Monday, November 28, 2005

Some thoughts on literature

I’ve been in the habit of going to Monash Uni library to do my marking. I can get heaps done there when I’m not distracted by housework and my computer (yes I know they have computers at the library but they are not so obviously in my way, tempting me). This afternoon when I was driving home I was listening to an interview on Radio National with Wayne Macauley author of Blueprints for a Barbed Wire Canoe. It has recently been put on the list of thirty recommended books available to be studied by Year 12 students in Victoria by the VCAA. This list has caused some controversy recently in certain sections of society as it contains (shock, horror) films, Paul Kelly’s song lyrics, a blog and even a CD, as well as novels, for example Camus, Green, Hardy, poetry, drama (Hamlet and King Oedipus and others) and short stories (Henry Lawson and others). I really enjoyed hearing the conversation between Wayne and Ramona Koval on writing, literature, the effects of a parent’s death at a young age, and more. I had decided to read as many of the texts on the list as I could and I will definitely be looking out for this debut novel of a new Melbourne writer. Recently I read another novel on the list, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, “an epic tale of fathers and sons, of friendship and betrayal, that takes us from the final days of Afghanistan’s monarchy to the atrocities of the present.” I found this book gripping and absolutely unputdownable. I read it in a day and was haunted by the writing. I am so glad that literature like this is on the list that our young people may get to interact with. I’m pleased that the list contains such a rich range of literature in its widest definition, texts that teach us what it is to be human.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Creative family stories

The family stories that my writing classes have been working on have turned out to be really interesting. With some students the learning was able to be integrated with the history subject they were taking concurrently, as they were doing family histories. It led to some rich learning opportunities. Because the stories were from the generation of the students’ grandparents or even further back, we had lots of cultures represented: Armenia, Ireland, Afghanistan, China, England, Wales, Holland, and Scotland to name some. In their reflection the students commented that they had learnt so much from their parents and grandparents in finding out about the earlier generations. I am grateful to Wendy, my colleague who developed this activity. The idea of being able to fill in gaps with imaginative reconstruction was so fruitful. I did invite the students to post their stories to their blogs if they felt so inclined and some did, so have a look if you want to here and here. Here is an example from Bry’s blog who posted just an extract from her story:

Here’s just a paragraph from my family story... It’s the second paragraph about my uncle Pete who had a really interesting life and I want him to write a book…

I was born in South Africa in 1948 and spent my childhood in a boarding school from the age of six, therefore I never really knew my sister who was eight years younger. My Father was European but had grown up in South Africa; my mother was English and met my father on one of his trips to the English headquarters of his ever expanding role in the Aacommodation Iindustry. I try not to remember my parents but the only time I really did was when I was four, because at that age I wasn’t too young to understand them, yet not old enough to defy them. I remember one summer day I was playing outside and saw one of the maids throw out a poisoned rat into the garden. Curious I went and picked up the lifeless rat, and being a typical, lonely only child I decided to keep it in my pocket for someone to talk to I found that a poisoned rat was the only thing I could truly relate to. As I was not allowed to play with the black boys at the market and the only interaction between me and children my age was at fancy dinner parties where I was forbidden to make noise. I remember my mother called me inside, she hated me getting dirty or smelling of perspiration from the intolerable heat, annoyed that I couldn’t play I sulked in my room for several hours, I heard my mother in the basement laundry of our over the top and far too big home, I walked to the laundry shoot and let my new little friend rat, that had been fermenting in my pocket, fall to the pile of washing below. The shrieks and fuss made me smile. At a ripe young age of six, I wasn’t sure what hate was, but I was pretty sure it was my feelings for my mother. She knew after that I would be trouble, even as I knew it too.
J. a student from Clarence Fisher’s school recently posted on her ideas of the educational value of blogs. It is very interesting.
Yesterday our teacher wrote this quote on the whiteboard, "Blogging can be dangerous and has little educational value." We had to agree or disagree with this quote. I disagreed and these are my reasons. One reason I disagreed was because I find bloging very educational. I believe that if you write information you have heard or read you are most likely to remember it, just like if you don't know how to spell a word you write it correctly over and over when you get it wrong and this helps you learn how to spell it, or when you study and your trying to remember something you write it down and it helps you to remember it instead of just reading it.
Blogging is like this and kind of like writing notes just you can go back and review the stuff you have written any time and any where as long as u have a computer. Also it is available for everyone else if they don't know something they can just read your blog entries or if they don't know what you are talking about and they want to they can just comment and ask you what it means or what it is. Logs aren’t dangerous as long as you don't write down any personal information about you, your classmates or anyone else. These are all reasons why I disagree with this quote.
There were some comments on this post by some students in my class, which were also interesting for me, as they showed a variety of views.

