Reading just for fun!

the-daily-5-second-edition(1)I have been interested in the Daily 5 / CAFE approach to literacy for some time now. (I am currently reading the second edition of the book). My interest was sparked by conversations in my twitter-feed and the 2 sisters (Gail Boushey and Joan Moser) were presenters at the ALEA conference 2015 (although I was unable to attend the session).

Daily 5 is aimed at the primary classroom and I can see how it works in that environment because the class spends a great deal of the day with the same teacher. I am a high school English teacher! So, my challenge has been making the concept work in secondary environment. I see my class three times a week (2 doubles and a single) so the idea of ‘daily’ goes out the window. But surely even a weekly approach would be better than not at all?!?

We do Read to Self  every double for 15 minutes (I call it silent reading). I also ask students to read for 15 minutes a night for homework (my students know how I feel about homework). Now that we have finished a term of writer’s notebook I am also happy for students to Work on Writing in this time. (Although I am working towards having 10 minutes of each in each session).

My recent thoughts have been around how to ‘fit in’ Listen to Reading. I have tried class novels before with mixed success. Sometimes the gap of days between seeing the class means they totally forget what we have read. This year I have been trying to promote enjoyment of reading. In year 8 we read our close study novel in class … whole periods, until we finished. In year 9 we read chapters in class and chapters at home … a kind of shared reading … but always had a round table discussion of what we had read. They didn’t do chapter questions or a multi-component assignment.

This term we have no close study text so I suggested I read to them … I would read for 10 minutes each lesson … just for fun! (“You mean we don’t have to do an essay on this book, Miss?”) I had a selection of ‘classics’ I wanted to read. We talked about how you can understand harder books when they are read to you than when you read them yourself. We talked about how important it is to hear words not just see words. We talked about how important it is to develop strategies for remembering what we hear. We also talked about how we won’t like every book we read … we agreed that after each 10 minutes we would decide whether to continue reading or change books.

hobbit bookIn year 8 we are now 30 minutes into reading The Hobbit! In year 9 we are about to start Destroying Avalon. The students have the choice to just listen or to follow along as I read. They can share ‘wonderings’, ask questions about words and, of course, laugh / moan / react as the story dictates … we are just enjoying reading!


So, I’m not quite hitting the Daily’

but working as hard as I can to fit as many of the5′

 in as often as I can!

Weaving Worlds with Words and Wonder – Day 3

aleaIt might have been the last day of the conference but my enthusiasm hadn’t diminished.

I have to confess I chose the keynote entirely because of the obvious connection to my favourite picture story book – “Gnashing terrible teeth, ignoring nosy narrators, wondering about wolves and calling Coo-ee across the world – how picture books teach reading lessons and life lessons” presented by John Callow. I have blogged about my use of PSB previously, and I plan to blog some more lesson ideas for secondary teachers. John Callow walked us through a history of PSB and some of the lessons we can give to students. PSB offer the opportunity to read and re-read … it is in the re-reading of familiar texts that we begin to notice the layers of meaning. The modern/post modern PSB sees the author and illustrator working together not “to do each other’s jobs” but to support teach other in creating meaning. I thought I had quite a good collection of PSB (and I certainly had quite a few of the ones Callow mentioned) but I came away with a list of new books to look for. As a high school teacher, if you haven’t got a collection of picture books I ask – why not?

My final session, presented by Chris Walsh, was “How do I teach digital literacies & the Australian Curriculum: Technologies!?” I sat thinking about how PBL and design briefs are cut of the same cloth. I started my career as a Materials (Food and Textiles) teacher, maybe this is why PBL seems so appealing to me even in English and Humanities classrooms. Chris Walsh talked about it being important in “wise, enterprising & challenge-based education” to give students a voice in what they want to learn … in other words, negotiate curriculum and production with them. He introduced the idea of anticipatory thinking as a way of dealing with an uncertain employment future. We know we can’t begin to predict the kinds of jobs our students will do (they haven’t been invented yet) but we need to teach them to think, problem solve and predict (or anticipate) the changes they may face … these ideas resonated with other ideas about promoting creativity that were filtering through the twitter feed (#englit2016)  from a concurrent session.

