Thursday, August 31, 2006
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Before we even got to the venue in South Melbourne, as we were waiting for the tram, Jacquie (fellow colleague and friend) and I had a serendipitous moment. We got talking to a woman who was obviously waiting for the same tram as we were. It turned out that she was speaking at the festival about her own novels. She was Fleur Beale, author of over a dozen novels and fellow teacher. It was lovely to talk to her and later I bought two of the novels I am not Esther and A Respectable Girl. I loved every moment of the day although I am a bit of a stress bucket when taking large groups on public transport. The girls were well behaved and I think they enjoyed it as well. We'll probably get to read what they think on their blogs in the days to come.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
“Between 1983 and 2003, the average percentile rank of those entering teacher education fell from 74 to 61, while the average rank of new teachers fell from 70 to 62.”How and Why has Teacher Quality Changed in Australia? is a study by Andrew Leigh and Chris Ryan that has received considerable publicity in the shock-jock media and when I asked my writing workshop class to reflect on their blogs about teaching and learning (in a similar way to the Year 8 English class I asked the same questions of yesterday) I found that Kate had reflected on this report.
“To be a good teacher I think that they would have to have: the right amount of knowledge about what they’re trying to teach, because yesterday on Today Tonight I found out that the standard of teacher knowledge has dropped significantly, which is appalling and now after less than a generation ago Australia was regarded as one of the smartest countries in the world, and now it is 11th in science and 14th in mathematics. This makes me incredibly angry, that we could have slipped so far when we have all these resources at our fingertips.”
There is a lot to discuss here about critical literacy which we will, of course, but it is interesting that the findings of the report are not, however, publicised to the same extent in any of these media.
“We believe that both the fall in average teacher pay, and the rise in pay differentials in non-teaching occupations are responsible for the decline in the academic aptitude of new teachers over the past two decades.”I don’t know how many current teachers would say that they were working for the salary; rather I think the ones that stay are there for less tangible benefits but benefits none the less. In looking at this class’s reflections there is the usual wish list for teachers that are fair and fun but also something I didn’t expect to be there as much, and that is a respct for the job that teachers are doing.There’s quite a lot of understanding expressed as well as humour:
“There isn’t just one type of good teacher, and I think that’s what makes a teacher good, they aren’t the same as all other teachers, and the experiences that you have in your classes with your maths teacher are different to those that you have with your R.E teacher. A good teacher is individual…and sometimes they give lollies…"Keep dreaming, Annie!
Monday, August 28, 2006
This is the blog entry I posted to the year 8 class blog this morning and I was interested in what the students posted as their reflections on this topic. Many students saw the questions as just one more thing they had to do and simply answered the questions in as few words as possible, but others were a bit more reflective:
Gracie wrote: "Teachers would have to have people skills, knowledge, caring, and helpfulness, anger management, compassionate and persistence. I think kids should become more respectful of there teachers because being a teacher is a very hard and tiring job." Right on, Gracie! Fun was mentioned in many posts as was listening: students wanted the teachers to listen to the students but also thought that students should listen to the teacher. Hannah writes concisely about what she thinks and mentions that teachers should not bring their home problems to class, in other words she expects professionalism. So do I. She also reflects that if students are wagging it would be a sign that the teacher should make their classes more interesting. Fran's post is well worth reading: reflecting on respect and expectations, she writes with passion. I would have to say she gets the blog post of the week for this class, this week.
I should also mention that the students did not have a lot of time to reflect on this one, and I think it would have been better if they had had more time. Some of the brevity of their answers may also be a reflection of the stress the students are under at this time of the year with so many assignments. But I still thought it was good to take some time out to reflect on why we are here.
Sunday, August 27, 2006
* examine the effects of these elements on the creator’s choice of structure and language
* engage in a creating process which includes planning reviewing and editing.
This is obviously a development of the old writing folio but integrated both with texts and with metalanguage and critical literacy. Because the range of texts that the students use is based on a context such as “Exploring and Presenting themes and ideas”, “Exploring technology and communication”, and “Exploring workplace communication”, some teachers I have heard have dismissed this new way of looking at text and composition with “it’s the old themes resurrected again”, but this is to overlook what is new, and the opportunities given by the study of critical literacy in the 21st century when so much of our literacy has to be media savvy literacy. And to complete the study the third are of study is “Using language to persuade” (AOS 3). In this area of study, students focus on the use of language to present a point of view. This too is much broader than the current study design and looks at sound effects, colour, association, symbols, gesture as well as what was studied in the past such as rhetorical language devices.
And so I was really excited when my friend and fellow VATE council member Janet McCurry presented a unit of work and invited us to trial it. What is interesting about this unit is that, in her own words, Janet chooses “to see AOS 2 an integrating link between AOS 1 and AOS 3 i.e. between text response and analysis of the way the features of a text combine to construct meaning and to position the audience to take a particular point of view.” The unit starts with a study of the film text Gattaca, which is then followed by an examination of texts such as news items sourced on the Internet e.g. “Could genetic screening work?”, “The Human Ova Business” and cloning. In the last few weeks there has been a lot in the daily press about stem cell research and the debates in parliament over the ethics and desirability of therapeutic cloning. This has led to lots of interesting discussion and debate. The students are also required to (as Janet says) “write a commentary about their own texts commenting on the ways in its context, audience and purpose helped to shape it. This will mean that the student needs to have a vocabulary with which to describe linguistic structures and features, contextual considerations and available strategies. This vocabulary or metalanguage is relevant to all three AOS and can be developed throughout the study.” This segues beautifully into Area of Study 3, which is much enriched by the work that the students have done in analysing websites such as the League for Life in Manitoba, Repromed and XytexOvations. This was engaging work and integrated well into what some of the students were learning about in Biology.