This week two fellow edubloggers and I are going to be presenting a workshop for teachers on blogging as a reflective space, as a dialogic space for reflection, both for teachers and students. There is much discussion happening in the blogosphere at the moment to do with what students and teachers can say in such a space. I am really looking forward to this, to get to meet with fellow teachers interested in blogging, not to mention being able to meet with James Farmer after only knowing him through cyberspace (although since he’s been on the World Bridges webcasts I feel like I know him in another dimension than just through his web-presence and his web enabling.)
I was also really chuffed to read this post on Graham Wegner's blog about his top five blogs at the moment.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Saturday afternoon

What's been happening? I know you're wondering. I haven't posted for a while and boy have I been missing the buzz. There have been several good things happening (it's not worth going into the bad things) One of the real satisfactions of teaching came the other day when I had my writing class in the computer lab working on their family stories, some of which are well written and really crafted pieces. I'm sitting there, totally unnecessary (the point I have been trying to get to) hearing voices from around the room - Jess would you conference my story with me, Nicky can you come and read this - what do you think, what does 'enticing' mean, and a little later, what does 'intensely' mean? (I later found these were words Elise wanted to use in her story but was confirming their meaning before she used them). There was a real buzz in the room, the very buzz one does associate with a workshop.And then there's preparing for the Year 12 orientation classes that happen next week. These students have only just emerged from their year eleven exams a few days ago and now they are in year twelve. We want them to have a sense of the classes they are going to have next year and so they start before their holidays. They may not consciously think much about the work they are to do but at least we can plant a few seeds that may germinate over the holidays and give the students a sense of agency and control about how they approach Year 12. In English we will be starting with the short stories of Henry Lawson. But before that we will talk about their goals for 2006 and give a clear indication of where they are headed by the end of that year. They will also write a letter to their teacher so that we have a sense of our students as people and in my reply they will get a sense of who I am as a teacher. Of course most of these students know me as I have had them before in different English classes. We will start looking at the Henry Lawson stories through artworks of Tom Roberts and Fred McCubbin and others illustrating what life was like in the Australian bush in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.Yesterday afternoon I had the pleasure of meeting a fellow blogger face to face where previouly we knew each other only through our online personas. It was great. It made me reflect how different or similar our online persona is to our 'real' persona. (I have great trouble with that sentence as I am sure that both personas are real, but then what is reality?) In this case N's online and f2f personas were closely aligned. Even though I haven't posted much lately I have still been reading voraciously and listening to podcasts. I have still been learning and reflecting. But I've had writer's block! Hopefully that will go away soon, because I love my virtual community. I just found this and though it very funny. I hope you enjoy it too.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Blogging Rhythms

I find that being part of a global community has its really interesting aspects. I sense a rhythm in the way we post. I go to bed having posted and wake up with lots of news to read and sometimes comments. Similarly, the rhythm of the seasons, particularly obvious in the exchange of posts between my class and Clarence Fisher’s class, commenting on the weather. I also felt it when Clarence wrote beautifully about the change of season from summer into “fall” and at the same time I also felt the change of seasons here in Melbourne. But now one that’s not so good. Now that we are winding down, I am getting great ideas from Tim Frederick and hoping that I’ll be able to remember them when I need them. Likewise when I would have appreciated the ideas that I am getting now, teachers in the other hemisphere were on their summer break. But I won't complain. I’m glad I’m part of a community.
And as part of that community listening to the EdtechTalk webcast with Barbara Ganley was really excellent. Barbara’s interview with Jeff and Dave on the benefits of student blogging – stating that it's all about the connections, the ability to connect in so many ways, ways that involve extending the creating and writing process, and being able to chart the journey, to encourage active learning, with the students reflecting on their own learning, and connecting with each other. It’s really worth listening to.

Just lately I have noticed that it’s harder to spend the time really thinking about what I want to write, and again Barbara talks about time and teaching and time and blogging. She articulates it very well. “And of course good teaching takes a lot of time. Reflective practices take a lot of time. Nurturing communities takes a lot of time. So I'm okay with the time it takes.”
And so am I.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Farewells and moving on

This happened a few weeks ago, but I’ve only had time to post about it now. In our school the homegroups are mixed, that is, there are a few students of each year level from year 7 to year 12 in each homegroup. This means that every homegroup is affected when the Year 12s leave. We all had farewell parties in an extended homegroup time a couple of Fridays ago. Another thing that our school does when the students are in year 7 is to make a time capsule. In this time capsule they put in things that are important to them at the time, questionnaires they have filled in about what their favourite song, group, movie, tv show, or what ever, is. They put in certificates they have received, or photos, whatever symbolises year 7 to them. These are then stored for five years and returned to them at that homegroup farewell party in Year 12. It is truly an experience to see them exclaiming over how they have grown, changed, developed, or not, in those five years. All the rest of the homegroup looks on as they open their time capsules, and there are tears and laughter. It really is an amazing time. It is a ritual greatly valued by the students, that I have never seen in any other school. As an observer of all this, it makes me think of the real meaning of what we are doing here at school. It reminds me that learning takes place in many different ways.