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'If students can't learn the way we teach, we must teach the way they learn' (Tomlinson)

2013 HTAV Primary History Teachers Conference: Keynote address#1

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 26, 2013


NB I’m blogging this live, so I apologise in advance for typos, omissions, the American spelling imposed by the software (Windows Live) and any errors of interpretation about the speaker’s address.

The first Keynote address was presented by Geraldine Ditchburn from the History Teachers Association of Victoria.  Her topic was Creating pedagogical airholes in the Australian Curriculum: History.

The AC requires us to teach history in a formal and disciplined way [and this is a challenge for primary teachers not trained in the method, and fond of teaching ‘integrated curriculum’, so-called].

Assumptions about curriculum impinge on understandings about pedagogy.  There isn’t always a shared understanding about this:

Geraldine hears lots of anxieties about implementing the AC – many feel daunted and overwhelmed, especially if there’s no academic background in history.  What we do have as primary teachers is experience in offering and engaging curriculum – and that’s a big advantage.  Geraldine shared her own story as a teacher of ‘social education’ – an integrated subject and there was no syllabus other than what they designed themselves.  ‘Not quite ‘curriculum on the run’ but they adjusted content when current events intervened.  This was a time with no national assessments, no directives about what to teach or how to teach it.  ‘Frameworks’ was the first framework that she used, and it was a watershed because it added ‘values’ and ‘actions’ to content and skills in the curriculum. This took curriculum beyond the classroom walls.

The point is that we all work within bigger frameworks, who or what constructs these can change, and the frameworks can change what is considered valid.  We need to be clear about what effective pedagogy looks and feels like.  We need to use our professional judgement and be ‘intellectual artisans’.  We deliver the curriculum, not ACARA – we have licence to do what works best.

Curriculum is –

  • a dumping ground for everything (including stuff that families used to do)
  • a depository for passing on culture – how do we choose what we value?
  • not always consistent with the agenda that’s supposed to be taken up – because it always embodies values, ideas about the future etc. It’s more about a nation’s soul than a technical task.

Is curriculum a noun, or a verb?  It depends on your assumptions. The choice affects a teacher’s engagement.

Curriculum as a noun implies a product, and therefore associated with content.  So teachers become implementers, and it may lead to ‘getting through it’ i.e. a ‘pedagogy of speed’.  Teachers may feel pressured by assessment and accountability …

If you see curriculum as a verb, it’s a process, it’s fluid and it needs input from those who use it.  It’s nothing without human input.  It requires us to be ‘artisans’ using it, developing curriculum that engages the students.  (Geraldine quoted assorted academics to support these ideas, but I didn’t catch their names. )

We need to adapt for our students and focus on a bigger pictures, make history come alive, select and integrate with other areas, expect professional and student input and expect change.  Yes, it’s messy.  What works with one lot of students doesn’t necessarily work with another, and teaching is hard enough without having to cope with bored students.

There aren’t that many supports for putting the people (teachers and students) into the curriculum.  What’s in the AC doesn’t help much with decision-making. Often we start with the content, but if it grows out from the focus Qs, or the CCPs. (I’ve forgotten what these are).  There are no principles in the document to guide us.  G thinks that the underlying principle is that curriculum is a noun.  [Whereas I think, it’s been designed to allow us to travel any way we like, and accommodate differences across States].

If we look at the AC:History from ‘above’ some elements stand out from the ‘forest’ of the document.  Geraldine says, start with the rationale and the bigger elements: skills, focus Qs and historical concepts.

Big ideas:

  • a discipline process of inquiry
  • curiosity and imagination
  • understanding ourselves and others
  • change and continuities
  • evidence, interpretations, debate, and respecting different perspectives
  • critical analysis
  • context,  substantiating interpretations and communicating them.

Key concepts – the pillars of the curriculum

  • cause and effect
  • empathy
  • evidence
  • perspectives
  • significance
  • continuity and change
  • contestability.

We need to make these big words meaningful for students.

Significance is a problematic concept.  It’s important to:

  • link the personal with the bigger narrative
  • use the vocabulary – both students and teachers need to use them
  • exist in the students world and can best be understood in their own world

Note that the achievement standards do not include content, they’re about skills and concepts.

Geraldine talked about integrating the curriculum in the usual ways – the important thing is to have the critical conversations with peers, and share what works and what doesn’t.  Any new initiative is going to have faults, supporting this critical evaluation with colleagues is the way to go.  Take ownership, celebrate, and share – especially online!

4 Responses to “2013 HTAV Primary History Teachers Conference: Keynote address#1”

  1. Really interesting. Many thanks Lisa! The Centre for WA History held a series of Professional Development sessions here at UWA on Saturday and spoke about several of these issues too. http://www.slideshare.net/fortunefavoursthebrave/professional-learning-seminars-on-the-australian-curriculum-history-community-and-remembrance-year-3

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