Overall, I don’t think we did the unit full justice. Here was much that had to be left out due to lack of time as we juggled both the old and new study designs and next time I teach this unit I would like to use more of the resources that Janet put together. It’s given us a lot to think about, students and teachers alike.
Saturday, August 26, 2006
This brings me to the question of “blogging across the curriculum.” Yes, you heard that right. Not maths or literacy across the curriculum but blogging. And why not? In this interview via Will Richardson’s del.icio.us links we hear the author of Culture Convergence: where old and new media collide, Henry Jenkins, of MIT. In a review of the book we read, “Convergence Culture maps a new territory: where old and new media intersect, where grassroots and corporate media collide, where the power of the media producer and the power of the consumer interact in unpredictable ways. And in this interview we hear that “Media literacy is not a class, it's a curriculum.” Jenkins talks about the educational use of games among many other topics and the necessity of being ‘undisciplined’ rather than being trapped in the old discipline boundaries. He sees blogs as “interdisciplinary spaces” which embody a “learner’s total integration of knowledge.”
And here is an example of blogging, which shows just this. The student is one I have mentioned before. Her love of writing and learning is shown throughout her blog. I am so proud that she has called her blog My Year Eight English Experience even though it’s much broader than that. The discipline of English was just her jumping off point, but the learning she is engaged in is truly interdisciplinary. The student from Year 8 has been blogging on her own now, about her learning both in school and out of school and her post "Traumatised Women" is my choice for blog post of the week. Good on you, Zoe.
Sunday, August 20, 2006
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Saturday, August 12, 2006
The second blog just listed is the related(?) English Stories, which "has been created to provide a central collection of the public stories that are told about the subject English." The creator of this blog hopes "that fellow English teachers might find this blog to be a useful resource, and can use this blog as a place to share comments, insights and opinions on the subject English and its public representation, especially in the media."
Thursday, August 10, 2006
I’ve spent a number of miserable minutes today reflecting on what went wrong with the year eights in class today. I have been so used to this class being engaged and collaborative, willingly sharing ideas and opinions without too much shouting over each other and getting distracted by too much unhelpful thinking. But today? I couldn’t believe it! I always spend time trying to design the lessons with the students in mind and I am very generous in the time I factor in to get something done. But this wasn’t enough for them today. Everything I said about the new undertaking was repeated in a tone of disbelief: another assignment?? five hundred words?? three different sources?? as if what I had said was totally unreasonable. Even though I had said that there was no limit as to how many student did which topic, they started insisting that a certain topic was theirs because they had chosen it first. There was a kind of dull belligerence mixed in with excited shouting and after a while I had had enough. I began to look disappointed and stern. These did not seem the same students as I had been used to. By the end of the lesson I had asked four students to stay behind to find out what was at the bottom of this, but as yet nothing is forthcoming. I did hear, however, that I wasn’t the only teacher to have found a change in the class. Was it something they ate? Is it just their age? I don’t know. But I do know this: that what I did today isn’t going to cut it anymore, we might have to go back to re-establishing some class norms about respect and courtesy, both for their classmates and for me. Looking back over this entry, reading it as if I was an observer, I wonder if it might be something about the way I introduced the new topic, a very interesting research based piece of writing on any disaster. They are to use their research skills together with their imagination and write an account of a disaster from the viewpoint of one of the participants. I have seen this work well in other years, and the quality of the writing has been quite high. I hope this can still work even after today’s debacle. I have them again tomorrow and they’re starting their research in the library so it could be good.
Sunday, August 06, 2006
But not me, not this year. After several years of implementing Literature Circles in various literature classrooms over the last three years and wrestling in my own way with the pedagogical implications of constructivism and the role of student talk in students making meaning from texts with each other, I just found myself doing this with the year 12s. I didn’t consciously think that that’s what I was doing; I didn’t call it that in my head, but when it came to giving the students experience in planning text response questions on the novel, it just naturally fell out that way.
“Form groups of three” I said, in the manner of a magician about to perform a trick. The students moved reluctantly. When they were in distinct groups, I gave out sheets of paper with six essay topics on the text and set each group to work on one of the topics. I also handed out a sheet of A3 paper per group. “Now let's make a plan for the topic as a group,” I said, “You need to come up with your contention as a group, the first sentence of your introduction and three or four reasons for your contention. Then write the topic sentences for your paragraphs and include some appropriate quotes.”
I went on, “You will be presenting your for your class next lesson.” I listened to the buzz of conversation. I heard Bertrande, Arnaud and Martin being referred to knowledgably. I heard references to the nature of the feudal society and its implications. The students were using vocabulary they had been exposed to in the course of reading and discussing the novel in class. And then I realised what I was trying to do in using this pedagogical strategy in the study of a literary text in a Year 12 class. All that I had learnt and reflected on in the last years was being honed in this class and the learning the students were doing was apparent. The intensity of the work they were doing on a Friday afternoon would not have been matched in individual work and, even worse, listening to a teacher up at the front of the room would have robbed them of the satisfaction of doing it themselves. Students learning, especially in Year 12 is inherently social, and this bit of learning is one I will not forget.