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Jabber/GTalk: kellimcgraw

April poetry

The careful art of lawn maintenance

As good as mining blocks on a screen

Or thumbing an endless scroll

The pastime of encouraging grass to grow

In a suburban lawn plagued by weeds.

 

You may have heard there are a range of eco-friendly

solutions to the sprawling clover.

Something to do with vinegar and hot water

As so many solutions to contemporary problems involve.

 

If I took any of this seriously

I would have looked more carefully into the names

(characteristics and behaviours) of each weed by now.

Instead I non-methodically pry at tendrils and leaf unfurling through the blades

 

Elicit their reaching roots from the soil or

Snap their creeping stalks at the base.

Five major types at least stand out

As especially ambitious:

  1. Dark green leafy creeper, spreads close to the ground with thick, white roots spreading out in long runners under the soil. Pulling a thread up by the underlying white root is a deeply satisfying reward.
  2. Mini clover, spreading in patches via spindly stalks, criss-crossing between and around blades of grass. Can carefully be pulled up as a net, most successfully if edges are first unpicked.
  3. Sprouting grass: invasive. At first looks like healthy grass filling in a bare patch so it has been allowed to spread unchecked. May in fact be a weed. Pull up by individual tufts – tedious but high success rate with roots quick to relent. Evolving suspicion of an underlying rhizome.
  4. Spreading grass: invasive. Thin slender blades that form feather-soft patches of ‘maybe we should give up and let this grass take over’. Looks likely to burn in summer.
  5. Some kind of broadleaf weed. Starts as small, inconspicuous bursts nestled among healthy lawn. As it grows leaves spread wide out over grass, stealing sunshine and water for itself. Most likely to snap at the base when pulled. Roots plunge down in a tough spear as if clinging to hell.

 

My neighbour reliably tells me

We were sporting healthy Sir Walter buffalo

When we first moved in three years ago.

It must have been new turf, at the time.

 

Since then, the local mowing service has brought seeds

From corrupted yards far and wide

And a succession of resident bush turkeys have raked muck

From every neighbour higher on the hill, down through the low chicken wire fences.

 

But now we have our eye on you

And all the time in the world to invent

Runner breaks, cultivate watering routines,

Stage patch tests, chase the shade.

Images by author.

 

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Daily schedule for schooling (a 5yo) at home

I’ve seen a lot of teacher conversation about how much classwork they are going to try and continue running over the coming months during the school-at-home period across Australia. Most teachers in my network are secondary teachers and their approaches range from attempting a standard timetable live online with slightly shorter classes, to running new ‘skeleton’ timetables with large amounts of self-directed work to complete asynchronously.

I’d love to hear more about how primary school teachers are approaching this, and more from other parents about how many hours of school-at-home they can reasonably sustain each day.

In the second week of schools being closed, after I had a chance to feel out how a ‘school at home’ day might run, I penned this outline of a daily schedule for my five year old:

Planned schedule for my 5 yo school-at-home

Keep in mind that this schedule is us living our best day. Trying to keep a day running at a pace rather than just watching Frozen II, again.

If my teacher asked me about this schedule and how much of it I thought I could give to ‘teaching’ at home, I would say:

  • There are SIX activity slots in this day. You can’t have them all.
  • If there is no school to go to, I am not running a ‘school morning’ to get anyone dressed by 8am. This will create tension and ruin my day. Your earliest activity slot is 9.30am.
  • There are two hefty one-hour slots in the middle of the day, you can usually have at least ONE of them. Otherwise, only send activities of 30 mins maximum.
  • After 3pm my kid is too tired and strung out to do school.
  • Most days I can give you THREE or FOUR of these activity slots. Some days I can only give ONE or TWO. That’s a maximum of 2.5 hours a day, most days, to do school learning with.

