I can't help but feel a sense of accomplishment as I reflect on all that we have achieved so far with the English and new media inquiry groups that we have set up at Monash.
The opportunity stemmed, initially, from a government funded project which enabled universities around the country to second teachers in schools to work with pre-service teachers in universities. The idea was to use the experienced teacher to help university lecturers develop curriculum that 'skilled' pre-service teachers up to be more confident about using 'ICTs' in the classroom. Of course, there are all sorts of tension and issues associated with an approach like this, with the teacher 'mixin' it wid th kids' each day positioned as the 'expert', rather than considering the prospect that such a partnership might be mutually beneficial. It certainly has been for me.
Needless to say, we haven't really adopted the expected approach to this project. What we have done is set up two inquiry groups, one for interested pre-service English teachers at Monash, the other for practising teachers (all Monash graduates).
The pre-service teacher group (with an amorphous collection of around 15 members) has met together four times now. Each week, we explore a different avenue into multimodality, with a view to engaging in some critical discussion about the issues, challenges and possibilities that each avenue raises. We have explored multimodal narratives, such as Inanimate Alice and Such Tweet Sorrow; web 2.0 tools for creating texts, such as flickr, storybird and pixton; we have created our own digital narratives using images from Shaun Tan's picture books and art. It was wonderful to hear, after catching up with some of them last night, that our workshops have made them feel excited about the possibilities and what they can achieve with their classes during their final five week practicum.
The practising teacher group is composed of teachers from a rich variety of school contexts. They range from Monash graduates in their first year out, to teachers who have been in the profession for twenty-odd years. Each one of them has been an exciting and dynamic presence in the group. We have met twice, face to face, over pizza, nibblies and wine. There is already a lovely rhythm to the conversation that develops, for each member of the group has so much to contribute. In our last session, a few members of the group took the lead by sharing snapshots of their practice. One teacher shared screen grabs of the 'Pride and Prejudice' facebook profiles that her students had created, and the discussion that unfolded amongst the group in response to these artefacts was fascinating. About playfulness, identity, language, experimentation, dialogue... Another teacher spoke about podcasting student feedback instead of writing it, but her approach was actually about far more than that. She spoke about how she felt that she was now responding as an interested reader of her students' work, instead of assuming the mantle of 'the teacher'. Another teacher shared these amazing ‘tweets’ from year 8s in a history class (she called the activity ‘twitstory’). I don’t think that she had realised, initially, just how cool they actually were. She gave each student a tag , such as #battleofhastings and they had to come up with a relevant tweet. They were just brilliant. So funny and so clever.
I can already sense that this group will take on a life of its own, beyond the span of the government-funded project that has enabled it. It is a testament to the value of collaborative inquiry and the possibilities that arise when you get a group of passionate English teachers around a common table.
Image from: http://ryanbushphotography.com/#