Archive for category HSC
‘English’ and ‘Literacy’
Beyond the historical tensions between definitions of ‘English-as-Literature’ and ‘English-as-Language’ is the increased focus in more recent times on the role of English in developing students’ ‘literacy’. In the contemporary context, conversations about language have been largely overtaken by conversations about literacy. While literacy has traditionally been defined as “the ability to read and write the language” (Misson, 2005, p.38) the growing recognition of electronic, visual and multimodal elements in texts has led to a definition of literacy that expands beyond the written, printed word. In a large scale literacy review for Education Queensland, literacy was more broadly defined as “the flexible and sustainable mastery of a repertoire of practices with the texts of traditional and new communications technologies via spoken language, print, and multimedia” (Luke & Freebody, 2000, p.9). This conceptualisation of literacy as ‘repertoires of practice’, and of the literate person as what Misson describes as having learned “skill to crack particular codes” has made it easy to adopt metaphoric uses of the word literacy, such as in the terms ‘visual literacy’, ‘musical literacy’, ‘computer literacy’ and ‘emotional literacy’ (Misson, 2005, p.38).
A recent report by The Audit Office of NSW (2008, p.2) describes how in the past decade the NSW Department of Education and Training has spent a significant amount on programs designed to improve students’ literacy and numeracy, tripling its 1998-9 levels of program funding to a total $157 million in 2006-7. In NSW there can be seen an emphasis on teaching literacy skills to prepare students for literacy testing through external examination such as the Basic Skills Test that was conducted in NSW primary schools in years 3 and 5, and the English Language and Literacy Assessment (ELLA) exam paper that was mandatorily undertaken by NSW high school students in Year 7, and optionally taken again in Year 8. These external tests have now been replaced by the National Assessment Program for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN), a similar diagnostic test that is now sat by students across Australia, not just in NSW. This focus on raising standards of literacy (along with numeracy) and the associated focus on literacy assessment in NSW echoes the international shift toward government policies that demand higher success rates in literacy assessment, for example the No Child Left Behind policy in the U.S. and the National Literacy Strategy in the U.K.
However, while literacy has grown as a priority for policymakers in Australia and internationally, the relationship between literacy and the subject English and the role of English teachers in ensuring and maintaining standards of literacy is uncertain. In recent decades education policy in Australia has positioned literacy as a cross-curriculum issue with teachers in all subject areas given responsibility for the teaching of skills in reading and writing as part of their regular classroom work. However the movement to promote curriculum learning areas as having a vital role to play in students becoming literate “appears to have been largely unsuccessful”, with many teachers withdrawing from seeing literacy teaching as part of their responsibility (Yaxley, 2002, p.27). This is arguably due to the fact that most teachers in other curriculum areas have not had access to high quality professional learning in the teaching of reading (Australian Association for the Teaching of English, 2005, p.26).
Furthermore, more recent research has shown that while teachers in subject areas other than English have not generally engaged with a focus on literacy, that schooling success may in fact depend more on the ability of students to cue themselves into particular ‘curriculum literacies’. One of the recommendations of research undertaken by Cumming and Wyatt-Smith et al. (1998) was that schools “move away from the notion of ‘literacy across the curriculum’” and instead, engage students in learning “the accepted subject- and context- specific ways of reading, writing, speaking, listening, viewing, doing and thinking, and how they can be combined, as occasion demands” in different subjects (Wyatt-Smith, 2000, p.76). Although this new understanding of the function of curriculum literacy may eventually see teachers across the curriculum engaging with certain acts of what they see as more relevant, subject-specific literacy, extra pressure has been returned to English teachers to again take responsibility for developing students’ general literacy skills. This may seem logical to some given the language-based subject matter of English, however Green (2002) argues that “English should not be seen as the sole curriculum area charged with responsibility for literacy; rather, it has its own substantive curriculum concerns, as indeed does each and every subject” (p.27).
