Posts Tagged australian_curriculum
Choose your terms wisely. Alt title: How I am slowly eliminating the term ‘basic skills’ from my classroom
I’m half way through semester 1 and currently reading my students’ assignment 1 work. They had to tell me, with reference to personal experience as well as scholarly theory, what their philosophy is on English teaching and which pedagogical approach they find most relevant in 2014.
In the weeks leading up to the assignment due date I impressed this message upon them:
If you tell me that you advocate a ‘basic skills’ approach to teaching I will fail your paper.
Now, I wouldn’t seriously fail an assignment on the back of such a mistake (though I will ask students who make the mistake to meet with me and explain why they haven’t been in lectures!). But from what I’ve read so far, the scare tactic worked and the message has thankfully sunk in.
So this is how, one cohort at at time, I am slowly doing my bit to erase the misleading, poorly defined, often destructive term ‘basic skills’ from educational discourse.
Why do I bother with this?
I have a personal beef with the term ‘basic skills’ as it is an affront to the work of educators on many levels.
Firstly, there are the negative connotations of the term basic. If these skills are so basic, as in ‘boring’ or ‘unintriguing’, we should not be surprised that students don’t flock to master them. Nor should we expect teachers to employ pedagogies that drill students on them lest we run the risk of boring everyone to death.
Secondly, it belies the complex task of engaging students with learning in areas such as literacy or numeracy. If the job of teaching reading (for example) is so basic, then buddy, how about you come try it?
Thirdly, I find that when most people talk about basic skills, what they really mean to talk about is something like ‘key concepts’.
A prime example was seen today when national education correspondent Justine Ferrari (who should well and truly know the difference between knowledge and skills) wrote an article comparing how “key maths concepts” are taught in Australia compared to Singapore, then tweeted to publicise her article announcing that it was about ‘basic skills’. I would dismiss this as an honest mistake, except that Justine is no rookie and has been writing about education for years.
I tweeted back to let her know my thoughts:
Am I just being pedantic?
No, I don’t think so.
The terms we use to describe ideas MATTER.
As an English teacher, I know this. As a journalist, Justine knows this. But what I want so desperately is for all my students to know this too.
This semester I personally lecture and tutor all 110 students in English Curriculum Studies 1. They all have a sense that there are such things as ‘fundamental concepts’ (which relate to content knowledge) and they all wanted to advocate learning ‘skills that are important for life’. By taking the term basic skills away they were forced to articulate what it was they actually believed in. Was it literacy? If so, they were empowered to use the wealth of available theory on literate practices and multiliteracies. Was it life skills? If so, I directed them to the general capabilities in the Australian Curriculum, where they could find out about and debate the thing closest to ‘skills’ currently underpinning Australian schooling.
Good bye basic skills!
I know I can’t change the world over night. But I do hope that by banning the term basic skills from my own class that I at least give the 100+ students I teach each semester pause for thought.
My message to them: If you mean literacy or numeracy, then say so. And be ready to explain your definition of such terms.
I’ll end this post by sharing an answer that I gave one student a few weeks ago. She asked: what should we do when people insist on using the term ‘basic skills’? I suggested she might ask such people to list what those basic skills are. I already know from experience that most folks have no such list in mind (which begs the question – if the skills are so basic, why can’t you tell me what they are?). Instead they just have some washed-out notion in their heads that includes spelling and multiplication tables…and that’s about it. I also assured her that most people at dinner parties would be bored by the conversation by that point, so it’ll rarely come up ;)
Parent-teacher interviews are another story. A story for another time perhaps.
The topic: the draft Senior English subjects proposed by ACARA.
You can check out the ‘Storify’ made by Vivian to see all of the tweets from the discussion that night collected in one place:
If you haven’t yet found where to download the draft curriculum documents from, here is the URL: http://www.acara.edu.au/curriculum/draft_senior_secondary_australian_curriculum.html
Consultation on these documents ends on 20th July, 2012 (THAT’S SOON!) You can contact your professional association to ask if you can add comments to their response, or lodge your own response at the ACARA consultation website: http://consultation.australiancurriculum.edu.au/ (you will need to register first).
