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Metropolis 1984 Visual Summary

I wrote an article for the English Teacher’s Association journal mETAphor last year where I mentioned that I had a PowerPoint available on my blog. Naturally, I am finally getting around to publishing the PowerPoint. Here it is: metropolis-summary-slides-end.

The idea’s one I’ve used before. It’s about using summary skills to deepen students’ understandings of complex text. The task is simple: choose six key screenshots from the second-last chapter of Metropolis and relate them to the rubric. The PowerPoint has a model, a guided activity and shots for some independent work.


The Walking Dead. A Marxist Reading

Okay, a faux Marxist reading.

I was messing around with some friends on one of my favourite political sites on a slow night. I’d been talking to Year 12 about alternative readings of texts, so when someone suggested that reading The Walking Dead in bizarre ways might be fun, I chimed in. Below, written in facebook speak, is my faux Marxist reading of The Walking Dead.

God, you all sound like the conservative twats who wouldn’t know social policy if it bit them. The zombie apocalypse as portrayed in Walking Dead is a construction designed to cater to right wing thought. Survival of the fittest over social co-operation. Why is Trump so successful? Because of the fiction of the walking dead!

The zombies are constructed as a parody of the left. They represent, for rightards, the fate of those addicted to social welfare and ‘nanny state’ handouts, a shuffling unproductive mass that cruelly pillories working people. The gay abandon with which the Ayn Rand Atlas Shrugged-esque protagonists blow the crap out the Zombies is in fact a paen to the anti-Union propaganda of the nutbar libertarian right.

And don’t get me started on the denial of science inherent in the shifting ‘rules’ by which the zombies shuffle. Clearly a product placement from the denialists at Heartland.

Naturally I have only watched occasional episodes but I reckon you’d need to be brain-dead yourself not to see this as propaganda straight from the Tea Party libertarians designed to undermine Obama and all the advances of his Presidency.

If you wish to baffle a Year 12 class, feel free to borrow some of my excessive language. It led to an interesting conversation about the significance of social cohesion in TWD…

Games in the classroom meets Focus on Reading

In the last mETAphor I published an article identifying a few games that were appropriate for use in the classroom. (If you’re an ETA member you can access the article here: http://www.englishteacher.com.au/. Login and you’ll get access to the issue.)

This week I did some work incorporating one of the games into our Year 8 Horror unit. Terry Cavanagh’s game Don’t Look Back, published by Kongregate, is a deceptive, 8-bit style game that at first seems like an old-fashioned 80’s platformer. When you play it, though, you begin to realise that it is re-telling the Orpheus story. Most of my class were able to play the game through in less than a period. Don't_Look_Back

Playing a game through and relating it to the story is one thing, using the experience as part of learning in the classroom is another. So I designed a couple of lessons. I’ve also done a fair bit of work on Focus on Reading, so I decided to incorporate aspects of literacy teaching best practice into the lessons. The result is this PowerPoint. It includes the early activities where students play the game through and then the explicit literacy teaching. Horror writing 8 v2

Naturally this is available for use in classrooms but I expect that my copyright will be acknowledged. Leave my name on the slides, folks. If you are in a Focus on Reading school or you decide to modify and improve the work for your own classes, I’d love to know how this goes.

Dystopian SF. As a play? Yep!

Here’s something that I took on as a bit of a challenge: Come unto these yellow sands It’s a short play I wrote for a ‘Play in a Day’ event at Newcastle Theatre Company. I went in with ideas about writing social realism but it finished as dystopian SF!

The challenge of it appealed to me: how do you put SF on stage convincingly? My base was a story I’d written as part of some workshopping with Year 11. An isolated mountain shelter hut, night coming on, one person, alone – and there’s a knock on the door. I’ve added a few of my favourite SF tropes: the rising tide, society without controls, a world without electronics…

It’s set in a school, and it’s my school. Hunter Performing Arts really is built on a reclaimed swamp and was badly damaged in the 2007 floods. So the idea of the school being abandoned because of rising waters and bull sharks hunting in the old stormwater drains isn’t so far from my experiences as I’d like!

