Monday, November 28, 2005

Spaces (1)

Spaces for professional learning can be hard to come by, and even then they are often subjected to external mandates, guidelines and parameters.

One example of this that I experienced recently was the VIT portfolio process for beginning teachers. I found myself constantly frustrated by the externally imposed measures, proformas and requirements. This was supposed to be about reflection, about thinking and writing about professional identity and learning, and yet the writing that needed to be produced had to be a certain structure, shape… even genre.

On top of this was the added pressure of assessment. I had to produce something that was going to be used to confirm my status as an accepted member of the profession. Suffice to say, moving beyond the mandated parameters of the task- attempting to write on the boundary of something that my school would be happy with, and that I was happy with- was not without risk.

During this experience, and after it, I found myself looking for alternative spaces to write about my teaching and learning. Blogging was one of those spaces. I was resistant to the idea of blogging at first. I read and loitered on the blogs of my friends and colleagues, but was reluctant to begin my own. “Why bother?”, I thought. I have email as a writing space to explore my professional identity. I have a number of communities that I already tap into. With email, I have a relatively captive audience- people who would actually write back (well, it is the polite thing to do). In blogging, there is no guarantee of that. You don’t know who’s reading. You don’t know if anyone is reading.

Blogging seemed to carry a certain degree of risk. It involved stepping out into a newly created digital space and inhabiting it, making it my own. It involved trust- trusting an unknown audience to read, and not to ridicule. Even though I was putting a digital representation of myself out into cyberspace, it also involved a certain amount of secrecy. I chose not to reveal my name, and I only let a few people know about my blog. I was reluctant to let go of at least the illusion of control over my space.

Friday, November 25, 2005

a goosepimply moment while reading on the train...

"A text... with its etymological roots in the Latin 'texere', 'to weave', celebrates a process of becoming."

-Lissa Paul, Reading Other-Ways

Sunday, November 13, 2005

A proud member of 'Generation Lite'

I have been meaning to write this post for some time, and conversations that I have had with a few people over the past week have compelled me to write it somewhere other than in my mind.
The furore surrounding the proposed draft of the VCE English Study design some weeks back and more recently the flare up after the VCE English Exam left me feeling perplexed (ok, maybe completely flabbergasted would be a more appropriate description). There were the predictable missiles fired by the usual neo-liberal suspects that missed the target (see good ol' Kevin's comments in this ridiculous Australian article, and also some ill-considered attacks by others who I feel would probably not want to find themselves in that category (even though their arguments contained very similar, if not identical, rhetoric). Baden Eunson's article is one example of this.

Whenever I read these kinds of arguments filled with all the inflammatory, damning, buzz words- 'crisis', 'the basics', 'dumbing down', 'English lite', 'postmodern pus' (ok, yes, I made that one up) and so on, I become increasingly frustrated as I seek to find a 'way in'. I want to understand the position that the writer has adopted and why. I want to reason with them, to question their understandings in order to question and articulate my own. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to do this because of the assumptions that these arguments are built on. Pull those assumptions away and the entire argument comes tumbling down. Here are a couple of examples of these assumptions:

  • The Basics.
What does this term 'mean' to the people who pepper their writing with it, to the world, to Australia, to communities, to teachers, to students, to me? Is there such a thing? Should the basics be the same thing for everyone? Do we want our students to arrive at the end of their secondary education and say, "well, at least I've learnt the basics"? What are the basics? The 3R's? Grammar, Spelling, Vocab? Are the basics of the 1960's the same basics of the 21st century? Should they be?

  • These basics are not being taught in Victorian/Australian schools.

Well, if the basics that these writers/politicians continuously refer to are spelling, grammatical structures, punctuation and vocabulary (this is what I assume they are referring to based on my interpretation of the gist of their rhetoric), then I can assure them that these concepts are being taught in secondary English classes. This hasn't changed. What has changed since the 1960's is the way that teachers are teaching and students are aquiring these skills. And thank goodness for that. As teachers, we try to cater for the individuals in our classrooms. Of course, reality can never quite match the ideals we aspire to, but this premise still seems to be a good one.Usually, this means that decontextualised spelling lists and grammar exercises (e.g. change the tense of the verb in this sentence about a boy called Dick riding his bicycle to the general store to collect a pint of milk for his dear mother) about topics that a particular student couldn't care less about isn't considered to be the most helpful approach anymore. (Note: this paragraph is based on the assumption that my understanding of 'spelling, grammar, punctuation and vocabulary' is the same as the writers/politicians/researchers I am critiquing. It isn't, but I won't go into that here.)

  • If you can't measure it, bottle it, capture, it, record it... it never happened. In fact, it's completely worthless.

The most frustrating thing about all this is the way that people try to fit a simple template to an incredibly complex and rich process- learning. If we teach X in X way every day for X number of hours then X students will develop X skills to function in X professions. Learning isn't a simple mathematical equation. There are no 'one size fits all' solutions for student learning (and engagement- not that that is worth factoring in here, of course). I find it difficult to understand this desire to simplify and reduce learning communities to banking metaphors- teachers 'depositing' knowledge into students' heads. Why isn't Nelson interested in considering that teachers are professionals who know their students, not mere technicians who can't be trusted to know and understand their students and the communities they work within?

Ugh, I'm sick of this now. Perhaps this isn't an adequate way to argue my point, anyway. Perhaps searching for a 'way in' to this type of reductive thinking- answering back, as it were- only results in defensive arguments, not a powerful and thoughtful exploration of my understanding of learning, engagement and professionalism. Defensive and inadequate arguments are all I seem to have ended up with. I haven't come close to articulating what I really want to write. Perhaps I'm just tired. I'll keep trying though. In other ways, other places, other times.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

The beginning of an End, and the beginning of a Beginning...

Just got home after seeing a film with a friend that I haven't seen in ages. The company was good, but the film was a bit of a shocker. It's a pity really, because the visuals on Elizabethtown's home page are fantastic, but when a website turns out to be better than the film it's supposedly advertising.... well...

I'm missing my year 12's. I only have my year 10's left now and they will be finished soon, too. In fact, next week will probably be my last week of 'real' (ie, my own classes) teaching for a while- I am taking first semester off next year. I want to be able to focus entirely on my thesis over the next six months so that I end up with something decent that I don't feel the urge to wrinkle my nose at every time I walk past it sitting on the shelf for the rest of my life. I also need some time away from school in order to patch myself up after these last couple of months. A bit of healing time, and also time to throw myself headlong into a process that is important to me, before I throw myself headlong into teaching full time. It will be good, but I'm going to miss my students and getting excited over lesson planning (piles of corrections...nah, I can live without them for a while).

Watching my year 12's graduate at the Valedictory Dinner left me with a pretty good feeling. I don't think it's a sight that will ever get old, no matter how many times I see it. And I'm only what, 7-8 years older than them or something. You'd think I was their mother! Well, they were my first year 12 class.

Here is a photo of the 'thank you' present they gave me. The little treasures. They know me too well: