Monthly Archives: July 2016

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 —>