Sunday, July 31, 2005

Just in case it wasn't already obvious that the country is going mad...

This little pig goes post modernist

Fading theory has no place in schools

Words without meaning

States deconstruct postmodern trend

Minister plays down postmodernist role in schools

Kevin Donnelly: Teach the simple joys of reading

Derided theory a headline act

Luke Slattery: Put literacy before 'radical' vanity

I'll let this rot dig its own grave... for now...

Factors, Determinants

Hmmm... determinants... factors...

My grandfather passed away on early Thursday morning. There is so much to say that I will not say here. On Wednesday night, I drove with my parents and sister to 'country town' to sit with my nan and aunty and watch him gasp for breath, unconscious, in a hospital bed. At midnight, Mum, H and I whispered words in his ear and left to drive back home, leaving Dad behind to stay with his mum and sister. Pa left this Earth an hour later, much quicker than we expected.

Thursday morning, I went to school. I didn't know what else to do. I discussed with my year 12's the beliefs that colonising countries must hold in order to choose to engulf another nation, amongst other things... Iraq... Australia... America... Vietnam... The belief that there is only one god... the belief that there is a 'right way'... the belief that 'the end justifies the means'... rights... duties... responsibilities... communism... democracy.... capitalism...

In the staffroom, I was feeling antagonistic when a staff member barged in looking for coffee, mumbling something about 'these postmodern kids who think they can make their own rules and believe anything they want'. I fired up, when normally I would let it go, asked him what he meant by postmodernism first of all (didn't really wait for a response- wasn't expecting a decent one), and then commented that, if anything, most of our kids are being conditioned to be traditional realists, especially in the classroom. He countered, "well, isn't that what you would expect in a Christian school?" Well no, I wouldn't, not in any school, which is why I've found the online discussions that I've been having with my year 10's in relation to postmodernism and reader response theory so 'empowering' (to use that icky word) for me, and hopefully for them. He left with his coffee and I turned to my friend and we discussed our understanding of postmodernism until we were both relatively satisfied and then discussed our dialogue and why inquiring minds seem rare to us at the moment. Then, I drove back to 'country town'.

I sat around the dinner table with my family and extended family and we pooled our thoughts and feelings to form a collective memory of my grandfather. We sobbed together- my mum has a way of getting emotional out-pourings happening. That is a part of me, and that night I heard stories that are also part of me, some which I can't recollect ever passing my ears before, others that sparked and merged with fragmented scraps of memories in my own mind, and some that came from my lips. I heard for the first time about how my pa built his own speakers for a stereo when they had just become affordable (some time before ipods, I presume). He slaved over them for weeks, planing the wooden boxes until they were perfectly smooth, varnishing them and finally setting up, impatiently, on the stove for goodness sake, blasting jazz through the kitchen. This memory was from my father's eyes when he was still a boy, beginning for him an interest in electronics, and music. This memory has shaped me, even though I never heard it before last night, because it shaped my dad, and reminds me of the perfectionist tendencies that ran through my pa, run through my dad, and run through me.

So... yeah. Individual? Family? School? Community? Society? I can't see the lines anymore.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

I'll start again tomorrow

I'm depressed.

I had a wonderful lesson with my year 10's today- making short animated films in groups in order to 'add' scenes to Act One of Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet'. I used a really simple (and really fun) online program found at dfilm to do the activity, and it only took one lesson. The students were engaged and motivated for the entire 75 minutes- smiling and laughing faces everywhere I looked- they worked together, experimented with Shakespearian language and imagery, talked and thought about the characters, found places in the text that could be developed further (a conversation b/w Romeo and Rosaline was a popular choice)... They emailed their films to me and I uploaded them to our class intranet site.

On Monday, I had a wonderful conversation with my head of faculty over coffee about 'the possibilities' for developing productive and ongoing dialogue between members of my faculty about critical literacy and our practices. We were both excited, eager to get some ideas underway. It is a conversation that I will remember for quite some time, to conjure in my mind whenever things at school are not going well.

Despite these wonderful moments, I'm still depressed.

