How I accidentally became a published writer in 1998 by authoring a book filled with blank pages


Four score and seven years ago in 1998, I became a published author. It was an accident and I didn’t mean to.

The published book was filled with (mostly) blank pages. That’s the cover up above.

I found a copy yesterday because I have this banana box in my office that I’ve been trying to tidy. Like, for years.

Hashtag relatable, right?

It’s a tricky box full of stuff that I find difficult to throw away. It’s all actually crap. But I have a sentimental attachment to some of the crap. Actually, all of it.

But I’m determined to try and live a more minimalistic lifestyle. You know… have less stuff. Be more zen etc.

Aside from meditating and eating Lima beans, one strategy then, it would seem, is to get rid of all the stuff.

This is much harder than it sounds.

For example, at the moment, I can fit everything I need to run my business and do my work in a 35L backpack. And there’s still room for clothes for a couple of days away.

It’s a great bag. It’s a new one. I got it for my birthday.

I also have too many bags. I need a separate closet just for bags.

But what if I wanted to go away for a long time? That’s what I’ve been mulling over. What about all the other dross that has accumulated? What kinds of bags would I need?

More importantly, what about the box of crap that I can’t seem to unload?

A few years back I when I seemed to be moving house every 18 months I realised that I had more than 25 banana and apple boxes full of books on applied linguistics and language teaching and other stuff that I didn’t really care about anymore.

I don’t even know where I got most of the books from. Some of them I bought. But others just seemed to find me. Piles of them.

I think I read one or two. But mainly they made me feel good.

They looked great on the shelves. It’s another dirty little pleasure of mine. Interesting books on bookshelves.

You can tell a lot about someone by the books on their shelves. That’s what we book snobs tell ourselves.

But really, it’s about as accurate as trying to psychoanalyse your friends by reading meaning into the titles of the songs they listen to on Spotify (yes, I’m watching you).

I tried to sell the 25+ boxes of books to the second-hand university bookshop close to my old university. All I wanted was a hundred bucks.

They just laughed at me. And eventually, they had to ask me to leave the premises. The books had no value they said.

So I dried my tears and went back to the department where I used to work and offloaded all of the boxes of books to Carmen the secretary.

They were, of course, very grateful.

No one said anything, not even Carmen who was of course very happy to see me after so many years and who tried to re-recruit me to the academic staff.

It hadn’t been the same since I left, you see.

It’s also possible that many of the books were actually theirs to start with.

Mea culpa.

I was still a student at the same university in the same department when I accidentally became a published writer of the book with blank pages.

No, it wasn’t a diary.

But that must be a similar kind of thing. I mean, if you write diaries for a living and they’re published, then aren’t you a published writer as well?

Diary writer at a party: “Yeah, man… I usually put a book out every year… Last year, though… that was a toughy. Nearly missed the deadline… But you should see what I’m working on for next year…”

Diaries don’t usually have the author’s name on the front, however. So I’m a step above a writer of diaries.

The cause of my accidental publishing was my students. It was, at least, partially their fault.

As an ESOL teacher, I needed ways of filling in time. You know, in the classes.

Sometimes these fillers also had the added benefit of having pedagogical value. That means people learned as a result.

I had stumbled onto the idea of getting my students to do a journal writing exercise every class for 10 minutes.

Hardly original, but it was brilliant. I set the time and patrolled the class. They stopped talking and started writing.

We had some rules. Such as there were no rules. Apart from the rule that there were no rules.

And they could also ignore pesky things like spelling and grammar. Also a kind of non-rule, rule.

The idea was to focus on pure fluency.

If I still had the 25 banana and apple boxes full of second language acquisition theory and research I could probably justify it some way.

But on a purely pragmatic level, it worked beautifully. That’s all I really care about these days. If something works, do I need to know why?

Not only did the journal writing use up at least 20 minutes by the time they had come in, said hello, settled down, got started, written a bunch, done a word count and graphed their output… but it actually improved their writing.

I had the data to prove it.

And then when I was wracking my brains on what to submit for one of my assignments for the degree I was completing, I decided to write up my journal writing activity.

The lecturer liked it so much that she sent it to a national organisation that worked with refugees and migrants. And they liked it so much that they made a few suggestions and published it.

I was so happy. Especially when I received royalty cheques for years after too.

Once I got a cheque for $1.43.

That must have covered the envelope, paper AND the stamp costs.

