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

Archive for November, 2009

Be the Revolution? If only there was one!

Posted by Lisa Hill on November 27, 2009

What on earth is going on at HQ in the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development?? Have they lost the plot entirely?


I came back to school after Cup Day feeling tired but pleased with myself.  Everything was under control, I thought. The reports were done, and we had amended our Strategic Plan to take account of developing a new Student Engagement Policy, a huge task that came out of the blue and was assigned to all schools late in Term 3.  It’s  due to region by the end of this year but we had set aside an hour a week to work on it so that we could get it finished by the deadline.  (Anyone who is imagining that this could be a one page A4 document had better think again.  This so-called policy is going to run to about 30 pages, and is really a full-scale program). 

Anyway, I had developed a draft of the Annual Implementation Plan V1 from the amended strategic plan and it was almost ready for circulation and feedback.  The Professional Development Team had sketched out a Professional Development Plan V1.  We had made our plans for the three curriculum days at the beginning of 2010 and the staff doing the presentations were organised to undertake some preparatory PD.   I thought I could focus on getting the library stock-take organised and correcting the projects that Years 3-6 were due to finish in Weeks 7 and 8.  

But then I checked my email….

First there was a demand for a School Performance Summary.  Data to be provided to us on November 6th, and the finished report due to region on the 16th.  Yes, that’s 10 days to do it and I had to miss a morning’s classes to attend PD to find out what it was all about.   It turned out to be an ‘enhanced’ version of the Rudd government’s so-called transparency agenda.  I dutifully provided a profile of our school etc to go on the State Government’s website which will duplicate the league tables data which the Feds are setting up.  I did this knowing full well that no one will look at it once the league tables have been published in The Australian and all the tabloids (who have, no doubt, already organised their journos to sort the data, once it’s available, into the format that they want).

Then there was some stuff from region, inviting us to Be the Revolution.  I waded through the world’s most irritating website (I’d add the link, but I can’t find it on SMR’s website LOL) to find that there was an 88 page manual to read.  I decided to read the summary instead, but that was 14 pages long. I printed out the wretched thing and stuck it in my bag to take home and read later.

I did that at the weekend.  As I suspected, Being the Revolution involves a lot of work.  Most of what we have to do rehashes the Curriculum Plan that we did in 2007, (yes, that’s only two years ago) but there’s also some fanciful stuff about dreaming how we might redesign our school spaces to teach in the 21st century.  Even if there were some prospect of having the money to do this, isn’t this an architect’s job?  Are they really expecting teachers to design buildings??

Whether it’s an absurd waste of time or not, my estimated time impact of the Be the Revolution stuff, that is, how much teacher time is needed to deal with it,  totals 13-19 hours + 4-6 weeks research + unspecified time for the ‘catchphrase’ & ‘road map’  + 4 x ongoing time allocations + unspecified time for reflection, based on advice in the 88 page manual:

Section 1: Dreams 3-5 hours+ ongoing unspecified time for the ‘catchphrase’ & ‘road map’;

Section 2: Invest 2-3 hours + 4-6 weeks research

Section 3: Design 7-10 hours +ongoing;

Section 4: Share: 30-40 mins +4 x ongoing time allocations + unspecified time for reflection

I have no idea where this time is going to come from: planning, preparing for and correcting student learning, I suppose?  Integrated Unit development?  Preparation of resources?  After school professional development?? Consensus moderation of assessment tasks?  All the other initiatives we have in our strategic plan?? Anyway, I set my doubts aside and added it to the list of things we’re going to do in 2010 in our Annual Implementation Plan V2, and added it to the Professional Development Plan V2  as well.

23.11.09 (Monday)

Circulated draft Annual Implementation Plan V2 to Leadership Team.

25.11.09 (Wednesday).

Email about online PD available for the three curriculum days at the start of term 1 2010.  I would have thought that all schools would be devoting at least one whole day to introducing the new Student Engagement Policy, and another whole day to progressing the implementation of E5 and planning for using it.  Anyway, we’ve already planned our three days…

26.11.09 (Thursday )1.23pm

Email from SMR about Ultranet AIP Guidelines suggesting ways to include the Ultranet in the Annual Implementation Plan.  Wary of committing the school to something we know very little about, I re-do the Annual Implementation Plan now V3 with undertakings to provide PD for staff and implement the initiative as information becomes available.  Make note to self about amending Professional Development Plan which will be V3.  Frantic efforts to share these amendments with the leadership team sabotaged by huge rainstorm.  The corridor is awash, three rooms are flooded, parts of the ceiling collapse under the weight of water, and it seems like a good idea to turn the computers off.  Oh, and everybody is too busy with mops and towels to chat about the AIP . 

27.11.09 Friday 1.25 pm

That deadline to submit the draft  Annual Implementation Plan is looming – rainstorm or not, it’s due to region on Monday.  Updated the Annual Implementation Plan Draft V4 to include more about the Ultranet, and sent it off by email to the Leadership Team for feedback.  Five minutes later, there were three new documents about the Ultranet in my inbox.  Ultranet Readiness documents they call them – as if schools can be ready for something about which they have had next to no information, no professional development and no money to provide the infrastructure.

At this stage my rebellious streak overtook my professional zeal and I decided that I’d had enough.  These incessant  demands from the department are unreasonable.  Clearly they are disorganised and have left everything to the last minute, and they seem to have forgotten that schools are busy with reports, EOY functions like Graduation, managing the Fed’s Building Program, preparing grade lists for 2010, interviewing staff for 2010 positions, library stock-takes and so on.  We’re still teaching too – I’ve got 18 classes a week; the other leading teachers who are classroom teachers get 4 hours time release a week.  How on earth are we supposed to collaborate on planning at such short notice (never mind the collaborating we’re supposed to be doing on the Student Engagement Policy as well!)