SF aficionados will probably pick up on my sources. For others, I found inspiration in a variety of works. Russell Hoban’s Ridley Walker, several of the stories in Jack Dann’s collections Dreaming Down Under and Dreaming Again – particularly the references to the nuclear barges of the Traders come from here. And yes, I’ve always had a fascination with code and code breaking. The misinterpretation of messages is my favourite part of the plot.

I should say something about my decision to write pieces of it in verse. I’ve just finished a major adaptation of Robert Gott’s book, Good Murder, for the stage. The main character’s a Shakespearean actor so it made sense to write a lot of the dialogue as verse. So it was stuck in my head as a pattern while I wrote this. What really strikes me, though, is how well iambic pentameter fits with Australian rhythms and accents. Writing SF for me is about lending significance to events, the metaphorical and metonymic power of the unfamiliar. Adding verse into the dialogue adds to this sense of significance, I think.

The play is free for use in classrooms. Please respect copyright by leaving my name on it if you make copies! If you were to do a production, get in touch with me re the rights. A small donation to a favourite theatre company of mine will probably cover it!

The Metropolis/ 1984 Project.

I’m starting work in the next few weeks on a major project for the new text lists in NSW. As part of a comparative study of texts and contexts, students for the 2015 HSC will be able to compare text and context for Lang’s Metropolis and Orwell’s 1984.

I’m going to use my blog as a collection point for resources I find useful or relevant to the project. This will need to be curated, I’m sure. there’s so much out there on both texts and not a lot of it is useful. But I figure it’s worth having a central point where I share the thoughts, ideas and resources as I go along. Eventually all of this will inform my work on the English Teachers’ Association’s writing team for the project and the lectures and so on I’ll be preparing.

 So here’s my first site that is worth a look: It’s from Michael Organ at the University of Wollongong. A nice, comprehensive republishing of reviews from 1927 along with a compendium of artwork and a lovely detailed referencing of other useful material. http://www.uow.edu.au/~morgan/metroa.htm.

This is my starting point. I’ll let you know how it all goes!

Challenging fixed ideas

Eng in Aus 48One of the advantages of being a consultant is that sometimes you find yourself in the office for a day – and you have time to do some professional reading! It’s a luxury, especially when you’re used to the colour and movement of an English staff room.

And today, I’ve been reading the latest English in Australia. That’s this one – if you have an ETA membership, you’ll have it on your desk somewhere.

There’s an article in there by Jennifer Watson that turns a lot of the accepted ideas about how we work with classes on their heads. In it she compares ‘open approaches’ with ‘directed approaches’ to the teaching of text in English. The big question she’s looking at is how these different approaches affect engagement and comprehension for different students.

What she concludes is surprising. She turns conventional wisdom on its head and concludes that more open approaches can be more successful with less able students, while more directed approaches benefit the more capable! Given that most teachers – and I’ll include myself in this – would generally say that less able students need more ‘structured’ activities and more specific tasks if they’re going to get anything out of a text.

This is a startling idea.  And additionally, there’s a real challenge to anyone who is teaching gifted and talented students in English. Jennifer’s article maintains that more capable students achieve less well with open activities! In her words:

“…evidence that academically stronger students – rather than academically weaker students – performed at a lower level during the Open Approach, challenges much research, particularly (suggestions) that a more explicit, authoritative teaching approach is better suited to ‘students for whom a text may be more challenging'”

If, like me, you’re one of the people who has simply tabled or filed English in Australia in the past, I’d recommend having a close look at this particular number. Jennifer’s article, ‘Engagement and Autonomy…’ is on page 23.

Hunter ETA New Syllabus – the follow-up!