If you’ve never received a royalty cheque you wouldn’t understand. Even though it cost me around $10 in fuel to get to the bank and back, I loved depositing those royalty cheques.

Happiness can’t last forever though. And a few years ago I asked them to keep the royalties and donate them to a good cause. Namely themselves.

And today I realised that if I scan and post the last remaining copy here, I can get rid of the last remaining paper copy from the banana box of crap on my floor.

There might be one more copy though, slipped deviously into one of those 25 boxes of books off-loaded to Carmen at the university.

Workbook for Learners of English and their Tutors by Graeme Smith





Cultural Capability Trial for Foundation-Level Educators

ako brand

Here’s something new from my He Taunga Waka Colleagues at Ako Aotearoa. They would love you to trial new content they have been writing.

The focus is on working more effectively with your Māori and Pasifika learners.

You’ll need to visit Pathways Awarua to trial the new material and there’s a link to a survey to complete at the end. Your comments will be anonymous.

Please participate. Your comments will help make this work even better. If you already have an account, just log in with that. You’ll see a screen like the one in the image below once you’re underway

Cheers, Graeme

Screenshot 2018-02-13 11.34.05.png

Kia ora tātou/ Talofa/ Malo e lelei/Kia orana/ Bula vinaka/ Greetings!

We are pleased to announce the launch the Cultural Capability trial for tertiary foundation-level educators!

General information

The purpose of this trial by the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) is to improve the cultural competencies of educators across the tertiary sector.

The trial is based on cultural values – values will guide any educator to attain a broader understanding of their adult learners. The Māori Cultural Capabilities pathway trial focuses on the key value of ‘ako’, the concept of learning and teaching. The Pasifika Cultural Competencies pathway focuses on ‘values’ that are embedded and practised in cultural and everyday settings of Pasifika people.

What to do?

Firstly, read the attached information. The activities are located on the Pathways Awarua site, and here is the link to get there – https://www.pathwaysawarua. com/


  • Read the information sheet first
  • Login by creating a username and password
  • Complete the survey monkeys after each pathway to give feedback
  • This trial will remain open till the 28 February 2018

Thank you for your participation,

The He Taunga Waka team from Ako Aotearoa

Information sheet for Cultural Capability trial 2018

Greetings/kia ora /kia orana/talofalava /malo e lelei /takalofa lahi atu /ni sa bula vinaka!

The purpose of the Cultural Pathways initiative by the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) is to improve the cultural capability of educators across the tertiary sector. For this trial, the TEC are focussing on Māori and Pasifika cultural capability. This information sheet provides details for about the Cultural Capability trial created by the He Taunga Waka team from Ako Aotearoa.

Tell me more about this Cultural Pathway trial?

The cultural pathways consist of some sample activities which are interactive, for trialists to engage in, and respond accordingly. There are two pathways for trialists to complete; the Māori pathway focuses on ‘ako’ (the concept of learning and teaching); and the Pasifika pathway focuses on ‘values’ that are embedded and practised in cultural settings or instilled in the everyday actions of Pasifika people.

Where are they?

These two pathways and activities can be found on the Pathways Awarua platform, an online site for adult learners seeking to sharpen their literacy and numeracy skills in real-life situations such as driving skills, dealing with money, and health and safety. It is intended that educators (such as tutors, kaiako, lecturers, and training advisors) will be able to access these cultural capability pathways for their professional development too (easy instructions are found below).

How much time will it take?

This trial takes about 45-60 minutes, and there is a short survey to complete at the end of each Pathway.

How do I access the trial?

  1. Click on   and create a login-username and password.
  2. Click on go
  3. Select a pathway (Māori or Pasifika) on the left of your screen and complete the activities.
  4. Click on the link to a short surveymonkey to complete for that pathway.
  5. Go back and select the other pathway (Māori or Pasifika) and complete the activities.
  6. Click on the link to a short surveymonkey to complete for that pathway.

What happens after the trial?

We assure trialists that your personal details and written responses will be kept confidential and private. Your responses in the surveys will inform the design of further activities on these two cultural pathways. Information gathered in the surveys will be used for educative and research purposes only; and primarily for the benefit of tertiary educators.

We wish to finally thank you for your participation in this trial

The He Taunga Waka team from Ako Aotearoa


Digital badges – Part 2: Earning your first badge


If you’ve set up a Mozilla Backpack account already (see my last post for instructions), then you can have a go at earning your first digital badge. This is what I did first.