As a professional teacher I am relatively comfortable with the idea of teaching at home. The curriculum doesn’t scare me – I will have to learn more to understand it but that’s OK. I only have one child under my roof to keep up with. I feel well resourced and capable of helping my five year old complete QLD-Prep (NSW-Kindy) activities at home. But that does not mean that I would ever agree to running a school-like timetable here. My home is already a place where learning happens of its own accord, where relationships are developing within an existing context. Emotions are fragile as we are existing in this pandemic-induced lockdown and everyone is going a bit stir-crazy.

I expect that many teachers who are new to the online learning environment are about to over-plan a lot of material that simply cannot be completed happily at home. 

If you are a teacher who has not yet consulted with parents about how much schooling they are able or willing to lead at home, it may soon be prudent to do so.

If you are a parent who feels they are expected to do every activity set by the teachers, but who cannot do so, it may soon be time to think about how to politely say ‘no’. Think about writing up your daily schedule like I have, to help explain to your teachers the available spaces in your home-based day. Your home is not a school.

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How about that virus huh?

It’s a heck of a time to be an online teacher/writer and try to stay ‘on leave’. With the global disruption caused over the past week due to the pandemic spread of the COVID-19 virus, social media networks and backchannels have drawn me in to the common story. Teachers and parents are reaching out to talk – to vent – about the decision to keep Australian schools open (so far) and the workload involved in shifting learning online. Parents are totally overwhelmed at the thought of having to simultaneously home-school their children and either work from home, or deal with issues like sudden unemployment. Teachers are tackling twice the workload, producing classroom as well as online materials, and crumbling in tears on their kitchen floors at the impossibility of the task – they were already working at capacity or burning out.

This post is to share some thoughts on…

Online teaching:

Wow, teachers, you are in for an experience. That drawn, haggard look you have noticed hanging around your university teaching friends the past two or so years? That is in part because we have been increasingly moving our work online in ‘blended’ modes – teaching courses both on campus and via online delivery. It. Takes. Ages. To. Get. Online. Teaching. Right. It is hard and it takes ages. The tech fails, the learning curve is steep, you can’t produce everything you planned so are filling unexpected holes everywhere, all the time. It can take 10 hours to make one teaching video when you are still learning the ropes, is anyone factoring that in? In the university sector the mantra from the centre has more of less been: this is the way we work now. Deal with it, or find a new job. In higher ed, if we burn out, we’re just replaced. But there are SO MANY MORE teachers than academics! That workforce is irreplaceable. Education leaders can’t afford to have their heads in the sand on this one – teaching materials don’t just “go up online” like someone waved a magic wand. The labour involved is huge. Teachers, I would estimate you will need to take all your current plans for what can be delivered online, and start by halving it. Half the content, half the assessments, half the feedback, at least. Start getting real about this earlier rather than later.

Parents keeping their kids at home:

What a bloody disgrace to see some schools being heavy handed with parents and pressuring them to send their kids to school! Even this morning the QLD Education stance was that voluntary isolation is an “unacceptable” reason for an absence. Shame! And a shame to see so many QLD school leaders so completely under the thumb of their employer, so totally intimidated by the “don’t criticise your employer” mantra, that they won’t advocate in public for a softer approach on absenteeism. The NSW Department of Education had updated their absentee categories on Sentral by Friday afternoon to include an “acceptable” absence category for voluntary isolation, if QLD schools are to remain open they should also urgently follow suit.

Self care – it won’t be business as usual:

With the advantage of a month of LSL under my belt before any of this started, I can tell you I was already feeling unsettled by having to stop work. Although I had planned for the leave and taken it intentionally for the very purpose of slowing down, the actual slowing down wasn’t easy. We currently exist in a mesh of systems that are slowing down (working from home, businesses closing, grocery shelves emptying) and speeding up (keeping up with demand from clients/customers, panic buying) and it is going to feel as confusing as hell. I don’t know what Self Care in the Time of Iso looks like, but we’re going to have to work it out soon.

Yes, teaching is a social service:

A final thought about a common message I have seen this week – a lament that teachers are seen as “a social service, not an educational one” and that they are being used as “glorified babysitters”.

