Archive for category english
I’m just going to jump right back into blogging after a hiatus with some very complicated (or not, I hope?) project-based learning planning.
This is the third time I have lead the English Teaching Area for the MTeach unit EUN121 at my uni. I’m also the unit co-ordinator, and the second assignment in the unit allows me to get the English group planning an “inquiry task”, which in my class means “PBL”.
Students who are becoming secondary English teachers have four weeks (!) to plan their first ever PBL unit of work for English, submitting a project flyer and 2-page project calendar outline.
The first two times I taught this unit, I knew how to teach PBL. I set Bianca & Lee’s book as the textbook, gave students lots of example project flyers and plenty of direction in creating their driving questions. We had peer feedback opportunities, we used a planning template and gallery walk feedback method that I had already had success with in previous undergrad PBL unit. But when it came to making the “English stuff” visible in a project calendar, many struggled to see how a text study and a project could be done alongside each other. Questions persisted and I didn’t always know how to answer:
- Do you study the text completely first, before starting the project?
- How early can you start the Create phase?
- Can the Discover and Create phases overlap? If so, by how much?
- Is the the project product the summative assessment task?
- Can you have more than one summative assessment task?
- How do you assess process?
- Can I get them to write a reflection as well? Should I mark reflective writing? Do I mark it for content only, or also the quality of writing? (i.e. is a written reflection an assessment of writing, or process?)
I can share my knowledge about assessing process, and we look at the related rubrics from PBLworks to get an idea of this. But how to make the English ‘content’ visible? How to plan for text response and text production?
I think I finally have some ideas.
A couple of weeks ago I offered this planning grid to some colleagues on twitter for feedback, explaining that:
The grid that I designed tries to capture two distinctly different (though infuriatingly overlapping) cycles of learning in an English unit – the cycle of responding to texts, and the cycle of producing new texts. I also wanted to draw explicit attention to the need for clear ‘project milestones’, so that got a column too:
It needed a bit of explaining, which I found difficult to do without an example. I was able to show the two MTeach class examples that had lead me down this road – we’d been co-constructing a map of a term-long inquiry into poetry, playing around to answer the question of how to handle multiple assessment tasks, and how to make a text study overlap meaningfully with new text creation. But because the MTeach class example didn’t use the three PBL phases (we weren’t ‘there yet’), it’s explanatory power was limited:
So, there has only been one thing for it, and that is to trial the planning grid with my own MTeach PBL sequence. Here is the project flyer that I launched on Thursday (two days ago):
And here is my first draft of a plan that uses the basic grid design to attend to BOTH:
- text response and text production cycles, aligning to the English curriculum
- three phases of PBL (discover, create, share).
I believe the strength of the planning grid is that it allows a visual map to be formed, showing where the discover, create, share phases may overlap differently for text response and text production. In English, this could contribute a key resource for managing the mushy middle of a project by ensuring a realistic balance of directed learning and product creation can be achieved.
Another strength is the possibility for seeing PBL in English as consisting of two inquiry-driven ‘genre curriculum cycles’, where mastery of the assessment genre is attended to as closely as mastery of the texts studied.
I’ve teased out ‘project milestones’ and ‘assessment of process and product’ into two columns (the yellow and purple) after finding that trying to combine this information didn’t work out. Milestones are for planning, not for feedback.
The real road test will be in class. If the MTeach students find the planning grid useful, then we may finally be on to a winner for explaining the complexity of planning behind a unit of work in English.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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).
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?
I thought I knew the Australian Curriculum for English almost inside out, but recently discovered a whole new box I had been leaving un-ticked.
It was the ScOT box.
What does ScOT stand for, you ask?
Schools Online Thesaurus.
If you go to their homepage (http://scot.curriculum.edu.au/) you can search for a relevant term to your field and see what you get. I searched for ‘literature’ and was directed to this:
…you can see some of the rabbit holes I’ve been down from there already.
I found such useful things in the thesaurus for the work I’m doing this week.
I also found the other data sets available in the Australian education vocabularies list:
For the English teachers still playing along – see ‘language modes’ in the list? Kinda specific thing to make a vocabulary about, I thought.
I clicked though and interestingly, the entry does not reflect all six language modes in the Australian Curriculum.
‘Creating’ has been left out.
Creating has been left out, despite being there plain as day in the Achievement Standards, the Aim, and the Glossary entry for ‘mode’ in English.
And there ends the list of all the things I needed to stop and show you.
Who I do I write to, to point this out?
Enjoy the thesaurus!
Ali Alizadeh is a poet listed on the prescribed text list for the senior English/EAL courses in Queensland from 2019-2021.
He is an Iranian-Australian (Persian-Australian? would appreciate any correction in comments), currently living in Melbourne and working at Monash university.
Both my creative writing and my literary scholarship interrogate the collisions between the political, the personal and the historical. Radical subjectivity, philosophies of history and theories of art are of particular interest to me. (Alizadeh’s bio, July 2018)
I searched for some preliminary resources for teachers wanting to learn about Ali Alizadeh, and here is what I found:
- Staff profile for Alizadeh at Monash University: http://profiles.arts.monash.edu.au/ali-alizadeh/
- Poetry International Web bio (with several linked articles): https://www.poetryinternationalweb.net/pi/site/poet/item/14574
- Poetica episode from 2nd November, 2013 (39 mins): http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/archived/poetica/ali-alizardeh/5026248?
