Friday, December 29, 2006

Five things about me

I have just been tagged by Cool Cat Teacher. Here are five things about me:
1.My computer programmer son just changed my operating system to Linux - Ubuntu (something he's been wanting me to do for ages) and so now I'm using the Epiphany browser. It's not too bad, but I feel like a geek. Haven't worked out how to listen to podcasts yet though. (It says I need a plugin; never mind, I'll work it out).

2.I have five children and three of them are going overseas in the next six months (working holiday, study and volunteer work). It's all a bit scary. Emily is going to Ireland and the UK for a working holiday. She has just finished her postgraduate course in Information Management but will probably work in whatever field she can find work. Felicity will be working in a hospital in Bolivia for six weeks. She has nearly graduated as a nurse. Lachlan is hoping to study overseas. He just finished Year 12 and did very well.
3.Like Graham I went to boarding school for part of my secondary education.
4.Got so tired after school ended for the year on the 15th December that I couldn't blog, couldn't even think for a while (still recovering).
5.I will be going to China in April for a conference. So that's four of us applying for passports all around the same time. My conference is part of the professional development required of teachers who are teaching in the International Baccalaureate Program. We are just starting in 2007 with year 7 and I will be teaching English. It will be fantastic to go to China to visit the Guangdong Country Garden School, and to meet others who are teaching this worthwhile program.

I would like to tag Nancy McKeand, Judy O'Connell (when she gets back from holidays) Paul Allison, Bob Sprankle, the Reflective teacher and Doug Johnson

Saturday, December 09, 2006

International Collaboration: The Flat Classroom Project

The most amazing collborative project is happening over at the Flat Classroom project. Read about it here and here. It is a collaboration between Vicki Davis' students in Georgia and Julie Lindsay's students in Bangladesh so that they could interact and discuss and develop links with other students from 'the other side of the flat world'. For three weeks students from International School Dhaka, Bangladesh Grade 11 ITGS class and students from Westwood Schools Grade 10 computer class will discuss life from their side of the world based on the selected 'flatteners' as per Thomas Friedman's book The World is Flat. The students' wiki is here and if you are following the changes as I have been you can see a vital and engaged set of students who, as Vicki says, are wanting to come to school on a Saturday to keep learning and collaborating. As usual it isn't only the students who are learning and the resource the students are making will be fantastic for others to learn from as well.

Edublogger awards

It's that time of the year again and the nominations for the Edublog awards are up and what a great bunch they are. I am amazed at what happens in a year. Many of these nominees are new since last year and some of them are so good. They have bcome my favourite reads but there are also some new ones that I hadn't heard about. Well worth an explore. Voting ends at midnight GMT on Saturday 16th December, only one week away. These awards are great in that they recognise and promote, as Anne says, the good work going on in so many places. So congratulations to all the nominees and keep up the fine work.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Unit of work for Year Eleven English

Just a quick entry today to upload my files for those people who were present at the workshop I did today on the Year Eleven unit of work on Gattaca and exploring the theme of Science and technology and its impact on society. This unit was originally designed by Janet McCurry and then I trialled it at my school earlier this year. For those who wanted a copy of the presentation here is a link.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

A teacher's voice

Just wanted to mention something that nb wrote about her experience the other night. Nat was invited to speak at the VIT at a forum on 'Critical Literacy: Pedagogy or Ideology?' about some of the articles that have generated a range of views on a topic which has recently generated several articles and letters in The Age and The Australian. Her response was based on her experience in the classroom and is so inspiring. What I loved was her response to the critiques of English teaching that have been published during the year:
You may have been as surprised as I was myself when I realised that my pedagogy placed me firmly within the ‘loony fringe’- a term used by the editors of The Australian for those who do not share their view that anything other than the ‘universal’ Western canon should be taught in English classrooms. You may also be able to appreciate the somewhat disconcerting experience of learning that the ideas I was engaging students with were “serious ideology” (as opposed to frivolous ideology, I can only assume). You might have experienced the dismay that I did when I read that by encouraging my students to engage thoughtfully and critically with texts, I was apparently denying them the opportunity to experience the “simple joys of reading".
She has included her students' voices on their learning and her presentation slides as well in a fantastic post. Go on over and have a read.

Workshop on blogging

The workshop at Ivanhoe was a informative experience and very rewarding for me. I got to hear James Farmer talk about the theory of blogs in education and and the development of a communities of inquiry which could be structured by the teacher to lead to more or less control on the part of the teacher. I know this idea of teacher control is important to some teachers just starting out with blogs. It seems to be the fear factor of students misbehaving on their blogs as they sometimes do in the playground, causing "mayhem" when left to their own devices. When teaching students about blogging, it is important that the teacher is the leader and guide and that the expectations of students' behaviour in the classroom are the same expectations of coutesy and respect that one would engender in the classroom face to face. It wasn't so long ago that I was a bit afraid (I called it caution) of the power of blogs. I wasn't sure what I was afraid of, just that it was unknown. So the fact that James was able to tell the teachers who may be looking to start blogs that there was a level of control that remained the teacher's would have allayed some of the fears. Jane, my fellow researcher (she is doing a Ph.D) spoke next about her use of blogs in a classroom to establish a community of learners through their ESL class blog. Jane herself doesn't have a public Internet profile as she prefers to concentrate her efforts on her class and their interactions with each other. Her journey and the journeys of her students showed the way that blogs could give a powerful voice to those learning English. Her adult writers had some very humourous interactions and some were very pointed, especially about relations between men and women. The story I told in my presentation was about the learning that I and my students have done over two years and the fun that it has been, especially as my students have been getting to know the students in Clarence Fisher's class. I finished up with this insight about learnings that still have to happen:
But there is still a lot to learn. I need to insist that students link to what they’re writing about to prevent people like Derek from having to take risks
like this one

From Keshia's Quill (love the blogname)
  • One. SPAM IS EVIL!!! (Sorry…too much sugar for breakfast.)
  • Two. I learned a lot about the environment thanks to my fellow blogger Derek. (He wrote some real detailed stuff)
  • Three. I found out just how easy it is to communiate with someone from another country or maybe on the other side of the world. Are you guys in Canada enjoying your…umm…is it Autumn up there?

