Archive for category reflections
The week we’ve all been waiting for, week one of the university semester, is finally here!
This semester, I will be focussing on the following areas of my English Curriculum Studies unit for development:
- Building in more support for student reflective writing. The design of my lesson planning assignment last year included a tutorial presentation of the key teaching strategies, but it didn’t really work that well. So I plan to change this element of the assessment to a written reflection, and add two targeted activities to tutorials in mid-semester to more constructively scaffold the task.
- Finding places to make connections between English curriculum studies content knowledge and other professional frameworks. In particular I want to ensure that students understand how the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers can be used to self-diagnose areas of strength and directions for further learning, and are knowledgable about the Productive Pedgagogies framework that is advocated by Education Queensland.
- Registration. After three years of running this unit it will be time to write up the final unit design, as well as a ‘scope and sequence’, so that the unit is ready to be passed on. At school we called this ‘registration’ – when the Head Teacher would check out your unit plans at the end of the semester and ensure you met your learning objectives. Here at uni there are other other mechanisms in place, but the Head Teacher check isn’t one of them. And official changes are made so sllllloooowwwlyyyy. So, for my own piece of mind, I’m going to put my own unit through a final tick-and-flick, then prepare my reflections and field notes for scholarly publication and sharing.
I’ve included below another classroom poster I’ve made, a visual resource to support my students’ engagement with the Productive Pedagogies – feel free to use and share (though note that the values/opinions expressed on it about alignment with ‘prac’ are only my own POV!).
And once more into the breach!
Each year before school goes back, teachers can be found out and about in stationery and bargain basement stores, stocking up on materials for the coming term or semester.
New diaries, pens, highlighters, stickers, desk organisers, poster cardboard, and more.
For most school teachers around Australia the first day back was a week ago, but being a university lecturer, my classes don’t start until the last week in February. This gives me a few more weeks up my sleeve to get to the shops and buy some new items to refresh my wall displays and writing workshop materials.
(By the way, awhile ago I read an article that said teachers, on average, spend about $350 per year on classroom supplies that aren’t provided by the school. Isn’t that heaps!! Did anyone see that article? I can’t find it again now…)
One thing I have to top up every semester is my store of paper and card that students use to make visual poetry in English Curriculum tutorials:
These can be picked up cheaply at most Bargain stores, Reject Shops etc. I got mine on sale in Kmart, which I guess means they’d be in Big W etc as well.
I’m thankful that I have access to most basic supplies for teaching at uni – plain paper, lead pencils, glue sticks and scissors are there for the ordering and taking. I still have to buy my own special stuff – black textas, wall fastenings, posters and craft paper – but in my public school teaching days, we weren’t even allowed to take spare A4 paper out of the cupboard for class! You also got just 4 whiteboard markers at the start of the year, and you had to make em last…
The $5 spend on spare books and pens for students that turn up to class without these things in week one is a habit that most teachers of disadvantaged students pick up in their career. I am no exception, and I can attest that even at university, some students are doing it financially tough.
(I can just hear the TV ad voiceover: “For just 32 cents, one of these exercise books will get a disorganised student off to the right start for a whole year…”)
I picked these up at Woolies on an impulse buy – I know 48 page exercise books can be picked up elsewhere for as little as 9 cents a book though.
What do you regularly buy for your classroom?
I won’t be rude and ask people to confirm or deny whether they think they spend the average $350 a year on their class. Partly because I can’t even be sure that figure is right…but also because I’d rather know WHAT you choose to spend on.
How about it – are you a crafty practitioner? Or perhaps your annual spend went toward a personal data projector, or other tecchy toys for your class. Did you have to pay to subscribe to a website for them to use? Do you personally shell out to get their assignments printed in the library?
And if not…why not?
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?
This semester I have been engaing in the final cycle of my teaching and learning action research project – part of what I do here at QUT as an ‘Early Career Academic’.
‘Constructing a community of practice in English Curriculum Studies 1 – online and offline’
Action research cycle:
- Planning and fact-finding: 2010, semester 2
- Phase 1 action: 2011, semester 1
- Phase 2 action: 2011, semester 2
- Phase 3 action: 2012, semester 1
- Report findings: 2012, semester 2
The buzz term for how to ‘do’ curriculum planning here at uni is constructive alignment. Anyone else having to use this term?
Basically, constructive alignment is what you do when you make sure your assessment tasks match your learning objectives, and that your lesson materials feed into this productively. (OK, so I slipped the word ‘productively’ in just there…can you tell I’m living in Queensland? Productive pedagogies, anyone?)
So, the first two phases of my action research have been all about getting the assessments to work for me and my unit, English Curriculum Studies 1. I inherited a bunch of learning objectives when I took on coordination of this unit, but in the end I found that the assessment tasks weren’t engaging students in the ways I knew could happen. In the ways I was sure could happen, anyway. All of the assessment pieces have now been modified or replaced (not allowed to change the learning objectives) and things are aligning much more constructively…
The last piece in the puzzle that I was really hoping to nut out in this third cycle is the establishment of threshold concepts for this unit.
A ‘threshold concept’ is the kind of concept that, once learned, cannot be unlearned. Once we grasp a piece of threshold knowledge, we pass over a barrier into new territory, where everything is seen anew with different eyes.
In the (bazillion) Powerpoint presentations I sat through last year as a new academic, I picked up the importance of using a few well-chosen threshold concepts to drive a unit of work. For teachers like me that prefer to use project-based and inquiry-based learning approaches, having a set of threshold concepts in mind that you want students to ‘get’ by the end of the experience looks to be an excellent anchor for lesson planning. Although these concepts are related to the official learning objectives of the unit, they do serve a different kind of function…and I really want to settle on what mine are!
Until this week I was still struggling to come up with suitable concepts.
But now, I struggle NO MORE!
I have been working on a summary video for students to watch at the half-way point in semester, while I am away at a conference. In the video I want to recap the main points learned from weeks 1-5 of the unit. The process of trying to identify what the ‘big ideas’ were amongst all of the super important stuff we learned wasn’t easy. But the process of having to present the ideas to my students (not just to my academic review panel at the end of this year…!) has really helped.
Which I guess just goes to show that even teachers need an authentic audience for their work.
Trying to keep the video short (under 5 minutes) also forced my hand – left to my own devices, I’m sure I could find plenty of threshold concepts, but you only need a few. The wording of what I’ve chosen isn’t quite right yet, but these are the six big points I have chosen:
- Your personal teacher identity is unique and reflects your personal experience, but will inevitably draw on many established philosophies and practices.
- In ‘English’ we study: semiotics, text and context.
- Language codes and conventions are socially constructed.
- Verbal/linguistic language is just one semiotic ‘code’; we also learn/teach audio, visual, spatial and gestural language.
- Literacy involves more than code breaking – we also make meaning, use texts functionally, and critique texts.
- Multiliteracies pedagogies are currently favoured in English curriculum theory.
I suspect this is still too many for 6 weeks, but there you go. We’ll see. Once I’ve finished the video I’ll post it up here on the blog. I still have to add the narration, but most of the images are in. I’m using Movie Maker and Audacity as my tools of the trade…I hope the students have time to watch the bloody thing! But even if they don’t, I’m glad I went through this process and am happy that I’ve found some threshold concepts to settle on, for now. And, with any luck, a shiny new resource at the end I can be proud of. Fingers crossed!
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…