Sunday, December 30, 2007

New Year's Resolution

My New Year's resolution is to try and make better use of this blog. My writing has just fallen apart over the last twelve months, which is probably one reason why I am finding it so difficult to get a decent foothold in the narrative that I am currently supposed to be working on (for which I need to have a draft completed by the end of the first week of January). One reason, but not the only reason. Many false starts later, I keep finding myself trying to tell a different story/explore a different theme from the one that I am supposed to be exploring. I'm not even getting close to what I'm 'supposed' to be writing about. This would be fine if I was writing alone, but I'm not, and I don't think that it is the time or the place to write the narrative that my fingers keep itching to type! Grrr... I'd better get on the right track soon... My frustration is making my words cantankerous and itchy (and so is the heat). Cheap, school-issued Acer laptops don't go too well in 35 degree heat, I'm finding. And why am I even bothering to write on the day before New Year's Eve, you ask?
Because I've got a deadline, damnit!

I want to write about writing... all writing is about writing, yes, but this time I really want to write about writing... like this...

No textual staging is innocent (Foucault 1978). Writing is an intentional
activity and, as such, a site of moral responsibility. Whoever writes
for/about/of whatever is using authority and privilege. But there is no such
thing as 'a thing' speaking of 'itself', because 'things' are always constructed
and interpreted, there is no Archimedean resolution to the problem of speaking
for others... Knowledge is always situated, embodied, and partial (Haraway
1988). We are always viewing something from somewhere, from some embodied
position. Consequently, the problem becomes a practical-ethical one. How can we
use our skills and privileges to advance the case of the nonprivileged?

-Laurel Richardson (1997) Fields of Play: Constructing an Academic Life


... words are self-conscious (even more than usual).

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Oh the places they'll go...

The week before the Year12 English exam is both lovely, and stressful. My typical 'quiet' Wednesday, during which I teach only one Year 11 class and supervise a study hall, became incredibly hectic as clusters of frantic year 12 students appeared at regular intervals, clutching essays and/or collecting them, promising more, or just wanting a chat. Despite this, the hours seem to slow down, perhaps for them as well, because every hour the exam moves closer. The valedictory dinner has passed, school dresses and shirts have been inscribed with black texta, cars have been toilet-papered, classes are over. They become clingy, all of a sudden, when they realise that they won't see your face every day. They suddenly realise (some of them, at least) how many hours that you have dedicated to them. They scribble on cards, tell you that your classroom is where they realised that they loved writing (well, one of them did). They start to realise that this is the beginning of the rest of their life, and you begin to reflect on where they have come from, and how much further they have got to go.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


There comes a point when you start to wonder how much more you can give. You work hard because you are passionate about what you do... and because you are passionate about what you do you succeed at it... and because you succeed people ask you to do more... and more... and then you begin to wonder how you will look and feel after another year of people wanting more... and more.... and if you look and feel like that how can you possibly remember why you were once so passionate?
When you're too tired for yoga... something's wrong.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

School Families

I'm still exhausted after Parent-student-teacher interviews the other night, but I had a lovely moment amongst the madness. A parent of one of my year 12 students from 2005 stopped by to tell me how he was going- he's loving uni and his teachers are apparently loving the essays that he's writing. His mother reminded me how I had said that his essays were like paintings because of his unusual approach to structure and argument development- I have absolutely no recollection of this (and I have a feeling that if I did say this, I was being tongue-in-cheek) but I remember some of his pieces and encouraging his original approaches to writing. Now, he is continuing down this road and is really enjoying the responses that he is getting from his tutors. Uni was always going to be a good fit for him- he's an artist.
Last year, I taught his younger sister and right now I am working with his youngest brother in a year 7 literature circle extension program. After almost four years, I am noticing that I am developing relationships with families, not just individual students. It's lovely.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Hope Confirmed

Tickets booked: the day after school finishes, I'll be in Thailand. Woo hoo!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

It is a good day when...

  • Your latest 'ICT Arvo' goes so well that teachers go home and talk excitedly to their 12 year old kids about everything that they learnt about 'wikis'.

