Weaving Worlds with Words and Wonder – Day 2
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 ->