And Derek's comment

Hey!! Thanks for mentioning me in your blog (Well, I hope you are talking about me, otherwise this would be humiliating ). SPAM IS EVIL!! I remember when I got a whole lot of spam. Luckily, I have my comments sent to moderation. Also, “Bad Behaviour” blocks some spam. I agree that you can learn lots from blogging...

Blogging isn't the answer to the world's most serious problem (whoever thought it would be?!)... but it is a tool for learning…. and I cannot now imagine learning or teaching without using blogs.
I love the questions that Clarence is asking of his students right now and am looking forward to reading their answers. The workshop was well written up by the organiser Joseph Papaleo here.

Monday, November 27, 2006

"What is this blogging stuff and where can it take us?"

I have just had a very enjoyable time of thinking and reflecting about my experience of classroom blogging. I have been given the honour of being asked to contribute to a chat on "what is this blogging stuff and where can it take us?" at Ivanhoe Grammar by Joseph Papaleo on blogging and have been finalising my presentation. I haven't done many presentations, and selecting the bits I want to highlight made me want to smile with the antics of the students who are being themselves in this new medium. It does add a lot of joy and even exhilaration to teaching when you open up your classroom to the outside. The honesty of the students is probably not all that surprising: after all I guess they feel at home communicating on the internet (not getting into the polarisation caused by the "digital natives" and "digital immigrants" terminology). I feel so proud when looking back at what my four classes of students over two years have been doing. I am looking forward to the conversation and meeting other teachers interested in blogging face to face. I'll let you know how it goes.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

A milestone

Tonight at St Patrick's Cathedral, my fourth child and second of three sons graduated from high school. He finished at the same school I graduated from thirty-three years ago (my other children had gone to different schools) so this was a pretty meaningful occasion. The cathedral building with its magnificent pipe organ and the students filing in in their academic gowns made me feel like I was in one of the scenes from Goodbye Mr Chips. It was way more formal than what happened when I left school. Then there were the photos and the meal at a city hotel. During the ceremony the students were told about the importance of passion not just knowledge and hope that they had the courage to be daring. This is in the same city that the G20 meeting is going on, and at the same time that the Make Poverty History concert was happening at the Sydney Myer Music Bowl. I had heard Tim Costello, one of the organisers, on the radio when I was driving in and heard him talk about the hope for the future with the huge amount of interest shown by young people to tackle the problem of global poverty. Back at the graduation, the Principal, in his address, used the poignant metaphor of the students being writers of the book of their future. At the dinner I heard about the aspirations of the young men at our table. They are not going to be standing still, regardless of the results they will be getting in mid December. I was glad that I was able to be there and experience once again what the whole education thing means as a parent at one of these milestones, not just as a teacher.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Groups, networks, or is it a club?

There's been a lot going on just lately (when hasn't there been?) At school we are writing curriculum for 2007, working out teaching loads, getting involved in staffing (the first time for me, and I'm on a steep learning curve), writing and supervising and marking exams for Year 11 (not to mention seeing the students who have done practice exams and want feedback, yay). Every day I want to write something about what's been going on but I hesitate. Ther's so much to respond to. I have loved listening to and viewing the K12 online conference. I haven't experienced them all yet, not by a long shot, but the ones I have have been way cool. I loved Mark Wagner's Two Way Teaching 'cos I found he referenced one of my students' writings and that was a great surprise. I really think that the conference has had a profound effect on the sense of community that edubloggers can join. And that reminds me so much of what I have been reading by Frank Smith especially The Book of Learning and Forgetting which I just love. In this text he posits that students (or anyone really) can learn effortlessly and painlessly when they have found a club that they want to belong to. He talks about the "literacy club" which is how most of us started reading, having stories read to us and wanting to be able to do it to be like those who could and because we enjoyed the stories. And getting better by doing, being helped by those who already can. The edublogging community is like that I think, like a club (is it ok to say that?) a group of people of varying levels of expertise who willingly show the ones who want to learn what they want to know. And then when we know we show others. It makes sense to me. Every night when I listen to the podcasts I've subscribed to I learn so much and get so inspired. I love Edtech Talk, Moving at the Speed of Creativity, Geek!ed, Connect Learning and many others. It is a club that I feel I have some part in, a welcoming club where I learn and I teach and feel a sense of belonging. The blogs, the webcasts, the networks are further ways of belonging to this club and there are doubtless many more ways as well that I haven't yet got my head around. But I'm looking forward to finding out.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Interesting writer on thinking, learning and reading

Through a chance link in my in-box I have discovered a new (new to me) author who writes about readingand learning: Frank Smith, whose latest book Unspeakable Acts, Unnatural Practices 'helps teachers understand the nature of thinking, learning, and reading'.

Gary Stager writes about him: "Instead of talking about what teachers should teach and what students should learn, Smith argues that we should talk about experiences that they should be mutually engaged in, involving reading, writing, imagining, creating, calculating, constructing, producing and performing."

This chimes in with my beliefs, based on experience, that if we set up experiences where learning is more likely to happen rather than having students do what we want them to do because we want it (or it is in the syllabus), learning will happen. It is the setting up of the experiences that is so critical, that requires our creativity, energy and passion. It is important that we use all the ways we can to engage our students, and provide for them opportunities to construct their own learning, as well as modelling learning because the teacher also is one of the learners. This is very timely for me as we are writing up the curriculum for next year now so there is opportunity to refresh our thinking with writers such as Smith. I can't wait to read it.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Another aspect of the digital divide?