  • A Year 7 English teacher (whom you assist in their class once a week) gets a call from a parent because their kid is incredibly excited about the literature circle blog that you have helped them to set up.

  • Your Year 11 Lit class don't want to draw their 'debate' about The Crucible to an end.

  • The year 12 student editors of the creative writing anthology come by the staffroom to show you the posters that they have stuck on their backs to encourage everyone to hand in their submissions.

And, when all of these things happen on the ONE DAY, your 'mid-term blues' lift and the icy wind becomes crisp and fresh.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

AATE Conference Reflection

Below is some text from an address that I gave at school, reporting back on my experiences at the AATE Conference in Canberra. I didn't want to do the usual blow-by-blow 'this is what happened' kind of presentation, so instead I chose to focus on what the experience meant. I don't get the impression that it went down so well- lots of glazed eyes- or perhaps Thursday afternoon isn't the right time for this kind of presentation. Sometimes, I feel like I am teaching within two different 'spaces'- my immediate school 'life' and a space where bigger ideas and more intensive reflection are valued. I get incredibly frustrated when they can feel so disparate, but I find it really difficult to have the kinds of discussions and participate in the kinds of discourses in my immediate school context that I enjoy and value so much in other spaces. I am feeling really disheartened about this at the moment, and don't quite know what to do about it. But, perhaps there is a chance that these ideas/word will get a better reception here.

'You don’t attend a National Conference to collect practical, ‘ready-to-use’, perfect for Monday morning, lesson resources. Or if you do, I think that you’re likely to come away disappointed, because that’s not what this kind of experience is about. I think that it’s too easy for us as teachers to subscribe to these kinds of discourses, too, this idea that teaching is just a matter of reaching for a photocopyable resource and dishing it out, or finding the next fail-safe great idea. In English classrooms, and probably other classrooms as well, we encourage our students to be wary of limited discourses that frame young people in restrictive ways- the ‘angst-filled teenager’, the ‘vacuous surfer dude’, the ‘black-obsessed emo’- these are images that kids see in advertising and popular culture all the time, and they can make the mistake of thinking that that is who they are.

What we perhaps don’t spend enough time thinking about is the way that teachers can be positioned in equally limiting ways- the ‘classroom practitioner’ who isn’t supposed to open a window to look beyond the four walls of the classroom, the ‘early career teacher’ whose only challenge in their first year of teaching is to ‘survive’, the student teacher, who as soon as they walk into a school is told that everything they learnt at uni is a ‘bunch of claptrap’ and that they should wait ‘until they get into a real classroom, that’s when they’ll actually learn something’. We’ve all been guilty of participating in these kinds of discourses, perhaps we even believe in them, but to me it seems to stem from a fairly entrenched culture in Education that defines the ‘purely practical’ as valuable and the ‘airy-fairy theoretical’ as a harmless indulgence at best.

This is a pretty dangerous binary, I think, principally because it devalues us, as professionals, and really limits the scope of the work that we do, and the way that we think about what we do, and the kinds of professional learning that we value. Just as damaging is the way that this kind of culture allows politicians to position teachers as mere technicians- John Howard’s and Julie Bishop’s attacks on English and History teachers in particular in the media recently have suggested that they would much rather that we simply ‘deliver’ a benign, centrally-prescribed curriculum rather than actually have us think about what we are teaching kids. Their fear seems to be that the lot of us will turn into card-carrying Marxist ideologues.

One of the most powerful moments of the Conference came during a writing workshop centred around the prospect of a National Curriculum. The idea was to be proactive, to start thinking and articulating what we believe is essential for our students to know and be able to do, before someone else tries to do that for us. We had been working on this task quite intensely in small groups, there was lots of rich, divergent discussion, and it was only at the very end that we realised that amongst our group we had every state represented. This was what characterized the conference for me- the notion that opening up spaces for dialogue, for conversation, is fundamentally important in the work that we do as teachers.