Thanks to everyone who attended the Hunter ETA’s new syllabus event at Hunter Performing Arts last week. As promised, this is the post with all the follow-up links. If you weren’t at the afternoon, there should still be interesting stuff for you here. Have a browse…

First of all, if you’d like to evaluate the evening, click on the following link. This will take you to google docs where there is a simple, ‘type your comment here’ form. Here’s the link: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1rvMxxZbI5171cgbdYL5oEEOQ2fJjwXfKj3UL2bNlU5s/edit?usp=sharing.
Now, here’s the PowerPoint I used to drive the evening. A lot of the following resources are referenced in the PowerPoint but if you are working with your staff and have limited time, this may work for you as a summary. ETA New Syllabus Pres 26 Mar

If you liked the horoscope activity, it’s here. English Teaching horoscope I’m particularly fond of it and may trot it out on one or two other occasions…

I referred during the evening to some of the work Mel Dixon and Eva Gold presented at the ETA New Syllabus day. This is also available from the ETA’s website but I’ll include it here to save you hunting. Here is Mel and Eva’s critical reading of the new syllabus PowerPoint. Programming new syllabus1No pics And here is Karen Yager’s conceptual planning PowerPoint. Conceptual Programming 2012_KYager

I didn’t talk about them at the workshop but Karen also talked about one of her units in detail on the day. You can find these by going to the link on the last page of the PowerPoint but I’ve included them here ProgSt4ThroughMyWindow and here. ThroughMyWindowSupplementaryTexts

The scaffold activity, designed to get teachers thinking more conceptually about programming English, is here. ETA mapping concepts blank The ‘answer sheet’ excel document is here. ETA MappingConceptsSt5

I referred to the DEC’s course a few times. To save you whipping back to the portal, the Activity book is here. activities_all I’ll also add the presenter’s notes. Presenter_notes  To do the Outcome 5 jigsaw requires you to be logged onto the DEC portal but the manual version of that activity is here. Stage 5 Outcome 5 jigsaw

Okay, if any of that doesn’t work, let me know!

Extension. Improving Results

Hi all,

This is probably the last thing you want to think about with the trials coming out your ears, but I was having a conversation with some colleagues and this came up. Okay, I know, you’re busy. File this for later. I’ll put it on my blog as well, just in case you lose it.

The problem relates to my own context in my old school. Although the Extension English results there have had their highs, they’ve also been inconsistent. So I asked this question: if I were to go back to my old school, what would I want this very professional, highly competent team to do to improve results in Extension?

Here’s the solution I came up with. Now it’s likely that you will disagree with me, or that you will think this has no relevance in your context, but I thought it was worth putting this out there.

I’ve attached a really quick piece of reading – it’s an example of the research that justifies this approach.

See what you think!

First of all, some context:

• Around 110 students across the Hunter do Extension 2 English in any year.
• Extension is not just for Band 6 students but it does require students to engage with higher level concepts and language.
• It also requires a particular mind-set from students: they have to have a love of critical and creative language and an ability to ‘set their own agenda’.
• Some students who elect to do Extension 1 will do so because it is the pre-requisite for Extension 2 – and they want to write! These students may require a more guided approach in Extension 1.
• (This school) has a very experienced staff that others in the Region turn to for advice. They are knowledgeable, professional and have strong, positive relationships with students.
• Improving results has been a part of our faculty plan for a long time! We have already undertaken a range of strategies to lift results and these have impacted on teacher expertise and results. It was only seven years ago that we were working to lift results into Band 5!
• However, all of the staff who have taught Extension agree that improvement is possible.

Data analysis

• With small cohorts, data is only an imprecise indicator
• It’s also important not to over-analyse data
• Across the region, data indicates that top band results are below state average. However, this is a challenge that we as professionals have the ability to meet.
• Other styles of analysis – particularly comparing Extension results with other subjects for individual students – suggests that some students have not performed as well in Extension as they may have wished.
• The conclusion that more of our students in Extension could do better than they have is a fair one.

Exam reports

Notes from the Marking Centre provide us with some guidance about the future.

