Posts Tagged poetry

My schmick new assessment design!

Teaching at university can be tricky, mostly due to the emphasis on summative assessment.

Since starting this position in 2010 I have been attempting to infuse the unit I coordinate with greater amounts of project-based learning. However, in a context where students have little time or incentive to engage with classwork that isn’t formally assessed, it has been hard to reward things like student project work.

After three semesters of teaching English Curriculum Studies 1 I decided that a radically new assignment was in order. 


Students used to do:

  • Assignment 1 – Personal teaching philosophy statement and resource analysis
  • Assignment 2 – Report on video lessons and learner needs observed
  • Assignment 3 – Junior secondary English lesson plans

All of these assessment pieces were completed individually – no collaboration was required and no public audience was utilised.

From this semester onward, students now do:

  • Assignment 1 – Personal teaching philosophy statement and resource analysis (same as before)
  • Assignment 2 – Junior secondary English lesson plans (now completed in small groups of 2 or 3)
  • Assignment 3 – A range of CHALLENGE TASKS published in a portfolio <– SCHMICK NEW TASK!

The New Task:

Many of the key ideas about inquiry-based and cooperative learning that I am working with can be found in a book extract provided by Edutopia: Teaching for Meaningful Learning by Brigid Barron & Linda Darling-Hammond.

Here is a brief extract – some words about project-based learning:

“Project-based learning involves completing complex tasks that typically result in a realistic product, event, or presentation to an audience. Thomas (2000) identifies five key components of effective project-based learning. It is: central to the curriculum, organized around driving questions that lead students to encounter central concepts or principles, focused on a constructive investigation that involves inquiry and knowledge building, student-driven (students are responsible for designing and managing their work), and authentic, focusing on problems that occur in the real world and that people care about.” (Barron & Darling-Hammond, 2008, p. 3; my emphasis)

What I’ve done in my new task is to create a poetry ‘project’ as one of 10 ‘challenges’ that students need to complete.

After trialling a poetry project last semester, I know that students see value in, and engage with this kind of learning.  But, at the end of the day, students felt let down because the work they put into their projects didn’t ‘count’ towards their final grade.

Once I started messing around with a new assignment that gave them credit for their project work, it was too hard not to design a whole suite of ‘challenges’ that they could choose to take up! So, that’s what I’ve done – students decide what grade they want to get, and complete the number of challenges needed to obtain it.

Challenge-based learning‘ as a term has not gained as much traction as ‘project-based learning’, but I think there is something to be said for the difference in terminology. In my teaching context, students are completing a ‘project’, but there is a minimum standard they have to reach to be able to ‘pass’ the assessment. Also, there is less focus on a ‘driving question’ than a PBL task would have – more of an emphasis on the products needing to be made. Hence my use of the term ‘challenge’ in the overall task.

The Challenges:

OK, the easiest way to show you the assignment is to share copies of my assignment sheets:

CLB018-CLP408 challenge portfolio task

A matrix of challenge tasks is provided for students to choose from in assignment 3. 

Students will receive a grade for Assignment 3 based on the number of challenges completed: 


CHALLENGE TASK peer assessment sheet

Note the peer assessment component of this task. This is something I am especially proud of, for a number of reasons! Not only am I hoping that this will result in a more sustainable marking practice for me (I will be checking/validating the peer marking, but no re-doing it), but it is also a strategy for getting the students to learn how to share their work and act as ‘critical friends’. I also think that having anopther preservice teacher assess your work in this context can be seen as providing an ‘authentic audience’ for student work.


The student portfolios for this task are due next Friday, so I’ve yet to see how this new assessment plays out in real life.

One idea I have bubbling away about the teaching methods chosen is that ‘project-based’ learning can perhaps be broken down further as being either ‘inquiry-driven’ or ‘challenge-driven’ (and maybe even a third category, ‘play-driven’). But that’s a hierarchy that I’m still thinking through…

There is a lot going on here, I realise. But I’d seriously LOVE to hear feedback from my critical friends, including any students that end up reading this post 🙂

If you have any questions to ask, shoot them at me too! Obviously I’m quite proud of what I’ve constructed here, but in a few weeks it will be time to reflect again on how to improve for semester 2, so as they say…bring it!


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Apathy and politics: Omar Musa @MWF

In this week’s episode of Q&A (from the Melbourne Writer’s Festival) there was some interesting discussion about young people and apathy in politics.

I was especially glad to head from Omar Musa, an award winning Australian slam poet who my students recently brought to my attention.  An extract from the episode transcript follows; the full episode can currently be viewed on the ABC website (

OMAR MUSA: I can’t speak for previous generations but when I talk for my generation, I see a lot of selfishness. I see a lot of materialism. I see a lot of superficiality and I think that’s something that we should all be – as artists we should all speak up against. I mean I think people have enjoyed such a good standard of living for so long in Australia, that – all right there’s – from the way I see it, there’s two different types of apathetic people in Australia. There are those who are apathetic because they feel that the government is not properly representing them and that they have no alternative choice and then there are those who are apathetic because they feel so entitled to this prosperity that we have that they can’t feel any sense of compassion to those who are vulnerable and, you know, I think that’s something we need to interrogate as a society, you know. I just see that there are problems in this society. I mean I’m proud to be Australian but, you know, as someone who is patriotic, I feel that it’s my responsibility to criticise and to ask these sort of questions about our past. Why is a dog whistle – always, you know, it invariably works in Australian politics. I mean a pugilistic wing nut like, you know, Tony Abbott almost won the last election by using the dog whistle when most people don’t even like the guy, you know. And so why is it that that sort of stuff works.