… and then, we were in the plenary with Misty Adoniou! Always entertaining and insightful … she really does love words!! Teachers are courageous (full of heart), wonderful (full of wonder) and need encouragement (to be given more heart). She reminded us that “Good things take time”, we are not one moment but the collection of our career (remember that archive we create?). She suggested we turn things around and instead of trying to fit the good stuff in, start with the good stuff and squeeze the rest in! She left us with this challenge, “Don’t forget the teacher you wanted to become.” “Young pups and old dogs” need to work together to encourage each other and maintain momentum.

So now it’s up to Tassie to match, or better, the learnings and thinkings in 2017. Do yourself a favour and seriously consider attending a conference like this. A national conference offers you a chance to immerse yourself in ideas and surround yourself with like-minded (or at least, equally enthusiastic) people. It is an opportunity to challenge your thinking and recharge your resolve before getting sucked back into the vortex that school life can become. You might not change the World but you might change the world (or space) you and your students learn in.

Weaving Worlds with Words and Wonder – Day 2

alea The keynote I attended this morning was “Young baggage, disobedient wretch! Playing with the space of English” delivered by John Yandell from the UK. He demonstrated how students in high school classes are not only aware of the multi-voice behaviour in characters (such as Shakespeare’s Juliet) but are, in fact, capable of harnessing the power for their own use. It’s no news to teachers that classrooms are multi-layered, complex environments (I liken it to the trick of spinning plates on poles). Yandell reminded us that even though we become more skillful at managing the big picture there are lots of things that fly under the radar. In his specific example a group of 14 year old boys had devised a ‘game’ where they behaved in a way that looked to the teacher as if they were actively participating in class discussions, but were in fact, using another student’s nickname frequently in their answers as a low level bullying tactic. “You cannot read off from a student’s body language if they are engaged or not”. The power of multi-voice behaviour can also be used for good, for example a student in a role play exploring character and using pop culture references. However, again, teachers sometimes miss this, misinterpreting it as deliberate sabotage. The key to unlocking and understanding if the power is being used for good or not lies in the relationship between students and teacher. The more long term the relationship the more opportunities exist to recognise and unpack this behaviour. He also challenged us to continue to highlight the complex nature of what we do to the powers that attempt to reduce teaching to formulae and checklists.

The next session “The stories we tell: The power of fictional representations of teachers” by Melanie Shoffner explored exactly that. How do fictional teachers (movies and TV) influence our perceptions of ourselves as teachers but also influence how we are seen by others? Do we analyse the images we are presented with and how do we sift the fact from the fiction. She explored current and historical fictional teachers such Mrs Krabappel (The Simpsons) and Professor Snape (Harry Potter). Some present familiar tropes such as teacher as saviour or disciplinarian, while others – Mr Keating (Dead Poet’s Society) – provide a warning about the potential for serious consequences from the student/teacher relationship. Parodies, nice white lady, may be humorous on face value but digging deeper what do they say about the portrayal and role of teachers?

A short session on “Being creative with Argument” explored the historical beginnings of the essay and how it has become an uninteresting, formulaic exercise. Students have no problem with verbal argument (debate) but when we ask them to write it down something goes wrong. The challenge is to let them form their opinions and write in a manner that allows them to make their stand – not just please the teacher/assessor.

The afternoon saw us start with Misty Adoniou discussing “Narrative and Creativity“. She talked about the conflict in the classroom between literacy skill acquisition and meaning making. The reality is that skill acquisition is necessary for meaning making and we should be doing both. She also talked about the role schools play in helping students to find their “third space” (the transition between the different roles and environments that make up our life). School and home environments can provide enough skills and stimulation to give children a jumping off ground to explore ideas in their own way, in their own time.

Finally, Kelli McGraw reminded me about “Project Based Learning” in the English classroom. I say reminded because I used to do a lot of PBL, even in the senior years (11 and 12) but I have also fallen into the trap of feeling pressured by time, templates, assessments, administration, etc, etc. This session rekindled my energy and Kelli shared her possible projects with the challenge to run with them (and the responsibility of letting her know the outcomes).

