Archive for December, 2009

5 reasons why HSC and ATAR scores make the angels cry

  1. The Australian Tertiary Enrance Rank (ATAR – formerly UAI in NSW) is, as its name suggests, a RANK.  A rank against other students.  This means that everything students have worked for over the HSC year is reduced to little more than a rung on the ladder, where it’s only possible for a few to stand at the top.
  2. Students who are competing for grades don’t tend to like helping each other learn.  The HSC encourages selfishness in learners.
  3. HSC marks are divided into BANDS.  Band 6 (marks of 90-100) is the highest.  Everyone wants a Band 6.  Or “at least a Band 5!”  In his review of the HSC in 1996 Professor Barry McGaw recommended the removal of Band labels, explaining that schools, students and parents were largely ignoring rich assessment feedback relating to actual learning outcomes.  Instead they were simply increasing pressure on kids to attain high status Bands.  But the NSW BOS ignored McGaw’s recommendation (and the NSW government later introduced mandatory A-E report grading for all primary and secondary students to boot…that’s when the angels really started howling)
  4. School is supposed to be a place where you receive an education that promotes social, emotional, physical and cognitive growth.  Credentialing methods that only report on academic achievement undermine the work that schools and communities to do to help students grow into healthy, happy and resilient human beings.
  5. There is no way to acknowledge students who are acheiving their personal best.  It’s all about who wins…and who loses.

Don’t even get me started on how the whole process is geared toward selecting which students will enter which University course – despite the fact that only 30% of students will actually go to University.  Or on the research findings of studies of the effect of stress, anxiety and depression on student motivation and goal orientation.  Or on how an exam driven curricula encourages teaching to the test over promotion of engagement and deep knowledge.

I don’t mean to take the buzz away from any Year 12 teacher or student out there today who is enjoying shiny results.  If you’re wondering, I’m very pleased with mine.  But the conversations I’ve had to listen to today (and every other year when these results bear down on schools) have made me sick to the stomach.  HSC and ATAR scoring is my very least favourite part of being a teacher…I hope the utopia I’ve heard about up here in Queensland is everything it’s cracked up to be.


Hit Refresh!

Last weekend I attended the English Teachers’ Association Annual Conference in NSW, which was held at the University of NSW on Friday 27th and Saturday 28th of November.  The conference theme was ‘Hit Refresh!’, so it was apt that this was the first conference we have run that had an officially constructed online aspect, using both Ning and Twitter to engage presenters and participants in discussion and networking before, after, and behind the scenes of the conference.

This (longish) post is a report I wrote on the success of these online tools at the conference.

Many educators by now have heard of ‘blogs’, ‘wikis’, and learning management systems such as Moodle, and hopefully we are fast approaching a time where the these strange names and terms are accepted as useful (rather than childish) jargon.  In the meantime, jokes about the ‘Ning-nang-nong’ and Twitter users being ‘twits’ will abound.  But while these tools might sound goofy, they are anything but. is an online tool that is fast gaining popularity with educators.  It combines many other features for writing and connecting online – such as being able to have a personal profile page, make ‘friends’ with other members of the Ning, write blog entries, add to discussion forums, and join sub-groups – and for that reason the term Ning was coined to describe the NetworkING that occurs on the site.  For our conference we created a Ning a few months ahead of the conference (, set up all of our conference workshops, presentation, keynotes and plenaries as ‘events’, invited presenters (first, then later, people who had registered for the conference)…and waited.

The response was slow but sure.  Before the conference had even started we had 70 people who had joined as members of the Ning.  ETA committee members and presenters who were keen to explore the Ning started adding discussions and material right away.  New presenters felt welcomed and included in the lead up to conference, and could ask questions and establish contacts with others before arriving on the big day.  On the Thursday before the conference, the number of members had grown to 130.  Many more joined up during and following the conference, and the count currently stands at 230 members.  Some presenters used the Ning directly in their workshops, getting participants to add their own questions, ideas and resources.  Many people were glad to have an easy way of contacting and keeping in contact with other members, and as many people did upload information about themselves, including a photo to their profile, there was a definite sense of familiarity and closeness at the ‘real life’ conference between Ning users.