I do agree with the frustrated sentiment behind some of these laments and I think Steve Kolber summed feelings up well here in an article on 20th March: https://educationhq.com/news/another-stinging-insult-teachers-are-being-used-as-martyrs-in-covid-19-agenda-75456/. And yet… the phrase ‘in loco parentis’ plays on my mind. I’m not saying that teachers should feel obliged to work against their will or to put themselves at risk (they should not). I do think that school systems need to at least partially close soon, to allow a swathe of teachers to choose to work from home. But I do wonder why so many are surprised at the expectation that teachers act as frontline workers in a time of crisis, especially in public schools. In loco parentis – in place of a parent. It has always been my understanding that teaching is as much a ‘social’ service as an ‘educational’ one. I might have done more before now to make sure my pre-service teachers understood that too. I wish the government messages included acknowledgment of all this work and care without fear of the next enterprise bargaining agreement. They are so scared of having to pay teachers more if they acknowledge the depth of service they provide.

If you can support a teacher with a kind listening ear this week, please do.

There is also a new Instagram account you can follow to hear their stories: @from_teachers.

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I have no idea how to be on leave

So, I am on Long Service Leave (LSL). If you don’t live in Australia and/or don’t know what that is, it is paid time off that your employer can give you after 10 years of work. The point of it is to have a short term break, so you can keep working in the long term. It’s to prevent you from getting knackered.

It is currently the start of week 4 of leave and I am finally getting slices of time with no work looming. Even though I’ve been on leave a few weeks, it will take another few weeks (I can see now) to resolve left-over deadlines and disentangle to various degrees from the multiple projects. It turns out that after 10 years work, there is a decent backlog of things to be finished, passed on, or discarded. All need sorting.

Things I will continue to do on leave include: volunteer committee work for ETAQ and QPF; supervision of three research students (meeting monthly); editorship of a scholarly journal.

Oh, and I am on leave for… FIVE MONTHS!

I took that sucker at half pay so I could stretch out the time off and boy I am so glad I did. If it takes about six weeks to really put the brakes on and be able to responsibly ‘down tools’, how ripped off would someone feel if their leave was only for 10 weeks! If you are reading this post and planning your own leave, let me highly recommend taking as long a break as you can, to compensate for your potential work hang over.

How do you like that term by the way? “Work hangover”. Also applies to the whole first week of any school holiday, in which we typically spend our time being sick or sleeping or drifting around in shell-shock. Surely someone has used it elsewhere, let me know in comments if you’ve heard it before.

I can see now that the best way to avoid the work hangover lag and get straight into leave would be to, well, leave. Go overseas, or outback, definitely off grid. Deadlines evaporate when you get properly out of range, but I am just here at my house, living the dream of getting up each day and not going to work. But for me the ‘get out of town immediately’ approach would have done more harm than good. I struggle to relax when I am stressed about the work I’ve left behind and I hate the feeling of coming back from ‘holiday land’ to the real world where the work sat and waited for me. No. For me this leave was a chance to clear the decks, so I will sacrifice these early weeks to do that, s l o w l y.

Anyway, to end this post I’ll return to what I came to say which is: this morning I have one of my first real mornings off. And I’m on my own, as hubby has a morning shift and kiddo is at school. And a little epiphany today is that I probably kept a few things on the boil because I don’t know how to “be on leave” and just “do nothing”. Is that even something that I have to have as a goal? Everyone seems to want that for me, but do I want to “do nothing”? I’m sure I’ll warm to it, work something out. It’s another big reason I took this break – to find out what happens in the absence of work. Who am I when I don’t work, that kind of thing. But yeah. I have no idea how to be on leave!

Advice, questions, or your own stories welcome in comments x

image: ‘alice was lucky’ by modeen19 via deviantart

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Developing your knack

I created these slides to use next year in my English curriculum teaching. The idea I am using them to underpin is that an English teacher is expected to have ‘superpowers’ across a range of canonical/literary types of text (the traditional categories of study: poetry, prose, drama) as well as newer textual fields that have come up since that initial period (film, tv and other screen texts, media and new media).

possible superpowers to foster, in canonical curriculum categories

possible superpowers to foster, in late-20th and 21st century curriculum text categories

At the same time as finishing these slides, I am audio-reading Wundersmith: The calling of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend. It is Book 2 in the Nevermoor series. I love it and would love my pre-service teachers to think about what their ‘knack’ is, in terms of studying or creating texts, so they can focus on developing it during their degree.

