Archive for June, 2010

Nine Visions for Citizens and Soldiers

Official footage of students from Macquarie Fields High School reading their poetic response to Governer Lachlan Macquarie’s inaugural (1810) speech:

It is really great to finally see this footage. Sean and Natalie read so well! Well done to the entire ‘Live Poet’s Society’ at MFHS, and a big shout out to Lachlan and the Red Room Company for providing the school with this opportunity. Thanks guys!


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Jules Rules?

On 24 June 2010, the Hon Julia Gillard MP was sworn in as Prime Minister by the Governor-General, succeeding the Hon Kevin Rudd MP.

I have been eager to blog about this, but rather than attempt an analysis of the politics that have gone down this week, or of Gillard’s capacity as a leader, I wanted to hear from other young women about how they felt about the event.  So, I sent out a message on Facebook to some of my ex-students asking them

as fine young women with the world at your feet, what are your thoughts on having a female Prime Minister?

What follows is a pastiche of my experiences, their thoughts, and my reaction to their thoughts on the promotion of a woman to the highest leadership post in the nation.

Where were you when…

The evening of Wednesday the 23rd was a fascinating time to be part of the Twittersphere as possible, then definite news of the leadership spill was tracked and commented on by everyone who happened to have their ear to the ground.  The #spill hashtag was promptly applied, and we all joined the ruckus in what felt like an impromptu election night party!

I was giddy with excitement.  A female Prime Minister!  And all the talk pointed in one direction – it wasn’t just a challenge for the sake of it, it was a fait accompli.

Having spent the past few weeks staying up into the wee hours to write my thesis, there was little chance I’d be able to wake up at 9am for the leadership spill.  So, an all-nighter was on the cards!  (On the upside this also meant that I got to watch the Socceroos play their last World Cup match against Serbia live, which normally I cbf doing at all…it was great fun!  It also meant that I felt a deep connection with journalists like Annabel Crabb who appeared on tele for news coverage in the morning after pulling all-nighters themselves…)

That’s what she said!

After sending out my Facebook message to the youngens, it became clear that their thoughts were of a certain, less excited flavour.  Here’s some extracts from what they said:

It’s great that we have now have a female prime minister but to be brutally honest the fact that she was elected in a back room of the labor party rather than by the people doesn’t sit well with me. It almost gives women in general a message that the only way to get to the top is by going behind others backs and in todays soceity where women are already fighting within their ranks this only reinforces that it’s ok.  This leadership doesn’t feel legitimate because we as the people didn’t have our say and in a democratic society thats kinda the main facet.

The belief that Gillard’s election was somehow undemocratic was a common theme:

My opinion is that it really doesn’t count, since she wasn’t democratically elected. Furthermore, I think it is a disgraceful way to become Prime Minister, that is, after backstabbing the former Prime Minister and taking his spot, despite being in the same party and undoubtedly having, if not encouraged, supported every decision he has made throughout his time as PM.

…along with the implications for how women are perceived as political operators:

The fact that she wasn’t elected by the public, I believe, reflects poorly on the fact that she is the FIRST female Prime Minister that wasn’t even elected democratically, which undermines the fact that a woman is finally Prime Minister of Australia; a position acheived through backstabbing and underhanded behaviour. A reflection of the ONLY way women can break through the glass ceiling? I personally don’t believe so.

…but this toughness in politics also received some admiration, and one made the point that the spill wasn’t all Gillard’s doing:

As a person, she has had the determination, dedication, and dare I say balls to get to where she is. She is definitely a strong woman who is going to get to where she is going. As [another respondent] said, she has done away with the societal expectation to be a mother before her career. I really respect that about her. As for the betrayal of Rudd, this wasn’t something that she came up with on her own. There were other people involved in the take-down of Rudd, but she just has to bear the brunt of it all because she is the one that took his job.

