Posts Tagged twitter
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 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?
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!
This year in Sydney, as with last year in Melbourne, AATE and ALEA are holding separate national conferences.
Despite promises to myself earlier this year to go to less conferences, I’ll be heading along to both :)
The ALEA National Conference, which is about to be held in Sydney from 6-9 July, has already sold out all available places (Well done to Lisa Kervin, the conference convenor!) I’ll be sticking my head in on the last day of this conference to hand out promotional material our conference in Brisbane…it’s hand over time, baby!
The AATE National Conference will be held a little later this year, from 3-4 October. I’ll be there with Five Bells on, presenting a workshop with Bianca Hewes on ‘Success, obstacles and ethics in online teaching’ as well as on a panel about teacher blogging. I’ll be joined on the panel by the likes of Bianca, Troy and Darcy, so you know it’s going to be a power-session; not to be missed!
Once these two conferences are wrapped up, it’s next stop: Brisbane 2013!
Our website won’t go live until after the hand over in July, but there is a Facebook page you can like and Twitter profile you can follow:
We’re working like crazy to get the Call for Papers and everything else ready for the launch, but here’s a sneak preview of things to come:
…will I see you in Brisbane in 2013?