I just arrived home from an English faculty meeting. We had eight staff present (out of 20). All absenteees due to quite understandable reasons and commitments. We began the meeting with lap tops plugged in while the IT people showed us how to use a new markbook feature. It took ages and there were only eight of us. Due to the time devoted to that, and the fact that so few were present, most of the rest of the agenda seemed better off put aside for another time. It's no one's fault. Mark book is important- it saves teachers valuable time for when they could be doing more important things. I was going to share the work that my students were producing on my new discussion board. We were going to talk about what transpired at the VATE conference. We were going to discuss critical literacy and ways to teach text response. We were going to discuss ideas for next year's book list. It will be very difficult to schedule another meeting- this term is impossible.

It can be difficult to maintain my enthusiasm when reality keeps dampening it. I'm not going to give up, though. I'll be depressed tonight, and start again tomorrow.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Dear Dr Rowe,

I was at the VATE conference today and I heard you speak about your take on the effect of teachers on student learning. I must admit, I sat down at a round table not quite knowing what to expect, even though I had heard plenty about you and even skimmed through a paper or two. I thought that I would take the time to write you a letter, to say what I could not articulate at the time, to try to recreate those minutes that seemed to pass me by in a haze of gesticulating fingers, violently red skin, and strident masculinity, and to tell you what I think about it all, because I know that you're there, waiting, listening, thinking.

Before I go on, I should pause to tell you that you shocked me. Oh, I knew beforehand that you existed- I had seen your voice in newspapers, policy documents and some research publications- but it was quite a different experience to see you in the flesh, so to speak, to hear your confident, vociferous voice. A pumpkin, rather than a pimple. And only a few metres away! You shocked me, because I suddenly had to face the fact that you were 'real' and not just a theoretical position that I can't imagine ever wanting to claim. You were no longer simply rhetoric, yet in a strange way, that's all you were.

As I drove home afterwards, the question that I wanted to put to you began to take shape in my mind. I'm like that, you see, I tend to like to process things, before responding to them. Sometimes, that can be unfortunate, and to my detriment, but most of the time it feels like the right course of action. Anyway,

you spoke about visiting schools for research purposes-
I conjured up an image of you
getting your hands dirty,
amongst the fray,
part of the action,
in your face,
a piece of the furniture,
a white (or angry red) elephant.

You said that you speak to the students,
because they tell you how it is,
what it's really like,
airing the dirty laundry,
the true reality.

You don't speak to the teachers, because they
paint a rosy picture
ignore the white elephant
try to shove postmodernism through your navel
(and many other crevices, I'm sure- a painful business)
and, last but not least,

It made me wonder, Dr Rowe, whether you thought the teachers at the VATE forum TOLD YOU WHAT YOU WANTED TO HEAR. Oops, I've left out the question mark. I guess I'm not expecting an answer, but feel free to give one if you're out there somewhere in WWW land.

I'll let you speak.

Yours sincerely,


Thursday, July 21, 2005

Thought for the day

Thinking isn't agreeing or disagreeing. That's voting.

-Robert Frost

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Harry Potter

I am writing this with my year 12 English students spread before me, as they silently search for the words to communicate their experiences to their chosen 'audience'. I am really looking forward to reading their finished pieces, as I have enjoyed being part of their writing processes over the last couple of weeks. Very cheeky of me to be blogging while they are doing a sac, but oh well.

My week has been punctuated by the arrival of the latest Harry Potter installment. Yes, I was one of those muggles standing in line at 9:00 am on Saturday morning waiting for my pre-ordered copy (and not forgetting my free broomstick, of course). Harry Potter has played an interesting role in the development of my relationships with some of my students. I have this fantastic Harry Potter pencil tin, which travels to all of my classes with me. It is particularly helpful when I have to take an extra- there always seem to be a couple of students in each class who are prompted by the presence of my magic pencil tin to begin a discussion about Harry with me, or just reading in general. Of course, there are probably some students who think that I'm mad, too, but that doesn't concern me.