Some of the girls just weren’t that moved by Gillard’s election as being a powerful representation of change in gender stereotypes:

I really don’t believe that a female becoming Prime Minister is causing is as big of a deal as it could of been a few years ago. Personally, I’ve grown up surrounded by strong women and seeing women moving into top positions so from the perspective of someone not old enough to vote yet, it’s not that much of a stir.

…and some worried about the possible adverse effect on feminism:

I think that it is a great thing for women that we finally have a female PM, however, will this now mean that any feminist movements will be effectively told to ‘shut up’ because we now have a female leading our country?

…while one made an insightful observation about remaining cultural barriers:

I don’t think it really matters whether she is female or male. They’re all the same to me. Now, if we got a Muslim up there, THAT would be something 😉

But some of the girls did find powerful messages in what Gillard represents for women:

Firstly, ‘Scandal’ of the process of getting Gillard to be PM aside, I think she will do a decent job and wish her every success. It’s not an easy job for anyone to be successful in politics, let alone be PM. It is undeniably harder for a woman to be prime minister. That’s a big thing to say, I realise, as we all obviously believe in equality here. However, i’m making the point that it is harder for a woman to give up other responsibilities, and ‘expectations’ as a woman to become successful in such a career field. Women are ‘expected’ to become mothers and hold onto a career simultaneously. In fact, women are expected to be mothers overall. I’m not saying it’s like the ’50s again or anything drastic, but think about the societal expectation on women to reproduce, nurture, teach and care for children: it does exist !  Gillard has chosen not to have children in order to further her career- a move considered to be very bold and risky (for most). I admire her dedication to her work, and that she does not feel the need to define herself by children, or by expectation. I think by doing this she is breaking the gender expectations…of couse i’m not bashing mothers – I admire their job as well – but non-mothers/archetypal ‘career women’ get bashed about just as much. Good on her 🙂

Surprisingly not many of them had much to say about Gillard specifically, but those who did weren’t positive:

My thoughts are that, when a female prime minister happened, I wanted it to be a female that I could be proud of to represent my gender. However, Julia Gillard is definitely not that person. At all.

…and, like me, specific thoughts turned to Jules’ education policy:

As a politician, she lost my support long ago when she brought in the ‘myschools’ website. This is something that I strongly disagree with. I must admit, I don’t know a great deal else about her policy, but this effects my family and I most of all, and this was enough to turn me against her.

I had a couple of points of information to share in response to the comments I got back from my fantastic female students.

Firstly, the fact that in Australia we don’t vote for the Prime Minister. We vote for an MP in our electorate and the party with the majority of seats wins Government. So, when the Labor party decides they want to change who their leader is, the system is there to support this. Technically you didn’t vote for Rudd, you voted for Labor…and Labor have to do their best to be the best Government they can.

Secondly, having said that, you can’t ignore the fact that people DO cast their vote in their electorate in part (at least) based on their preferred Prime Minister. Up here in QLD, Anna Bligh was the first female Premier – she ‘inherited’ the job after Peter Beattie retired, but when it came around to the next election and she was chosen ‘by the people’ it made all the difference. She became much more credible, and her title as ‘first female Premier’ became more meaningful.

One for the history books?

Ultimately though…my thoughts?

So little of what happens in politics filters down to the public psyche.  But people do notice the big things, and the big things matter.

I was fortunate to be in the United States when Barrack Obama was sworn in as President, and the power of that event as a representation of a nation moving beyond the discrimination and segregation of its past was undeniable.

I do think that the intentional, informed election of our first Female Prime Minister at the polls later this year (I believe) will transform this historic occasion into something of equally undeniable significance.  But for me, for now, I am moved.  Truly moved.

Perhaps it is generational – was I perhaps among the last generation in Australia to feel that women were still being oppressed?  The comments from my students suggest this may be the case.  Perhaps I am just relieved to no longer carry the burden of my award at my Year 10 formal as “Most likely to become first female Prime Minster”!