The ‘session’ that is more difficult to quantify but just as valuable is the twitter feed discussion that continued throughout the day. I am thankful for the debates about publishing students’ work to authentic audiences, about reading/studying books that may be seen as challenging to parents, and also for those who shared thoughts about sessions I couldn’t attend.

Bring on Day 3 ->

Weaving Worlds with Words and Wonder – Day 1

aleaThe ALEA Conference is in Adelaide this year.

We kicked off with a Keynote by Barbara Comber on “Literacy and Imagination: schools as wondering places and spaces?” She encouraged us to “defy the tyranny of templates, testing” and other constraints to make space for imaginative projects. Data collection and standardised testing has undermined the confidence of teachers and I fear that is why teachers forget about the imagination and creativity when designing their learning activities. We need to give students the opportunities to use their imaginations to explore issues and solve problems. Comber also talked about schools and classrooms being places of belonging. This is a truth I have long held: For many students schools and classrooms are their safe places, the places they make their social connections and the places that encourage them. The final wondering I took away came from Comber’s challenge about the ‘archive’ we create as teachers across our career. My thought was not only about this archive that we grow but further how we then contribute this archive of ‘corporate knowledge’ to the collective.

The next session was a new experience for me – I presented a 20 minute workshop of the use of games in the English classroom. I’m not sure I actually drew breath during the session and at times I worried I was speaking so fast I wasn’t finishing sentences. 20 minutes is not a long time!! My audience was kind and I hope they left with at least one idea they can use in their classroom next week.

Session three was on the grammar of visual design. Sarah Forrest used picture books (The Arrival by Shaun Tan) to introduce metalanguage for consistency when making meaning from images and visual text. I’m not really being fair in saying consistency because really what it allows it more accurate discussion. We were introduced to the three areas of visual analysis: representation, interaction and composition. Our exploration focused on interaction looking at the roles and relationships suggested by the angles in the pictures and our reactions (How we felt) as the audience looking at the images. My year 8 class has been studying historical texts this term and we have used lots of film and photos to stimulate our thinking. I now have more language to enhance this unit next time round.

After lunch on a Friday afternoon was always going to be a tough gig. Kate Phillips from Oxfam walked us through the Food4thought resources available on line. It was good to have time to explore the Oxfam website and the resources they develop.

The final session I attended for the day was not what I expected but was interesting and thought provoking. Sarah Westgarth presented “Storytelling through new media“. Essentially an exploration of Vlogs on YouTube from the key features and reasons people make video blogs to the more scripted and orchestrated uses such as modern adaptations of classic novels. As Westagarth said, “There is a lot of rubbish on YouTube, but there is also a lot of good stuff” and it is worth taking the time to find it.

Frankenstein, MD   /   The Autobiography of Jane Eyre   /   Crash Course – Literature

Bring on Day 2 —>



This year I have moved back to teaching in a P-12 environment. I love this environment: I love having the full continuum from prep to year 12, it gives a teacher the opportunity to see the child develop as a learner through to adulthood.

One of the other things I love about this environment is the opportunity it offers for cross-age activities.

This year as one of our Professional Development goals the Grade 3-6 teacher and I decided we wanted to do something about encouraging a love of reading in our students. I have a small group of year 9s for English and so Mrs R and I hatched a plan to have the year 9s lead Literature Circles in for the grade 3-6s.

Our goal was simple: have fun reading books!

So, once a week the year 9s lead a small group of grade 3-6s. They take turns reading round the circle. Then they talk about this book using a variety of questioning tools. They also have a time to talk about all / any books they are reading. Then we do an activity – sometimes we drew pictures and put them in story order, we made chatterboxes and wrote open-ended questions to help us when reading, we made posters to advertise “Chatterbooks” sessions. The senior students shared their feelings, thoughts and memories about the books (they had read them in Literature Circles when they were in primary school). They were also able to make connections about the books now they were older.

This week, as part of the end of term wrap up, we asked the students to create a top 10 of the best things about “Chatterbooks”. It was great to hear the younger and older students tell us things like:

  • they enjoyed “learning how to work together”,
  • the younger students liked to “hear the high schoolers read because it shows us how to put expression into our reading”.
  • the older students liked “having the opportunity to get to know the younger students better”.

Most of all it was a sign of success when they told us that they had “fun talking about the books”.