Useful and enduring models for conceptualising the place of literacy within English as a discrete subject have been proposed by Freebody and Luke (1990) as well as Green (1988). Green offers a model of literacy that draws on the discourses of functional literacy, cultural literacy and critical literacy to delineate three dimensions of literate practice and learning: the ‘operational’, the ‘cultural’ and the ‘critical’ dimensions of literacy. While Green explains that students can take any of these dimensions as a starting point (as long as all three dimensions are taken into account) he also contends that there is pedagogical value in starting with the cultural dimension and “drawing the critical and the operational in organically, as the need arises” (2002, p.28). Using this model Green (2002) proposes a special ‘literacy project’ for English as a school subject, where various domains of text – literature, media and everyday texts – provide content that is not covered elsewhere in the school curriculum, and which allow attention to be paid to all three dimensions of literacy. The focus of such a literacy project is the exploration of meaning-making, “in a complex sense that brings together structure and agency, discourse and event, content and text” (Green, 2002, p.29).
The ‘four resources’ model developed by Luke and Freebody, which was referred to earlier in this chapter, provides a similar model of similar inter-related dimensions that has become influential in Australian curriculum policy and design. This model provides a framework for understanding how effective literacy “draw on a repertoire of practices” that allow learners to engage with print and multi-media texts as ‘code breakers’, ‘text participants’, ‘text users’ and ‘text analysts’. These resources are described in the Table below:
As with Green’s operational, cultural and critical dimensions, it is imperative that the four resources in Luke and Freebody’s model are seen as inter-related and interdependent. Such models provide English teachers with a rich framework that goes beyond the decontextualised language drills that were resisted during the twentieth century, and positions literacy as a set of embedded (rather than competing) practices within the English curriculum.
Australian Association for the Teaching of English. (2005). The Australian Association for the Teaching of English’s submission to the National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy. Idiom, 41(1), 21-27.
Cumming, J. J., Wyatt-Smith, C. M., Ryan, J., & Doig, S. (1998). The literacy curriculum interface. Canberra: DEETYA.
Green, B. (1988). Subject-specific literacy and school learning: A focus on writing. Australian Journal of Education, 32(2), 156-179.
Green, B. (2002). A literacy project of our own? English in Australia, (134), 25-32.
Luke, A., & Freebody, P. (1999). A map of possible practices: Further notes on the four resources model. Practically Primary, 4(2), 5-8.
Luke, A., & Freebody, P. (2000). Literate futures: Report of the literacy review for Queensland state schools. Education Queensland.
Misson, R. (2005). The origin of literacies: How the fittest will survive. English in Australia, (142), 37-46.
The Audit Office of NSW. (2008). Improving literacy and numeracy in NSW public schools: Department of Education and Training performance audit (No. 183).
Wyatt-Smith, C. M. (2000). The English/Literacy interface in senior school: Debates in Queensland. English in Australia, (127-128), 71-79.
Yaxley, B. (2002). Literacy and English education: Insights and possibilities. Opinion, 46(2), 19-32.
Each day this week I will be adding posts on this blog that share sections of my PhD thesis. They will be drawn from a section in Chapter 2 titled ‘Contested territory’.
The motivation to do this comes from speaking with a lot of English teachers this week, following the release of the new Stage 6 English syllabus in NSW. Many were eager to learn more about the background to some of the issues coming up in professional discussion.
In her ‘Unofficial Guide’, Bethan Marshall describes English as “a subject which is apparently so amorphous that it elides definition and yet it is sufficiently hard edged to provoke bitter controversy” (2000, p.2). A decade before this Peter Medway, in writing about the history and politics of English as a school subject, argued that the reason why “English is special [is because] certain characteristics generally attributable to academic subjects are notably lacking. The most obvious example is that English does not comprise a body of facts and concepts to be communicated” (Medway, 1990, p.1). This lack of a “body of facts and concepts” and the resultant “amorphous” nature of English as a school subject has indeed ensured that both the purpose and context of the subject continue to be hotly debated. This section will provide an overview of the ‘sticking points’ that have shaped contemporary debates and which endure in current debates about English, and the various (at times competing) demands that are placed on English as a subject area in contemporary NSW schools.