But, I cannot help but want to remind everyone of a few milestones that are relatively recent when you consider how long ‘society’ has been doing business, and politics:

  • as many people know, women obtained voting rights in Australia in 1901 with the formation of the Commonwealth
  • (unless they were Aboriginal, in which case they had to wait until 1967)
  • women were not eligible for election to the State parliaments until the end of the First World War – Edith Cowan became the first woman parliamentarian in Australia in 1921
  • the first woman to be elected a world leader was Sirimavo Bandaranaike who was elected PM of Ceylon/Sri Lanka in 1960
  • we still do not have 50 per cent representation in any part of parliament or local government in Australia
  • before the introduction of The Married Women’s Property Act in 1870, women weren’t allowed to own property in their own right, or open a bank account of their own
  • women in the 1960s were routinely asked to have their husband or a male guarantor sign for a loan, even when they were the sole earner
  • as recently as 1989, the appointment of a woman general manager was so unusual, that Westpac issued a press release!

When you consider how recently women have been acknowledged, and how slowly women have been accepted as ‘equals’ in our society, the election of Julia Gillard by her Party to the position of Labor leader and Prime Minister is a momentous act.

Three days later I am still buzzing with pride for my country, and for ‘womyn’ everywhere.  And with that I’ll sign off with an extract from Ani DiFranco’s spoken word piece ‘Grand Canyon of Light‘:

People, we are standing at ground zero
Of the feminist revolution
Yeah, it was an inside job
Stoic and sly
One we’re supposed to forget
And downplay and deny
But I think the time is nothing
If not nigh
To let the truth out
Coolest f-word ever deserves a fucking shout!
I mean
Why can’t all decent men and women
Call themselves feminists?
Out of respect
For those who fought for this
I mean, look around
We have this.

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Thinking about ‘Transmedia’ and ‘Transliteracy’

Followers of this blog will have noticed recent posts about multimodality – about what it means, and about how ‘literature’ and ‘modality’ are being framed in the draft Australian Curriculum.

This post is part sharing with you, and part bookmarking for myself.  My explorations of multimodal theory have lead me to looking further into TRANSLITERACY and TRANSMEDIA.

Kate Pullinger put me onto this term initially, inviting me to take a look at the website for the Transliteracy Research Group.  The group proposes this working definition for transliteracy:

Transliteracy is the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks.

As well as the TRG material, Christy Dena’s PhD thesis Transmedia Practice: Theorising the Practice of Expressing a Fictional World across Distinct Media and Environments is another source that I will be looking into further:

“In the past few years there have been a number of theories emerge in media, film,television, narrative and game studies that detail the rise of what has been variously described as transmedia, cross-media and distributed phenomena. Fundamentally, the phenomenon involves the employment of multiple media platforms for expressing a fictional world.” (Dena, 2009: Abstract)

With my PhD coming to a close, these tangled notions of literacy and textuality are interesting me more and more…much reading to be done!


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New job…excited!

Only ten more sleeps until I begin my new job at Queensland University of Technology!

I’ll be working as a Lecturer in the School of Cultural and Language Studies in Education, which will entail doing some research (not sure what yet, but I have some ideas up my sleeve…) and teaching tutorials for two English Curriculum Studies courses, as well as a general education course in socio-cultural theory.

In honour of my new job, and because I don’t have a web-profile yet, I will share with you my new bio:

Kelli McGraw is a Lecturer in Secondary English Curriculum at the Queensland University of Technology.  She has been an English teacher in South Western Sydney and worked in primary and high schools across NSW to develop students’ skills in debating and public speaking.  Her work with the English Teachers Association and the Australian Association for the Teaching of English has focussed on issues relating to curriculum and assessment, including providing feedback during the development of the Australian Curriculum for English, and she has recently completed her doctoral thesis on the innovations and challenges observed in the implementation of the 1999 HSC English syllabus for NSW.  Kelli’s research interests centre on curriculum change, as well as developing teachers’ capacity to explore multimodality and digital learning tools in the English classroom.

