…on shadow day? On Friday, the teachers at my school went to various schools and other institutions to do “Professional Development” with other teachers or practitioners. We were given a list of schools to choose from, though other suggestions were certainly welcome. There were certain aspects of the schools that we could express an interest in. Some schools do a middle school International Baccalaureate program, some have integrated curricula in various year levels and in VCAL or VET programs that our school is interested in. As I wrote before, I went to see English teaching at another school as well as experience the 80 minute lessons and no bells that my chosen school had. I observed a Year 12 class hard at work revising the short stories of Henry Lawson. (One interesting decision that this school had made was to study only three examinable texts in the three terms and flesh these out with poetry that related to the various texts.) I thought this was an interesting idea in that it had the potential to add depth to the study of the texts they did do. It often seems rushed to complete four set texts in three terms. It is especially interesting in the light of the revised VCE English study design to be implemented in 2007 and now available in draft form for comment. One of the changes to the study design is that in year 12 students will now study two set texts instead of four. This has been described as the “dumbing down” of English study. But what are the students doing instead of the study of the four texts? In a new area of study called creating and presenting, “students read print, non-print and multimedia texts related to the context in order to reflect on the ideas suggested by these texts, to explore the relationship between purpose, form, audience and language, and to examine the choices made by creators in order to construct meaning. They then draw on knowledge gained from their exploration of this context, to create their own text/s in oral, written or multimodal form for adult audience/s and context/s, and draw on their experience of analysing the texts they have read to explain in writing their own decisions about form, purpose, language, audience and context.” To me this seems to be going in the same general direction as Will Richardson and co where the students’ own voices are valued and it is the creation of texts that is seen as (equally) important as the “consumption” of texts. Maybe the revised study design is in some way looking at this balance. I don’t know – I haven’t yet looked at the new study design in detail. In any case the reason for the reduced number of texts at the school that I visited would be more to enhance the exam marks of the students by giving fewer choices of texts to write on in the exam but giving the students more in-depth knowledge of them. And that is a whole other story.
What else did I see? I spent time in two year eight English classrooms with two different teachers, and in one of them the students were participating in Literature Circles. There were differences in the way that this school was doing them but the groups that I sat in on certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves and were engaged in the process of making meaning collaboratively. This was especially evident in the group where the students were creating an alternative ending to Two Weeks with the Queen (they didn’t like the one in the book). The students organised themselves to go round the circle each contributing one sentence each in turn to achieve the desired “happy ending” to the novel. I loved the long lessons (the pace was more relaxed and the students did not flag as you might expect, as there was more than one activity in the lesson) and I loved the no bells. It gave the teacher more control over those last few minutes of the lesson. These are two innovations I would definitely love to see in my school.