Tag Archives: Victoria

What have I learned from VCE?

This article in The Age resounded with me – Surely there’s a better test was written by Alexandra Adornetto, Year 12 VCE student at Eltham College and, at 17, already an author of a popular children’s trilogy starting with The shadow thief.

Of Alexandra’s initial questions,

How have I been shaped by my learning experiences? What skills have I developed that are valuable and transferable in the workplace? What lessons have I learned about the value of education?

– I wonder most about the last one: What lessons have I learned about the value of education? Or even, what have I learned about learning?

Alexandra’s answer is negative; she sees students having to work

within a system that reduces achievement to a game where strategies are more important than ideas.

Her cynicism flows from the fact that

the sum total of my education will soon amount to nothing more than a figure — an ENTER score that will determine which percentile I fall into statewide and which courses I will be eligible to apply for.

I agree with Alexandra when she says that

the system fails to recognise the diversity of skills and most subjects do not allow students to demonstrate skills in a form other than a written exam.

I’ve started reading Rethinking rubrics in writing assessment by Maja Wilson, which, at one point, talks about decontextualised teaching of literacy through ‘separate literature, speech, and composition courses’. In the past ‘Reading, speaking, and writing were simply a means to dialogue with professors, peers, and the community at large about matters of public interest.’

Andrea Lunsford (1986) describes an integrated, language-rich environment that supported powerful literacy.

Classroom activity… was built around “oral disputation.” One  student chose and presented a thesis, often taken from reading or class discussion, and defended it against counterarguments offered by other students and the teacher. In addition, students regularly gave public speeches on matters of importance to society, in forums open to the entire college and the surrounding community… the students learned more from their peers than from their teachers … this model of oral evaluation and the form of student speaking societies provided an audience, a full rhetorical context, and motivation for discourse, features woefully lacking in later “set” essays and written examinations.

Maja Wilson goes on to imagine how ideal this kind of learning would be. This would be the antithesis of the VCE as we know it, and as described by Alexandra. Instead of receiving ‘a static score from faceless evaluators’, a student could receive a type of assessment ‘not to rank’ the written content, but purely as feedback to aid learning and develop abilities.

Assessment would be free to interact positively with learning since ranking … was not its main objective.

In her article, Alexandra goes on to point out the many skills students possess in activities they do outside of school which are not taken into consideration in the VCE assessment.

Life skills, innovative ideas and community involvement — what intelligent nation needs these? It’s obviously much safer to work towards the goal of conformity. Here is just the beginning of a list of skills that exam results cannot possibly hope to reflect: interpersonal skills, the ability to entertain, how articulate we are as speakers, our ability to work as part of a team, the ability to deal with challenges and invention.

I’ve often thought the same, and when I see the curriculum packed to bursting with content that teachers struggle to cover, I’m not surprised that they often lament the lack of time to develop important skills.

It doesn’t take long to figure out that our current system does not reward creativity or cater to the diversity of skills and abilities possessed by students. What it does reward are formulaic learners and those with a good memory.

I don’t claim to be an expert, but I noticed a difference between, for example, the Psychology course offered within the VCE  and that within the International Baccalaureate. VCE Psychology seemed to be largely a matter of content memorisation, whereas IB Psychology involved higher order thinking.

Alexandra comments:

Other knowledge-based subjects such as legal studies, psychology and history ask us not to apply knowledge but simply to recall and regurgitate the contents of our hefty textbooks.

It’s interesting how Alexandra’s suggested solutions harken back to the older system of assessment described by Wilson in her book:

Clearly an overhaul of the current system with a review of its goals and objectives is in order. Until universities take a radical look at their selection procedures, nothing is likely to change. How much more sensible would it be to include an oral exam (where you might talk through your ideas or your achievements) as a percentage of our final assessment?

I like the way Alexandra thinks, I like her suggested alternatives:

Perhaps the presentation of a folio of achievements would go a long way in presenting us as individuals with a unique contribution to make. Perhaps a hands-on project in a preferred area of study should be a compulsory assessment task.

Yes, Alexandra is cynical about the merits of VCE, and grim in her description of the final exams:

As for us, we will be writing furiously for three hours, surfacing only to check the clock and take periodic sips from our water bottles from which we have assiduously removed the labels in compliance with yet another inane regulation, designed to eliminate cheating.

What do you think? Is she being too harsh?

As for me, I hope that this year’s VCE students will at least be able to demonstrate the extent of their study efforts, not like the poor girl during this year’s English exam whose watch stopped, freakishly, at the same time as the wall clock, and was caught out at the end with only two thirds of her examination paper completed. So much frustration and upset – two years of effort spoiled by a fateful turn of events.

I recommend The English Companion ning which has a rich discussion between Maja Wilson and educators of her book.

7 Comments

Filed under creativity, Education, learning, teaching

Social media is not all fun and games

The Age online has published an article entitled Social media rush as Victorian bushfires rage. It describes what has been evident during the recent and ongoing bushfires in Victoria to those using social media.

As the worst bushfires in Australia’s history raged across Victoria, Twitter, Flickr and Facebook lit up with condolences and horrific first-hand accounts, while many used innovative online mapping tools to assess the risk of the fires reaching their own homes.

Unaffected by the bushfires but geographically close to areas such as King Lake, and knowing people who live there, I found that social media sites were more current and informative than most other news sources, apart from the ABC radio broadcasts. Social media became the new journalism, providing current and detailed information, but also communication to the people.