Why isn't web 2.0 important for educators? is a question that Rachel Jeffares from New Zealand asks in her part of Graham's K12 Online conference presentation in answer to his question. And this is my question in some ways too. Here are a few reasons. Teachers are overworked, under pressure and out of time. And some people just don't like blogs (thanks to Doug Noon in my network for this one.) But to me it is part of the digital divide. This week on Radio National's program Australia Talks Back there was a segment on The Digital Divide, talking about "a country divided along unexpected lines - creating a technological underclass . . . " which was covered again in the Friday Week in Review section. Naturally the program covered important issues such as access and equity, but there was also an aspect of division along knowledge lines. A caller spoke about part of the digital divide being the intimidation felt by "those who don't know" from "those who do". Because of my recent experience in learning to podcast (well, it was a big deal for me!) I know just what he meant. I was intimidated and felt even more stupid when people were telling me it was so easy that even 8 year olds could do it. It took me a year from deciding I wanted to do it to getting the courage to try. And when I was doing my first one, I became so frustrated and wanted someone who knew how to be sitting beside me, but all I had was my husband who doesn't know about this, but listened to me venting "but how do I get a Lame encoder (whatever that is)? How do I unzip a file??? why isn't it working? how come it doesn't look like that screen shot? what have I done wrong? And two hours later it had worked. I don't know why or how. But I have done it again since and each time I have learnt more and more. Now I love it and have heaps of ideas for other podcasts. Things that did help were listening to other podcasts like Bob Sprankle and Cheryl Oakes, hearing people talk about webcasting (a different thing but still relevant) and keeping on trying, as well as being part of Graham's presentation. I am now learning to do interviews and keeping the sound recording levels right and later I will probably add music (maybe, if it's not too hard). People who know all about podcasting are probably saying "but it's easy." All I can say is, it didn't seem that way to me. But once you know how, then it is. I am writing this in a cafe with a pen into my little notebook and will later type it into my blog. I look with awe on those who can moblog with their mobile phones (like David Warlick) and that might be the next thing I learn. In the meantime for those who want to know, here are podcasts on Gattaca and The Wife of Martin Guerre for revision for students who are studying these texts. I did them as interviews with other teachers in my school which was something that they were willing to be involved with. And I thank them for that. It sounds much better than my voice alone. I can definitely see podcasting being a fantastic tool for learning and so watch this space to see what happens next.
Update: I forgot to say that I am probably intimidating to others who don't yet know, and also that it takes a special kind of person to talk about web 2.0 to people who don't know. Often these teachers feel annoyed by those who speak in a language they don't understand and as Ewan realises "explaining the hows and whys behind the social software movement in education without coming close to putting backs up or making people defensive" is hard. I know because I don't often succeed. It's good that others can.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Interesting ideas for assessment

The other day it came time to give the students in my year 8 English class their assessment task to finalise their study of the class novel The Dons by Archimedes Fusillo. It is a novel about a boy who lives with his mum and his Italian grandfather (Nonno) and his coming to terms with the difficulties and joys of his life as it changes in adolescence. In previous years I would have given them questions designed to engage the students in thought about the issues that come up: the experience of migrants, single parent families, growing up, grandparents and so on. This year, after a conversation with Sylvia, a teacher of French and head of the LOTE department (Languages other than English) and a member of the MYP team (Middle Years Program), I asked the students to work in pairs and come up with two assessment tasks of their own for the novel. I gave them some ideas to start with, including the plot and characters as well as the themes mentioned above. It was a very engaging period with lots of talk about the novel and at the end I had about 14 or 15 different ideas ranging from "Make a confession in any form of Paul confessing his love for Tracey (e.g. video, podcast, love song, love letter)" to "Draw a Venn diagram showing what Paul and Dan have in common and their differences" to "Nonno is Italian. Picture yourself in his shoes and write a detailed journal entry of 150 – 200 words of his experiences. Imagine him reflecting on his life and how it has changed" to "Choose a character other than Paul and do a character profile. Include first and last name, a hand drawn (or in Paint) picture of the character (head shot), one thing you have common with the character, and one thing different, three likes and dislikes, hobbies, personality traits, a paragraph explaining what you think of the character. Choose from: Dan Declan, Zia Rita, Theresa, Tracey Reynolds, or Nonno. When you have done this choose an actor to play the part of the character you have profiled. Who would you choose to play Paul?" I was so amazed at how much the students enjoyed this and how proud they were at the results. I later typed this up and gave it to them to choose any two of the tasks for their mark. Off they went and the interest continued as they made their artefacts. I'm looking forward to what they produce.
There is a side note to this. A few students couldn't get into the novel at all and none of my tricky little ideas worked for them. I have a principle that I want to students to read for pleasure so I took a risk. I offered these students an opportunity to choose a novel from the collection of Literature Circles books which means that we are not all reading the class novel. Fortunately, only one student questioned the fairness of this. (I definitely agree that there is a fairness issue here). I talked to her privately about my decision and the reasons for it. She was fine with it as long as those students assessment tasks were of comparable difficulty (which, one way or another, they will be).
I have been reading English writer, Claire Senior's book Getting the Buggers to read recently and so rather than forcing the issue I had decided to try an alternative, knowing that this may well be my last chance to give my reluctant readers at the tail end of Year 8 the experience that may get them hooked on reading for life. We are still going to have class novels next year in order to have a common discussion with the students of the issues and themes they will have all read and explored together, so creativity will have to be the order of the day to keep the whole class focused on the one book. This will be interspersed with wide reading and free voluntary reading as well. There are many helpful ideas in Claire Senior's book and I do recommend it, and isn't it a great title?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Podcasts for revision

