Thursday, April 27, 2006
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
The new iteration of Literature circles is going well. The students have had two meetings discussing their novels. The novels they chose were: Guitar Highway Rose by Brigid Lowry, Stalker by Hazel Edwards, Mandragora by David McRobbie, Borrowed Light by Anna Fienberg, and Holes by Louis Sachar. Each week they get into their groups and discuss what they have read. The discussions are very interesting, especially in the light of John Howard’s criticism of English teaching last week. The gist of his displeasure is that English teaching is being “dumbed down” by teachers focussing on literary theory in the English classroom. The literary theory that Literature Circles is based on is sometimes called Reader Response theory, in which the primary focus is on the reader and the process of reading rather than on the author or the text. It sees students as active agents in the making of meaning and that interpretation and knowledge production is largely a social act. It fits well into the curriculum at adolescence as, in my experience, the students are supremely social beings on the whole. If the alternative that Howard is proposing is a return to a diet of only whole class text study where the teacher is seen as the fount of all knowledge and student choice is not encouraged then I for one would see that as an impoverishment of English curriculum. Literary theory has enriched my teaching of English, and the discussion coming out of Literature Circles is just one example of this.
Saturday, April 22, 2006
And on a related topic Dave from Worldbridges is going to be a dad very soon and his partner Bonnie is recording her journey on a blog called Crib Chronicles. Last night I listened to a podcast that Bonnie put out which was a Skype discussion between Bonnie and two of her friends, one in Canada and the other in Australia. As I listened to the podcast I was returned immediately to my days in playgroup which is where I learnt all the secret women’s business of what it meant to be a mother. Now it’s on the internet, and new generations of parents are sharing their knowledge and experience with the world. It really is a privilege to be part (however peripheral) of these momentous journeys.
I have been collecting free advertising postcards that you can find in cafes and cinemas for a while (always two copies of each postcard). The students were to do some writing inspired by any aspect of the postcard they were given then share that writing with the other (random) class member who had received a copy of the same postcard. The pairs shared their writing and then there was the opportunity to read their pieces to the whole class. In discussion afterwards I found myself pointing out how the writers had made connections to their own lives, such as when V. wrote about her love of playing tennis in response to a card advertising the Australian Open and A. wrote about a Japanese teacher at her previous school in response to a part of a photo on her card that reminded her of a kimono.
And here is what I learnt: A. said that this was just like the connector role in Literature Circles and I realised that this activity that I had thought unconnected to Literature Circles was most definitely connected. I made a connection and I learnt something.
Another part of the discussion came up when one of the students said (and others agreed) how good it was to share the stories with each other. The need and desire for an audience. Who knows? In the future we may have our own blogs for this class too, the class who have seen the value of an audience.
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
This is an extract of Zoe’s blog:
“When I heard about this, I said that these refugees don’t deserve to be punished like this. They are humans just like us! We happened to be born in Australia, and they happened to be born in Sierra Leone. What have they done wrong? They don’t deserve this. Think about it. What if it was you who was trying to enter Australia? If I lived in Sierra Leone, I would be trying everything I could to get out of that country. All I wanted was to live in another country, and I was told that I could not live in another country.”
And further on:
“We have luxuries here in Australia. We have fresh drinking water, computers, houses, jobs, education and television. We have more than we could expect, more than the basics. A family has extra cash. What do they do with it? They don’t think about those poor people like in Sierra Leone who a lot of them don’t have a house to live in or even enough food to eat! So what does that wealthy family do with their extra money? The go out and buy ANOTHER T.V. “One with a bigger screen,” they say. “Or a computer with a flat screen, or a lap-top that I can carry around with me.”As you can tell, the whole blog post is very powerfully written.
But the students didn’t stop with the research and writing. They wanted to do something more. And so they decided to hold a cake stall to raise money to help the refugees in Australian detention centres. The students all participated. They did all the work themselves. And they were so proud when they raised over $200 in one lunchtime. This was largely as a result of their passionate concern for the well being of others. The students were very clear that they do not want this issue to be a transient one. They want to keep learning and keep acting. And they want to keep publishing their findings and their thoughts on the internet. Wow!
Sunday, April 09, 2006
I'm convinced that at least for some blogging will be a part of the way that teachers demonstrate their commitment to professional learning. And now to the post that caught my eye. It is by Christopher Sessums who has written lots of thought provoking stuff recently.
Blogging can "provok(e) ......new levels of awareness. Blogging can be seen as a constructive and projective medium. Blogging allows us to shape our feelings as to what kind of people we are. It becomes a mirror for us to look into (What am I thinking? How do I feel about teaching, learning and computing? Can I create or offer something meaningful?) Blogging allows me to look at myself in the reflection of the medium. Turkle (Sherry Turkle (2005). The second self: Computers and the human spirit. Cambridge: MIT Press) notes that computing can threaten our independence. In essence we can become hooked on it....Yet, blogging allows us to build a safe environment for ourselves where we can experiment with our identity; we can try on new thoughts and feelings, we can share this identity with others without the responsibility of having to actually deal with other people. (Really?) When I talk with people about blogging who do not blog or consider themselves technically all thumbs, they want to know what it means in general, what it’s all about. They want to know who I am blogging to, what I’m blogging about, why do I do it, what is the value or practicality of it. Do I tell them I’m world-building?When you see it in this light, blogging is more than just professional learning - it is the opposite of the "unexamined life" which Socrates so disparaged.