And so, this is what attending the National English teacher’s conference meant to me- not an opportunity to be a hell-raising Marxist ideologue, but a chance to engage with the minds of some great thinkers, to engage in some critical thinking about not only the work that I am doing in my classroom, but what it means to teach and learn in a democracy.'

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Fav Moment of the Week

When 'Tom' (year 10) asked very earnestly if he would be able to count Sun Tzu's 'The Art of War' for his wider reading requirement.

'Yes!' he exclaimed, pumping his fist, when I replied 'Um, yeah Tom, I suppose that would be ok.'

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Silent kids in study hall

Sitting before silent kids in year 11 study hall, I wonder at time slowing down. It always happens at this time of year. Senior students finish classes and get caught up in the hurly burly of exams, and the frantic pace of past weeks seems strangely distant. It isn’t as though there isn’t plenty of work to do- piles of exams to mark and reports to write- but the work becomes methodical, rather than exhilarating.

I am looking forward to next semester already. I am looking forward to teaching Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, in a world that has changed so much in the short time that I last explored this text with students. I am looking forward to teaching The Crucible for similar reasons.

I am looking forward to extending the work that I have begun this term in my new role as ‘ICT Consultant’ (dumb, corporate-sounding name; interesting work). The ‘ICT Arvo Series’ that we launched this term has started out so well, and I am keen for it to continue to gain momentum next term. Basically, the ICT Arvo Series is exactly what it sounds like- a series of afternoon workshops for interested staff to have a play and a chat about using technology for student learning in the classroom. The thing that I like most about it, and I think what the attendees have liked about it as well, is that the workshops are run by staff working within the school, rather than external ‘experts’. This has made such a difference: staff feel more encouraged to ‘have a go’, ask questions, share ideas, and, most importantly, are able to build professional learning relationships with their colleagues. While I knew theoretically, and from my own professional learning experiences, that this would be the case, it is really nice to see it play out for others.

And, of course, some of the richest learning has happened before ‘ICT arvos’ or between them. For example, the two sessions that we have run in the latter part of this term have focused on getting staff to use the interactive whiteboards more productively, with student involvement (which is kind of the point). I asked two different staff members to run each session because of the interesting work that they had been doing in this area in their own classrooms, and we all met one afternoon at a cafĂ© to plan the sessions together. Between the five of us, we had four faculties represented: English, SOSE, LOTE and Science. This ‘planning session’ quickly became a professional learning session itself, as we all shared our own ideas and experiences with the IWBs in the classroom. The software had just been upgraded to version 3, and so at first there was a flurry of conversation and questions about what new ‘tools’ we had come across in the new version, but the discussion quickly extended beyond the use of technology to more intensive thinking and talking about pedagogy. As a consequence (I think so, anyway) the conversations that occurred later, during the actual workshops, followed a similar trajectory. It was nice to see, nicer to be part of, and even nicer to feel partly responsible for.

But this is just the beginning…

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Sunday, May 13, 2007


"The story of a life is less than the actual life, because the story told is
selective, partial, contextually constructed and because the life is not yet
over. But the story of a life is also more than the life, the contours and
meanings allegorically extend to others, others seeing themselves, knowing
themselves through another's life story, re-visioning their own, arriving where
they started and knowing "the place for the first time"."

-Laurel Richardson, 'Fields of Play, Constructing an Academic Life'

I write even though I have four piles of SACs glowering at me, even though I haven't had five seconds to myself all weekend, even though the thought of the coming week exhausts me and brings me to tears.

I write because I have four piles of SACs glowering at me, because I haven't had five seconds to myself all weekend, because the thought of the coming week exhausts me and brings me to tears.

In the hurly burly: a moment of clarity. At a year 11 English team meeting, a colleague comments, "this new unit was a nice break, I felt, from the norm". Others nod. Later, I wonder why. Why did she (and others) feel this way about a new writing unit which is drastically different from the way that 'writing' was 'taught' last year (and has been for many years)? Why did this seem like a 'break' from the 'challenges' of the rest of our course, even though the level of thinking required and layers of complexity inherent in this new unit are significantly greater (in my mind now, and when I was developing this unit) than anything else that we do in Year 11 English? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the feedback from students has been so positive: their engagement has rendered the teachers' engagement. At least, that is what I hope.