Thanks to Doug Belshaw I was inspired a week or so ago to try out the idea (as yet in its infancy) of recording revision podcasts for Year 12 students preparing for their exams coming up in about ten days. Of course this meant I would have to learn how to make a podcast, but armed with my resources from the website already mentioned plus my links on podcasting carefully collected for just such an opportunity, I thought it would be the work of a few moments to get my head around it. But it was harder than that. It is much harder than blogging, but now I know how to do it, it is getting easier. I have made two episodes that are just me talking about Henry Lawson's Short Stories and Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and plan to do two more this week which I will record with other Year 12 teachers at my school discussing their readings of the texts. The students can download these podcasts onto their iPods, as some have already done, and listen to them while walking to school without being considered 'nerds', a sad reflection on school life today - if you are to succeed, you must make it look as though you did no work; being a nerd is one of the meanest things to say to a student. My dream would be to make regular podcasts of Year 12 texts next year throughout year 12 and involving the students (and possibly teachers at other schools - maybe through skype). This could be a source of revision for students as they come up to exam time. If any of your students are studying these texts feel free to have a listen. The two that remain to be done are reflections on Andrew Nicholls' film Gattaca and Janet Lewis' The Wife of Martin Guerre. The podcasts, called The Open Text (what else?) can be found here through Podomatic.
And speaking of podcasts, one that I have been enjoying recently is the Critical Literacy in Practice Podcast with Vivian Vasquez. Check it out.

Update: I remembered that I should also give credit to Joseph Papaleo as he had the idea of podcasts for revision. Podcast on Gattaca will be posted tonight

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Women of Web 2.0

I love it! Another place where I can come and share and see familiar people in another context. Vicki, Cheryl, Jennifer and Sharon have set up Women of Web 2.0 or WOW. It's place for collaborating, networking and learning or, in their own words: "Women of Web 2.0 is for all who are using the tools of the internet whether it be in a classroom setting, leading seminars, authoring books, maintaining blogs or wikis, or just enjoying the tools of the internet in an educational and exciting way." These women are amazing in the example they give and the way they facilitate others to learn. There's a bulletin board, a newsletter, a blog and even a shop. The people who have joined come from a variey of countries and are a variety of ages. Go on over and see the wealth of resources and experiences they are gathering together.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Blogging on MySpace

I have been blogging "away". Just recently I signed up to MySpace in much the same way as some other teachers have: Wes Fryer who says "I am starting this myspace site because I am an idealist, and I know many other people out there are too. I know we can change the world, because we have the chance to have conversations with each other. Conversations and relationships change us." or Nancy Dowd who writes about Web 2.0 libraries. I have started my space but haven't done much yet. I have been reading the blogs of my students and been amazed (both good and bad). Overall the feeling seems to be positive. I read a very thoughtful memorial of a friend of theirs who had passed away a year ago (known also to me) and was pleasantly surprised at the role the MySpace blog had in the grieving process. I read of their feeling about being in the last few weeks of school before their final exams and what the school has meant to them. I read of their plans for the (immediate) future and felt for them. You can spend an awful lot of time immersed in another (virtual) world. I am now wondering about the two spaces that some of my students have: their blog for school and their myspace. I did ask one class to reflect on their experiences with other blogs if they have one and one student said that she thought MySpace was a waste of time and destructive of relationships, so not all young people are enamoured. So these are my musings on this warm and lazy Friday afternoon.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Thoughts on school leadership for the future

Yesterday, there were a number of teachers and students at school although it was the holidays. Why? The students were there in order to start their practice exams and the teachers (from our school and two other schools) were there to participate in a presentation on leadership. Kevin, who is doing studies in school leadership, took us through a presentation to help us think about the needs of our school as it undergoes its restructure. He introduced us to Margaret Wheatley and Robert Starratt's views on leadership, and the need for leaders to critically reflect on their practice.
Margaret Wheatley
who wrote Leadership and the new science, looks at chaos theory and its relationship to leadership, schools as living systems and the idea of servant leadership.
Robert Starratt says: "During ordinary times, which are never ordinary, but especially during a period of school restructuring, educational administrators need to consider their responsibility to promote an ethical environment in their schools." This is something I am very interested in.

My position in the new leadership structure is that of Domain Leader for English looking at the scope and sequence for the students studying in this discipline from years 7 to 12. The main new focus of the restructure is to look at horizontal integration across each year level. I think the role of the domain leader is to bring the new understandings of learning for the digital age to the discipline of English, not just continue doing what an English coordinator has always done. We need to do it with the emphasis being on links across discipline areas for each year level as well as looking at communication and reflection skills that are needed to help our students be lifelong learners.

So there was a lot to think about as a result of the presentation. I think that blogging is definitely a way that teachers can reflect critically with others. I also found a video via Ubiquitous Thoughts that Scott Mcleod at Dangerously Irrelevant thinks should be required viewing for secondary educators, among others. The talented student, Consuela Molino, who made this video is talking about college teaching but it also applies to us in secondary education.
One of the quotes from the video says it all, I think: "If your sole purpose is just to prepare them for the future, then you have to go outside and see what the future's going to be."

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Nancy White and online communities

Last night I went to most satisfying performance of The Winter's Tale put on by the Eleventh Hour in a converted church in Fitzroy. The actors made the most of the space which was very unusually arranged. It was the first time I had seen this play and I was rivetted all the way through. The themes were so well presented, redemption and resurrection as well as destruction and jealousy, so thought provoking. I would recommend it if you're in Melbourne and can get to it. It is on till 7th October.