(McGraw, 2010, pp.27-28)
Stay tuned this week for the following elaborations on contested territory in English:
- ‘English’ and ‘Literacy’
- The influence of the canon
- Critical Literacy
- Literary theory and the postmodern turn
- Examination and Assessment
Marshall, B. (2000). English teachers – the unofficial guide: Researching the philosophies of English teachers. London: RoutledgeFalmer.
McGraw, K. (2010). Innovation and change in the 1999 NSW HSC English syllabus: Challenges and problems (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Sydney: Sydney.
Medway, P. (1990). Into the sixties: English and English society at a time of change. In I. Goodson & P. Medway (Eds.), Bringing English to order: The history and politics of a school subject (pp. 1-46). London: Falmer Press.
New Stage 6 (senior secondary) syllabuses were released today in NSW, and the media circus was on point.
The worst offender for misinformation was probably the Daily Telegraph, with Bruce McDougall’s piece ‘NSW Education: School syllabus shake-up promotes the classics, Shakespeare and Austen back for the HSC’ riddled with unnamed sources and incorrect claims.
Among the claims are:
- That “Shakespeare is back” (he never left – he remains mandatory study in Advanced English)
- That “Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Joseph Conrad will become mandatory for Year 11 and Year 12” (impossible to know until the text prescriptions are released later this year, and unlikely to be true for all courses)
- That the Area of Study is “criticised by students, parents and teachers” as being tied to “woolly concepts” (name your sources or go home).
Disappointingly, NESA president Tom Alegounarias seemed to add fuel to the fire with this misleading statement:
- “In English, for example, Shakespeare or the equivalent other aspects of great literature will be mandatory.” (Shakespeare is ONLY mandatory in Advanced English, and always has been, and ‘great literature’ i.e. texts from the Western literary canon have always been studied in other courses)
Once again we heard this old chestnut:
- “Education chiefs said they had listened to sustained criticism from employers and businesses that many school leavers applying for jobs lacked basic skills in literacy and numeracy.” (does this reference to ‘sustained criticism’ mean complaints about this dating back to the early 1900s, which perennially persist despite amazing growth in youth literacy rates?)
It was a frustrating read.
Especially given that NESA had fed the media machine with statements before making the syllabuses available on their website for teachers to see first hand. PDF versions of the material didn’t come online until lunchtime, leaving busy teachers with sense of panic about navigating disparate web-only resources.
One can only hope that these spurious claims work to galvanize the profession in the coming months, as we create new resources and share fresh perspectives on the syllabus change. If conversations I had online with colleagues today are anything to go by, there is still hope for this. We are already interrogating more important aspects of the changes to consider implications, including:
- The inclusion of a ‘multimodal presentation’ assessment (will this be more than a speech-aka-essay-read-aloud with a dose of death by Powerpoint to boot?)
- The categorisation of English Studies as an ATAR eligible course (what will the impact be on Standard enrolments?)
- The increased ability to forgo completed any study of digital or multimodal texts in Advanced English (congratulations NSW, you just got a ‘Literature’ syllabus in disguise!)
Stay tuned for more analysis in weeks to come.
(Author image created using Trove map resource, Bard portrait, and news quote.)
It’s that time of year. Teachers of Year 12 around Australia are scrambling to varying degrees to prepare students for final assessments and exams, which inevitably involves a whole lotta marking.
Of course, all teachers have to grade student work. And they are engaged in doing this all year. But nothing beats the pedal-to-the-metal feeling of marking Year 12 practice tasks in a last ditch effort to refine their examination responses.
In particular, nothing beats the hellish pressure that exists in states like NSW and Victoria where the HSC and VCE exams respectively loom over teachers and students alike. And out of all these teachers and students, I argue that subjects that are writing-intensive (e.g. English and History) have it the toughest; if you have a class of 25 for Year 12 and it’s coming up to an assessment, teachers in these subjects are spending their nights and weekends correcting pages and pages and pages of long form expositions.