I write because I need to, and I need to remember that I need to, no matter how chaotic 'life' is: "writing-stories" (Richardson, 1997) enrich my writing, enrich my life... and hopefully the lives of others.


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Altered Books

Wow, hey, I want to find a way to do this with my lit kids... See this link...

Growing crystals

How does the way we record and recollect an event shape not only others’ experience of it, but our own?
How does narrative capture experience? Does it matter if what is captured in words differs from the reality of the experience?
How can subjectivity be a productive source for research?

Imagine this: a darkened lecture theatre, filled with year 10 English students, a flickering projection screen and a teacher: me. Z stands at the front, her short film fills the room. A house creaks. A mother dies inside as her daughter leaves home. A forlorn music box tinkles. The walls of the house peel away, piece by piece. The mother is left alone in a vacant field. Her home disappears, like her daughter.
Inside: my heart rushes. Blood flows. Beauty. Emotion. Connection. Wonder.

How do you share emotional experiences like these in ways that are meaningful and productive?

I want to write a piece about research and narrative, focusing particularly on my teaching and learning experiences that have involved/been shaped by unconventional/multimodal narratives. The questions that I find myself asking about narrative and meaning have both led to, and stem from, my and my students’ explorations into narrative during the past eighteen months or so in particular. I want to write about, and share, my students’ Blake hypertexts, their multimodal poems, their creative re-visions. But this is not the end: this is a means. I know that narrative, and writing in particular, will continue to shape the way I think about and make sense of my teaching experiences. So, I want to keep getting better at it. But more than this: I want to make a contribution to my profession through this. This is what I want to write about. What constitutes practitioner research that is self-reflexive, self-critical, self-devised? How can it be framed, assessed, shaped, directed? What is its value, its worth? For the practitioner and/or for wider audiences?

I’ve written about these issues before in other ways and places but I think I need to revisit them. I’m not there yet. I am keen to do this by exploring and applying the writing of Laurel Richardson, who I have admired and wanted to draw on for some time. I went to lecture of hers some time back and it was fantastic, and I’m eagerly awaiting a couple of her texts from Amazon: ‘Writing Strategies’ and ‘Fields of Play’.

In her lecture, she described writing as not a ‘mopping up’ activity at the end of the research process, but a research activity in itself. Which isn’t really anything new of course, but the way that she explored the place of narrative in research was particularly appealing to me. Now, I’m looking back over my jottings that I recorded while I was listening:

Simplistic fiction/non-fiction divide no longer exists: there is only narrative.

New ways of knowing are opening up the ‘academy’ to others (good!)

Five postmodern writing strategies: Contextualisation, personal narration (‘self’ is active, thinking, linked to the research process), reflexivity, alternative writing formats (poetry, finger-painting!), collaboration (yep)…

Demystify authority planes (this includes YOU)

Writing against the current put me against the wall. I should have been writing in my current. Making my own way, rather than simply writing against what is already there.

Group of people writing on the pages of a text. Burning, painting, annotating, etc. Becoming not just a reader of the book, but a creator of it.

Artistic, aesthetic ways of thinking and knowing.

I will never reach a destination.

Genre: found poetry

Whenever you are attempting to do something different, it has to be aesthetically worthy, as well as research worthy.

The personal narrative has to connect with a larger sociocultural frame.

Creative synthesis

The crystal metaphor: a growing, physical form. Multiple facets. What you see is how you look. Different ways of knowing, the same material.

Once you can speak another ‘language’, it doesn’t stop you from knowing the first one. It only makes it richer.

Anyway, hopefully I’ll be able to start growing crystals out of these fragments soon. I’d be keen to hear from anyone who can offer any other suggested readings about narrative and research, particularly unconventional narrative, before I move much further along the meaning making process.

Our National Anthem: Barnsified

I showed this to my Year 11 students last week during a discussion about Australian identity. We decided we like this version better. See what you think.