OK, so I haven’t technically “recently completed my doctoral thesis” (only two months to go, hooray!!!) but hey, how soon will I be using the bio?  C’mon…

Wish me luck!


Helping teachers to explore multimodal texts

This extract from a recent article in the journal Curriculum Leadership (Vol 8 Issue 16) would make an ideal addition to the Australian Curriculum for English, from K-12:

What are multimodal texts?

A text may be defined as multimodal when it combines two or more semiotic systems. There are five semiotic systems in total:

  1. Linguistic: comprising aspects such as vocabulary, generic structure and the grammar of oral and written language
  2. Visual: comprising aspects such as colour, vectors and viewpoint in still and moving images
  3. Audio: comprising aspects such as volume, pitch and rhythm of music and sound effects
  4. Gestural: comprising aspects such as movement, speed and stillness in facial expression and body language
  5. Spatial: comprising aspects such as proximity, direction, position of layout and organisation of objects in space.

Examples of multimodal texts are:

  • a picture book, in which the textual and visual elements are arranged on individual pages that contribute to an overall set of bound pages
  • a webpage, in which elements such as sound effects, oral language, written language, music and still or moving images are combined
  • a live ballet performance, in which gesture, music, and space are the main elements.

Multimodal texts can be delivered via different media or technologies. They may be live, paper, or digital electronic.

The article, by Michele Anstey and Geoff Bull, outlines ways to help support students’ facility with multimodal texts, and ideas for commencing a professional learning process to engage with multimodality in more sophisticated ways.

If ACARA were to adopt this framework for modality (including the terminology of the ‘technology’ of ‘delivery’, and the broad categories of live, paper and digital electronic production) I think the Curriculum would be headed in a much more generative (and logical!) direction.

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Ave Narrative…

OK, so I’m not Catholic.

But I feel Ave Maria is an apt musical choice today with ACARA’s announcement that the writing style to be tested in NAPLAN will no longer be Narrative, but Persuasive.

You can get the information here:

Let me say straight up that I love persuasive writing.  I love essays, I love speeches, I love editorials.  I love persuasive language.  One of my favourite units to teach is our Year 11 unit ‘Voices of Protest’ where students explore persuasive writing forms and techniques through a close study of a speech and related protest poems.

What I don’t love is the way that Stage 6 English buries imaginative writing within an Area of Study and Modules that are in reality oriented toward responding to the texts of others.

I also don’t love the fact that in the HSC, students in the mandatory 2 unit English are only examined on imaginative writing in any form in ONE out of the SIX exam sections.  The way I see it, both in my teaching and through everything I have researched so far, doing so constitutes a ‘hidden curriculum’ that devalues student imagination and decreases the time teachers can spend on creative language skills.

At least we had NAPLAN, eh?

At least it was there as an externally managed assessment of student literacy and language that signalled the importance of the creative.  The importance of imagination.  The importance of the lyrical, the figurative and of imagining other worlds.

Not any more.

And so the message is clearer than ever – essays rule the roost.  Get your kids started early on perfecting their persuasive writing, lest they struggle with HSC exams!

I challenge anyone from ACARA, or any of the Education Ministers who were at that MCEECDYA meeting where Narrative got the boot to explain that this decision had anything to do with ‘just mixing things up’.  Anything whatsoever to do with providing a balance between persuasive and narrative writing in the assessment of curriculum.  Because if they really do think so…well, it’s gotta be time to review the balance in the HSC, no?



AATE Annual Conference 2010

The full program for this years annual conference for English teachers in Australia can be found at:

The conference is on this year in Perth from 4-7 July. I’ll be presenting a paper on the Monday about National Curriculum, based on my PhD research on curriculum change:

Getting comfy with the ‘new’: What we can expect to feel about curriculum change.

