Sunday, July 30, 2006

Curriculum renewal and school improvement

There’s been a bit going on lately that’s making me reflect about my work as a teacher. It’s interesting for me to note that some of the teachers that I respect a lot are proponents of the idea that the teacher is in the classroom to teach and that the notion of facilitating learning and being “the guide on the side” is old hat for them. But I strongly believe in constructivism and connectivism (thank you, George Siemens), and I think more critically of my teaching when it is too much centred on me. I want the students to learn for their own sake and I believe that students learn well when they are able to articulate what’s important to them with their peers. The class discussion doesn’t always have to go through me. Of course, here I am rehashing an argument I had with fellow teachers yesterday when I was clearly outnumbered. These teachers couldn’t see that the students would be learning too much in a situation like Literature Circles where the students are in charge of their own discussion. I am, however, a strong believer in it. There will always be questions about the role of the teacher in the classroom and it doesn’t have to be either /or anyway. Most teachers would use more than one way of being teacher/facilitator in the classroom.

On Thursday, we had a student-free day where we were rewriting the curriculum for 2007 and incorporating, or should I say, foregrounding the concerns of VELS (Victorian Essential Learning Standards). In English we assume that teachers will consider links to other discipline areas (almost impossible not to do with Text study, when looking at backgrounds and themes of texts), interdisciplinary learning, especially the focus on thinking and reflection, ICTs and communication Design and Creativity, as well as the physical personal and social learning, all of which are in the new standards. English has always been good at that, I think. Another thing that we can keep in mind is that English teachers do have a “particular responsibility to develop literacy skills” and to “assist their students to transfer these skills across the curriculum,” as Karen Moni says in Only Connect, a very interesting new text about English Teaching, schooling and community that I have just started to read. I am not suggesting that we English teachers don’t have to participate in curriculum renewal; on the contrary it is essential that we do. But I feel that as English teachers we have a lot to offer in school wide curriculum renewal that is happening in Victoria at the moment.
On Friday I went to a workshop that was designed to help classroom teachers interpret that data from the AIM (Achievement Improvement Monitor) test, in order to make decisions on school improvement. It was led by Philip Holmes-Smith who has worked with Ken Rowe. I must admit that at first I didn’t like the AIM tests. I thought that having the students give up four hours of valuable learning time to just find out that they are average or worse below average was not beneficial. How is that helpful to the students’ self esteem? OK, it’s good for the above average students. But they, by definition, are in the minority. But after this workshop I can see that, if we examine the data carefully (recognising its limitations), we as English teachers can make decisions on how to improve the learning for our students in the classroom and look at what gaps there might be in our programs. And that has to be something positive. So on Tuesday and Wednesday our Year Sevens will be undergoing the Maths and English AIM tests, being tested on their knowledge and skills. If classroom teachers are to make use of this data, however, we must be given time to analyse and use the data (more that the introduction I had on Friday). If that doesn’t happen, the data may simply be used to critique teachers further when there is nothing we would like more than to be able to improve our teaching. Interrogating the data can also show what teachers are doing well, and that factors other that the teacher can also play a crucial role in how the students perform.

And just by the way, it's one year today since I started blogging. Happy birthday, blog.

1 comment:

  1. Many happy returns of the day. (Belated)I love your blog and can often identify with the things you write about.

    Our year 7s did AIM tests at our school today too. I agree with all your other statements and I find VELS quite validating for what we do as English teachers.