Some interesting comments made during the #ozengchat were:
- That an ‘English Literature’ (EL) course would flow nicely into university study
- That the EL course did not look significantly more difficult than the ‘English’ (E) course
- That the assumption is that in NSW, the current Standard course aligns with ‘English’ while the current Advanced course aligns with ‘English Literature’ – but this is not at all the case
- That bridging the gap between Year 10 and Year 11 & 12 needs a stronger focus
- That the proposal to organise Senior English into semester-long units seems to align with what currently happens in Western Australia…but we’re not sure where else (?)
- That the local state/territory bodies would still be responsible for assessment and examination; i.e. many did not realise that the NSW BOS would still be responsible for setting the HSC reading list
- That English Studies as exists in NSW (non-ATAR course) filled a big gap – the hope is that ‘Essential English’ (EE) turns out to be like English Studies (or English Communication, a similar course in QLD)
- That English would likely remain mandatory in NSW, and people wondered why it was not so in other states/territories
There is so much more to talk about when it comes to the proposed Senior English subjects!
I hope to have a new post up soon with some of my personal thoughts about the drafts. In the meantime, if you’ve been thinking about (or wondering about) the curriculum ACARA has proposed, drop a comment here – let’s chat about it!
…GO YOU GOOD THINGS!
Adam Bennett (Sydney Morning Herald) August 9, 2011
[NSW Education Minister] Mr Piccoli on Tuesday announced the state government would postpone the implementation of the national curriculum by 12 months because of a lack of commonwealth funding and uncertainty about the content.
NSW will now introduce the Australian curriculum in English, Maths, Science and History in 2014, with the planning phase beginning in 2013.
Mr Piccoli said that while the NSW government remained committed to the reforms, schools couldn’t prepare for its introduction in 2013 with funding issues still unresolved and the curriculum’s content not known.
“Schools needed to know in June of this year precisely the content of the national curriculum and to know that there were funds available for professional development,” he told reporters in Sydney.
“The final document won’t be signed off until at least the ministerial council meeting in October, and that simply does not give the schools in NSW and the more than 100,000 teachers the opportunity to receive the professional development, and to be in a position to implement the national curriculum in 2013.”
Thank you New South Wales for Standing Up and Putting Your Foot Down, while the rest of the educrats and Ministers around this country smile and nod and agree to bring in a curriculum overnight when they Quite Frankly Should Know Better.
That’s MY State of Origin!
“The medium is the message” is a phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan meaning that the form of a medium embeds itself in the message, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived. (from Wikipedia)
The more I think about this issue of medium, the more unsatisfied I am with the way that medium of production is dealt with in the English curriculum.
While English teachers continue to be led by debate over the definition and role of Literature in English, and over the best way to teach language, questions of medium have been significantly sidelined.
It also seems clearer to me now why subjects like Drama and Media (content areas that technically sit under the umbrella of English, if you accept that English is a study of how meaning is made through language and texts) go off and take up their own space in many curriculum. It’s not just because those fields have their own traditions and pedagogies that need space, or because they have industries that create an economic drive for the subjects to continue. It’s also because those field require keen attention to production elements, including issues of medium.
Little wonder that Drama, which often deals with live performance of language, dies a slow death in English classrooms where the curriculum is still dominated by print literacy.
Little wonder that we still can reconcile the gulf between ‘literary’ and ‘digital/electronic’ texts in the Australian curriculum (medium is not a genre!)
To move anywhere with this line of thinking will require some careful thought about the overlap between the words:
- media as-in-the-artisitic-means-of-production and
- Media as-in-the-field-of-media-studies.
This front page made me smile so much yesterday I broke my usual rule and bought The Australian:
PRIVATE SCHOOLS’ FURY OVER MYSCHOOL WEBSITE
Turns out the poor buggers have found some inaccuracies in the way their finances are reported. It makes it look like they are getting paid WAY too much money for the services they provide, or something totally unbelievable like that.
I say: suck it. Where were you last year when NSW public school teachers and unions were the only ones out there willing to put their neck on the line to criticise the MySchool website? Sitting quietly on their hands and calling us whingers, that’s where.
STATE REJECTS PM’s CURRICULUM AS SUBSTANDARD
Which state you ask? Oh, that’d be NSW. Again. As far as I can see, the only state with the balls to take a stand against ACARA. Again.