It’s not a revolutionary activity … it’s not even a new activity! But sometimes the oldies are goodies, and this one is worth keeping. “Chatterbooks” sessions will continue next term.



One of the grade 3-6ers drew a picture of her group at work …

Applied Learning … Just do it!

If you have read many of my other posts you will be aware of my passion for games in the classroom. I am on a mission to put the fun back into learning. This year I am involved in teaching the VCAL Literacy strand and it seemed a perfect opportunity to use game based learning.

Reading and writing for practical purposes? Games are a no-brainer. We started each lesson by playing a game for 10-15 minutes. Quite often the board games we played were not familiar to the students and so they needed to read and interpret the instructions in order to play (i.e. reading). After each game we wrote about the experience. In their own words students recorded the rules, the aim of the game, suggestions for improvement (i.e. writing).  We didn’t just explore board games: we played card games and computer games, classics like pacman and social justice games like 3rd world farmer.

Lots of discussion later, combined with some grids and graphic organisers (comparing and contrasting) and a little bit of research (i.e. reading for knowledge) and we were in a position to write an article for the newsletter about why people play games (i.e. writing for knowledge). I think my students surprised themselves with how easily they were able to reach the recommended word limits. 300-500 words sounds like an epic novel to students who have come to believe they are ‘dumb’ or ‘can’t write’ … but actually wasn’t that hard when we started to put together the bits and pieces from our grids and graphic organisers.

Then I set them the challenge to create their own game and write the instructions. Some took to this eagerly … a pair worked together to make a variation of Monopoly called ‘Chopperly” … yes, you guessed it, based on the life and times of Chopper Read (but I didn’t have to nag them to do the research). Another student used their work placement experiences in a pre-school to create an educational game to teach basic spelling words. All seemed to be going well. Lots of fun, laughter and challenge as we trialled aspects of the games and tested the instructions they were writing.

However, two students seemed a little overwhelmed with the ‘choose anything option’. I had to rethink … this is applied learning … how can I get them to DO something that will help them to see how it works?

Light bulb moment!


line_o_1In one of my op-shop ferreting moments I had found a game that I had never heard of and never played. I was sure the students would never have seen it either. So I removed the instructions and handed them the box. They had to figure out how to set up the board and how to play the game. In essence, they had to create their own game.

We have even turned spelling tests in to a game. We choose 9 letters from the Scrabble bag and write them on the board. Students then have 10 minutes to make as many 2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 letter words as they can. Points are awarded for the different word lengths.

The aim is two-fold: (1) beat your own personal best for a pick of the lolly tub (2) beat the teacher to win a chocolate frog. (I should point out here that I have been given the handicap of only having 2 minutes to make my words!). We can explore spelling strategies and patterns depending on the letter combinations each week.

My next challenge is to find a ‘hands on’ approach to reading, writing and oracy for public debate … I have an idea based on socratic seminars and a tug-of-war game I saw on pinterest!

Difficult students … difficult teachers!?!

a great teacherThis post has been brewing for a while, mainly because I don’t like to play the ‘blame the teacher’ game … but sometimes I look at my colleagues and wonder why they choose to be teachers!

Two comments I heard recently prompted me to think again about writing this post.

The first came as a student returned to school following an extended absence. The student had missed the whole school testing we had agreed to do and the teachers were asked if they could make it a priority to give the student a chance to take the tests. One teacher immediately began a rampage about how this would mean another session of the curriculum the student would miss. I sat there listening and seriously had to bite my tongue. I’m not a fan of standardised testing but in this case the testing we were doing is useful to me as a classroom teacher. It would help me to determine where the gaps are for my students and let us all set learning goals. What I really wanted to say,though, was that as teachers our core business is students.

Let me say that again: As teachers our core business is STUDENTS … not curriculum.

If a student has already missed 10 sessions of the planned curriculum, is one more session really going to matter? If a student has already missed 10 sessions of the planned curriculum isn’t it more important to worry about how the student is going to feel trying to fit back in? Instead of worrying about the lessons missed, I would want to focus on making sure my student felt welcomed back to the classroom … I don’t always know why students have time off school … but I need to remind myself that children (even teenagers) are not always in control of that situation and I don’t want my classroom to be another place that just adds to their anxiety.

