Thursday, October 28, 2004

head spins

Just another crazy day.

Began with a cluster (two high schools and about 5 primaries) literacy meeting where about 10 of us - english and literacy teachers were able to share strategies and ideas. We get together every term and talk about what's working and what's not - share success and talk about various projects that we have running. It's always good to get together with some interesting people and talk teaching. I ran a blogging session for about 1 1/2 hours where we talked about using blogging in the language arts/literacy classroom. We made our own blogs and talked about the possibilities for our classrooms. Seemed to be well received (is anyone reading? perhaps you have some feedback?)

This went all morning and didn't finish till about 1.30, by which time there was a long line of Y12 waiting for exam help. KB didn't make it to school today so I was left to deal with all the Y12 issues and anxiety. Most are well prepared - at least those who have regularly come in over the last week or so - but of course there are many who I'm sure a freaking out at the prospect of picking up a pen on Friday morning. KB and I are expecting an influx of late panicers tomorrow. We have been talking big - about being severe and not giving undue time to those who have consistently wasted ours during the year - not doing any work or by disrupting classes etc. but in the end we end up spending way too much time with all of them regardless of their behaviour throughout the year. I realise of course that part of helping these students prepare for this exam is helping them calm down and stay focussed and confident about themselves. Even the brightest sparks are getting antsy.

After spending the afternoon photocopying practice exam topics and reading hastily written essays, I shot off to the first interview of the second round for this portfolio project I'm involved in. This high school (government) is not close and I was getting stressed - I spend way too much time with the Y12s, but amasingly I managed to arrive on time.

I've got to say that it was a great interview. We were missing a couple of people who where there last time, but this seemed to create a different dynamic, one that worked really well. We had a great conversation (they are group 'interviews') and I was really impressed by these intelligent, passionate, articulate, interesting teachers. I would love to work more closely with them and will have to think about a project or something that may be appropriate (something with VATE perhaps - in fact I'm getting an idea already ... maybe the beginning teachers' conference, yeah). It's funny but when we turned the tape recorder off, the conversation turned even more interesting. These sessions are wonderful professional development for me as much as I hope they are for those we talk to.

Anyway, I feel very lucky to be involved with conversations like these, and am looking forward to doing the other interviews - next one on Friday.

Mshoff has made some interesting comments about reflection, and I want to take them up, but this will have to be at another time. I have some marking, preparation, and sleep to work on; just the usual.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

no bub yet

still waiting - five days and counting

Personal and public domains

I'm sitting in the library alone - it's after school and there is no one about. Mind you it's actually only 3.54pm. I came in here to just test some projection equipment and the old lappy - a presentation on blogging tomorrow morning. The library is supposed to be open till 4pm and the computer guys are here a little longer than that - only like I said there is no one here.

Despute this dodgy situation, I've been heatened by an couple of things in the last few days ...

First, the fantastic kids (seniors - Year 12) who have their final English Exam of their high school careers on Friday morning 9am - 12.15pm - yeah, that's quite a long one (Final exam? well for most anyway - some may be back next year!) Formal classes finished a week ago today, so since then I'VE had the opportunity to sit one-on-one with some great minds. Those who are really committed and who want to do well and who are wlling to put in some mammoth efforts - warms the heart it does. I'm sure the others want to do well - but other things seem to get in the way. I can sooo relate to that.

The other heartening things is kind of brought about by the Y12s finishing up. I now have more time and thought space for my cute and mostly fun year 7 and 8s. They of course would 'spew' if I said this in front of them, but I actually really like spending time with them - mostly. So I have written a comparative film unit (Mulan-Spirited Away) and I'm enjoying it as much as I hope they are.

There are some grumbles too.

Part has to do with my Y8s - who are constantly telling me 'You give us too much work' - of course, this is a typical refrain and I actually get some sadistic pleasure in hearing this from them. Today they also asked if this film unit (above) was Y8 standard (Yes I understand that Mulan might be a tad 'young', but that is not what they meant). The feeling was that I was expecting to much from them - a work standard and work ethic that was too high. Of course, we then discussed the value of the 'learning' work that we are 'engaged' in and how this class is preparing them to be whatever they want to be in the future and all that jazz.

