literature

New morning, new directions

Morning, day 2, #3

I’m excited to be moving into a new school, and new areas of responsibility this year. After eleven very fulfilling and rewarding years at my previous school as Director of Learning and Curriculum my new role is Deputy Principal (Secondary) in a very different school and context. There’ll be lots to learn, and and lots of changes.

One constant I’m grateful for, is that I’ll continue to be teaching a class. I’ll have a Year 9 English class this year and am looking forward to working with Middle School students again. I’m sure I’m going to miss some of the interactions and conversations I’ve had with my Literature students in recent times. Working with able, motivated, articulate students on texts I’ve loved like Mrs Dalloway, Antony and Cleopatra, and Adrienne Rich last year, has been a real privilege I’ll cherish forever.

But, having the opportunity to work with students who are at that critical time in their lives, grappling with who they are, who they want to be, and what their place is to be in the world, is exciting. And, having the opportunity to try to ‘light that fire’ in students about English is something I’ve always liked about working with students in Years 9 and 10.

Another thing that wont change is that I’ll be intensely interested in the education technology, and how that supports the learning journey. My new school is a mixed environment, an Outlook teaching platform, with OneDrive for students and iPads as well. In the senior years there’s a BYOD program. It’s a hybrid kind of approach that I think will be interesting to work in, after a long time working with the (increasingly improving) MS Office, Exchange, and Windows notebook approach. I’ve really liked the change in direction Microsoft has taken in recent years, opening up the tools in multiple platforms and, of course, the continuing development of OneNote with the shared notebooks for teachers and students: still be the best learning tool I’ve seen. One tool I’ve never really worked with is the Chromebooks, even though I’ve been a gmail user, and Google Drive user personally for a long time. I also like their new approach to Photos. I want to keep my eye on how that educational technology is developing as I take on the new role and new tools for 2016.

I’m certainly looking forward to it, and will continue to post here periodically about the successes, failures, challenges and achievements of it all. For all those teachers starting to set up for the year ahead, I hope it’s a great one for you and your students.

Talk and Tek (the way I teach now)

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This week I was finishing up my planning for a unit of work in Literature loosely called ‘Views and Values’ and focusing, in this case, on the poetry of Adrienne Rich and the kinds of viewpoints about the world, as well as the underpinning values that emerge, in her work.

Rich is an American poet with strong feministic beliefs so, besides being an excellent poet, she’s ideally placed in this aspect of the course. Students need to work with the poetry but also unpack and analyse the way the author critiques society. It’s challenging, but also really interesting.

This is a senior Literature class, mostly of self-motivated students who are interested in the material and want to be there. It’s a privilege and makes teaching a pleasure. My teaching in this subject involves a lot of talk: discussion, student presentations, me talking (sometimes too much), students talking (in groups, pairs, or whole class) reading aloud, annotating, summarising, synthesising, analysing, coming to judgement and personal evaluation. Developing a reading, by talking it through, is the key I say.

But it’s not talk and chalk, but talk and tek, for me in my teaching these days. Quite a while ago now I pretty much stopped using the analog whiteboard altogether and projected the notes and discussion points on a screen via data projector; firstly using PowerPoint as the preferred note-taking tool, and then, as screen resolution improved to Word, and finally OneNote. Where is is today.

OneNote is a wonderful tool for organising and capturing note and research, but I find it also worked really well to organise the notes (and teaching) for a course. I’m sure I’ve written about this before, but my Literature OneNote notebook has a section for each text and pretty much a page for each lesson. It structures itself wonderfully as the lessons unfold. Students would have their OneNote notebook too, and I’d generally email them a OneNote page for homework, or with material to read. Moving notes around from email into OneNote is a bit of a pain, but it was still worth it.

This year, a lot of that approach changed as we’ve been trialling Office 265 and OneDrive. The game-changer here is the possibilities in OneNote Notebook Creator; a tool that takes a lot of the hassle out of setting up and maintaining OneNote as a learning tool, and adds some powerful features that simply weren’t possible or were really tricky to do before: a collaboration space and a personal shared notebook space with each student. You can read about the features on the Microsoft site, but I’ve used OneNote this year for course content delivery, for collaboration spaces for student groups, for a space for students to submit work for feedback and lots more. Its the main teaching tool I use.

Along with that, I’ve got a couple of standard technology tools I use and like. I like Padlet for online brainstorming, and use Schoology, thought not as much as last year, mainly for its assessment and feddback and assignment/homework completion qualities. I put student results up there so students are able to get their results online rather than wait and get the results in class in that social context. I also have used Office Mix to jazz up PowerPoints with audio and video, Office Sway a new tool for delivering information; you can see a Sway on an Adrienne Rich I put together HERE. (However, I’m thinking that the main use of Sway might be in students presenting their own findings and in their presentations, and use Diigo, online bookmarking to set up lists like Resources on Adrienne Rich, to supplement the classroom work and resources.

Funny, that after I’ve been so critical of Windows and the operating system and the Office tools, and am such a fan of the Apple ecosytem that the principle tools I find myself working and teaching with in 2015 are from Microsoft.

Microsoft Sway

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So, it’s only January 3rd but it’s too hot to go outside so I am having a look at some new online tools, trying to figure out the best way to work with my students in Year 12 Literature this year.

