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Archive for the tag “Literacy”

Countdown 2015! The Improving Writing presentation

Jasper m beastI’m presenting tomorrow at the English Teachers’ Association’s Annual Conference. The presentation is an update of my work as a literacy consultant. For those who’ve seen it before, my presentation is based on a course I developed for an across KLA audience but I have adapted it several times for different KLA’s, student audiences, different contexts and different delivery timeframes.
Previously with English teachers I’ve used John Foulcher’s ‘Summer Rain’ as a related text but I’ve moved to The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello, which is better suited to discovery.
The presentation’s meant to cover a number of bases. It’s meant to in the first case provide information and strategies for teachers who are less familiar with grammar and literacy within English. It’s also meant to give teachers in schools who have to work as part of literacy committees some information that will help them move their schools away from narrow, NAPLAN-based approaches to literacy. Finally it’s designed to continue the conversation. I’ve suggested a range of practical strategies designed to improve students’ writing and outlined a framework that structures the process. But I know that others will take this in their own directions; I encourage you to do so.
The PowerPoint for Friday’s presentation is here: Improving Writing ETA Nov 14 v4
The handout I prepared included my article from last year’s mETAphor, Issue 3. Members can download this from the ETA’s website.
I also included some sample paragraphs to start the conversation. These are here: jasper morello paragraphs v5
Elsewhere on the blog you’ll find previous versions of this course should you wish. Or you can just get in touch. I’ll see a large group of you at conference tomorrow, I’m sure.


Students don’t answer the question because….

Answering the question is a hard thing to do!

I wrote about this in the last edition of mETAphor (if you’re an ETA member, here’s the link: http://www.englishteacher.com.au/Resources/mETAphor.aspx. If you’re not a member, sorry – I was paid for the article so I need to not republish it here for a while!)

But I thought it was worth adding something to what I’ve already written. I’ve been reading some work by English (Standard) students and I’ve been thinking through the issue of BOS verbs in particular.

When the HSC examiners set a question they intend for it to be accessible to all students. Unlike other subjects, where a question might be targeted at ‘Band 3’ or ‘Band 6’, in English questions are often targeted at ‘Bands 2-6’.

What this means is that the questions are written in such a way that only the very best students are going to be able to balance all of the elements. Think about this year’s HSC question on the poetry of Wilfred Owen, for example:

Owen’s poems present the reader with a powerful exploration of the impact of human cruelty on individuals.

How does Owen achieve this in his poems?

In your response, make detailed reference to your prescribed text.

Look at everything that students are being asked to address.  Students who were doing what their teachers told them to and circled the key terms in the question would need to address ‘powerful exploration’, ‘impact’, ‘human cruelty’, ‘individuals’, ‘how’ and ‘achieve’. That’s a lot to cover! It’s no wonder that some students, when they see a question like this, latch onto one thing they understand and centre their essay on it. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of students just dealt with the horrors of war Owen describes, for example.

What I’m noticing in particular, though, is that the BOS verbs fit very nicely with what students do: some students working at an elementary level can identify some features of the text. Then there’s those who can describe. A student who’s doing okay can explain – they might tell me about the horrors of war in Owen’s poems, with some details drawn from the poems. A better student can analyse, going beyond the content of the poems to their effect. And the best students can evaluate, talking about the differences between poems and their effect on the reader.

I was visiting at my old school last week and I wandered into a class and shared this observation with them, and encouraged them to work their way up from identifying and describing to explaining, analysing and evaluating – and they were shocked at the revelation that the BOS verbs were applicable to English! Of course, they are – but how often have we bothered to make this explicit? Or to incorporate it into our teaching? As a way of developing quality writing in senior students, it’s a nice little framework. It’s different from my ‘six point plan’ strategy but hey, there’s more than one way to get to your favourite coffee shop.

Somewhere in there, there’s an explicit literacy lesson! I’m working two jobs at the moment so I don’t have the alertness levels necessary to develop it – but perhaps someone out there might want to develop a nice little QT literacy lesson?

Improving Writing 2013

I’ve been running the Improving Writing in your KLA course again this week – for about the nineteenth time. Last week I ran the students’version that I put together for Hunter River again as well – this time in Maitland. Naturally I can’t avoid tinkering with this course and of course it’s going to change according to audience but here’s the latest version of the PowerPoint Improving Writing in Your KLA May 2013 and the course handout Improving Writing in Your KLA May 2013 Improving Writing May 2013 Handout.

For those who haven’t seen these before, please note that I’m happy for you to use them – but please respect copyright by acknowledging the creators. That’d be the consultants who contributed to the project – and me.

Given the way that the Improving Literacy and Numeracy National Partnership initiative suddenly consumed my time in the first couple of weeks, it was nice to get back onto familiar ground. I particularly enjoyed working with the students at Muswellbrook. Maybe I’m starting to miss the classroom!

SF Formative fun

SF formative fun image

Bianca Hewes, in her blog, set the challenge:

“… there are the usual ways of getting students to do a quiz, answer a question or two in a discussion or write a brief reflection on learning in a learning journal. These are great but can become monotonous for students and for teachers. Variety forces people to think in new ways and fall out of over-used patterns of thought.”

Here’s my response: I’ve been working on a new syllabus unit for Year 9, based around Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, looking particularly at cyborgs in SF. The emphasis is on understanding the constructed nature of the genre. So here’s my high-interest formative activity that gives students a chance to play with constructing an image then checks out their ability to discuss some of the central ideas.
See what you think. The activity is here: SF formative fun

Details of the source of the article are in the link.