I had to tell them that I don't appologise for the work we do, or the level of committment or thinking that I require of them (don't get me wrong here - I believe that they are all great kids and that they can do this stuff no problem). I guess it's interesting that they develop their own sense of what level Y8 'work' means (they talk to friends in other classes etc.) I think it's great that they also feel they can challenge my assumptions too. Generally, the kids here are happy, friendly and fun, but they can be very lazy - some don't see the point of trying hard and putting in the effort. Of course, this is tough when you have some brilliant kids but they can't be bothered.

I remember my good friend Ilana Snyder once said (and I'm paraphrasing) that when teachers loose their drive, impulse and passion to push kids to their intellectual and motivational limits (whatever these may be for each student) then the teacher needs to reasses why they're teaching. That has always stayed with me.

Anyway, I guess that is not much of a gripe. But it does get KB and I thinking about some of our colleagues and how to fire them up about this fantastic job of ours. For me that is one of the tensions and conumdrums that I live with - understanding how the personal domain of teaching is mediated in large ways by the public domain. That a jaded teacher is not just a jaded teacher - as if we all work in a vacuum and make decisions independent of the myriad other factors that constrain and influence our work, decisions, beliefs, policys, emotions, histories, politics, economics, timetables, whatever.

Yeah, personal and public.

Walking the tightrope.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

a sad day for Australia?

John Howard has won his fourth election victory.

the dream of life

Sometimes this teaching life is a continual round of Monadays and Fridays.

Sometimes I'm stuck in a forever Tuesday ...

Sunday, October 03, 2004

back to it then ...

Term 4 begins tomorrow and I'm excited and anxious to get back into it. i have had a great break and been able to do some quality thinking (I'm trying to write a chapter for a book coming out next year, tentatively called 'Writing=Learning') and I think I have the outline generally formed - it needs some work, so I'm hoping that in about 3 or 4 weeks things will begin to wind down at school and I'll have time to do some writing in the evenings (yeah, yeah, perhaps I'm dreaming, but what else do I have?) The Y12s finish in 2 1/2 weeks, the Y11s in 5, which leaves me with my junior classes, which are more 'fun' anyway. Can't say I'll be sorry to see some of my seniors go - except that I worry about their futures and the futures of the people they will no doubt come in contact with.

Oh, hang on a sec, Emma will have the baby soon (4 weeks till due date) so I'm not sure what I'm thinking about ... I WILL HAVE NO TIME TO WRITE ANYTHING!

Saturday, October 02, 2004

the journey continues ...

Some more from mshoff,

Adhering to the George principle that the true value of the research often emerges as you conduct the research, I'm struggling to frame my study in any coherent manner. I know what I want to do, I know the main points I'm interesting in studying, but I can't get my actual questions to say what I want them to say. I always struggle with research questions, not actually asking questions but creating valid research questions with a capital R and Q. I feel like I should know what the research is going to tell me in order to write the research questions, which completely misses the point of conducting research. Maybe I'm not inquisitive enough. Maybe I'm just willing to investigate a general area and see what develops throughout the study. The latter sounds better but it doesn't help me write my proposal any faster.

I remember feeling this way, and still do. Rather than work against this process, which is really a traditional, positivistic type paradigm, qualitative research must make a claim for a differnt type of knowing and development. The idea that you can write the research questions, do the reading and lit review, then go and do the reserach, then write up the 'findings', is I think, insane in some ways. The idea of research in education, and one that investgates reflection or conversation or learning or anything dynamic like that, is one that needs to be wide enough to accept what I would call (and many others before me of course) an 'emergent research design'. Research that 'mirrors' or attempts to reflect the learning process itself. I guess this idea cuts across others like action and practioner research. The kind of work that Johnny Loughran has been doing for years (he is a lovely guy actually, and a wonderful teacher). mshoff continues,

I can deal with the ambiguity of reflective practice, since it keeps the act of reflection flexible. No one really agrees on a definition of reflective practice, although most draw from with Dewey or Schon, and there is constant discussion over whether reflection is individual or collaborative. One thing I'm not finding in the literature, though, is whether reflection must be written to count as reflective activity. Does reflective discussion count? Can a group of teachers - pre-service teachers, too - sit down over coffee, have a thoughtful conversation, replete with past events and solutions for the future, and call that reflective practice? I don't see why not - but it does feel a bit like the "if a tree falls in the woods" argument.