Whether you want to think about textual expertise as a superpower or a knack

English teachers – how many knacks do you consider you have?

Everyone – how many text areas from the graphics above would you say is desirable for an English teacher’s expertise to cover? 

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Why #edutube?

Blog reader, welcome to the Next Thing that is pulling me back inexorably into a research space concerned with online learning.

In my last post I talked about/to the most excellent Sayraphim Lothian, who is on the verge of beginning a research degree at my uni (hopefully with me as the supervisor). Sayraphim is slaying the write up of the research ‘prologue’ over on the blog sayraphimlothian.com. We have both caught the #edutube fever, wanting to explore education/educational YouTube videos/creators etc. …you know, #edutube?

And I mean, that’s the problem-slash-wonderful thing about exploring YouTube that is being created and viewed in educational ways. To even pin down what I mean by that involves myriad semantic considerations. The ‘on YouTube’ bit is concisely defined and establishes one clear boundary. Excellent. But as for the rest…

When I say ‘edutube’ a typical question cascade sounds like this:

  • Are you meaning professional teachers who make videos, or anyone who is aiming to teach others through a video?
  • Does the education have to be intentional – what about when something is learned from a video on YouTube but the creator didn’t intend it, and maybe could not have anticipated it?
  • What is the difference between education and learning anyway?
  • Isn’t everything a potential learning experience? So are attempts to define what is ‘educational’ just exercises in gate-keeping?
  • By the way, schools are such gatekeepers, they are really bureaucratic and restrict learning in a lot of ways, don’t you think? Down with schools! YouTube has tutorials for everything!
  • jk. Platform capitalism might be a concern – do you think platforms like YouTube might be trying to create a global education market?
  • In what ways might professional teachers’ work be intersecting with new education markets?
  • Have you heard of flipped learning?
  • In what ways might we be productively redefining teaching and learning? Perhaps as personal and community practices, not only professional and institutional ones?
  • Can anyone be a teacher? What defines a teacher?
  • Is a teacher the same as an educator?
  • How is ‘education’ different to ‘educational’? Does that distinction provide a helpful boundary?
  • Will anyone be asking the students about any of this? #studentvoice

There is a striation that commonly interrupts this kind of question cascade: who owns teachers’ IP; what are the conflict of interest issues; who stands to profit from a hidden global curriculum that is defined by a corporation; have you heard the saying ‘if it’s free then you’re the product’? Technical and practical questions about legislation, policy and money. Interesting questions, ones that also interest me. But they aren’t as helpful for defining ‘edutube’.

So why edutube for me, why now?

Biographically, the answer is that it is a very natural progression for me in terms of my ongoing interest in social media and digital cultures. I was a teacher in the thick of the Digital Education Revolution and we lived and breathed this challenge: what can you do with these screens? We found out quickly the limits of that world, and how contingent those limitations were on things including: the state you taught in, the sector, the goals of the Regional Director, the attitudes of the school community (especially the Boss)… not to mention the damn battery life and lack of internet connection.

As far as I can tell, from my position in Brisbane, Australia at least, is that the answer to the challenge ‘what can you do with these screens?’ in education – both schools and higher education – is ‘take it slowly’. The hyper-connected PLN/PLE learning culture that we thought could be around the corner remains stymied by over-crowded curriculum and a culture that is fixated on standardised (you say ‘high standards‘, I say ‘one size fits all‘) pedagogy and assessment.

But I can’t help it – I’m still interested in screens.

One of the most popular screen media in my house is YouTube, I am already a participant in the culture. I’ve been making video for my own teaching for a long time, uploading my first (unlisted) teaching video to YouTube in 2012 – it was an assignment Q&A – and now maintaining a public-facing channel with a few uploads a year. I am a ‘creator’!