The second comment came out as part of a reported behaviour incident. The teacher admitted that they had been unable to see what had happened but ‘it was the sort of thing that student would do”. In reality it turned out to be an accident (witnessed by other students) but the student in question didn’t know how to report the damage without getting into trouble. I found myself thinking again about the levels of anxiety students feel in the classroom.

As a Sub-School Coordinator I once had a first year teacher come storming into my office, adamant that he was ‘not having that student back’ in his classroom. Her language and behaviour was inappropriate. She had consequences every time it happened … but progress was slow. When he finally calmed down he looked at me and said, “How many more chances should she get?” My answer, “As many as it takes!”

All of these comments typify the hole we can fall into as teachers … the one where we forget we are dealing with children. We can get so bogged down with administration, curriculum documentation, standardised testing, pressure for improved school performance, etc., that we really do forget the two essential truths of our profession.

We are dealing with children. They don’t think the same way we do, yet! They don’t control their emotions and behaviour like we do, yet!

We are the adults in the room. I am just as human as every other teacher and, yes, I can get really frustrated when I’m talking to the same student about the same inappropriate behaviour for the fifth time in one day … but I need to remember that I am the adult. I can think more broadly and problem solve, I can take into consideration that this kid has a lot to deal with, I can control my emotions.

The ultimate goal is to see our students become confident, competent, successful adults. Sometimes this means deviating from the lesson plan: In the big picture it doesn’t really matter if they don’t complete chapter 3 of the workbook, I’m sure they’ll survive adulthood with 20 fewer examples of homonyms! Sometimes this means giving them another chance, knowing they will fall off the wagon (use that inappropriate word again, throw something, …) but hopefully they will exercise just a little more control and last just that bit longer than last time.

We need to remember as we walk through our classroom door each day that we are the adults: We are the role models. Our words and our actions matter. We set the tone for the classroom environment and we play a big part in making school a place students want to be or want run from!

Tedtalks … ideas worth using in your classroom!

knowledgeMy year 11 VCE English class have been exploring the context of identity and belonging this year.

It frustrates me immensely that students expect every thing to be delivered to them in easy to digest chunks – they hate being asked to (and frequently complain they can’t) think for themselves. I have told them that I can’t follow them around for the rest of their lives doing their thinking for them … the law regards this as stalking!!!

So, my challenge has been how to develop thinking skills in a generation that don’t like to read anything longer than 140 characters or watch anything long enough to have ads in it.

Tedtalks have been my saviour. I like the wide variety of topics, the ease with which you can search for appropriate time length (I look for about 5 min) and that you can download so you do not have to rely on streaming in the classroom (we’ve all had those pesky buffering issues in the middle of what we thought was a well planned lesson).

Sometimes I just show one talk as a start or end of a lesson: at other times I build an entire lesson around a number of talks. I even had the students assess three talks using our rubric for oral presentations in the lead up to their own oral presentations (they were extremely hard markers!!). I don’t make the links for them. They assume I have selected the clip with a particular idea in mind (and, of course, I have) and I ask them to tell me how it relates to our context. If they can’t see how it relates I tell them, “we’ll come back to it” – sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t. I provided links on our class resource blog so they could watch them again at their leisure.

Short and sharp has worked! Over the last two weeks we have completed two essays for assessment and we are now in the throes of exam revision. I am pleasantly surprised at how many of the students have used Tedtalks as evidence in their essays. It has been interesting to be reminded of the clips we saw early in the year and listen to/read the ways the students mould them to fit the prompts in their essays.

If you are interested, here is a selection we have viewed this year:

Is there a real you?   /   Who am I?   /   How movies teach manhood

 Why thinking you’re ugly is bad for you

A broken body is not a broken person   /   Where is home?


What do you do to promote thinking in your classroom?

Re-igniting MY Curiosity … Day 3

start writingThe final day has arrived … I’m tired but still looking forward to the thought-provoking day ahead.

Unfortunately I was running just a bit too late to make it in time for the key note being presented by “The Sisters” (Joan Moser and Gail Boushey): “Daily 5: Establish Active, Curious behaviours as the Foundation for Your Classroom Structure to Improve Student Learning.”