I’ll certainly continue to make OneNote the basis of the notes, and am looking forward to the new OneNote Notebook Creator and the possibilities of Office 365 which we’re introducing this year, but will I continue to use Schoology and what else could I be bringing to the classroom?

One new tool I saw is Microsoft Sway, which claims to be a bit of a cross between PowerPoint and other tools like Prezi (Prezi makes me a little dizzy!)

Still in development, I played around with using Sway to introduce the task conditions for the first text, Amadeus by Peter Shaffer. It allows you to create a ‘storyline’ of images, text and share that via a weblink which is scrollable and looks pretty good. More features are coming.

You can see the result HERE (I don’t think you can embed it yet) Looks pretty interesting. Here’s the promotional video from Microsoft:

Last days

blossom

That time of year thou mayst in me behold …

Hard to believe it is that time of year as my senior class is coming up to their final few lessons, the last week of timetabled classes before the ‘swot-vac’ and (varying) degrees of intensive study.

Every year I try to improve what I do as a teacher with these students, each year I probably get more critical of myself about what I should have done, said, intervened or fed back at stages during the year, and what difference that might or might not have made.

I’m not doing a post-mortem yet. I’ve put in place a series of consultation times, some intensive sessions on key texts, some lunchtime ‘lit talks’ combined with the other class and some online revision sessions using Adobe Connect. There’s plenty of learning yet, but when you do complete that last timetabled class, which happens this week, no matter how much revision you’ve got organised, you do feel a door closes. You work hard as a teacher to establish a positive learning culture, to work with the personalties of the students to get something bigger and more powerful than themselves. And then, it’s done. Happens every year, about this time.

Photo: Blossom, by Warrick

Use it or lose it

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That’s what they say about new learning don’t they? Put it into place straight away or it will never happen? It’s the old adage about those PD sessions you attend. You want to come home with at least one good idea  you can try tomorrow. That doesn’t test your very notion of being a teacher. And moves the students learning forward.

So, I was pleased to come home from a Critical Agenda day with Glen Pearsall, from Critical Agendas on Year 12 Literature with a swag of ideas and I’ve been trying them for the last two weeks. Some you know, of course, and just need reminding. Some were brand new. I liked Glen’s approach, which was focused on very practical strategies tied up with good research backing, and I liked his naming of these strategies as a kind of identifying common language.

Since the day I’ve talked more about ‘bundling’ evidence with the students, talked explicitly about ‘woven quotes’, have deconstructed and reconstructed the examiner’s report (as we did), have used Wordle (see above) to help unpack some key passages from Antony and Cleopatra, have used Wordle to compare student essays, have done the ‘May Essay, August Essay’ comparison, have done some peer to peer swapping and have completely rewritten my feedack sheet.

I was also reminded that the most important thing is that the students are doing the thinking and the work, and that despite the pressures of year 12 and getting ‘through’ the content, the richest, deepest learning is likely to come when students themselves are wrestling with the concepts, not being lead through them by the teacher.

Australian Poetry Library

There I was, at the conference last week, talking about my age old dream for a site that would allow access to a range of contemporary Australian poetry for a micro-payment and lo and behold, I’m told that such a site already exists.

Called the Australian Poetry Library, the site is funded by the Australian Copyright Agency. They say:

The Australian Poetry Library has been developed to promote a greater appreciation and understanding of Australian poetry by providing access to a wide range of poetic texts, many of which are now out of print, as well as to critical and contextual material relating to them, including interviews, photographs and audio/visual recordings. At present the site contains over 42,000 poems, which can be searched via keywords, and which are also indexed according to some selected poetic forms and main themes. It will be progressively developed over the coming years to include work by more poets, as well as more critical and contextual material.

Through keyword searches the site will allow teachers and/or students to select poems relating to a particular subject or theme that students are studying, and to create their own personal anthologies. Teachers and/or students will be able to download and print poems for a small fee, part of which is returned to the poets via the Copyright Agency Limited. Further reproduction, electronic display, email or other communication is not permitted except in reliance on the statutory licence scheme under Part VB of the Copyright Act 1968

Well worth a look, with thousands of poems available.

Should I be on “The Facebook”

In the normal classroom discussion the other day I was interested to find that everyone in the class (16 of them) have joined a Facebook group that one of them set up as a Literature study group. They’re all there, I asked and checked, and are discussing and asking questions and supporting each other (I hope) and pushing each other in the right directions (I hope)

I hope because I’m not sure. And I’m not sure because I’m not there. I’m not allowed to ‘friend’ students or be connected to them in social networks according to our school policy; a policy that I had a hand in developing. But, you’ve got to wonder. Here am I out here, trying to utilise our own online tools including a pretty decent wiki and blog setup, to get student collaboration and participation going and, here are they in there, doing it themselves, in their space, where they live, with the whole class.

I know you could argue that I shouldn’t be there, that it would change the dynamics if I was, and that they should have a space where they can test and re-test their ideas in their own way. True. And I don’t want to take over. But I could contribute, could support, could help shape that discussion and use that discussion to shape the classroom interactions and the things we do next. Could. Can’t.