Archive for category personal
Wouldn’t it be something to be recognised as a poet?
I mean, not just to be a poet – many of us write poetry, and are already poets.
But to actually be recognised for it!
To have people read your pieces and like them enough to want to share them, by giving them an award, or publishing them in a book…
Now that would be something!
Links of interest:
Last year I was interviewed by Melissa Wilson, a Journalism student from the University of Newcastle, about my views on the Higher School Certificate (HSC).
Melissa was in contact again recently, and this prompted me to ask if I could reproduce the interview here on my blog. She kindly obliged, and so here it is!
I was careful to read back over my answers, to make sure I still felt the same way about these issues. I do. I wish I could say that things were vastly different up here in Queensland. They’re not. When a Queenslander tells you there is no external exam for Year 12 in their state, they’re misleading you at best. Here is a bit of information from the QSA website about the Queensland Core Skills (QCS) test:
Preparing for the test
The Common Curriculum Elements are generic skills that students work with across their subjects; therefore the real preparation for the test goes on all the time and in every subject. The QSA also makes available a variety of test preparation resources, including Retrospectives and past testpapers (see QCS Test publications and Retrospectives and MC response sheets). Most schools provide some focused preparation for the test.
Hmm, sounds familiar.
But, I digress…
Here are my responses to the interview by Melissa Wilson:
Interview answers for Melissa Wilson (University of Newcastle, 2011)
Interviewee: Kelli McGraw (Lecturer, QUT)
- How do you feel about how the HSC is structured in 2011?
When I think about the HSC structure in 2011, the main things that leap to mind are the fact that studying English is mandatory, that half of the student assessment is based on a timetabled external examinations, and that a no more than of 30% of your school assessment is supposed to be ‘exam-type’. I think it’s really important for English to remain compulsory right up to the end of school, but I’d like to see more room for students to choose electives within the course, not just different levels i.e. Standard or Advanced English. At the moment I think the HSC is still structured in a way that is too rigid for students to feel like they have a lot of choice over their learning.
- Many people say that the HSC is focused on teaching students a whole lot of information that isn’t exactly relevant to them later in life – but instead they just regurgitate it in an exam and then discard it – how do you feel about that statement?
Personally, I can think of countless things that I learned in my HSC year (1998). In those days the emphasis on exams was just as great, but I am often surprised by the things I remember from senior high school and have found a lot of what I learned to be very relevant in life. Having to finish ‘major works’ for Visual Art and Drama also taught me valuable lessons about project management and self-directed learning, which I didn’t get from participating in written exams, so in that sense I guess I was lucky to be an ‘art-sy’ student.
I think the real problem with exams is not that students have to cram ‘irrelevant’ information – I think that all learning can be made relevant, depending on what you choose to do in life. The problem I find is that the examination system has too much of an effect on what happens inside the classroom. The constant pressure to cover content is a strain on students and teachers, and even though school-based assessment is supposed to involve deep learning and reflection, many schools I know of set far more than 30% of their assessments in an exam style in order to condition students in preparation for the external exam. So I think there is a ‘hidden curriculum’ in the HSC, which can dilute learning experiences based on the official subject syllabuses.
- And from this, what would you personally change about the HSC?
I think that the only assessment that students should have to do under exam conditions is the Trial. If more student work was assessed through project work, or using collaborative group tasks, or using portfolios, I think that students would feel more connected to the learning, and be motivated to achieve. Even though the HSC now uses criteria-based assessment, students are acutely aware that the HSC places them in competition with one another as in-class assessment ranks still play a role in determining a student’s final subject results, and the year culminates for most students in receiving a ranked national placement through the UAI. With only about 30% of students moving from school to university after Year 12, it seems like we compromise a lot of educational values for the sake of a privileged minority.
- How do you feel about the pressure and emotional stress that students endure throughout their HSC?
When I think about the stories that students have told me over the years – about how they feel inadequate, or like a failure in the face of HSC assessment tasks – it makes me really upset. I have seen a lot of students in Year 12 lose a lot of weight, with girls in particular showing signs of early and advanced eating disorders. Senior school is also a time when increased numbers of students pick up casual and part-time employment, in many cases out of a necessity to contribute to household finances. I think the HSC creates an environment where students are given too many adult responsibilities without being given the corresponding rights.