I have been reading about Daily 5 through the US section of my PLN on twitter. I knew it is essentially aimed at early years/primary but was interested to see what I could take away and adapt for my junior secondary students.

But you know what …

… sometimes it’s nice to just stop and smell the roses!

I took the half hour I found myself with and sat quietly contemplating what I had seen and heard over the past two days. I started to plan these last two blog posts, I checked out some websites I’d saved for later, and I continued to follow the #EngLit2015 twitter feed.

I made sure I was early to the first workshop of the day: “Internationalising the English Curriculum” by Geoff Piggott.

As I walked in he was handing out playing cards (I do things like that … no explanation … just leave the student guessing) … curiosity aroused … tick!

He talked about the way English as a language has expanded across the globe: About how meaning is different in each kind of English that is spoken. We watched part of a TedTalk about ‘The Danger of the Single Story‘ … about looking at the surface and relying on stereotypes. I say part … nothing like waiting till the audience is engaged and then stopping the video … (have to look that up later!!!) … curiosity aroused … tick?

Then we got to the playing cards: Time for a bit of audience participation. Geoff called it Fishbowl but it was a form of socratic circles. (google will turn up lots but the link will get you started.)

I left wondering about my year 11 English class and how I could get them to see past the single story.

The next keynote by Steve Shann was “Secondary English and our Students’ Lifeworlds: Stories from the Mythpoetic Margins.”

Awesome. Amazing. Enthralling. Like nothing I have seen before.

Steve and his two associates used a performance mode, reading a specifically written story to highlight the issues we face in teaching English in high school. The juxtaposition of the two teachers (Sylvia and Minn) highlighted teaching styles, teaching philosophy, gender/cultural stereotypes, etc. I wondered:

  • What verbs dominate and drive your/my unit/term planners?
  • How does our own experience of school shape the teacher we become?
  • How can we change the pervading notions that unless it’s marked a learning task is not worthwhile; that learning is only for assessment? 

After lunch I tried to get into “The Power of an Inquiry Based Approach to Teaching and Learning in the English Classroom” … however the room was already over-crowded when I got there. I attempted to find another session but by this stage most had already started so again I found myself with another half hour of contemplation.

The last session was a workshop: “Programming Creatively for Disengaged Youth: Are You Game?” presented by Ruth Doyle and Damon Eaton.

They presented their unit of work for yr 11 English completely based on and around the concept of games and game development. They clearly linked to every assessment task and learning activity you would expect senior students to complete. They covered everything from the history of games, how games differ across cultures, to the development and promotion of a game by the students. All of this in 18 weeks of teaching!!!

They courageously shared the things that didn’t work well and the things they would change, and generously shared their unit plan. I wondered how might I be able to work in a task or two to interest my disengaged ‘footy’ boys? (The ones who always come late because they would rather continue playing footy!)

… then, it was all over!

We were sitting in the plenary session, watching the hand over from Canberra to Adelaide.

Re-igniting MY Curiosity … Day 2

The opening keynote today: “Ignorance Killed the Cat: What’s Left Out of Literacy Research and Policy, and the Implications for Teachers’ Knowledge and Practice” was presented by Peter Freebody.

It puts things in perspective to realise that “780 million adults worldwide can’t read or write” and that “2/3 of them are women.” Seeing a 4000 year old cuneiform tablet artefact with a note from a parent:

My little son opened his hand and you allowed wisdom to come into it – you showed him the art of writing.

I sit in the privileged space of being able to read and write, AND have the skills to pass this ability on to others.

This left me wondering how do you/I “allow wisdom”in the classroom. How do you/I “attempt to create the conditions in which they can learn?” (Albert Einstein).

We should also be more critical about how much trust we place in the research we are presented with. How do we apply our practical wisdom to the theoretical wisdom we are presented with?

I stayed on in the Royal Theatre for the workshop presentation: “Reading Australia for Secondary Schools”

This was part of the launch strategy for this website which will make it much easier for teachers to choose Australian stories for the classroom. I am a Literature teacher, as well as an English teacher, and I am as guilty as the next person of literary snobbery. I have my favourite classics – written by ‘dead white people’. However, I do believe we have some fantastic Australian literature we should be championing. This website, funded by the copyright agency, has support for teachers across a wide range of text types.

