Monthly Archives: June 2012

Our esteemed Reading Ambassadors (in the spirit of National Year of Reading)#NYOR

h.koppdelaney’s photo on Flickr

It’s always good to have an excuse for peeking into young minds in terms of what they’re reading, probing their earliest reading memories. We’ve been featuring our Reading Ambassadors in the Melbourne High School blog – except for the first who wasn’t keen on being published.

You can read the interviews with Padraig Gilligan and Alan Ng; you won’t be disappointed.  My favourite discoveries in these interviews are the idiosyncratic pieces of information such as Padraig’s comment:

I really enjoy reading on trains because even if you don’t get a seat, which is sometimes not an option, you have these nice little chronological markers – in the form of the stops & stations that you go through – so you know how long you’ve been reading & how long you have left to read.

And Alan’s brave reading of Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus

Sitting in an airbus A320 at 2 o’clock in the morning on the way to Thailand for a holiday – a reunion with relatives. The book was Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann. It was very difficult to read the words, it was really, really packed & I’ve got to admit it was really hard to read. But I finished the book – it was confusing but consuming.

You really can find out a lot about people by what they read if you ask the right questions!

Picture by Joel Robinson found on Brain Pickings

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4th Melbourne TeachMeet hosted by Adrian Camm at Quantum Victoria

Thank you so much to the organisers, to the presenters, to the participants and to Adrian Camm at Quantum Victoria for the very enjoyable 4th Victorian TeachMeet Melbourne yesterday afternoon. Thanks also to Tony Richards for the live streaming which you can now watch on the wiki. Thanks also to the people who captured the ideas and links to fantastic ways of learning and teaching on Twitter #tmmelb. And thanks to whoever made the awesome and very popular jelly and lemon slice – was it you, Robyne Luketic aka @handsdown?(please share the recipe).

I’ve attended Melbourne TeachMeets before but never presented because this is something I still shy away from. If you’re like me and don’t feel comfortable with public speaking, let me tell you that the 7 minutes is a nice little amount of time, and the TeachMeet audience is not at all intimidating. I would feel much more intimidated speaking to the staff at my own school.

The variety of the snapshots shared yesterday is what makes this kind of (un)conference so satisfying. Further investigation is made possible after the event when you follow links to blogs, and links and summaries of information shared on Twitter #tmmelb. The learning after the event is ongoing.

Of course, meeting new people and catching up with Tweeps is always the most enjoyable and enriching part of these events. I enjoyed the mix of education backgrounds, including teachers from both primary and secondary students, from all faculties, elearning and ICT people, principals and assistant principals and museum educators. It’s nice to connect with different sectors and hear about what they’re doing. The breadth is really valuable.

I have to say that I enjoyed ALL the presentations, but I’m not alone in saying that Mel Cashen’s (@melcashen) moving presentation of her visit to Rwandan schools was particularly inspiring, and enlarged my perspective in terms of what’s important in education on a global scale. Mel has obviously experienced something life changing, and it will be interesting to follow her path from now on. Thanks, Mel. Here’s the link to her blog – well worth reading.

Please also take the opportunity to involve your students in Judith Way’s high-quality Readers’ Cup program which Judith and friends generously organise in their own time and without charge.

Finally, I must rave about the tour of Quantum Victoria’s facilities – very big and very impressive. The programs sound amazing; I’ll definitely share these with science/maths teachers at school. Adrian mentioned something coming up which focuses on literacy so I’m keen to find out about this and involve my own students. I’ve leave you with a couple of photos of the 3D objects which came out of the state-of-the-art printer. Lots of oohing and ahhing at this point.

Yay for collaboration! The face of professional development is changing!!

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TeachMeet Melbourne at Quantum Victoria

I’m looking forward to the professional sharing and F2F catching up at tomorrow’s TeachMeet Melbourne at Quantum Victoria. It’s a fantastic (and free!) opportunity to get together and share knowledge and ideas, as well as get the collegial support everyone needs.

As always everyone is invited to give a very short presentation; topics can be viewed in the Google doc. I decided to overcome my aversion to public speaking by offering a 7 minute show-and-tell about what’s valuable and enjoyable on Facebook. You can see the screenshots in the presentation below.

Looking forward to it but not happy about getting my 3rd cold for the term!

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Thinking about teaching writing in a connected world

Image found here

The eye is naturally drawn to things you’ve been thinking about. So it was for me last night when I was browsing my Twitter feed and came across Susan Carter Morgan‘s retweet of Angela Stockman‘s link to her article The questions we ask when we begin to teach writing on the WNY Young Writers’ Studio  website. Angela asks:

“Is it possible to teach writing well if your students aren’t aware of what’s possible now? If they aren’t publishing online?”