Saturday, April 08, 2006
When I started really thinking about it, I realized that I reflect quite a lot each day. Throughout each class I mentally make note of what works and what doesn't. Then, when I have a free moment, I try to implement a change to my plans for the next class. At the end of each class period I think back over what worked and what didn't in that particular class as a whole and use that information to mentally adjust my attitude, plans, and spiel. This is a continual process for me. Then, at the end of the day, I sit down with my plans and make notes to help me remember the changes that were successful.
What type of reflection works best? As usual, it varies from person to person, but there are a few things that everyone can do to make full use of those informal and formal reflections we make each day.
1. Catch yourself thinking: Whenever you have a thought about the way your lesson or activity is proceeding, you are reflecting. Jot down your thoughts on your lesson plan or on a separate sheet of paper. At the end of the day, label the paper for easy identification later and staple it to your original lesson plan.
2. Don't be afraid to make changes immediately: When you are reflecting about a lesson and you feel that it just isn't working, don't think, "Oh well, there's always next year." Instead, make a notation in your plans and change them for the next class period. Lesson plans often are in a state of flux changing from class to class and year to year.
3. If you work in a teaming type situation where you and one or more teachers work together teaching the same lessons or related lessons (interdisciplinary units, etc.), be sure to do some reflection together at the end of the day or at some point during the week: Find out how the lesson went for the other teachers. Did they approach it differently than you? Was their approach more or less successful? The purpose is not to compare teaching styles in order to judge, but rather to determine the most successful way to help your group of students.
4. Keep a journal: Often when we write down our thoughts and feelings, we are better able to analyse them. I know that when I write about a situation or problem I face in the classroom, I am better able to fully think through everything. Later I can go back and follow the flow of my thoughts. This especially helps when I feel frustrated but cannot identify the problem. Often I am better able to pinpoint the exact issue through my writing. If you are not in the habit of keeping a journal, start small. Try to write for five or ten minutes after your students have left. Make it part of your daily schedule or even part of your lesson plan. This may help you get into the habit. Once you are writing daily, you may find that you are writing for longer periods of time.
No matter what method of reflection you use, mental, verbal, or written, it is a vital tool to use towards self-improvement in teaching. Take some time right now to reflect over the past school year or a recent teaching experience and think about what you
can do to become an even better teacher for your students.
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
I had such a good teaching day yesterday. One of the elements that made it great was putting into practice an idea I got from Germana, a friend/colleague I talked to at the VATE review day between sessions. We talked about how to make the study of Macbeth real for the students and she mentioned that she had had her students get into groups and plan how they would stage the murder of King Duncan. In the play this occurs off stage, but asking students to think about how Macbeth would hold the dagger, with what demeanour he enters the room, his body language during the event and what he does just afterwards requires students to interpret Macbeth’s character and complex motivations and emotions during this critical time in the narrative. I brought in a gold crown (made very artistically by Rachel, a student teacher at our school), and a richly purple royal robe for King Duncan to wear (even though he is asleep) and two daggers (according to the play when Macbeth comes to Lady Macbeth after the murder he has two daggers in his hands). There were three groups giving us their interpretation yesterday and they were all different. In one the murder was committed tentatively; Macbeth couldn’t even face Duncan but attacked him from behind as he lay asleep. The next group had Macbeth enter the room confidently and do the murder quickly and take the crown and bring it straight to Lady Macbeth. The third group had Macbeth played by two students – one reluctant and pulling away, the other taking the hand of the first and guiding his hand to commit the murder. The different interpretations showed that students had engaged with the text and presented a reading consistent with the text, which highlighted one or other aspects of the complexity. When talking to the students afterwards I saw that it really helped change the students to appreciate the text more. Thank you Germana.
The next lesson was with Year 12 English students who have started their preparation for the school-assessed coursework in Responding to Media Texts. We were in the computer room and I had given them some websites to look at that had to do with the issue the students are exploring: the Tourism Australia’s “bloody hell” ad campaign. To help them reflect on their learning I set up a class blog on Learner Blogs and each of the students set up their own blogs for exploring and reflecting on their learning. It was so easy. Only one student didn’t know what a blog was. The interesting thing is the metacognition that goes into choosing a name for their blog which shows why they think they’re doing blogging in the first place. I was excited by the potential of blogging with year 12 students and will let you know how it goes. Each time I introduce it to a new class it gets easier for me and I reflect here on my own learning. It seems so natural now that the students have a space where they can write informally on the subject matter and thinking that they are engaged in during the day, and when the excitement and social aspect of learning moves into the more reflective place of thinking about their learning that they should have a place to do it that is connected to their classmates asynchronously. In this way the conversation can continue but perhaps at a deeper level than is available in the ‘hurly burly’ of the classroom.
Saturday, April 01, 2006
As a result of going the Meet the Assessors program put on by VATE I have started asking students to report on an aspect of persuasive language use they have seen in the course of their day or week, something on a billboard, or a tv ad or a headline in a newspaper or whatever they like. It is very engaging, at least so far, and students are gaining practice in using the metalanguage needed for their analytical work. Often it leads to a continued discussion as students share their own experience with that particular persuasive strategy. It reminds me of the podcast I listened to by Wes Fryer on the importance of informational texts for our students. For so many of our students the only texts that they will read when they leave school will be informational or persuasive texts and thus the importance of being deeply literate is incalculable. I am really interested in following the path of looking at how the language is being manipulated and showing and demonstrating to students the way they too can have power over the language and be in command of strategies instead of being uncritical consumers of whatever is dished up. Although I do wonder sometimes if people in ‘real life’ (those not in classrooms) go around identifying rhetorical strategies and techniques and analysing their effect.