Which can leave your eyes (and soul) feeling kinda like this:
I was prompted to write this blog post after watching my friends Justin and Alex tweet about their marking yesterday:
I’ve taught for the HSC three times and this slavish marking routine is the only part I do not miss…having said that, the jolly task I have now of marking as a university lecturer has involved marking binges that certainly rival the pain of HSC workload.
The question is – what can we do about it?
Is there anything we can do about it?
Some ideas that I threw out into the twittersphere yesterday seem promising, but without a class to try them on I’m at a loss, not sure if they would work. The ideas I bounced around with Justin and Alex were:
- Focussing on writing just the introduction, or a body paragraph. This would make the task smaller and more focussed for students, and more manageable to mark 25-30 of them.
- Setting a paragraph writing challenge. To address Justin’s problem of the student that only writes about ‘tone’, each week set a different language feature/form for students to write a paragraph on. By the end of the term they will have a bank of paragraphs on different elements.
- Gamify the writing process. This could be done by putting students in groups, getting every student to write a paragraph (or essay), then each group submits it’s best one (as judged by the students in the group) for marking. This means you only have to mark one essay/paragraph per group, not per student. Keep a chart of which group wins each week and award them a prize at the end of the unit. Change the groups around for each new unit.
- Peer assessment. This can only be used in a limited way, as students don’t have the capacity to grade work to a Year 12 standard. However you could use the ‘medals (feedback) and missions (feedforward)’ framework that Bianca draws on to give students a direction. I think the main benefit is that they read each other’s work and discuss their strengths, not that they actually give each other a ‘grade’.
- Find an authentic audience. Partnering up with another teacher/class would provide an avenue for students to share their work with another class on a platform such as a wiki. This would give students someone to perform for besides their own teacher, which could prove motivating. The teachers could also arrange to do a marking-swap, and grade each other’s student essays…this may get you writing less comments, marking more objectively (?) and just plain old provide a change of pace as you get to read a different set of handwriting!
I really hope these ideas are useful to someone out there.
If you have any other good ideas for getting feedback to students without going through so much of the eye-bleedingly painful million-essay marking process, I would LOVE to hear them!
Thanks to Justin and Alex for inspiring this post and helping me brainstorm ideas 🙂
Images: Cropped screen still from True Blood, Season 5; Screen shot of conversation on Twitter.com
Postscript: If you liked this post, you may also like the post Matt Esterman wrote today, ‘The home stretch for Year 12’. Looks like we all have Year 12 on the brain this weekend!
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.
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!
- Post to celebrate completion of my PhD: CHECK.
- Post with an update on my upcoming conference papers: CHECK.
So…where to next?
As fate had it, this decision was made for me, with the arrival of a piece of student writing in my inbox.
The author of the piece is a recently graduated HSC student, one whom I had the pleasure of teaching year 8 English, and coaching for debating 🙂 This is him counting down the days until the end of his exams:
I invite you to read his work (below), which he has given me permission to reproduce (along with his picture) in this post. Oriniginally published as a Facebook post on October 28th, it is a re-writing of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous I Have a Dream speech, which has been adapted to make a satirical commentary on the HSC. It comes with a mild language warning (c’mon; it’s satire!), and is a brilliant example of a ‘textual intervention’.
I’m very proud to feature it here as my first ‘guest post’!:
I Have A Dream that the HSC Will End
By B. Wylie
I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our state.
Two score years ago, an a*shole bureaucrat, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, created the Higher School Certificate. This momentous decree came as a great source of pain and suffering to millions of NSW students who were about to be seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a sorrowful dusk which signalled the beginning of their long night of academic captivity.
But fourty four years later, the student still is not free. Fourty four years later, the life of the student is still sadly crippled by the manacles of standardised testing and the chains of rankings. Fourty four years later, the student lives on a lonely island of studying in the midst of a vast ocean of facebook updates. Fourty four years later, the student is still languished in the rooms of NSW high schools and finds himself an exile in his own class. And so we’ve come here today to dramatise a shameful condition.
In a sense we’ve come to this facebook note to cash a check. Read the rest of this entry »