It was fantastic to arrive at school on Monday morning and be sought out by some of my year 10's and even a few of my year 12's, asking eagerly whether I had finished Harry yet, and what I thought about it. At the beginning of my lesson with my year 10's, one of my students begged me to ban talk of Harry until she had finished reading it. I told her to let me know when she had finished it, and she replied, "Oooh, good, I'll be looking for someone to have an in-depth conversation with about it". Now, if that doesn't make a teacher feel good, I don't know what does (it certainly does it for me).

It's always interesting to think about why a children's book about wizards can create so much furore and excitement around the world. The cynics may argue that the real attraction is the result of a very clever marketing machine- but I find that response very unsatisfactory, and simplistic. When you have a text that has parents lining up to buy it and read it with their kids, a text that shows that any divisions between 'good' and 'evil' are never clear-cut, a text that provides a 'way in' to issues like genocide, racism, power, morality, etc, then I think we should be celebrating it, not bemoaning the fact everyone who reads it must have been 'sucked in', rather than simply enjoying an interesting text.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Post-AATE Conference, #2

I guess that I might as well work my way through some of the 'sessions' that I attended, for want of a better way to structure my reflections.

One of the first workshops that I went to was entitled 'Approaches to texts in writing classes: different directions for English?' led by David Homer and Claire Woods. They shared some of the work they were doing with their writing students in the Professional and Creative Communication program at the University of South Australia. I'm not entirely sure how 'different' these directions really were, at least for secondary English/literature, but I did engage with the way that they encouraged students to interact with texts from a writer's perspective, rather than simply (well, simply is probably the wrong word) as a reader. The way that they described it was "reading with a writer's eye"- using imagination as a critical tool through re-writing, re-visioning, etc, and "writing into the text rather than about the text". This can result in blurring (and challenging) discourses, including the good ol' generic essay response- one of the reasons why I found the possibility of 'playing' with form and genre in 'assignments' for English Method at Monash during my Dip Ed year so refreshing.

One of the activities that we got to have a go at in the workshop was a 'creative response' to William Carlos Williams' poem 'This is just to say'. The presenters described how some of their students had responded to the poem in a dynamic way using sticky notes to represent a conversation between two people on the door of the fridge. My response wasn't so intriguing (but I did only have five minutes):

This is just to say
I left the plums
in the ice box
for you-

A juicy treat
to sweeten
the sting
of my betrayal.

The cool purple orbs
were from the

My lover.

You are forgiven.
Do you forgive me?

I like it how you can find five minutes in the middle of a conference to write a poem that makes you smile to yourself (and at William Carlos Williams).

Post-AATE Conference, #1

This is the first in a series of blogs (hopefully, if I stay motivated and time efficient) detailing my musings about the AATE conference. This first one was actually written a few days ago...

I thought that I would take some time to get some thoughts together while I’m stuck at Coolangatta airport waiting for my flight back to Melbourne. The conference has raised some really interesting questions for me, and also helped to crystallize my growing realization that I am in a position where I can affect change in my school, and I can’t complain about my situation if I’m not taking responsibility for it.

One of the things that I found most interesting was the way that a number of presenters and participants over the few days spoke as if we all have critical literacy under our belts now, that we are all traveling along just fine, everyone knows about it, everyone can do it, and now it’s time to examine the ‘fall out’ as it were, and decide where we are heading next. Perhaps it was because of the audience- people who want to spend four days at a conference on their holidays can perhaps be expected to be interested and on the ball in other areas of their practice, although this is probably a generalization. Perhaps it was because of the setting- the Queensland education authorities have effectively mandated the ‘teaching’ of critical literacy in schools, something that is not the case in Victoria. I think that there is so much that my school can still do in this area, and I can already see the benefits and effect this approach has had in my classes this year since it has risen to become one of my main focuses in my teaching, or rather, since it has become a more explicit focus for me than it was last year.

I think I’m going to ask my head of faculty if I can try and form a working party, or inquiry group, to find ways of getting staff to feel more comfortable about trying this in their classrooms, and develop an understanding of what it’s all about, and why it’s important. Hmm… stay tuned…