Now, I realise full well that teachers in every state and territory think that their curriculum is ‘the best’. But that’s not what this is actually about. This is not just about some east-coast superiority complex. This is about (in the case of English, at least) the inadequacy of the curriculum on offer.
I love my new home in Queensland, but for sheer determination to kick against the pricks, I am proud to say ‘go the Blues!’ On National Curriculum issues, NSW is proving well and truly to be the big sister of Australia – she might not always be right, but at least she’s brave enough to fight for what she thinks is right (inaccurate newspaper reporting be damned).
SIDDLE BLOWS ENGLAND AWAY WITH HATTRICK
OK, so any real Australian knows that this was the only real story of the day.
If you don’t know what a hattrick in cricket is, it’s when a bowler gets three batsmen out in a row. It’s very hard to do. Since the start of the Ashes in 1877 there have only been eight other hattricks, making Siddle’s the ninth. And it was his birthday!
What a good news day!
I just went to post information about the latest ACARA update, including the video message from Prof. Barry McGaw, but it wasn’t working out.
In the meantime, I found this Youtube channel, which I highly recommend – it’s funny, if you like that sort of thing. Guaranteed more interesting than the ACARA update imho…
I watched a few episodes, including this one, which I’m posting in light of my own soon to be 30-ness:
I am like so cool.
This extract from a recent article in the journal Curriculum Leadership (Vol 8 Issue 16) would make an ideal addition to the Australian Curriculum for English, from K-12:
What are multimodal texts?
A text may be defined as multimodal when it combines two or more semiotic systems. There are five semiotic systems in total:
- Linguistic: comprising aspects such as vocabulary, generic structure and the grammar of oral and written language
- Visual: comprising aspects such as colour, vectors and viewpoint in still and moving images
- Audio: comprising aspects such as volume, pitch and rhythm of music and sound effects
- Gestural: comprising aspects such as movement, speed and stillness in facial expression and body language
- Spatial: comprising aspects such as proximity, direction, position of layout and organisation of objects in space.
Examples of multimodal texts are:
- a picture book, in which the textual and visual elements are arranged on individual pages that contribute to an overall set of bound pages
- a webpage, in which elements such as sound effects, oral language, written language, music and still or moving images are combined
- a live ballet performance, in which gesture, music, and space are the main elements.
Multimodal texts can be delivered via different media or technologies. They may be live, paper, or digital electronic.
The article, by Michele Anstey and Geoff Bull, outlines ways to help support students’ facility with multimodal texts, and ideas for commencing a professional learning process to engage with multimodality in more sophisticated ways.
If ACARA were to adopt this framework for modality (including the terminology of the ‘technology’ of ‘delivery’, and the broad categories of live, paper and digital electronic production) I think the Curriculum would be headed in a much more generative (and logical!) direction.
Reading the Draft Australian Curriculum for English (‘DACE’…?) I can see that confusion over the meaning of ‘multimodal’ text is about to cause English teachers some major problems.
My understanding is that when we say a text is ‘multimodal’, we mean that the audience participates in the text’s creation. This is the definition I would say that academics and practitioners in the field of English curriculum would use; consider this explanation by Anastopoulou, Baber & Sharples:
Multimodality is based on the use of sensory modalities by which humans receive information. These modalities could be tactile, visual, auditory, etc. It also requests the use of at least two response modalities to present information (e.g. verbal, manual activity). So, for example, in a multimodal interaction a user may receive information by vision and sound and respond by voice and touch. Multimodality could be compared with ‘unimodality’, which would be based on the use of one modality only to receive or present information (e.g. watching a multimedia presentation and responding by pressing keys).
…but that’s not the definition that ACARA are going with.
The definitional confusion between terms like multimodal, multimedia and media has been around for a while, and speaks to the significant changes in what is considered core content in English brought about by the rise in visual and especially digital texts. We are very familiar with the concept that language can be spoken, written or heard…but when it comes to texts that combine these modes, things are still a little muddled.
Please take a moment to check out, for example, the preface for the Year 7 section of the DACE (click the image below and get ready for your head to spin):
See what I mean?