Mainstream news outlets, battling to provide comprehensive coverage of the tragedy, have incorporated accounts published on the social networking sites extensively in their reports.

Using online social media to spread vital information and personal stories is becoming increasingly commonplace in times of crisis, but this may be the first time the social networking sites have been used extensively during an Australian disaster.

Google provided a map updated in real-time with information about the number, type and size of fires in a particular location.

firesmap

NASA provided satellite images of the fires:

satellitefires

Personally, I found Twitter’s ‘bushfires’ – tagged tweets a mix of informative and disturbing, bringing up real-time information in the most personal way, mixing facts with personal appeals for lost family. The steady Twitter stream of contributions from people all over provided communication in a way that no other media could match.

Interesting to observe that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd also communicate via Twitter.

kevinrudd

For me, the most striking aspect of this form of social media is the human element. The article mentions the twitter account of a CFA volunteer, cfafirefighter . Follow this and you follow the man, his movements, his thoughts and his feelings.

cfatwitter

Flickr also demonstrates a platform for communication, a place for people to share images of the fires, for example, the group Victorian bushfires 2009

flickrfires

There is a very large number of photos here, and this is only one of the groups. Compare this to the few images chosen for the front page of the newspaper articles.

uploaded to Flickr by Monkeybizness February 9 2009

uploaded to Flickr by Hickey/Scott February 8 2009

Facebook groups have sprung up too. Although it may seem to be a futile exercise joining such a group since it doesn’t necessarily lead to action, the opportunity for solidarity online may just be the impetus for worthwhile deeds.

facebookfires

 

The Facebook group provides links to important numbers and websites.

IMPORTANT NUMBERS AND WEBSITES:

Wildlife Rescue – http://www.wildlifevictoria.org.au/cms/index.php

Gippsland Emergency Relief
Fund – http://relieffund.org.au/

CFA bushfire hotline – 1800 240 667, http://www.cfa.vic.gov.au

State Emergency Service – 132 500

State Inquiries Centre – 1800 727 077

Other information includes different ways to donate money, for example:

http://www.salvationarmy.org.au/SALV/NEWSRELESE/PC_62630.html
Myer will match dollar-for-dollar total customer contributions to the Appeal up to $500,000. The goal – to raise $1 million for the recovery effort.

The discussion board is testimony to many a community’s empathy, willingness to help and grief:

Tarita Conza wrote
at 8:35pm
R.I.P Raye Wynette (Lane) Carter 13/05/1940 – 07/02/2009
CFA Volunter, Great grandmother of Kyla Lawrence, loving Nan of Aaron Lawrence & special friend of Tarita Conza. Tragically taken too soon! trying to save your cherished goats. You will be sadly missed but greatly remembered, Love always and forever.
So, you thought that social media was just fun and games?
Thanks to Sue Tapp for the link on Twitter to the online article.
Sue has just informed me of the ABC bushfires emergency blog.

14 Comments

Filed under Web 2.0

Reading Victoria

Reading Victoria is a program for adults run by the State Library of Victoria which encourages reading as a creative activity, expands choice and promotes interaction amongst readers. That’s what the website says, and I’m thinking – here are three essential aspects of reading that would work as a point of departure for reading promtion in schools. Creativity, choice and social interaction – all good reasons to get stuck into a book.

One of the offerings is ‘The Bedside Books Club’, a quarterly book club throwing open discussion of ‘the great, the awful, the perpetually unfinished and the can’t-wait-to-start books’. These categories are tantalising – the invitation reads ‘Have you ever wondered what books other people have on their bedside table?’ Can anyone think of other categories? I think the quarterly get-togethers, where everyone brings a book they’d like to suggest in light of the topic, would work well with teachers or even parents, and could be a way of fostering a reading culture within the school. Featured in the meetings are such delights as an author talk (Alex Miller – Journey to the Stone Country, 2003 Miles Franklin Award winner); a presentation by Mark Rubbo, Managing Director of Readings, about ‘What’s Hot in the Shop’; and guest reader, Genevieve Tucker, author of the blog, reeling and writhing. This sounds great, and we can still all go to it on Tuesday 14 October, 6-7.30pm at Mr Tulk cafe, State Library of Victoria. Wouldn’t mind going there myself.

The 2007 Summer Read is a compilation of readers’ top 5 books out of a shortlist of 20 recently published Victorian books. Discussion and voting is over, but the book information is still up. We really do live in a literature-rich state, when you consider the number of novels, short stories and non-fiction titles which are set in Victoria or are by Victorian authors. What a great promotion and idea to take away for school reading programs.

The Summer Reading blog treats readers to blogging by shortlisted Victorian authors. I intend to set aside time for this! It’s a treat being privy to the thoughts of such interesting people on a variety of topics and literature. Recent bloggers include Dorothy Porter, Paul Mitchell, who talks about how he became a writer. Craig Sherborne, author of Hoi Polloi, raises an interesting point about blogs: ‘They are quasi diaries and memoirs that may one day, soon enough given their popularity and conversational nature, replace books as the means for publishing autobiographical narrative; and their readers can be in constant communication with each other.’ There are others but I haven’t scrolled down any further yet. The blog also features reviews and opinions posted by the community of readers.

Celebrity Victorian readers also share their thoughts on their favourite books. Find out who reads in the bath, who reads in the Botanical Gardens, and who reads in their mother’s apricot tree. Where do you read?

We’re fortunate to have the opportunity to take part in Reading Victoria, and I think that some of these ideas would work well in promoting a reading culture in our schools.

Leave a comment

Filed under reading, Teacher librarians