End of term

Poor blog. How I've neglected you. A whole term has passed by and not one single post to show for it (lucky that I have other things to show for it). But, after four days break including one show (Miss Saigon), two films (Becoming Jane and Reign Over Me) and a baking session culminating in honey chocolate cake, I'm ready to blog again (that and I'm procastinating from marking my Year 12 English SACs).

This term I've....

-Enjoyed teaching A Man for all Seasons

-Helped my Year 10's create their miraculous multimodal poems

-Shed a few tears with my year 11's when we watched Grave of the Fireflies

-Nursed my baby, my year 11 course, and watched with my colleague, with a certain degree of personal satisfaction, as it came alive for the students and teachers

-Scored a new position of responsibility (ICT consultant- starting next term, and it's not nearly as corporate as it sounds, or at least I won't allow it to be)

-Experienced yet another personal tragedy unfold in my staffroom (we're all getting very good at handling these now- lots of practice)

-Submitted my Masters (still biting my fingers in anticipation of the verdict)

-Taught music for the first time (oh, my poor ears)

-Attempted to change the world, and, you know, other stuff... ;-)

Monday, January 22, 2007

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

My first Meme

I've been tagged for a meme. Now, when I get these kinds of things through email I usually delete them, because they always ask the same questions, but this is the first time that I've been 'meme-tagged' on my blog, so I'm excited. Especially since I was tagged by a fellow Victorian early career teacher, Soulcradler, who popped up on the blogosphere quite recently.

So, here are five things about me that people may not know from reading my blog:

1. I love to cook. My most recent culinary triumphs are roasted nectarine tart (crispy pastry filled to the brim with vanilla bean custard, on which nestle roasted nectarines drizzled with a sweet toffee syrup), rum and raisin ice cream (delectable) and roast pork stuffed with rocket, toasted pine nuts, prosciutto, lemon zest and fresh basil. The pork was my contribution to Christmas dinner- I was so impressed with the crackling that I took a picture:

If this teaching gig ever goes sour I'd seriously consider opening a cafe. It would be a coffee lover's haven.

2. Meet Molly.
My dog. She is the most delightful creature you're ever likely to meet. Her tail wags so hard that her bum wiggles. She loves shaking hands and going for long walks. She loves playing ball (but only if you're prepared to do most of the fetching- she's above that sort of nonsense). She enjoys sitting at the table and chatting over coffee (well, I drink the coffee and she just sits there and pats my arm occasionally, but she understands every word I say). Everyone should have a Molly.

3. I will be submitting my Masters thesis this month. Yay! I can't believe I'm finally here. I have the latest full draft sitting on my desk. The lovely, large pile of crisp white pages motivates me. Seriously, I can't believe I'm actually going to make it and that it might actually, hopefully, be pretty good....

4. I love musical theatre. Seriously, I am a musical theatre geek. In my past life, BT (before teaching), I did a lot of shows, both on stage, and in the pit (band) but I haven't done any for a while. But I'm doing one this year with my local theatre company and it feels great to be rehearsing again, and singing harmonies again, which I love. I'm teaching music for the first time this year, too. Music is my other method, which I managed pretty well to keep under wraps because I fell in love with English teaching. But, finding out that my school had me down to teach Geography of all things because they were operating under some misguided understanding that SOSE was my other method area, forced me to remind them that music was actually my other method area. I mean, I have no sense of direction. So, now I'm teaching Year 8 Music next year. More on that later.

5. My favourite childhood memory is watching my world from the roof of the house that I grew up in. When my Dad was painting the gutters or doing some work on the roof my sister and I would climb the ladder and clambour up the tiled slope to straddle the very top. We would sit up there for quite some time and look out over the entire neighbourhood. I asked my Dad about it the other day and he can't believe now that he let us do it. It was so dangerous. I don't know what the neighbours would have thought. But it was fun (almost as much fun as the time we built a flying fox between two trees in our front yard).

So, there you go. Quite an eclectic list. Hmm... who should I tag?

Scott (I know that he has something quite miraculous that he can put on his list, and it might get him blogging again)
School Days (who I see has just started blogging again after a year long hiatus), and