In this Preface to the curriculum content descriptors multimodal texts seem to be pitted against texts that are ‘literary’ (which creates even more confusion as the definition of literary appears to change with each new use). I can appreciate that the ACARA curriculum writers have had to avoid using the word ‘text’ because of the political beat up the term has received in recent years from certain op-ed writers in certain newspapers. That is why this new curriculum has reverted to the more traditional term Literature - and it is because of this change that we are now supposed to say, it seems, ‘literary text’.
But now check out the etymological shenanigans that take place in the content descriptors of the Literature strand:
Oh brother. The constant reference to ‘literary texts’ is supposed to be a nod to the strand content being described as ‘Literature’. But this is ultimately VERY confusing, as ‘literary’ texts are separated from ‘non-literary’, digital’ and ‘multimodal’ texts in the Preface. There result is that there is no sense in this strand of multimodal texts being included.
The term ‘literary’ is also conflated with ‘fiction’, and what are really language elements are referred to as literary elements. In ‘Discussing and responding’ the term ‘text’ makes it in unscathed – which just goes to show that the word does make sense and can be used. The term ‘text’ is highly appropriate for collectively describing all works of language art, and recognises that the works we study can be written, spoken, aural, or a combination of these. The term ‘literary texts’ is stupidly redundant, but I’d be happy to get on with using it to placate the punters, if only it were used consistently and provided scope for the study of a broad range of texts! Which brings me back to multimodality…
In the NSW English syllabus, students engage in what we call a range of language modes. These are: speaking, writing, representing, listening, reading and viewing. So ‘multimodal’ could reasonably be taken to mean ‘using more than one language mode’. This would make film, picture books and digital stories (which use a combination of visual and written language) and many other forms of text multimodal. OK, I can work with that.
But another thing we do in NSW English 7-12 is differentiate between the activities of composing (which involves text ‘making’ or ‘creation’, not just ‘writing’) and responding (a broader term than ‘reading’ which encompasses the ‘reception’ of all kinds of text). These activities are viewed as always interrelated in some way, but I would say that it is only when text explicitly invites the audience to participate in the text (e.g. in video games, virtual reality, and participatory narratives such as Inanimate Alice) that the term multimodal should really be applied. If I’m going to give up the term ‘multimodal’ to the meaning of ‘using more than one language mode’, then I’m going to need a NEW WORD that I can use when I mean ‘texts that the audience helps to construct’.
Currently this recognition of interactivity, and of the interplay between responding and composing, is severely lacking in the DACE.
[ED: Angela Thomas has helped me to clarify my thinking around this, and suggests that students could refer to the 'cline of interactivity' for texts that invite participation. My thoughts on multimodality have been developed here. June 2010]
If you are an English teacher and haven’t yet responded to the consultation on the Draft Australian Curriculum, I implore you to log on to the ACARA site and say something about these contradictory and frankly bizarre definitions. I can’t be the only one who feels like the curriculum writers just didn’t use a glossary!
Faced with the prospect of a shiny new curriculum that is supposed to be clarifying professional meanings and terminology for all teachers, students and parents across the nation, these definitional conflicts are something that must be sorted out before we go any further. Agreed?
Here are the details of consultation and information meetings happening in NSW in the coming month.
Remember, consultation ends in May, so make sure you respond as an individual, as a faculty, as a school, or as part of the profession through these meetings to make sure your voice is heard.
Because come 2011, it’ll be too late to argue.
NSW English Teachers’ Association consultation meetings:
Saturday 20th March 9.30am – 3.30pm
- Sydney: Seminar Rooms, DET Curriculum Directorate.
- Armidale: Armidale High School
- Border: Albury High School
- Orange District: Canobolas High School
- Peel Valley: Quirindi High School
- Wagga: Wagga Wagga High School
NSW BOS consultation meetings:
- 9 March – Campbelltown Golf Club
- 16 March – Tara Anglican School
- 11 March – UNE Tamworth Centre
- 15 March – Trinity Catholic College Senior Campus Goulburn
- 18 March – [VIDEOCONFERENCE] State Government Offices Wollongong
NSW DET online consultation forums:
Videoconferences held at various locations from 4pm-6pm
ACARA will also be running a Public Information Session for New South Wales on:
Thursday 25 March 6pm – 7:30pm
Venue is TBA, but most likely will be in Sydney.