The next keynote: “Responding Creatively: Considerations for Supporting Children as Authors of Digital Multimodal Literary Texts” by Jessica Mantei.

We looked at what students need to do to be able to read literary and non-literary texts. If non-literary print texts are confusing how can readers even begin to navigate online/multimodal texts?

We then looked at some interesting films made by students in response to “The Lost Thing” – a short film and PSB by Shaun Tan. Students used elements such as characters and themes to create their own stories using puppetpals (iPad app). It was good to see some not quite so successful pieces.

I left wondering how I can encourage my students to include more visuals in their work. I would love to do more multimodal work but at the moment resources are a challenge. May be next year, when we go BYOD, I could explore how to over come this challenge.

Dr Noella Mackenzie’s workshop “Nurturing future wordsmiths: A focus on Vocabulary” was a full house. She gave practical activities that could be used across the full spectrum of education to promote passion for wordsmithing (not sure if that is a real word!!!)

word_clineStudents need access to the meaning of words used by teachers. We should use ‘big’ words, we should be exposing them to a wider vocabulary but it is no good if they can’t make sense of what we are saying. We don’t need to dumb it down but do need to be aware of how we introduce new words. Telling students to ‘look it up in a dictionary’ is not really a helpful solution. Dictionaries vary in quality and words can have more than one meaning depending on context.

Word clines promote higher order thinking and call on a wide vocabulary to create. Our attempt was brief and possibly inaccurate but promoted lots of discussion about words.

Students can understand spoken language at a higher level than they can write (this is exactly the problem I was having with that senior EAL student I mentioned in yesterday’s post!). We should be reading to them, out loud, every day. This poses a problem for a secondary environment – I began to wonder if instead of the ideal of reading a class novel over time, maybe a complete package each lesson would still achieve the goals of stimulating vocabulary. How could I encourage other staff across subjects to do the same? 10 minutes read aloud in each lesson of the day at my school would give students 40 mins of exposure.

After lunch the keynote I chose was presented by Dr Anita Heiss : “Nurturing creativity while embedding Indigenous Studies into the National Curriculum”

Every time I have heard Anita speak I walk away thinking I’ve learnt so much but actually know so little about Indigenous culture. Today was no different.

We started with an Indigenous IQ Test (a pop quiz of Indigenous culture). I failed dismally, but it proved the point nicely about how easy it is to overlook and build in recognition of successful Indigenous Australians in to the curriculum (let alone the point how ridiculously culturally biased IQ tests really are). I began to wonder about creating a few slides for my games day quizzes to rectify the obvious imbalance and ignorance I was showing.

I have used Austlit and the specialist subset resource BlackWords on and off. It is a resource I am still exploring but has certainly increased my knowledge and confidence in teaching Indigenous Lit (such as “Swallow the Air” by Tara June Winch).

The biggest message I took away is that we need to stop the segregation between Aboriginal History and Australian History …. IT’S ALL AUSTRALIAN HISTORY!! Indigenous studies may well look at the invasion of Australia in 1788 differently to a European perspective but the history of our country started well before the Europeans arrived.

My final session was a workshop I chose as it was specifically aimed at senior students. “The Creative Mind: A Writing Workshop on Responding to Literary Texts in the Senior Secondary Classroom” run by Madeleine Coulombe. It was another packed room (which felt claustrophobic) but we were soon dispossessed of those senses as Madeleine got us do some of the writing tasks she does with students. Using texts as springboards for creative writing forces the students to get to know the texts very well. I particularly liked the activity where students create book covers for imaginary books written on the context (in the Victorian Certificate of Education students connect two specific texts and other text connections to a theme. eg Encountering Conflict.)

I walked away wondering how I can create more time for my students to write? and, more importantly with my particular rabble, how I can get them to realise the value of silent writing?

The day ended with what seriously felt like an intimate fireside chat with Gary Crew and Graeme Base. Lots of anecdotes and some sage advice. I was impressed with Graeme’s passion for championing the importance of his chosen punctuation in his work and will use this as evidence in my own crusade with my students … and, Gary, your secret is safe with us😉

… and that was just day two!