Also yesterday I participated in a live conversation with Nancy White in Seattle on Blogs and Community: launching a new paradigm for online community, which was hosted by the Knowledge Tree. It was the first time I had participated in an Elluminate event and it was interesting, although because it was the first time, the technology takes the foreground and not the experience itself. I think you have to get more familiar with the technology to allow it to be a totally transparent tool. The recording of the event can be found here and the article and a podcast with Nancy White can be found here. One of the interesting facets of the discussion that the 22 participants became, in effect, a community for the time we were in the discussion which felt very unusual when I asked a question in the text chat thinking that someone else would answer and Nancy herself stopped and commented on my question. And I was trying to be unobtrusive. One of the best things about blogging that I have experienced is the sense of inclusion I have felt since I joined the edublogosphere. I am glad that, in the words of the cliche, "you learn something new everyday", and if you're lucky it can be two things.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Learning is social

I'm just reading Jeffrey Wilhelm's new book (with Michael Smith) called Going with the Flow: How to engage boys and girls in their Literacy Learning. It's full of good ideas for learning that is authentic, social and inquiry based. Just thought I'd share this excerpt:

Principles for making it Social

  • Create a context of inquiry, whether for a lesson or a unit.
  • Ask a significant question or pose a real problem.
  • Connect the question/problem to the material, to student lives and to the world.
  • Pose questions or problems that must be addressed from a number of perspectives.
  • Foster debate; consider, read, and discuss these multiple points of view.
  • Create situations in which students can read, write, talk, role-play, and make things together that address various facets of the question or problem.
  • Provide time for exploration.

I try to do these things in my classroom already, as so many of us do, but it is good to be reminded. Even though it is not even the start of Term 4 (still another week of holidays!) there is a need to prepare for next year and the new curriculum opportunities that arise for us then, especially at our school where so many changes will be happening in 2007.

Friday, September 22, 2006

A reader for life?

I have been thinking a lot about what makes a life long reader lately. I keep coming back to Wes Fryer's blog post where he talked about Stephen Krashen's idea of a "home-run book". This is the book that a previous non reader, or reluctant reader or even just a child reader, is introduced to that hooks them on reading for life. In my research I am finding that children who previously liked reading in primary school sometimes go off it when they reach puberty,.for reasons that I don't yet know.When I think of my own experiences as a reader can remember two times in my life that I became hooked on reading. The first was when I was five and I learnt to read after about six months of school. The second time was when I was introdced to reading adult books when I was thirteen. I still remember the teacher's name, Mrs Kenworth, and what she looked like. She was a kind, motherly woman, with a sense of hmour and she turned me on to life long reading as an adult. The strange thing was that she was my maths teacher. I've never been good at maths but I liked it in Year 8. Mrs Kenworth was teaching us about deductive reasoning and she said that Sherlock Holmes exemplified this. She suggested we read Arthur Conan Doyle, which I did. Since then I have read all of Agatha Christie and enjoyed a lifetime of literature and crime fiction, not to mention English teaching. I guess she suggested my "home run book" for me. How often do we think that no matter which subject we teach that we could be the one suggesting the home run book for one of our students. Makes us think again about how we are all teachers of literacy, doesn't it? Can you remember the person that got you into reading for life?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Naked language in our blogs

This evening I went to hear David Crystal speak at a free public lecture at Melbourne University on Language and the Internet (which happens to be the title of his latest book, a second edition only five years after the first). The lecture hall was packed with an audience that covered most of the age groups from late teens and up, and he was welcomed as a hero, or a rock star, almost. He is a well dressed, genial gentleman with a high domed forehead and a fluffy white beard - he reminded me a bit of Professor Dumbledore of Hogwarts (in the books, not the films). He knew his audience well. He gave an animated lecture which centred around why the second edition of his book was needed so soon after the first. The main reason he said is that new technologies have arisen on the Internet which have implications for language and one of these was blogging. He stated that before blogging (and similar computer mediated communication) there have been really only three revolutions in communication: the development of speech, the development of writing , and signing for the deaf community. Now there is this electronically based communication. This last is not like either speaking or writing. In particular, it is not like other writing in the public domain, as it is unmediated writing. Natural, perfectly understandable writing that is not under the subjugation of a copy editor in the way writing in books and newspapers is. He called it "naked writing in the public domain". Crystal sees that there will be linguistics consequences for this, although it is too early to see yet what they will be. He reminded us that it was the first time since the middle ages that this situation has occurred. It is interesting to think about. I guess naked writing is less standardised and more individual. It gives the author more autonomy and is potentially more democratic. David Crystal was certainly optimistic in his view of these developments, seeing them as huge potential enrichments for individual languages, showing remarkable diversity and creativity.
It is now holidays for which I am grateful, but I wanted to mention also the last class of the term on Friday, which happened to be my Recreating the Writer blogging class. For anyone who does not see the point of classroom blogging, I wish they had been there in that classroom. The students were totally engaged on their blogs, some of them publishing poems or stories they had written in the last couple of weeks. The only sounds except for typing noises were, "How do you make a hyperlink again?" "How do you upload a file?" and the help from other students that was forthcoming. And then, "Ooh, look, I've got a comment from Brazil," or "I've left you a comment," speaking to a friend across the room. This continued till the very end of the class and I had to remind them that the bell would begoing in a few minutes. It is very satisfying and enjoyable to be in a room where creativity, thoughtfulness and communication were so evident. So good on you, David Crystal for recognising the significance of blogs.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

How do we know that blogs and podcasts improve student learning?

Just a question that I'm wondering about. I have started blogging with my classes and continued to do it because I believe it will help my students learn. And lots of teachers do say that it will help students become better writers, that they will take more care and be more motivated to learn skills they need when writing for a real audience. And that does seem to make sense. I feel that I have enjoyed writing more and that the practice of writing on a regular basis has made me a better writer than I would have been without the regular practice. But how do we know it is working to improve learning for our students? Has anyone done any studies? How do we evaluate the use of blogs, podcasts and digital learning environments generally? Would these convince teachers who are sceptical?