While schools play a vital role in developing students’ resilience and capacity for work, the emotional stress endured during the HSC year is too much, in my opinion. I read a study awhile back where Year 11 and 12 students reported symptoms of anxiety, depression and stress that fell outside the ‘normal’ range. We know that when this happens, students stop focussing on ‘mastering’ the material, instead focussing on performance; they stop believing in themselves, stop seeing the learning as a worthwhile goal, and switch to performance-oriented goals. Some of my own school friends took years to recover from the emotional damage of the HSC year, especially those whose final results didn’t meet expectations.
Hi folks – it’s been a bit quiet here on the blog, I know.
All I can say is … omg MARKING!
I have always had an interest in assessment, but this semester has made really clear to me how dire the situation is with our current practices.
I don’t want to ‘buy out’ my marking (i.e.pay someone else to do it for me) but I feel like I am wasting so much of my time at the grindstone, like a machine, writing the same lines over and over in delightful pink pen in the margins of my students’ work.
“Check the APA style guide for rules about how to format this”
“Formal essays require shorter paragraphs than this”
“Avoid rhetorical questions – make strong statements instead”
“Use your introduction to tell me what your main points will actually be, not to explain the structure of your work”
“Don’t use a quote as a sentence on it’s own – introduce it i.e. ‘Sawyer (year) explains that…’”
“You have not included reference to any unit readings in this rationale”
I worry about RSI. I worry about carpal tunnel! Marking more tasks electronically next semester will hopefully fix the hand ache, but what about the mind ache??
I’m not alone – every teacher reading this knows what I mean.
What are we going to do about it?
I always spell literature with a lower case ‘l’. Unless having to use title case forces me to do otherwise, and even then I only do it grudgingly, preferring to write the whole word in CAPS. ‘Literature’ is not a proper noun, no more than the words ‘music’ or ‘drama’ or ‘visual art’ or ‘sociology’ are. No, ‘literature’ is a field of study, as vulnerable to attack, redundancy and dissolution as any other. ‘Literature’ is not like ‘The Bible’, it is not one definable thing. It is not like ‘Shakespeare’, it does not have a personality nor is it an old friend. It is a field, a part of the landscape that is identifiable, but that can also shift and erode or be crowded out, given enough time. It is important, oh yes, like an atomic bomb, or a legacy – but it is not a proper noun.
The Federal Government commissioned David Gonski to conduct a comprehensive review of school funding in Australia - the final report was released in February 2012.
I wanted to post here the series of tweets that I sent out yesterday, when Peter Garrett was in Brisbane:
What comments would you make in relation to the Gonski recommendations?
Are you a public school supporter? A public school teacher?
What do you think it will take to close the gap?
Obviously this is not an ideal situation for an academic to find themselves in.
However, I suspect it might be true.
I think it was my PhD thesis that killed it for me…I think…I don’t like writing.
I tried to rejoin my Daily Writing Group but this time it didn’t help. I did co-write an Editorial for a journal = big success story! (Editing other people’s writing was much easier than writing my own work.)
Luckily it is teaching time now, less expectation to write. Brief, brief reprieve.
Definitely time to make good friends with my blog again. I like it here best. And people tell me they read it! (I hope people will be glad to know that they are not the only ones who don’t like writing.)
Other things I have been doing instead of writing:
- reading fiction
- organising multiple conference papers
- answering emails
- playing MW3
All worthy occupations!
Maybe I’m just in thesis ‘recovery’. I mean, surely.
Just have to find the right motivation…
OK, just a couple of weeks late for a post like this, but what can I say?
I feel the urge to make some plans.
- Go to less conferences: I loves me a good conference But when you fill up every break you have with a work trip, you never actually have a break. Sounds reasonable enough, however I am already slated to attend the AERA annual meeting in April, the AATE conference in October, and the AARE-APERA conference in December. At least that’s one less than last year I suppose…
- Learn more names: 9 weeks to learn 80 names – by golly! Putting students into reading groups helped me to learn more names last semester. Next semester I think more students will be joining Twitter for their assessment task, so that will help a little more. But my big idea this semester is to use OneNote better for this kind of thing, giving each class its own folder and importing student photos where possible.
- Finish three academic papers: This is my year to publish, I’m sure. Thesis writing burnt me out for a long time in terms of wanting to write, but this year my resolve is firmly in this direction. I need to remember how to write and be happy.
It’s got to be dangerous to make more than three new years resolutions, so I’ll stop there!
I still have a month before university teaching starts again. Plenty of time to work on some writing. But also plenty of time to work on my blog, and on my unit outline, and a raft of other things.
At least this post is out of the way.
First posts of the year; they make me kinda nervous…
The biggest review of schools funding in over 30 years is almost over.