Extension 1 is here: http://www.boardofstudies.nsw.edu.au/hsc_exams/hsc2011exams/notes/english-extension-1.html

Looking at, for example how we get students to ‘fluent integration of theory, contextual ideas, textual forms and features, and generic conventions’ could provide worthwhile directions for the future.

Extension 2 is here: http://www.boardofstudies.nsw.edu.au/hsc_exams/hsc2011exams/notes/english-extension-2.html

Looking for example at how we get students to ‘explicitly explain how they have manipulated form, features and structures of text in order to position audiences’ could be worthwhile.

Action Plan Part 1: Building expertise

• Presently a lot of the strategies that we have worked on have involved building our knowledge of the subject matter in Extension. There is obviously a continuing need to do this through ETA conferences and workshops, and other professional learning.
• Including other staff in professional learning about the teaching of Extension courses is also important. There are several faculty members who are more than capable but who have not yet had the opportunity to teach Extension.
• More detailed information and experience with the marking of Extension English is essential. The Hunter ETA’s Extension day is a starting point but we may also need to host a specialist SM or SOM for a day; the ETA’s ‘Inside HSC Marking’ day provides us with a model for this kind of course in our school. We could also invite other schools to attend if this were set up in the Hunter.
• A specific request from the Principal to the SED requesting the support of the 7-12 Literacy Co-ordinator in establishing such an event is recommended.

Action Plan Part 2: Building quality

Research suggests some other strategies that could be particularly effective in improving outcomes.
• Mandating ‘feed forward’ strategies in assessment tasks (in line with the research by Dinham) is one high gain strategy. Karen Yager’s experience and the research into the field show that spending time on ‘feed forward’ strategies is more likely than any other strategy to have a significant impact on results.
• Specifically, including in assessment tasks a consultation time, where a student can discuss the draft of their work with a teacher, may seem time-consuming but is likely to yield a larger improvement in quality than any amount of time spent on additional programming, for example.
• Higher expectations of Extension students could be embedded in the course. For example, a moodle or edmodo-driven writing program that required students to submit drafts of their writing every week in Year 11, building a portfolio of pieces, could be of particular value. Mandating commentary on the writing of others, establishing a community of writers who work together, could be the goal. The Year 11 writing assessment could then draw upon one piece from the student.
• Other suggestions about raising expectations should be canvassed with the attitude that we are helping students achieve their potential rather than just ‘making them work harder’ High expectations has to involve quality experiences, not just more handouts to read and summaries to make.
• The assumption here is that teaching the craft of writing is a particular skill. The activities included in a range of books on creative writing differ significantly from the later years literacy skills we build through critical writing activities.
• Interviewing prospective Extension students would be a way of establishing these high expectations and advising students of the suitability of the course.
• Establishing a ‘quality teacher round’ within English with the specific goal of improving Extension results should be considered. In short, this would involve teachers in the ‘round’ observing each other’s lessons and reflecting professionally about quality teaching. Establishing a team-based approach to Extension would require an investment of time, one that would need support from the TPL budget, but the research on this says that it will be more effective at improving outcomes than a whole range of other strategies.

And finally:

Together, ‘feed forward’ strategies and quality teacher round strategies have the potential to lift student achievement. Karen Yager’s experience, where she lifted her school from zero to thirty Band 6’s, was based around these concepts. Yes, they would require an investment of time and TPL, but they seem to me to be the most likely way forward with this problem.

Dinham feedback article

So Who Goes To University?

I was sitting here in my office, reading emails from HSPA about marking trial exams….

This may be something that you right mouse click and save for later, but it’s very interesting information about where our students go to. There is an executive summary that’s only one page long and suggests good, practical ways to encourage university pathways with our students.

When you’ve got time for the whole thing, you’ll see that several Hunter schools are mentioned in the document. If your school’s already seen this document – hey, at least someone else noticed.

Back to my real work. Neil Fara has put me onto a site that helps make your PowerPoints even sexier. Mmmm, sexy PowerPoints.





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