Student dreams

This really happened. I was talking to a student, reminding her that she needed to use her class time wisely, and save herself from having to do the assignment entirely at home, when she informed me that she wasn't that interested in the topic she had chosen. We talked some more about what she might be interested in and she said: "Look all I need to be happy in the future is a house, a husband, two kids and some chips and dip, and I'll be right." For a minute I was speechless. That student is in year 8 and feels that her education (at least at that moment) is just time filling until that moment when all her dreams come true. That was yesterday. Today she came to class with half a page of writing and I still have some hope that she will see that what we discussed about conversations that had more in them than looking after children and house might be worth something in her present, as well as her future. After all, Sydney Harris does say something about education being to "make one's mind a pleasant place in which to spend one's leisure."

Saturday, September 02, 2006

A Century of Spelling Research

You can tell it's Saturday and I'm catching up on my bloglines. Via my delicious network, which comes up in my aggregator, I came across this beauty, saved by Wes Fryer. It is Krashen's Reading-Spelling Connection - a hundred years of research into spelling. An extract from the website:
While there is ample evidence that diverting attention to spelling when writing "disrupts the planning process" of writing, there is an alternative to those who propose spending more time on direct spelling instruction:
Advise writers to delay focusing on correct spelling until their ideas are firmly in place, while, at the same time, building up spelling competence through massive reading.
A number of studies show that good writers delay editing concerns until the final draft, and "premature editing" has been shown to be a predictor of the frequency of writing blocks.

Sounds about right to me. At the same time there are strategies that we can teach students to self correct and at our school we are looking to have David Hornsby come to work with us on a whole school approach to teaching these strategies.

Krashen's final piece of advice: "let spelling develop naturally through massive reading in the early years, and provide older writers with some guidance in the use of spell-checkers and spelling dictionaries, as well as advising them to delay spelling concerns until the final draft."

I think this is something the movers and shakers of the Aussie group, the
Literacy Educators Coalition have been saying as well.

First annual K to 12 Online Conference 2006

Via Will Richarson:
Announcing the first annual “K12 Online 2006" convention for teachers, administrators and educators around the world interested in the use of Web 2.0 tools in classrooms and professional practice. This year’s conference is scheduled to be held over two weeks, October 23-27 and October 30 - November 3 with the theme “Unleashing the Potential.” A call for proposals is below.
There will be four “conference strands”– two each week. Two presentations will be published in each strand each day, Monday - Friday, so four new presentations will be available each day over the course of the two-weeks. Each presentation will be given in podcast or screencast format and released via the conference blog (URL: TBA) and archived for posterity.

Week 1
Strand A: A Week In The Classroom These presentations will focus on the practical pedagogical uses of online social tools (Web 2.0) giving concrete examples of how teachers are using the tools in their classes. They will also show how teachers plan for using these tools in the delivery of their curricular objectives.

Strand B: Basic/Advanced Training (one of each per day) Basic training is “how to” information on tool use in an educational setting, especially for newcomers. Advanced training is for teachers who have already started using Web 2.0 tools in their classes and are looking for: (a) advanced technology training (eg. how to write your own blog template or hack existing ones), (b) new tools they can make use of in their classes, (c) teaching ideas on how to mash tools together to create “something new,” (d) a pedagogical understanding of how technologies such as weblogs, wikis, podcasts, social bookmarking sites, RSS feeds and others can deepen learning and increase student achievement, or (e) use of assessment tools to measure the effectiveness of Read/Write Web technologies in their personal practice and with their students.

Week 2
Strand A: Personal Professional Development Tips, ideas and resources on how to orchestrate your own professional development online; the tools that support Professional Learning Environments (PLEs); how to create opportunities to bring these technologies to the larger school community; how to effectively incorporate the tools into your personal or professional practice; or how to create a supportive, reflective virtual professional community around school-based goals.

Strand B: Overcoming Obstacles Tips, ideas and resources on how to deal with issues like: lack of access to tools/computers, filtering, parental/district concerns for online safety, and other IT concerns while trying to focus on best practice in the use of Web 2.0 tools.

CONVENORS and KEYNOTES: For organization purposes, each strand is overseen by a conference convenor who will assist and coordinate presenters in their strand. The first presentation in each strand will kick off with a keynote by a well known educator who has distinguished his/herself and is knowledgeable in the context of each topic. This year’s convenors and keynote presenters are:
A Week In The Classroom
Convenor: Darren Kuropatwa and Keynote:
Bud Hunt
Bud Hunt teaches high school language arts and journalism at Olde Columbine High School in Longmont, Colorado. He is a teacher-consultant with and the Tech Liaison for the Colorado State University Writing Project, an affiliate of the National Writing Project, a group working to improve the teaching of writing in schools via regular and meaningful professional development. Bud is also the co-editor of the New Voices column of English Journal, a publication of the National Council of Teachers of English. A consumer of copious amounts of New Media, Bud blogs and podcasts about his practice and larger educational issues at

Basic/Advanced Training
Convenor: Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Keynote: TBA

Personal Professional Development
Convenor: Will Richardson and Keynote: Ewan McIntosh
Ewan McIntosh is an educational technologist and teacher of French and German. Based in the Edinburgh area of Scotland he frequently works around the UK and Europe, leading student and teacher workshops and conferences. He is an experienced workshop facilitator in the area of Web 2.0 technologies in education across stages and curricular areas. Ewan blogs at

Overcoming Obstacles
Convener: TBA and Keynote:
Anne Davis
Anne is known for seeing the educational possibilities in the use ofweblogs with students in classrooms, having implemented wonderful ideasand weblog projects with students and teachers in K-12 classrooms and atthe university level. She currently works at Georgia State University inthe Instructional Technology Center in the College of Education as anInformation Systems Training Specialist. Her weblog, EduBlog Insightsis a co-winner of the Best Teacher Blog in the second international Edublog Awards, a web based event thatrecognizes the many diverse and imaginative ways in which weblogs arebeing used within education.

