Archive for July, 2010

Top 10 Searches on Shmoop

The list recently released by Literature study site shows the Top 10 searches on Shmoop for the 2009-2010 school year.  It is an interesting read!  The website explains:

The list is based on number of searches conducted on the Shmoop website by teachers and students in the past school year.

While one might think that pop culture juggernauts like Twilight and Harry Potter might crack the list, we found that the classics still dominate students’ searches.

Out of this list, in the past three years of English teaching alone, I have taught Macbeth, To Kill a Mockingbird, Frankenstein and Brave New World.  Does this mean I’m on target?  (you betcha I will say it does!)

The full Top 10 list:

  1. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  2. Hamlet, by William Shakespeare
  3. Macbeth, by William Shakespeare
  4. Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
  5. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
  6. Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens
  7. 1984, by George Orwell
  8. Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad
  9. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
  10. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley


Teach. Everywhere.

And so ends my first week of full time University teaching.

Man, how I love teaching.

I mean, I love researching too.  But nothing – nothing – beats the buzz that you get from that act of ‘luring people in’ to a new area of knowledge, getting them excited about it, showing them new ways of thinking.

Anyone who says that teaching isn’t an art form is dead wrong.  This week, teaching again after about 9 months off, I felt like a rusty ballerina!  There were some stumbles, and my fitness is down.  But the dance…it’s addictive.  And the vulnerability you feel when you do it is part of the buzz.

A big shout out to all the staff and students in the School of Cultural and Language Studies in Education at QUT who have helped me feel so welcome 🙂  You rock!


Collaborating with the Boss

My budding questions around how power operates in social networks and how networking constructs our identity are still on my mind.

I suggested in one post that the reality of using social media (“If you’re going to be a big boy and swim, and benefit from, these waters you have to be able to take it.”) means that teachers, who are often not in positions of power, need to be mindful of how they construct their identity online, and stop being naive about the ‘glorious, open sharing’ promised by social media being consequence-free.

These ideas were not met well by some.   I suspect that such comments sound like an attack on ‘the boss class’.  But this is an exact example of the very thing I’m talking about.  It’s hard to discuss online practices without taking it personally if you think you are being criticised, because we invest our identities in what we do and say online.

So, I tried to take my thinking in a different direction, and came up with some generative ideas about how school leaders can better support teacher change by more specifically ‘diagnosing’ the reasons for resistance.  People liked this.  I liked this.  And it’s a line of thinking that I know I’ll follow up.

But it doesn’t really speak to the original issue.

That’s why I’ve gone for a nice, clear, provocative title for this post.  And I hope people will not take it personally (as so many people in my PLN are bosses!) when I say that there are real problems with inviting staff collaboration if you don’t have a plan for how to cope with dissent.

We can say that we ‘encourage dissent’ until the cows come home.  We can say that disagreement is generative.  Sometimes these things hold true.

But what support structures, what strategies, need to be in place for this to succeed, for all involved? (<– this is the generative part that I hope people will think about and engage with)

And what are the costs of making your identity known online if you are a dissenter?

When I write online, I do so in good faith – in the spirit of sharing my ideas and resources.  I’d like to think I’m open to criticism, and change.  But can someone like the NSWDET Director General afford to do so?  Surely not – he is limited in what he can share because of his role, and so it should be.  What about a school principal?  As the most powerful ambassador for their school, there are limitations on what they can say too.  What about classroom teachers?  They are incredibly vulnerable to misinterpretation and misrepresentation, and as the lowest on the professional pecking order, the easiest to impose consequences on.

Please don’t misunderstand this post as undermining social networks – that’s not what I’m trying to do.  And please don’t take the absence of all the usual ‘good news’ stories about how developing an online PLN increases professional development and sense of contentedness as a sign that I don’t fully support all of the wonderful work that is going on out there on Twitter, Yammer etc.

But I think we need to come clean about the need to tighten up our approach to professional discussion in the online world.

Because at the end of the day, if you are a ‘boss’ and you ask people to share ideas and collaborate with you (online or in real life), you are giving up some of your power.  And things are going to get complicated if/when you find yourself having to reign that in.

NB: anonymous comments are welcome.


AATE Conference Prezi

This is the Prezi I made (my first one!) for the AATE/ALEA Annual Conference last week.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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.


Reframing Change

  • Why do some people embrace change quickly, while others are slower to make changes to their practices or perspectives?
  • What comfort (and convenience) is there in sticking with the known, the familiar, the expected?
  • Can leaders of change persuade people who are slow, and even resistant to change, through enthusiasm alone?
  • Is it enough to lead by example?

I want to suggest that, as educational leaders, if we want to help people come to terms with change and embrace it, then we need to recognise and validate their desire to stick with ‘the known’.  Roger Pryor’s latest post makes some excellent points about ‘leading from behind’ and developing the leadership capacity of others.  I think this is one of the significant hurdles – just as we find in our classrooms it is sometimes necessary to hang back while the students discover things for themselves, people can be empowered by discovering their capacity to change.  Recognising that people are resisting change because they feel disempowered helps us to employ methods that give power back.  This is a win-win solution.

But what other barriers are there to change that could similarly be ‘diagnosed’ and therefore turned around?

When a teacher tells me that they don’t want to use any online teaching tools because they are ‘too tired’ or ‘too busy’, one reaction I feel is frustration.  Does this teacher think that I don’t get tired?  That I am not busy??  I manage to find time to change my practice because I see it as a high priority.

The problem with this line of thinking is twofold.  Firstly, I’m expecting someone else to have the same energy levels as me, without really questioning whether they do.  Secondly, I’m asking someone to accept a shift to online teaching as a priority, when perhaps their professional priorities lie elsewhere.  Perhaps they are really struggling with face-to-face classroom management.  Perhaps they are consumed by essay marking.