I was number 5126 to join the For our Future website tonight.
Here’s what I wrote in my message to the Gonski review panel:
There can be no serious attempt to argue that the current education system in Australia is socially just. With the exercising of ‘choice’ in education increasingly being seen as a feature of responsible parenting the provision of education is becoming even more stratified.
Government policy has been instrumental in encouraging the allowance of parental ‘choice’, giving parents ability to seek the school that will provide the greatest level of ‘excellence’ for their child. A need to invest in excellence based on the manufactured concern about the decline in standards in public education has meant an increase in Government funding of private schools to enable more parents to have the option of ‘choosing’ a private education for their children. This has led to the creation of a dualistic, market oriented education system, where public and private schools compete for enrolments and for Government funding, and ideas about what an ‘excellent’ education really consists of are distorted in order to lure ‘consumers’.
Despite public perception, it is not my belief however that a private education is a ‘better’ education, or that education in specialist schools such as selective or performing arts schools is more beneficial to the students who attend them. In fact inequity in education is diminishing the educational experience of these students by creating schools that lack diversity and encouraging social reproduction. It is not just a matter of the ‘poor local public schools’ being at a disadvantage because of lack of resources, funding and staff, but ALL students being disadvantaged by a curriculum that is too narrow and largely exam driven, and which therefore cannot develop fully the talents and capacities of many students.
It is largely the marketisation of the education system that has resulted in competition between schools, which lowers the standard of educational experience for all. The idea that schools should be striving for ‘excellence’ and the threat of falling enrolments and possible school closure if schools do not demonstrate themselves as achieving this ‘excellence’, has led to a dramatic rise in focus on NAPLAN results and Year 12 exit credentials, and exaggerated interest in comparing schools’ performance. The result is a decrease in the ability of ALL schools to provide a holistic, democratic and inclusive curriculum that caters to the needs of individual students and values diversity.
It is for these reasons that I argue the need for a substantial increase in funding to public schools, as well as a radical reduction in the proportion of funds made available to non-government schools in future funding models.
I was taught in public schools, and I have been a public school teacher. There are many of us out there who are loyal to the democratic values of public education, and will not falter in our support of this system. Please invest in us – we won’t let you down.
Before it’s too late, join parents, teachers and principals from around Australia and send a final message to the head of the review, Mr David Gonski, about the importance of investing more in our public schools.
There’s a lot at stake over the next few months in the countdown to the Gonski panel’s final advice on schools funding. That advice, and the Government’s response, could determine the long-term future of schooling across Australia and, in particular, the nature and quality of public schooling in this country. (J.F. McMorrow ‘Real Reform in Schools Funding’ paper Sept. 2011)
A wealth of material is available to learn more about the Gonski review into schools funding, including the paper quoted above. The review is due for release in December, and while the (one month!) period for submitting formal responses has closed, there is one last opportunity to have a say on the issue of schools funding.
I have written before about the Gonski Review, but am sorry to admit that I did not enter a submission when they were called for earlier in the year.
As luck would have it, however, the Australian Education Union has organised a special website for people like me (and maybe you) to lodge their view:
It’s quick and easy to show your support for Public Education in Australia by signing the petition on the site. If you want to do more, you can join as a supporter to “tell us why investing more in public schools is so important”. Whichever you choose, you should do this TOMORROW, Tuesday 16th November, the National Day of Action for Public Education:
There has been very little public conversation about this issue in my circles – as Darcy Moore pointed out to Stephen Downes in October. I fear that many teachers that are passionate about Public Education are weary from years of arguing about equity, only to see nothing change. The approach of telling people how unfair things are just hasn’t worked so far. Explaining how big the funding gap really is hasn’t worked so far. Arguing that diverse student populations produce better educational outcomes than homogenous ones hasn’t worked so far. The idea that parents should be ‘free to choose’ is too appealing, and sounds too much like ‘common sense’. But, for those inclined to look beyond their own backyard, and to the society at large, it is clear to see the devastating impact that ‘school choice’ has had on the wider community. While we continue the charade of ‘meritocracy’, the current schools funding model has continued to deliver a system in which learning facilities and access to knowledge and social status can be bought by those with means. When that is the case, it’s hard not to enter the discourse of class wars, don’t you think?
This is not just about class wars, however. A summary of public views put forward collected by the Australian College of Educators observes that “Australia’s approach of providing funding as an entitlement to the independent sector is not the standard approach of most OECD countries”. And yet, this question of measuring Australia’s financial commitment to education against other OECD nations was seen to be largely absent from public debate.