More of the same

On Thursday I’m delivering my Improving Students’ Writing workshops to teachers in a couple of schools. The latest version of the workshop’s PowerPoint is here.

And here’s the new version of the handout. Improving Writing Workbook Dec 12

This is the ‘compilation’ version of the workshop, designed for two hours. There’s a lot of material from a lot of different subject areas so I’m hoping this will be useful outside of English.

I’m planning to run Improving Writing – the full day version – again next year, now that my contract’s been extended. Oh, and there’s a whole range of work samples uploaded on the edmodo group that goes with the course. The group number is at the end of the PowerPoint,  if you’d like to join.

All the best for Christmas!

Teaching SF

I’m working over the next couple of weeks on drafting up a couple of ‘new syllabus’ units.

 The first one I’m working on is based around Marissa Meyer’s book Cinder. It’s a Cinderella style cyborg love story, so naturally I’m re-working a genre unit. I’d like this to be contemporary, edgy, funky… engaging in other words. I mean yes, I love Ray Bradbury, but there are only so many times that I can teach ‘There will come soft rains.’

 So I’m looking for good ideas. Where would you all go with this?

 It’d be nice if the Borad of Studies  interactive programming tool was available, but we have to wait until day 1 next year for that. And right now, I have a bit of time on my hands. Naturally I’ll be sharing the final product so if you’ve got a moment, let me know your thoughts.

What do exemplary teachers look like?

There’s a lot of nonsense talked about what makes a good teacher a good teacher. The idea that you could measure it using NAPLAN, or even HSC results is laughable. But how do we decide what a good teacher is or isn’t?

Wayne Sawyer’s talk from the Five Bells conference had a really radical idea: maybe we should talk to the students. Not in a shallow, ‘which teachers do you like’, ‘ratemyteacher’ way. Wayne suggested that exemplary teachers have students who typically associate themselves with ‘engaging messages’. In short the students, if asked, will say this sort of thing:

– ‘We can see the connections and the meaning in what we learn’
– ‘I am capable.’
– ‘We can do this together.’
– ‘It’s great to be a kid from…’
– ‘We share…’

What it makes me think about, though, is how many of my students would say these same things? In my context I don’t see a lot of students in poverty but if I’m doing my job well, shouldn’t they have the same messages? I’m guessing that some of my students would have messages more like these:

– ‘what we learn is challenging but I don’t always see the connection’

– ‘I’m not as capable as others in the class’

– ‘I can get help if I need it but I need to do this on my own’

– ‘This school’s okay’

– ‘I produce the work I have to’

They are, to a greater or a lesser degree, disengaged. And in my context, because my students are more likely to be compliant, this can be a hidden problem. Is there some evidence of it? Parental complaints about assessment tasks, parental non-attendance at Parent/ teacher nights, submission of work of minimum standard, students absent on the day of major tasks who don’t make completing it a priority, the number of students who use their digital devices for entertainment or peer connection rather than for programmed work…. I’m just listing the kinds of things my staff and I complain about. I think there has to be a link.

The challenge in my context  is to get teachers to re-think the way they interact with high-achieving students. If we take the view that schools are about more than knowledge and ability, that students need a voice, a sense of place and control over their own learning, that students feel more capable when they have a context for learning and a personal focus, then it has to have an impact on our students.

It may even show up as improved HSC results. Wouldn’t that be a shock!

Streaming -the alternatives

Here’s an interesting problem. Most schools have A stream classes in English and justify them on the grounds of Gifted and Talented policy, challenging the top end and so on. The problem is that they don’t work.

It’s not just me that’s saying this. There’s a lot of research. If you’ve heard of effect sizes, John Hattie’s way of measuring how effective educational changes or initiatives are, then I can tell you that streamed classes come out at around O.4. For those who haven’t, it means that all the effort of sorting students into classes, and all the parental feedback, and all the energy and effort leads to – the same outcomes as mixed classes.

But what’s the alternative? Particularly if we’re serious about improving student’s results, and making sure that our best students get the challenges they need in English?

One approach that might work could be the Junior Extension class. What if we had flexible classes in the Junior years, with students applying for a special placement for a semester on the understanding that they would return to a regular class? This would run at the same time as the students’ regular English class but would deliberately target an area of interest that students have elected to develop.

Students might elect a class with a creative and persuasive writing emphasis, or a special unit on code-breaking. Competitive Public Speaking and Debating? Film and Website Creation? Critically Responding to Australian Literature? Playwriting and Performance?

Administration would probably be no more onerous than streaming. And we might more effectively meet the needs of a greater range of students. What do you think?

Improving student writing – revised

ETA Improving Writing New version

On Monday I was at Hunter River High and I re-presented my workshop on improving writing. The revised version has all my lecture notes attached. I’ve also cleaned up the piano metaphor so it’s more central to the piece and said more about developing the conceptual.

Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor I’ve been getting a quick presentation together for Newcastle High School’s Year 8 Training Day tomorrow that I thought I’d share.

 I’m running a session on Letters to the Editor. Yes, I know, these days there’s other more immediate sorts of expositions, but it’s still worthwhile teaching this.

 The PowerPoint just brings a few things together in one place. It’s nothing new, really, but it does have a nice example of freewriting and I am fond of the graphic organiser. It’s probably great if you get that casual who needs a one-off lesson with Year 7 or 8.

Let me know what you think,

All the best

Stewart McGowan

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