- Writers Victoria – Ali Alizadeh interviewed by Michelle McLaren, 24 May 2016: https://writersvictoria.org.au/writing-life/on-writing/exploring-the-distance-between-now-and-then
- Overland article – by Tara Mokhtari, June 2011: https://overland.org.au/2011/06/ali-alizadeh%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%98ashes-in-the-air%E2%80%99/ (loved this article!)
- Australian Book Review – review by Gig Ryan, April 2011: https://www.australianbookreview.com.au/abr-online/archive/2011/241-ali-alizadeh-ashes-in-the-air (full article is paywalled)
The earlier two volumes are called:
eliXir: a story in poetry, Grendon Press, Mont Albert, 2002
Eyes in Times of War, Salt Publishing, Cambridge, UK, 2006
A sample of Alizadeh’s poetry (poem extract):
Yes, I understand
your language. I’ve been learning
the lexicon of my inferiority
from behind the bars. I now know
how to spell and pronounce
the terms of my slavery. Your shackles
are called Security; your war
Operation Freedom; your cluster bombs
food parcels for my children. O master,
(extract from ‘Your terrorist’ (2006) on Poetry International Web: https://www.poetryinternationalweb.net/pi/site/poem/item/14577)
An extract from Mokhtari’s Overland article:
What really does it for me about Alizadeh’s poetry is that his subject matter is important. These poems are unlikely to bore a reader who shies away from the overtly political because they also engage in everyday scenarios and experiences. Alizadeh’s poems about cultural displacement take a different approach from many other Australian poets who write on the same theme but tend to dwell in the realm of sentimentalism (a natural, valid treatment of the theme, but one which may risk alienating un-empathetic readers). It’s as though these poems have ‘gotten over it’ just enough to allow a more sophisticated depth of knowing and exploration of the subject through everyday representations, without compromising emotion.
If you know of other resources that would interest Queensland English teachers who are considering Alizadeh’s poetry for QCE study, please consider sharing your links/info in comments below. Thank you!
English for Queensland (OUP) – Book cover and preview
After many months of sweat, sleepless nights and tears, I am excited to announce that a book I have co-authored with Lindsay Williams and Sophie Johnson will be out later this year through Oxford University Press. English for Queensland Units 1 & 2.
Book 2 next year will be for Units 3 and 4 (year 12).
(I know, I’m not supposed to say year 11 and year 12, but I’m not ready to give them up!)
It’s always a bit funny to publish work for a profit when you are so used to giving things away, as a rule. The good news is that I have so many resource and planning ‘offcuts’ from this book project that I still have plenty to share freely in the network!
No reflection other than that. Just a proud-moment post for a project that took a lot of creative energy and is edging toward ‘tangible product’ stage!
I have cause today to be trawling through the glossary in the new Queensland senior English syllabus, and these two terms caught my eye:
Making a note here, to remind me I have these terms in place to talk with senior English teachers about project based learning.
Prescribed Text Lists have been created for the first time in Queensland year 12 English, to specify texts for study that have been deemed to have “merit in genre and style”. The lists have this week been made available to the public, after a week of being available to only QLD teachers and QCAA approved users (a contrast to how NSW HSC lists were released earlier this year to media in advance of teachers).
There are two texts lists for:
These lists correspond with syllabuses for the three ‘general’ (i.e. leading to an ATAR) courses. The syllabuses were finalised this year for use starting with with year 11 in 2019:
I recorded my initial responses to the text lists in this vlog, with more analysis to come in the next few weeks:
NB. Extension English syllabus and text list are on a later development round and yet to be finalised. Essential English is an ‘applied’ (non-ATAR) subject, and will not have an associated text prescriptions list.
This semester I am attempting to demonstrate project based learning (PBL) in action by giving both of my classes an extra-curricular project to work on.
(More about whether these projects are in-or-extra to ‘the curriculum’ in an upcoming post…)
Pre-service teachers in my 3rd year English curriculum studies class are themselves focusing on how to use a PBL approach to design learning for junior secondary English. Their final assignment involves working in groups of 3-4 to create a PBL unit of work and assessment task/criteria sheets.
So, while we are learning about PBL, we are also doing PBL. And here is the project flyer:
We’re in Week 6 of a 9-week semester, and I already know that exploring ‘ways of speaking poetry’ is going to get squeezed out. That’s OK. My original goal of using the explore phase to offer a ‘smorgasbord’ of experiences has been usurped by getting to know the students and their needs – and they need to spend time going deeper into ways of reading and writing poetry. That’s cool – one of the things I am proud to model for my PSTs is they way plans have to change once real humans are involved. This need to teach in a responsive, agile way is understandably one of the things that new teachers find confronting, but ultimately it’s what effective teaching requires.
I’m at that critical stage of the project where I’m looking at the number of lessons left vs work that needs to get done to complete the project – eek!
My original plan was to get enough poetry artefacts to fill an entire display cabinet, but thankfully the cabinet has SHELVES, so our new goal is to fill 1-2 shelves only. Not a bad result it turns out, as it gives me space to run this project again next year and fill the cabinet progressively instead of all at once.
The whole project is supposed to take 6 weeks. By the second week I wished I had twice as much time! But that’s how teaching rolls, eh – PBL or no.
Will post pics of the finished cabinet display at the end of semester 🙂