CALL FOR PROPOSALS: We’d like to invite you to submit a proposal to present at the conference. If you have something you’d like to share with the community, both people who are new to blogs and/or experienced bloggers please email the appropriate conference convenor above with your ideas. The deadline to submit a proposal (just the proposal, not the finished product) is September 30, 2006. One of us will contact you to finalize the date of your presentation. Your presentation may be delivered in any web-based medium (including but not limited to…podcasts, PowerPoint files, blogs, websites, wikis, screencasts, etc.) and must be emailed to your assigned conference convenor one week before it goes live, (see above strands) so that it can be uploaded to the server.

The conference organizers are:
Darren Kuropatwa
Darren Kuropatwa is currently Department Head of Mathematics at Daniel McIntyre Collegiate Institute in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. He is known internationally for his ability to weave the use of online social tools meaningfully and concretely into his pedagogical practice and for “child safe” blogging practices. He has more than 20 years experience in both formal and informal education and 13 years experience in team building and leadership training. Darren has been facilitating workshops for educators in groups of 4 to 300 for the last 10 years. Darren’s professional blog is called A Difference (
Sheryl Nusbaum-Beach
Sheryl is a technology/education consultant for the National Education Association (NEA), the Center for Teaching Quality, SRI International, the Virginia Community College System, the Virginia Department of Education, the Miami-Dade Public Schools, and the Alabama Best Practices Center. She has had several journal articles and book chapters published, been featured on public broadcasting television and radio shows, and is a regular presenter at local, state, and national conferences speaking on topics of homelessness, teacher leadership, virtual community building, and 21st Century learning initiatives. Sheryl blogs at 21st Century Collaborative (
Will Richardson
Will Richardson is known internationally for his work with educators and students to understand and implement instructional technologies and, more specifically, the tools of the Read/Write Web into their schools, classrooms and communities. A public school educator for twenty two years, Will’s own Weblog ( is a primary resource for the creation and implementation of Weblog technologies on the K-12 level and is a leading voice for school reform in the context of the fundamental changes these new technologies are bringing to all aspects of life. Will is the critically acclaimed author of the best-selling book Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Tools for Classrooms (March 2006, Corwin Press).

If you have any questions about any part of this, email one of us:
Darren Kuropatwa
Sheryl Nusbaum-Beach
Will Richardson

Please duplicate this post and distribute it far and wide across the blogosphere. Feel free to republish it on your own blog (actually, we’d really like people to do that ) or link back to this post (published simultaneously on all our blogs). Please tag all related posts with k12online06.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

A challenge completed

I am so proud of those of our students in years 7, 8 and 9 who completed the Victorian Premiers Reading Challenge which finished yesterday. They read 182 books between them since the start of the challenge. I think its so great that they can be recognised for this even though it is only having their name in the paper (The Sunday Age) and a certificate. It's very different to when I was young, when I was castigated for reading when I should have been washing the dishes and so forth. I know that reading has done me a lot more good than doing dishes ever did, and the dishes are always with us anyway. Good on ya, readers.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A day at the Mebourne Writers Festival

The weather was beautiful, the company enjoyable and the speakers stimulating. Where were we? At the Melbourne Writers Festival, of course. As Rosemary Cameron, festival Director said, the presence of the students on students days brings the "festival back into the Melbourne Writers Festival". Our Recreating the Writer class caught the train and made the hour long trek into the city, hopped on a tram, and then we were at the Malthouse. We went to see Nick Earls who talked about his new book Monica Bloom in a most engaging way and then the process of having a previous book made into a film that is to be released on fifty screens tomorrow. It's called 48 Shades and he showed the trailer to the collected audience. The students came out wanting to buy the books (as I overheard) and I came out wanting to see the film. We had lunch and a browse in the bookshop where I got the students to select a couple of books we could add to our school library and then we went in to hear Randa Abdul Fattah, lawyer and author of Does my head look big in this? a great title, don't you agree? She writes about the decision of Amal, a Muslim teenager in suburban Melbourne to wear her hijab to school where she is the only Muslim. I am reading this book at the moment and it has definitely captured the voice of an Australian teenager who lives a hyphenated existence "Australian-Muslim-Palestinian-Egyptian". Some of the novel is based on her own experiences growing up, and she spoke passionately about the way the media portrays Muslims in this climate of fear and the war on terrorism. She is a most engaging speaker, who in her effort to get her point across speaks fast and knowledgeably. It was easy to see her as a lawyer in a courtroom.
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

Changes in Teacher Quality

“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

Students' thoughts on teachers

"What are good teachers like? What qualities do they have? What does it mean to be a good learner? What are qualities of good students? What expectations do you have of this class? What expectations do you have of me as your teacher? What does it mean to have a good learning environment? I recently read Smiths 9th Grade honours class blog and was interested in what her students were saying. I would love to know what you think. "
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

New Year 11 English Study Design

This term we have been trialling aspects of the new study design which becomes mandatory next year. The normal features of English study persist; “Reading and Responding” to texts in Area of Study 1 (AOS 1) which has the regular study of texts like novels, films, plays, short stories and poetry that you would expect in an English study. The new Area of Study that has been added is called “Creating and Presenting” (AOS 2). This means the students are to create texts of different forms for different purposes, audiences and contexts and to:

* 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

Blogging across the curriculum

As I have mentioned before, our school will be starting with a new structure in 2007: a new structure of leadership and a new curriculum. This is caused in part by our school review (which recommended some changes) and in part by the opportunities created by the Victorian Essential Learning Standards. In VELS, unlike the old CSF (Curriculum Standards Frameworks) structure, the emphasis is on integrated learning, making connections across disciplines and foregrounding the education of the whole person and on thinking and communications skills rather than solely the old discipline based learning, along with the ‘hidden curriculum’. This necessarily involves a change in the structures across the school so that new Learning Leaders have been appointed whose job it is to work with the team of teams at a particular year level and integrate the experiences of that year level. There will still be discipline-based leaders and these are called Domain Leaders whose job it is to look at the scope and sequence of a student’s experiences in the discipline over the six years that they are with us. The announcements of the new appointments will be made next Wednesday.