The National Curriculum will bring with it a host of challenges and problems that may leave us grieving for our familiar local curriculum. What can we expect to feel in this time of change? And what will the effects of this be on our beliefs, our pedagogy and our practice? How much of what we are already doing, really, are teachers expecting to be able to carry forward? It seems this point in curriculum history is an ideal spot for us to revisit and revise our curriculum philosophies, as well as our beliefs about the purpose and goal of teaching English.

Reflecting on the findings of my PhD research into the changes and innovations of the 1999 HSC English syllabus in NSW, in this paper I consider the processes by which teachers have coped with change. What is likely to make us uncomfortable in the National Curriculum for English? What have we already shown in NSW that we fear? The audience will be invited to consider their own philosophies, and begin preparing for change.

The 2011 conference will take place in Melbourne (in December), and the 2012 conference sees the conference returning to Sydney (in October).


What Teachers Want

What Teachers Want: Better Teacher Management (A Grattan Report)

Evaluating the work of teachers and developing their teaching skills is a key part of improving the quality of teaching. However, an OECD survey reveals that teacher evaluation and development in Australia is poor and amongst the worst in the developed world.

Watch this 2-minute video summary of the report, or read the full report in this PDF.

I am hopeful that regulatory bodies such as the NSW Institute of Teachers and Teaching Australia (now AITSL) can play a part in improving this situation.

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English: I would call it ‘Language Arts’

Wouldn’t it be lovely if, while we are in the process of drafting an Australian National Curriculum, we could ditch the subject title ‘English’?

I mean, what reasons do we have for keeping the name?  I know it represents an important connection to our English/colonial literary heritage, but does anyone really think that changing the name of the subject is going to slow the study of Shakespeare, Keats or Austen?  And I realise that some people will be saying ‘but it is about studying the English language, hence ENGLISH!’  But surely what we do in this subject is about more than studying language…just like the study of ‘Visual Arts’ is about more than studying design elements.

I see a lot of room for connection between subjects like English, Visual Arts and Music.  To me, these school subjects all have in common the study of

  • how meaning is made using signs/symbols
  • how people express themselves
  • how to reflect on expression to better understand the world

Currently the increase in multimodal texts has meant the expansion of English, and some would say the study of sounds and visual ‘language’ in English constitutes a colonisation of sorts…English seems to some to be taking over the material of other subjects!  On this point I disagree – there remains in English the special project of studying works/pieces/texts that are grounded in WORDS.  The fact of the matter is that many forms of expression that use words also engage with other sign systems.  Words are spoken, and heard.  They are written and seen.  They are illustrated.  They are enacted.  The subject title ‘English’ just doesn’t encapsulate all of this for me.

The other problem with the English subject label is that it lacks an emphasis on the creative element of studying words.  It would be inconceivable that subjects in the creative arts – Visual Arts, Music, Drama etc – would focus on learning technical aspects of their craft at the expense of engaging in art-making.  Yet, this scenario is all to prevalent in contemporary English classrooms.  We study novels, poems, films, as well as technical aspects of language, but the actual crafting of original texts is neglected.  While Major Works in the creative arts subjects constitute 50% of their respective HSC courses, English only requires students to complete one out of six exam sections on creative writing, and this is done as a first draft in 40 minutes 😦  Although ‘Composing’ is supposed to make up 50% of the English course, much of this is done in the form of ‘composing’ texts such as essays to prove what has been learned about other people’s texts!

It is because of this that I would love to see English renamed ‘Language Arts’, and the processes of responding and composing renamed studies of ‘theory’ and ‘practice’.

The study of words should be a joy.  For this to occur, students who are learning about words must also get elbow deep in making their own texts.  It should be messy, experimental, personal and forgiving practice – like what you see in an Art room.  And if we can teach students about words in a way that helps them to express themselves and understand the world around them, they will want to learn more.  Of this I am sure.