but ideas only work if they are translated into action. Tony Ryan’s book is full of ideas just waiting for the reader to start a ripple.
Or as Matilda would put it… Even if you are little, you can do a lot.  
Believe in your personal power and be the change that you would like to see in the world around you. Who knows where they might end?

And a final thought from me about Matilda, motivated by an article by Dr Susan Rennie, chief editor of the Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary who discusses Roald Dahl’s use of creative language. The names that Dahl uses hint at the nature of his characters. Matilda’s school, Crunchem Hall suggests what is in store for the students faced with Miss Trunchbull, who would like to ‘crunch them.’ I feel sure that he must have been aware that the name Matilda is of German origin and means ‘mighty in battle.’
How appropriate!
The full article can be found at

Saturday, October 7, 2017

My new Christmas resource

A Christmas mystery activity for teachers in my TPT store
No preparation. Just download, print and go!

Who stole Rudolph’s nose?