A creator. Look, here is another different word for teacher. Or would a better word for that be author? Wait I think I remember something about the medium being the message? Now we’re talking! My screen-based, education and English teacher worlds collide!

I’m only just piecing together the parts of my own research design. I won’t write the ethics application until next year after January break, but I think I want to start by looking at Australian teachers who make YouTube with the purpose of educating others. Just a few case studies, maybe alongside a wider survey?

If you want to keep talking about this, or just have an idea, reference or link to throw my way, drop by in the comments. I’d love to hear responses to any element of this post no matter how random.

Or… subscribe?

😉

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Game on (edutube study)

OK Sayraphim, you’ve set the scene for the project as an opening move. But two can play at the blog reboot game!

It gets easier every time.

So, #edutube is a go. The word is out. The claim, it’s staked. You will study it, and no matter what role I get to play, I am so here for this.

Here’s a lovely thing too – as a craftivist, I know you aren’t territorial. You are about making things and lifting people up, sharing, generosity and kindness. Well anyway, those are qualities I think you definitely have, and which other craftivist instagram feeds seem to project, so I am generalising a little about #allcraftivists. But I have a hunch that I’m generally right! So, ‘staking your claim’ is really more like you saying ‘folks, I’ve got this angle covered, you go work on other angles, tell me if I’m overlapping with you too much and I’ll get back in my lane; here if you need me though and let’s share all our toys, let’s quilt our ideas together, yay team!’

(Honestly, new friends we are meeting on Twitter now, you have given us such a warm welcome to the established/ing network for studying education + YouTube, I’m very grateful and glad to meet you, and excited to add a patch to the quilt!)

Here are three reasons why I am psyched to be along with you on this journey, as a friend, as a fellow Aussie edutube creator, and as a scholar:

  1. You have track record as both a nerd and a book author – I cannot wait to see you grow through next level, book-length nerding out, on an idea that has serious legs. You seem Ready.
  2. I love how research on this topic will contribute to the edutube community, and how it will be sensitive of Aussie/NZ/’southern’ contexts as well as humanities communicators/creators. As an Australian English teacher, it’s really cool to see you representing.
  3. I’m excited by the idea of problematising this space. Are these videos on these platforms about learning, or teaching? About PLNs/PLEs/connectivism in education? About networks or communities of practice? Affinity spaces? Can we find anything to generalise to all teaching videos streamed online, or is YouTube a distinct enough phenomenon to bind up a study? Is edutube a kind of alternative curriculum (I can’t wait to introduce you to the field of curriculum studies)?

As for what the thing even is…I change my mind all the time about what I think edutube is. It’s one of the reasons I held off posting my post-vidcon video about it in 2018 – yeah, I was short on time, but I also was not certain of the content. But hang it, right? I should just post it. As a welcome gift to you! It is a record of my thinking at a point in time.

[Spoiler alert: I think the reason it is so hard is the ‘edu’ bit. We can define the ‘tube’ two ways, or somewhere in between, that’s easy. Broad, like ‘screen media’ with roots in television/’tube’, or narrow, like the specific platform ‘YouTube’. But ‘edu’ is the hard bit. Defining that involves getting to the heart of what people think education is, what it’s for, and who it’s for. Also who gatekeeps it. You’ll have to develop a scholarly stance on all those fundamental questions – at some point. Not right away! But no joke big questions.]

So yeah, I find it hard to answer, “what is edutube?”. I find myself constantly having to reorient my perspective, from teacher to citizen. I suspect my instinct, as a long time educator in institutions, is to gatekeep – no matter how much I resent gatekeeping, I live and breathe the mechanisms that do it. But I am also critical of them and often resist them. So yes, at some point you will have to define ‘edutube’, and convince me of it, but when you can do that I will listen intently, because I’m eager to hear your fully considered opinion.

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To watch more of this unfold over on YouTube – like, comment or subscribe!

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