Note: You won’t receive the badge if you don’t have the backpack account already set up. But that won’t stop you from doing the five challenges or activities.

Also, if you get stuck on one of the copy and paste challenges, it’s most probably because you did not copy and paste all of the text. Some of the text was hidden on my computer when I did challenge 3.

See how you get on. If you really get stuck, someone already made a video here.


Digital badges – Part 1: Getting started

One of my goals at the moment is to explore the world of digital badging and micro-credentials. Digital badges are:

a validated indicator of accomplishment, skill, quality or interest that can be earned in various learning environments.

If you’re interested you can follow along as well. Here is how I made a start:

  1. Checked out the home page of Open Badges, the platform that I’m exploring. This is a good jumping off point for more information about what digital badges involves and how you can get started.
  2. Watched the video above for an overview. The context in the video is the USA, but don’t let that put you off.
  3. Set up my Mozilla backpack here. This is one of the places where you can store digital badges that you earn.

Job Posting – Literacy and Numeracy Facilitator


Occasionally, I post or repost jobs relating to the adult literacy and numeracy education sector. Here’s a good one.

My friends at The Learning Wave are looking for LN Facilitators. They’re a great bunch to work for. I know as I’ve worked with them on the professional development side of things for just a little under 10 years.

If you’re a graduate of the NCALNE (Voc) or NZCALNE (Voc) and you’re looking for interesting work that combines adult literacy and numeracy with business outcomes then you should apply.

The Learning Wave have a very open mind about the location of facilitators and ways of engaging with them… What they’re after is trainers with the “X” factor. I know that applies to many of our graduates.

Because of the growth that they have forecasted, they may also be interested in people working as associates in other major facets such as leadership, health and safety leadership or learning design.

There’s a generic email address for enquiries here: if you want to send a CV or bio and areas of interest.

The full job ad is here on Seek. And I’ve pasted it in below as well.

The Learning Wave are seeking people who have:

  • the empathy and patience required to work with diverse groups of learners within a team committed to the delivery of high-quality personal and business learning outcomes
  • relevant and engaging front-line, adult learning delivery skills and experience
  • the ability to support learners on a journey that is linked to business outcomes
  • a qualification such as the National Certificate in Adult Literacy and Numeracy or its equivalent.

You will be working as an associate of The Learning Wave to deliver integrated workplace literacy and numeracy programmes to a number of our business clients.

You will deliver learning programmes on-site to small groups (typically 6-9 learners). The programmes are tailored to meet the specific business requirements of our clients and their employees. You will have varied hours and work locations that will be throughout New Zealand, depending on the client’s programme and worksites.

You need to have a good understanding and experience of facilitating adult literacy and numeracy programmes in workplaces. You must be eligible to work in NZ to apply for this role. If you’re the right person, we can discuss whether this is a contractor or full-time role.

About The Learning Wave:

The Learning Wave is one of the largest government-funded workplace literacy and numeracy providers in New Zealand. Operating since 2005, we have worked with many organisations throughout New Zealand to integrate workplace literacy and numeracy skills into organisational change programmes. We have some exciting opportunities to grow our business in 2018 and need to make sure we have the right team of facilitators who can deliver to our clients.

Please send your covering letter and CV by Monday 16th October 2017.

AFTER: Guidance for Supervisor or Verifier Comments

AFTER (16).jpg

Read this if

  • You are acting as supervisor or verifier for someone who is completing their NZCALNE (Voc) qualification.
  • You need to sign off on the final piece of work that one of your tutors is about to hand it before completing the NZCALNE (Voc).

Download the guidance for supervisors or verifiers

This is all contained in one PDF you can download here below. The download shows a copy of the actual template as well.

What does the supervisor or verifier need to do?

If you are the supervisor or verifier for someone completing the NZCALNE (Voc), you need to discuss the review questions with the candidate and record your comments. You can use the template on the following page or adapt to your own purposes as you need.

Collaboration between the candidate and you to review teaching delivery is one of the requirements of the NZCALNE (Voc). It’s also good teaching practice. We can’t sign off on the whole qualification unless we have some evidence of this.

For our purposes, a supervisor may include any of the following:

  • The tutor’s direct manager or programme leader.
  • A colleague that is acting as study support person.
  • Someone in management that has already acted as a supervisor or verifier for another part of this training and qualification.

