vce

Talk and Tek (the way I teach now)

collaboration_2015-04-24_16-57-40

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.

Talking about persuasive writing

 

2013-05-12_20-59-03

And, to give perfectly equal limelight, I should mention too that I’m also presenting on persuasive writing techniques for English teachers at a couple of Nelson Secondary sessions. Persuasive writing is pretty important in the Victorian Certificate of Education English course and, of course, is now included in NAPLAN (national testing). So that’s been keeping me busy too.

If you’re in Melbourne and you want to come along, details are here.

Watch out for those computers: they might break down!

I thought it was great to see a Principal of a government school brave enough to come out this week and remind us all how silly it is (in this day and age) that we actually get students to hand-write long (ish)  pieces for important assessment, and call this a contemporary education.

Actually, Michael Phillips from Ringwood Secondary College didn’t need to remind me. I’ve told anyone who was foolish enough to stop and listen that the Year 12 exam must be about the last time many of these students will ever write anything substantial, thoughtful and structured by hand.

And, it’s not as if they’ve been handwriting through much of their school life.  My students, like the students at Ringwood, have been working with computers extensively and in a sustained way for most of their school assessment through years 7 to 10. Then we get all olde-worlde and put the computers away so students can get their pens out. What?

Or more precisely: why? When I’ve raised this with people from VCAA they’ll argue it’s about equity. Not everyone has had access to a computer so no-one can use one in the exam. And, if pushed, they’re worried about security too in a high-stake exam. But what about equity for students who have been learning, thinking and writing with these tools? ‘Put them away sonny, this is important’. Or equity for those students whose hand-eye coordination results in writing that doesn’t look as good as someone else?

The AGE reported that:

SIX weeks before VCE exams, students at Ringwood Secondary College dump the computer keyboards they have used since childhood and start practising their handwriting.

It’s a forced necessity, given students must write three-hour exams in longhand, that has principal Michael Phillips gritting his teeth. ”Illegible writing has become much more problematic in the last few years because kids are used to working on a keyboard,” Mr Phillips said. ”I think it’s ridiculous that in 2011 we are still doing pen and paper testing … It’s holding the learning back at a time when we’re actually saying there are a whole lot of skills they need for university and the workforce, which involve the use of technology.”

By 2000, we should have found ways of doing work differently.”

In 2007, the Rudd government launched its Digital Education Revolution, pledging every year 9-12 student would have a computer by the end of this year. Given this investment, Mr Phillips said there was no reason why there would be insufficient computers in schools for VCE students to sit their exams. He said assessment should be more sophisticated than students regurgitating facts they have memorised in essays. Instead, exams should test how students solve problems and research and analyse information within time constraints.

VCAA’s response was forthright:

Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority chief executive John Firth said in order to be fair, VCE exams needed to be sat under exactly the same conditions across the state. He said there were security risks with the use of technology and the possibility computers could break down. However, using computers was certainly an issue that had been raised, and the VCAA was keen to conduct trials using word processors in exams in lower year levels.

”Our strategic plan over the next three years is we want to make some progress along these lines, but we wouldn’t start with [VCE] English,” he said.

Hasten forward slowly!!

Below: ‘Dont use those modern brass instruments!!! They might break down’*

*Okay, not the best tie-in but I was looking for an olde-worlde illustration and this is the best I could come up with!