So, one way forward is to find ways to align our priorities.

By this I don’t mean that other teachers should change their priorities to match mine!  But, I might set aside my initial frustration to consider ways in which I can create professional learning that satisfies both of our priorities.  One teacher I worked with gained confidence in marking essays after I showed her how to use track changes and commenting in Word…this also served the purpose of increasing her confidence with technology.  Our priorities were aligned!

However is it also possible that sometimes, just sometimes, we are expecting too much?  We also need to recognise that people only have so much energy to give.

Another way forward then, is to find ways of giving people the energy to change.

Teacher burnout is an increasingly widespread phenomenon.  And yet, when I expect others to adopt new practices on the grounds that ‘I was able to do it’, I am refusing to validate them as a human being outside of the world of work.  This might fly in the corporate world, but in the education system I would like to think this is outside of our philosophical remit.

One way that I generate energy to learn more about technology and the online world is to engage in digital practices that nourish me, personally.  For me it’s sharing my (budding) artwork, making digital collages, reading with my Kindle, and connecting with friends in a purely social capacity via Facebook.  I get professional nourishment from a lot of places too, but I’m not talking about that.

For some people getting a thirst for technology comes when they make their first Skype call, or make photo albums on iPhoto.  For many people, the social connection provided by Facebook has been the big thing to ‘draw them in’ and increase their digital literacy (one of the reasons why, although Facebook has turned evil, I have a real problem with the tech elite bagging it out unreservedly).

Fun generates energy.  Fun lures people into engagement.

So, if the diagnosis is a lack of energy, it might be worthwhile exploring how to restore people’s capacity to engage through play.

These are just a couple of example that I have been forming up. Aligning (not replacing) priorities, and restoring energy through fun and play.

As we continue to make new inroads with people who have typically resisted change, I really believe it is time to develop more sophisticated models than ‘lead by example’.  That was phase one. Now we are getting a critical mass of people out there willing to lead by example…where can we move to next to stimulate change and support the changers?


How Real Media Misses The Point Of Social Media

As you could glean from my last post, I’ve become a little sensitive to social media zealots who seem determined to paint everyone who is wary/concerned/resistant to social media as merely being scared, whimpy individuals.

This is not to say that very good points do not continue to be made in favour of using social media.

Consider this article reproduced for Business Insider: How “Real” Media Misses the Point of Social Media written by Lisa Barone from Outspoken Media.

Barone makes a point that many of us using social media tools would make:

“The risks to exposing yourself to your customers and community aren’t nearly as severe as you may think; and the rewards are huge.”

However, she also sums up one of the best pieces of advice I would give about using social media:

“If you’re going to be a big boy and swim, and benefit from, these waters you have to be able to take it.”

These two mantras pretty much sum up the bulk of what I have seen going around in terms of the pros and cons of harnessing social media (in my context, to develop my PLN, as opposed to using it as a marketing tool etc.)  However, the rhetoric that I often see invoked when a social media convert comes across a social media resistor is that the resistor is just ‘too old-fashioned’, ‘afraid of computers’, ‘non-reflective’, ‘too scared to share’ (and by extension, even ‘selfish’), or ‘a luddite’.

In my last post I suggested some other issues that, in my mind, are not currently being considered in enough depth, and which the ‘social media resistors’ are perhaps finding it hard to articulate because of their lack of familiarity with the technology.  Interestingly, most people I would have expected to drop a comment were nowhere to be found…although it is school holidays, to be fair 😉

I suspect that discussions around how power is wielded within an identity-rich online PLE (Personal Learning Environment, consisting in part of social networking spaces like Twitter and Facebook) are difficult to have without putting noses out of joint.  However, I also think that being open about how we construct and project our identities will be a test of whether we are ‘for real’ about connecting and collaborating in a democratic and generative way.

We can’t afford to be blind to reproductions of unhealthy practice in this brave new (connected, public) world.

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Some ‘big’ questions we might have to ask

Well, it is Friday afternoon, and for many teachers holidays are in session, so we might as well get this reflection party started eh?

Seriously, I have been having some possibly paradigm altering thoughts, about social networking in particular.  If you dig this scene, please read on!

  • Networks that are ‘free and open’ (i.e. Twitter, Facebook) seem democratic, because everyone can ‘have their say’.  But what power plays are still at work?  What NEW power plays are we constructing that we’re going to have to undo/amend/atone for later?
  • Social networks enable fast and efficient communication.  But if you can publish your thoughts too fast, without reflection, is the noise that this generates worth the pay off?  We are evangelistic about the benefits…but are we ignoring the costs (the drain on our own limited energy and focus in particular as we act as information filters)?
  • Networks are being constructed (thinking especially of the Facebook issue here…but anything with an avatar and a bio could be seen to go down this road) that invite identity construction.  We post photos, preferences, ideas, affiliations…identity capital (?)  But are we muddying the waters of constructing a generative PLN when our communications are so entwined with our personal identity construction?
  • Are the ‘big players’ – the people with many followers – throwing around their identity capital?  Or are they using a cutting edge technology to be leaders?
  • Are ‘great minds’ being devoured as they try to stay on top of the network (with the best of intentions – wanting to share and be open with others) and lead others?  At what point are we no longer ‘paying it forward’, and just ‘forwarding’…or, ‘paying it back’.  My online PLN has helped me to develop in so many ways…am I indebted to it?  Am I obliged to stay and lead it?  How can I nourish my own development?
  • As a reflective practitioner, am I generating too much out put, and not getting enough input?  Am I making/hearing thoughts…or just noise?

Honestly folks, I don’t know where this is all going.  But yes, after some consideration, I decided to write a blog post about it.  Because no matter where this line of thinking ends up, I highly doubt it will dull my appreciation of irony.


Happy holidays!