What’s covered?

To sign off the final assessment task, we need evidence that tutor and supervisor have reviewed the teaching and facilitation in several areas. The best way to think of these is in regards to three reflective questions:

  • What are their strengths?
  • What are some potential improvements for future delivery?
  • How does any of this inform planning for the candidate’s professional development?

This review should be a friendly collaboration and two-way conversation. It could include teaching observation evidence, but it doesn’t have to. It’s not a performance review for internal promotional or salary review.

What do I have to do?

As their supervisor, we expect that you are already aware that the candidate is completing this qualification. You may have already verified your portfolio evidence for other parts of the course.

It’s the candidate’s job to:

  • Make the arrangements to meet with you.
  • Provide any evidence or assessment material you may wish to see in relation to this final assessment task or any part of the programme.
  • Provide you with an electronic copy of the Supervisor or Verifier Comments and Checklist template.
  • Negotiate how and when this template is completed by you.
  • Return the completed template to us as part of their supporting evidence for this final assessment task.

As supervisor or verifier, it’s your job to provide us with:

  • Your contact details including email and phone.
  • Details of when this review took place
  • Brief summary comments relating to the three reflective questions. As a guide, you might write one or two concise paragraphs totalling about 100 words for each of these. We won’t be counting words. Quality here is more important that quantity so feel free to keep it brief.
  • Your signature and date of signing at the end.

Download the guidance here for supervisors and verifiers including notes showing where and what to write for your candidate:


How do I enrol in TEACH BETTER NOW…? How do I enrol in the NZCALNE (Voc)…?

If you are teaching foundation education at any level, you need to be qualified and on a continuing professional development journey.

You need to start this journey through the Teach Better Now programme available on Pathways Awarua.

At the heart of this is the new New Zealand Certificate in Adult Literacy and Numeracy Education (Vocational/Workplace) – the NZCALNE (Voc).

There is a cost for assessment and gaining the credential. But it’s free to register on the website and you’ll have access to all of the course content.

Here’s what you need to do to kickstart your foundation learning professional development journey for this year:


  1. Register on Pathways Awarua if you haven’t already.
  2. Join our virtual classroom.
  3. Enrol in the qualification.
  4. Get started on the coursework and first assessment.

FIRST: Register on Pathways Awarua

1. You need to register on as a tertiary educator. If you are already registered, then go to step 5 below and join our virtual classroom.

2. Enter your details in the form including a username and password.

3. If you start typing the name of your organisation or employer it should appear in the box. Then add a name for your class, accept the terms and conditions and click Register. If you are an independent contractor please use the code 8888.

4. Once registered you should see a screen like this below. Ignore the code on the right. This is for you to use with your own learners later. Right now you just need to click the link on the left for the new NZCALNE (Voc).

SECOND: Move yourself into our virtual classroom

5. Now you should see the main NZCALNE screen below. Next, you need to join our virtual class. Click the head icon to go to your account settings. If you’ve already done this you can go to step 8 and enrol.

6. Enter the join code 1622DD to join our virtual class. Then tick the box to move to this class.

7. Save your settings and return to the main NZCALNE pathway.

Third: Enrol in the NZCALNE (Voc)

8. Now you can enrol in the programme. Make sure that the enrolment module is selected. Then click start. If you’ve already enrolled and you’ve also moved into our virtual classroom, you can go to the last step.

9. Read through the enrolment information.

10. Fill in the enrolment form with as many details as you can. Then save and move to the next screen.

11. If you can’t fill in everything, you’ll see a screen like this below. But you’ll still be able to move forward. Just click the arrow on the right. Or click Retry to add more info.

12. From here, you need to show that you understand some of the conditions of enrolment. And you need to let us know if you have access to learners of your own and whether you’ve done other study at level 4 or above.

13. Nearly done… Add your employer and supervisor’s details.

14. Complete the self-assessment. There are two pages.

15. If you are an experienced TESOL teacher please add details here. Likewise, if you are a very experienced trades or vocational trainer with existing evidence and you want us to consider this please add details here.

16. Add your timeframe

17. Review the summary of your enrolment and save

18. Drag the box ALEC1 Admin to submit for comment

19. You’re done…! Click the link for the new NZCALNE (Voc) to return to the main course pathway.

FOURTH: Get started on the course

20. Get started…!