This one is really intersting, as it's basically what I tried to have a go at arguing in my honours thesis. 'Can a group of teachers - pre-service teachers, too - sit down over coffee, have a thoughtful conversation, replete with past events and solutions for the future, and call that reflective practice?' I would say wholeheartedly, YES! I would argue that this is often the best form of professional learning available to teachers in these times of 'PD' that is one-size-fits-all, reductionist, that ignores teacher knowledge and basically 'inducts into ideological compliance' (Locke, 2003). There is a lot of writing on this subject (I can give some refs if anyone wants em).

Sometimes I wonder if I should go back and teach high school again. If I did that before writing my dissertation, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't finish the PhD. And if I went back to teaching after finishing my PhD, I'd probably shoot myself in the proverbial foot - how would I look to a university as a potential professor if I went back to high school rather than scaling the ivory tower? Still, sometimes I really feel the disconnect between university and secondary school. How can I teach students how to be good teachers of high school students if I'm not involved with high school students? I can't draw on my past teaching experiences forever, especially since each year that passes put those years of experience more firmly in the past. Could I teach for a semester while I was writing the dissertation? No, not the way I teach: all or nothing. I wouldn't have the energy or the focus to write after teaching all day - and grading, and monitoring, and cheering, and talking, and walking, and everything else that goes with teaching. I don't want to become one of those professors completely divorced from the reality of high school teaching but I'm not quite sure how to avoid that future without the constant reinforcement of working with teenagers.

Ah, THE CONUNDRUM for beginning researchers-aspiring academics. In the back of my mind I see a change in the way teacher education is set up; a change in the academy-school binary; a change in recognition of the value of teacher knowledge and professioalism; a change in the attitidues of teachers and academics/teacher educators towards each other and towards their work; a change in the conditions of work that might just enable teachers and academics to work together and in tandem; a change that might just enable teachers to talk with one another about their work, and to blog if they choose.

Anyway, thanks mshoff for an hour of thinking pleasure.

a fellow traveler

mshoff, thank you, thank you, thank you. All very interesting reading of course - and so much I can relate to.

Here is a young, hip (my kind of hip anyway), committed, intelligent, teacher-researcher-academic strutting her stuff. Professional learning, technology, blogs, teacher education, dialogue, reflection, critical action, writing - it's all there.

I guess I get excited when someone thinks and talks and asks questions similar to me. Blogging is a marvellous tool in this sense.

I've read the entire back catalogue and have picked out some juicy issues - ones that I struggle with and enjoy too.

My main focus is really reflection and technology - can the emerging technology of blogs (yes, I know they're old hat for the majority of the computer world but they're still relatively new to education) impact reflection in any significant and/or positive way? Could something as simple (relative term) as a technological improvement over pen and paper increase the quantity, if not the quality, of pre-service teacher reflection?

This is interesting since blogging has potential as a personal reflection tool, but more importantly (at least I think) as a collaborative reflection tool. Literacy and technology studies (i.e. anything to do with language and technology) has some interesting ground to cover in terms of the ways that communications and learning and reflection are MEDIATED by technologies and our uses of them. How is it different, or better, or harder, or whatever because we are using this different medium and way of ordering and representing experience?

I know that Monash (or at least English method - Brenton and Graham) are toying with the idea of using blogs in the course - and I'm sure that there is potential for a study here - similar perhaps to mshoff's. In terms of highschool use - this is one that I'm closer to presently and attempted (however tentatively) with blogaboutblogs. I believe it can 'increase the quantity, if not the quality' of reflection and writing, but that this is obviously not a given - that, as mshoff mentions elsewhere, there are many factors that influence someones interest and engagement in the refective process.

I think I'll break this into two posts ...

Ah, but it was heartening to see Eliot's Four Quartets getting some blogtime, and Little Gidding! I just reread this the other day too! See funeral post ...

But, I must say I can't understand whole Sting thing!


Friday, October 01, 2004

More graphic novel stuff

Interesting and surprising article in The Age on Saturday - graphic novels. Includes some links etc. 'Picture this' by Juliette Hughes

"Graphic novels, or comics, or whatever you want to call them, give ultimate power to the reader. You are in cahoots with the preoccupations of the artist as your gaze travels the obsessive line. You start to examine the meaning, the iconography, you become your own Sister Wendy, slavering over beauty or eye-locked to horror. With graphic novels (or comics, or whatever you want to call them) you can take it all slowly, or pass over it quickly; whatever you do, the eye is swift and takes in more than you know."