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 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

Writely's back for new users

Writely has just opened again for new users. I've been using it to write my thesis and it's great. It's so easy to use and I can work on it at any computer connected to the intenet and save it. As the front page says:
  • Share documents instantly & collaborate real-time. Pick exactly who can access your documents.
  • Edit your documents from anywhere. Nothing to download -- your browser is all you need.
  • Store your documents securely online. Offsite storage plus data backup every 10 seconds.
  • Easy to use. Clean, uncluttered screens with a familiar, desktop feel.
Definitely very Web 2.0, however you define this term. But it's still in beta so I better save to ny USB drive as well, I think

Saturday, August 12, 2006

English stories rewritten

Some new blogs just posted on the Directory of Australian Edubloggers: Mark Howie has just started (Re)writing English; he says that the "enthusiasm with which other English teachers have embraced blogging as a means of reflective practice is something I have found inspiring." He also quotes Paulo Freire on writing: "If we think about the intimate relationship between reading, writing, and thinking and about our need to intensely experience this relationship, we might accept the suggestion that at least three times a week we should devote ourselves to the task of writing something." How true. His blog is a critique of the "neo-liberalist education narrative" which ranks students into "winners" and "losers". He writes passionately and from an informed postition. Have a read.
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

Not one of the best lessons

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

Creating a community of Learners

Even though I've read Will Richardson's book Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms at least once, I just picked it up again to dip into, and found this thoughtful idea which is probably obvious, but something I haven't yet done. He says: " to the best student posts and ideas in the class blog. This is a very important habit to form. When you celebrate good work or use students' unique ideas to drive further discussion, it goes a long way to creating a community of learners." I have an idea that I will be doing that with my two blogging classes, the Year Eight English class and the Reacreating the Writer class in the next posts on those blogs I write.

Teaching texts in Year 12 English

We are looking to choose some new texts to study in Year 12 next year. The teachers are all frantically reading the texts on the list to make suitable choices and we are having a film night at school to look at a couple of films together and discuss them. The films we will be looking at are Ray Lawrence's Lantana and Sarah Watt's Look Both Ways (both Australian films) and a few novels, including Isabel Allende's Of Love and Shadows, Larissa Behrendt's Home and Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner. As regular readers would know, I love The Kite Runner and I have just finished Home which I also think would be very worthwhile to study. It is a gripping story and very wide ranging. But unfortunately it is not all about me. We have to choose novels that the students find accessible and satisfying, that the teachers feel are compelling, thought-provoking, enjoyable and with literary merit but I think that somehow, in the way we always do, we will find such texts to study from the list that the VCAA puts out. If you are an English teacher, what novels, stories, film, plays, poetry do you teach with students in their final year of high school?

Literature circles in Year 12?

It is a Year 12 English class and the text is The Wife of Martin Guerre. The stakes are high, exams are just weeks away and we really have to get this essay writing under our belts. We have to be confident and fearless in our approach to the text and the topic, and most of all we have to have our own voice on the novel, our own interpretation. We have to show that we have mulled over the text and wrestled with it to make meaning. In other years, and with other students, I have stood there at the front of the room, leading the students through this process and I have felt fairly sure that there are teachers throughout the country in classrooms doing precisely that.
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.

Inconvenient truth at the Melbourne Film Festival

Last night I went along to the Melbourne International Film Festival at the Regent Theatre to watch Al Gore’s compelling slide show on global warming made into a documentary by Davis Guggenheim. It is, as Gore says “a moral issue”, and the film should be seen widely. It left me asking questions such as what more can we do. Raising awareness about the urgency of the issue is the least we can do. A few edubloggers (including Chris Lehmann) are commenting on this and as George Couros says: “I would suggest that ALL people see this movie, no matter what your political beliefs are; it is important to learn about what we are doing to a place that has done so much for us.” Hear, hear.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The audience is up to something

Found this via … well I just don’t know. Somewhere in my feeds was the pointer to this little gem. “The Audience is up to Something” is a great video by Peter Hirshberg of Technorati, and Michel Markman that has been uploaded to YouTube by Michel and is now up on Chris Anderson’s blog. I could see it as a really engaging way of introducing Year 9s to the study of media, advertising and critical literacy.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Love this

Via Brian at Bump on the Blog, just couldn't resist this.

Internet Safety

I was talking to a colleague of mine who has a fifteen year old son. The son wants to participate in MSN chatrooms like all his friends do, but my colleague wants to keep him safe. He likens the son's proposed participation in MSN to letting him go to the mall unaccompanied to meet up with whoever might be there and with no focus for them being there, a recipe for trouble. I have talked with my colleague regarding internet literacy and supervision rather than outright banning of the site. Of course my colleague will work out the decision that is right for him and his family, but during the discussion he asked me if I knew of any resources. That just opened the floodgates. I looked up Wes Fryer's blog as his podcasts have mentioned teaching internet safety lately and I found this interesting video made by a student and a school principal. It is called Predator and I thought it was a great conversation starter. Wes has a wiki with a lot of resources and his links on Internet Safety. Thanks Wes, for a great collection of resources on this very topical issue.

The Power and Opportunity of Social Networking

Got up this morning and logged into my Bloglines (how I love RSS). I found two fantastic posts from Jo Kay and Vicki Davis. Jo Kay writes about her blog and what tools she has on it and why. Vicki Davis speaks about the fallout of the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA) which would legislate to ban commercial social networking sites in schools in the US. What blew me away about both of these is their highlighting of the power of social networking, the response of society to this new era in communication and its implications for learning and schools. Read them.

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.