TONY JONES: In that same poem, My Generation, you talk about witnessing Prime Ministers slain, hush coups in the halls of parliament house. I mean does that sort of taint your view of politics, when you see something like that happen?

OMAR MUSA: Yeah, definitely. I mean it’s got to a point where it feels like it’s a choice between the devil and deep blue sea, you know. You’ve got this pugilistic knob head on one side and then you’ve got this sort of gutless wonder on the other and so I understand that – the young lady that asked the first question, I understand that feeling of apathy but I guess it’s times like this when it’s more necessary than ever to speak up and to question these sort of things.

These sentiments were followed by some very stirring words by Afghani activist and writer of A Woman Among Warlords Malalai Joya including the insistance that

The silence of the good people is worse than the action of the bad people.

I wonder what role I will play in the grand scheme of de-apathising the ‘youth of today’, including my own generation?  Surely the answer must lie in art, like Omar’s poetry, and in active protest, like Malalai’s…not just in retweeting exclamations of outrage and sharing witty remarks about news articles on Facebook?  Not that I’d be without those things mind you 😉

At the end of the day, will hip hop save our lives?

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I’m planning my first University excursion 😀

With my small class of six students studying their Grad. Dip. in Education (secondary English), I will be heading into Brisbane city to attend events that are part of the Global Poetics Tour:

Slam poets Jive, Ken and Mahogany will be slamming into Brisbane for the Australian Poetry Slam competition, which has its second Brisbane Heat on Friday 9th September.  I think that’s the event we’ll be going to…although the Sunday event also looks pretty appealing: Black Star Tribute ‘Words or Whatever’ at the Black Star Cafe in West End.

I wonder what event my students will choose for the excursion – we make the selection in tomorrow’s tutorial!

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Global Poetry Project

This tweet came across the screen tonight and I just thought: YES.

Now I’ve joined the Global Poetry Project Ning.  I figured tonight was as good a time as any to post a poem in a new place and this one promises ‘a space for members to expand upon their cultural views through the writing and reading of poetry’.

I penned this poem last week.  I’ve been reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and that’s where the title and some of the inspiration came from.

The project aims to provide “a safe and open atmosphere for all visitors and contributors alike” and has many student contributers.  So if sharing your poems and reading the work of others in a supportive environment appeals to you, why not consider joining the project, friending me and adding a poem of your own!

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Nine Visions for Citizens and Soldiers

Official footage of students from Macquarie Fields High School reading their poetic response to Governer Lachlan Macquarie’s inaugural (1810) speech:

It is really great to finally see this footage. Sean and Natalie read so well! Well done to the entire ‘Live Poet’s Society’ at MFHS, and a big shout out to Lachlan and the Red Room Company for providing the school with this opportunity. Thanks guys!


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Poems to Share

I love The Red Room Company.  I started working with them last year, team-teaching poetry workshops with my year 10 class with poet Lachlan Brown.  They are a group that loves sharing poetry with students and encouraging poetry writing as much as they love poetry itself!

Just now I have bought one of their new poetry teaching products, a card set called Poems to Share:

“Red Room Co. have teamed up with designers Corban & Blair to produce a beautiful card set featuring forty poems by contemporary Australian writers, along with writing exercises to get things moving.”

Red Room’s educational products are simply gorgeous.

Check them out and I know you’ll be adding them to your English faculty wish-list!


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Macquarie Poem Project


After working with The Red Room Company last year, Macquarie Fields High School is again working with poet Lachlan Brown.  This time the project goes outside the Toilet Doors and into the Sydney Conservatorium, as students dabble in a bit of history and consider their namesake through the poetic lens.

The students are writing a poem in response to Governor Lachlan Macquarie’s First Speech in the Colony.   This will be read at the unveiling of a new statue of Macquarie, which commemorates 200 years since his governing began.  How exciting!

You can read more about Lachlan’s workshops with the Macquarie Fields ‘Live Poets Society’ (facilitated by @imeldajudgeat the Red Room Company blog.  It is interesting to see how different students have thought about the themes in the Macquarie Poetry Project, and I think Lachlan’s workshop reflections also provide a great account of poetry pedagogy.

As a poetry teacher, the power of collaboration with working poets in these projects has been a an incredible experience.  One of the most important things I learned from Lachlan was how to get more out of poetry by focussing in, taking it slow, encouraging personal interpretation and wonderment, and giving students time to write (which may sound obvious, but English lessons are so darn short!)

And the students have been awestruck by the experience of engaging in authentic discussion and receiving feedback from a real, live poet.  Projects like these really do increase the sense of connectedness that students have with the curriculum, as they participate in intense thinking about words, about language work, and about the role of creativity in understanding the world around them.  Students in my Year 10 class were also begging to learn more about the technical aspects of language so they could improve their poems (back to basics…I think not).

To read more about Lachlan Macquarie I recommend a brief speech given earlier this year by NSW Governor Marie Bashir.  Macquarie’s endeavours to emancipate convicts and promote their employment and equal and fair treatment are a legacy I believe we should strive to uphold, and his support of education and poetry speak especially to my English-teaching soul!  I can’t wait to see the poem created for the unveiling of the bicentenary statue 🙂