As well as establishing a conference Ning, the micro-blogging service was used to ‘tweet’ short, 140 character updates from the conference, in particular from the Saturday morning panel on National Curriculum.  This allowed attendees to create a ‘backchannel’ at the conference, communicating with others from around the globe, as well as other members at the conference, about events as they happened.  Before the conference I blogged a description of a backchannel, which was used at the conference to explain the concept.

As this was our first attempt at using a backchannel, we decided not to display the tweets live on a big screen behind the speakers – though this is something that is occurring frequently now at many conferences that use a backchannel.  For our own, and the speakers’ peace of mind, Darcy Moore and I fielded questions and comments that came in via Twitter at the same time as chairing the panel and the real-life questions from bodies inside the auditorium, and integrated these into the plenary.  The response was very positive, and people (speakers included) only seemed disappointed that we didn’t display the tweets on the big screen!

So, next year we are bound to do this again, with the screen on live display.  Using technology this way can be risky of course, as there is far less control being exercised when members can publish their unfettered thoughts for all to see.  But the benefits of this far outweigh the risk, and the message from members was ‘bring it on!

Increasingly, educators are connecting online in very powerful ways.  This includes English teachers.  As online tools become easier to use to connect, communicate and collaborate with colleagues they are being seen as more of a joy (and a time saver) than a chore.  I heartily encourage other professional associations to consider adopting online elements for future conferences and events, and would be happy to share ideas and advice with anyone who is going in that direction.

Anyone else care to share their experiences or tips?

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English Teachers: Waving, not Drowning

I have Google Wave!

Well, I’ve had it for a week now, but have had no-one to play with in it (on it?), so effectively I didn’t have it at all.

But now I have Wave buddies 🙂  And so the messing around begins!

I’m joined by fellow English teachers and Tweeps Bianca (@BiancaH80), Julie (@JulBain), Darcy (@Darcy1968) and soon also Troy (@TroyM7).

The Negative Nancy in me is screaming “Don’t bother! They’re never gonna let you use anything this USEFUL in school anyway (because lewd images and pervy old people COULD be on a Wave too – QUICK EVERYONE, HIDE THE KIDS!)”.  But after using it for not very long at all, you just know that this is one of those things that is going to have a big impact on how we ‘do’ activities, lessons, even school.  Web 2.0 tools have opened up a whole new world of collaborative working and creating, but the way Google Wave uses in-text editing, integration of images and video, real-time editing (you can see each other type!) and, perhaps most excitingly, playback (so you can see additions and comments appear in the order they were added)…it just has oodles of potential that I am only just comprehending.  And best – it’s really FUN to use!

Just now, I have started a collaborative poem with my English teaching ‘Wavers’ – I wrote in a couple of lines, and hopefully others will add and we’ll see how it goes.  (I would love ideas for other English-y activities/tasks for us teachers to trial on a Wave, if you have any?)

Maybe this is what I find the most fun – getting to try old activities in new ways by testing them on myself!

Or, is it the real feeling of a ‘playground’ that I’m getting by making a collaborative Wave with my peers?

All I know is that tonight, with Twitter AND Wave going bananas, I felt like a teen on MSN or something!  My PLN just got so much more…personal.  I wonder if the novelty is going to wear off?

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A Teacher’s Guide To Web 2.0 at School

I love, love, LOVE these slides by Sacha Chua:

I absolutely ADORE finding stuff on Slideshare that doesn’t rely on hearing the speaker (sometimes 100 slides just don’t make sense outta context, you dig?). This is my new favourite 🙂  Best part of the message? “It’s OK if you don’t get it.  We’re all still figuring things out”.  So true.

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Edublog Awards 2009

These Edublog Award nominations go out to all the amazing PLN peeps who have helped, inspired and motivated me this year:

…plus so many other connections and friends who’ve helped me to sustain my energy this year, in particular via Twitter.  Special mentions go to my Boss @jmun31 who has heartily embraced the 2.0 world, and to @MaralynParker who generously replies to many of our education tweets, and keeps debate flowing.

Happy blogging and PLN-ing into the New Year 🙂