Re-igniting MY Curiosity
Tomorrow I will attend the final day of the three day ALEA Conference, Capitalising on Curiosity, in Canberra. I almost didn’t attend this conference. I had started to spiral down into the vortex of negativity that lurks in schools waiting to trap those who are losing focus, energy and inspiration. However, my stars aligned and following a quick conversation with a colleague (who is also my sister), reminiscing about how inspiring and just generally good fun it had been to attend a national conference in Melbourne a few years ago (that time it was ACEC2010) I decided to take the plunge. I am glad I did!
There is no way to quantify the value of spending time with like-minded, passionate people in pursuit of knowledge on a single topic – in this case literacy education.
Sitting down to morning tea with a complete stranger on day one, just because we had a spare chair, resulted in an interesting conversation. Between the three of us we covered the range from primary through secondary to tertiary (tafe) but shared a common thread of EAL teaching experiences. Thus morning tea was also a learning opportunity, I walked away with a bit of renewed confidence about how I am attempting to help one of my senior EAL students when I have no formal training in this field.
My first session was a keynote: “Asking Better Questions: the Power of Wondering” with Peter O’Connor. How teachers use questions is a key concern in my school at the moment.
Peter began by talking about how we have such a strong sense of wonder as children which we seem to lose over time. Watching children create and explore imaginary worlds you notice they use all of their senses to unpack questions like ‘What is like to be grown up?’
By creating other worlds we better understand our own”.
However, we seem to lose the sense of wonder, and also the ability to use our senses as we move through school. Here is the first challenge – How do you set up learning environments to promote wonder? Added challenge – in a secondary school? Peter went on to talk about process drama and how he had used it to create a framed story that allowed students the safety to question characters about their behaviour. This got me thinking about a guest speaker from years ago (Stephen Gasperino) who talked about “living the text”. My mind began to fire up about my upcoming novel studies in year 8 and 11 …
- How can I set up some situations where we question the key characters?
- Could I get students to imagine themselves as / take on the persona of the characters?
- Could we set up a QandA or 60 Minutes style interview panel?
The next session was a workshop: “Guiding and Scaffolding Reluctant and/or Struggling MS readers” with Dr. Alison Davis.
This was a bit of low for me. The presentation was good but clearly aimed at upper primary school. However, it did confirm that the strategies my school is currently implementing (John Munro) were heading in the right direction. I walked away from this session wondering about how well note taking is explicitly taught (something my school has only just started to do) and how I can challenge my students to create more visuals as part of their writing.
Next was the keynote given by Gary Crew: “The Teenage Castaway: Nurturing Contemporary Teenage Curiosity into the Anxieties of an Extraordinary 19th Century Literary Fascination”.
A thoroughly entertaining and thought-provoking exploration of the tradition of the Robinson Crusoe / castaway story and how it has evolved over time. One of the things I like about Gary Crew is the challenge he makes in his writing and in his critiques about how much is based on reality and how much is made up. We also explored historical and social context in terms of a critical reading of classics like Robinson Crusoe or The Blue Lagoon. I wondered if Robinson Crusoe reflects the values of 19th Century European culture, what does Twilight say about 21st century societal values?
My final workshop for the day was: “Our patchwork history: Exploring the language of research through literature” presented by Claire Saxby.
This was a great follow up to Gary Crew. Claire is the author of the PSB “My Name is Lizzie Flynn”, a fiction based on a lot of fact and a little known chapter of Australian history. The story of female convicts (in this case a child) and how they developed the skills deemed necessary for survival in the new colony of Australia. An enthralling presentation on the lengths Claire went to in verifying details for the story so that it has historic merit as well as being just a darn good read. The gold at the end of the session was hearing her read the book to us. I have blogged before about the importance of using picture story books in secondary classrooms. I have added Lizzie Flynn to my collection and already began to wonder about how I will introduce this text to my students. We have a knitting club, which the students are keen to expand to include more crafts, this seems like a great opportunity to link past and present via young Lizzie!
… and that was just day one!