An interesting question. Although I hadn’t exactly been phrasing it as specifically as this, I’ve been wondering about the task of teaching writing at a time when our publishing options are so many and varied; wondering whether we’re doing our students a disservice if we continue to teach writing the way we were taught. I mean without recognizing the opportunities for a broader, online audience. I’ve been rabbiting on about this for quite some time.

I also wonder why we are still predominantly text-centered with regard to storytelling options when there are so many other options for storytelling, particularly with the new digital possibilities.

“Composing isn’t just about text anymore.”

And it isn’t. That’s not to say it’s any less important to teach textual writing but there are so many other things to consider. If our students are reading stories online, enjoying graphic novels, following and creating stories in virtual worlds, then shouldn’t we be exploring these new forms of narrative with our students?

There’s a mounting list of technological applications which enable and enhance storytelling. These options incorporate visual and digital literacies, amongst others, but writing is still the crux, that is, creating plot, characters, setting. The story itself, is still a matter of writing. As Angela states:

“I don’t focus on genre or the writing itself at first either. I find myself asking questions about who the writers are, what kind of difference they want to make with their words, and for who.”

“When my grandmother died, she left behind her childhood journals and a whole bunch of letters,” someone mentions to me quietly. “Seeing her handwriting helps me hear her voice. It keeps her alive.” And I appreciate this. I know that when I look at my daughter’s blog and when I skim through her Flickr stream or her Facebook updates, I experience the same feeling. For me, it isn’t about the ink. But I’m not the only audience the writers I work with will have. In fact, one thing I do know for certain is that if I’m doing my job right, they won’t be writing for me—they’ll be writing for other people, and their purposes and the tools they will use to connect with them will vary. As a teacher, what I think and what I need doesn’t matter at all. It’s all about the writer.”

I wrote about something similar in a post a long time ago when I found my grandmother’s old autograph book, remarking:

The autograph book demonstrates a lovely collection of shared sentiments, but at the same time, this generation is collaborating in newly found ways to create.

The tools are always secondary to what is being created. Angela says:

“Our first task is to connect writers to themselves, their needs, their vision for the difference they will make, and their ideas. Who do they want to move with their writing? What is the best way to accomplish this? What’s possible, given the range and access of tools that are available today?” (my emphasis)

Trying out blogging as a platform with year 9 students has shifted something seminal to successful and convincing writing. I was nodding when I read Angela’s words:

“My work involves helping writers develop and share their own. What they are writing has to matter to them. It also has to matter to someone else. Otherwise, they will not persevere as writers. It’s as simple as that. School teachers can force kids to write by threatening them with failing grades. Fortunately, we don’t have that awful luxury at Studio, and I’m grateful for this. It keeps us honest. It keeps our writing real. It helps us persevere.”

In her excellent article Remaining seated: lessons learned by writing Judith M. Jester advises teachers to write if they’re teaching writing.

“As a teacher of writing, I consider writing to
be one of the most important things I can do for
my kids. I need to put myself in their place on a
continual basis so that I more fully understand
what I am asking them to do. How can I know
what difficulties they face if I don’t face them, too?
How will I know what strategies to suggest if I
have not tried them first? How will I know the
joy they experience when they are genuinely
pleased with a draft if I have not felt the same joy?”

It’s a shame that teachers are so busy teaching, assessing and writing reports that they don’t have time to do what they teach. Judith is passionate about the teacher modelling writing:

“What they fail to understand is that they will produce better writers if they pick up a pen for something more than evaluation. If they do, they will learn far more about teaching writing than any instructor’s manual can ever tell them.”

I’m not sure that teachers have much of an opportunity to do much more than keep up with teaching their classes, correcting work and writing reports. The expectation of schools, of a curriculum which drives teachers and students towards the final assessments in senior years so that students enter tertiary institutions of their choice – does this allow much room for senior school teachers to choose between what they want to do and what they must do?

The article gives food for thought. Judith writes about the power of process, the power of feedback, the power of audience, the power of modeling, the power of thinking. Definitely worth reading and thinking about.

Wouldn’t it be nice if teachers’ lives were balanced to allow time for themselves – to think, to try things out, to model what they teach, to alleviate the relentless pressure and give them some space just to be. Teachers should be nurtured as learners too, not just have their last juices squeezed out of them.

Image found here.

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