Whoever is in charge of the Department of Education & Early Childhood Development at HQ needs to get out of the skyscraper in the city and visit some schools to see the impact of these unreasonable demands.  Strategic planning for effective 21st century learning is too important to be ruined by such disorganised stupidity as this.  It saps the goodwill of hardworking teachers and it means that anything that does get done won’t be done properly. 

If we had a real revolution in schools, there would be respect for the work of teachers, there would be money to support worthwhile initiatives, and adequate time release would be provided for planning purposes instead of trading on the goodwill of the profession.

Update 2.12.09 More stuff came today, to be included in the Annual Implementation Plan.  Too late, o tardy bureaucrats, we’ve sent ours in already, as per the official deadline, on Monday last.

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PoMo with the Preps (Yes, really!)

Posted by Lisa Hill on November 26, 2009

As readers who have visited my Goodies to Share page know, I have developed an author study of the author/illustrator Bruce Whatley, and I teach it every year with the Preps in Term 4.  This year, courtesy of the Casey-Cardinia Library, I discovered a title we did not have at school…

It’s called Wait! No Paint and it’s a classic example of postmodernism!  Yes, as you can see if you check out my Postmodernism for the Uninitiated blog post at ANZ LitLovers there’s absurdity, playfulness and intertextuality – and the Preps took no time at all to figure this out, (though they’re not quite ready for the terminology just yet LOL).

We began by discussing the cover, and of course they recognised the Three Little Pigs straight away.  We had a lovely time retelling the fairy tale, with lots of huffing and puffing and so forth, and then I drew their attention to the fact that the book doesn’t have the title they’d expect it to.   We noted on page two that there were 73 little pigs creating a crowd rather than a mum sending the pigs out to gain their independence, and then read on till we came to the page with the glass of spilt juice and an intrusive voice that didn’t belong.

 “The first little pig had just finished building his house when he heard a splash. `Oops!’ said a Voice from nowhere in particular. `I spilled my juice.

We counted up the characters in the original tale (twice, in case we’d made a mistake) and came to the conclusion that this voice was some kind of extra character.  Pressing on, we thought it was a bit odd when the house made of straw collapsed in a soggy heap  – and little brows were frowning in perplexity ‘because that’s not how the story’s supposed to be!’

When the Big Bad Wolf copped a blow to the nose and had to have it rubbed out and repaired, the game was up.  ‘It’s Mr Bruce Whatley’, declared Daniel.  ‘Yes, he’s the drawrer’ said another, ‘he’s writing the story and it’s his juice.’   They thought it was hilarious when the illustrator ran out of red paint (which you need to colour the pigs pink, of course) and instead made the pigs first green and then a floral pattern when they remonstrated about it.  There was grave concern, however, when there was no red for the flames of the fire with which to get rid of the wolf coming down the chimney!  “We don’t want to be in this story any more!’ wail the pigs – and suddenly they’re not!

This is a witty book, which references cartoons the children have seen, and the children loved it.    The last page is in black and white so that children can colour the three little pigs and their placards demanding to be painted.  It’s a nice, light-hearted way to end library for the year, and I’ll be adding this lesson to the Bruce Whatley unit in due course.


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Book Review: Three Cups of Tea

Posted by Lisa Hill on November 21, 2009

I won this book in our Guess the Number of Pages competition which we run every year as part of our book week celebrations. We wrap one book for each class in red ( a salute to the Be Well Read, Wear Red Literacy Week slogan) and the child who guesses the correct number of pages gets to keep the book.  I should have abstained from the Staff competition; a librarian has an unfair advantage.

Anyway, Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin (Young Readers Edition) is the story of how mountaineer Greg Mortenson transformed his life and became a humanitarian.  Profusely illustrated with photos both B&W and colour, the story begins with a brief recount of how his 1991 attempt to climb K2 in Pakistan, the second highest mountain in the world, was frustrated by near-disaster.  One of his co-climbers, Etienne Fine, became sick and disorientated from altitude sickness, and the expedition had to carry him back down the mountain to be rescued by helicopter.  Too stressed and tired to continue with the climb, Mortensen and Darnsey then decided to return to base, but Mortenson himself became lost – and was rescued by the Pakistani porter Mouzafer Ali. However he somehow became lost again, and in this way that he came to be in the village of Korphe, where he was taken in and cared for by Haji Ali, the head man.

It was this experience that made Mortenson take stock of his life and make the decision that he would express his gratitude by building them a school.  It turned out to be less simple than he had naively imagined, and before long he realised that it was not enough to build just one school.  He managed to raise funds through Jean Hoerni, an American philanthropist who had made his money in Silicon Valley.  Together they co-founded the Central Asia Institute, which builds schools in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan, despite death threats from Islamic fundamentalists who object to the education of girls, and the resurgent Taliban.

This is a worthwhile book for young people to read, but I have one minor quibble.  On p21, a reference to Mortenson’s sister’s death at an early age is attributed to vaccination. Perpetuating this type of ignorant myth-making is entirely inappropriate for readers too young to be aware that the claim has been proven to be false and the doctor who made the claim has been struck off. It is dangerous if people take it seriously as has been shown by rising rates of whooping cough in the West and the tragic rejection of polio vaccine in some developing countries.

Author: Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin, adapted by Sarah Thomson

Title: Three Cups of Tea

Publisher: Puffin, 2009

ISBN: 9780143304630

Source: won in MPPS competition, donated to the Op Shop.

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Catastrophic Fire Danger Days

Posted by Lisa Hill on November 19, 2009

Well now I’ve heard everything!  I read in The Age today, that there’s concern that schools might not be able to notify parents if schools are to close on days of Code Red Catastrophic Fire Danger.   This is because the  Bureau of Meteorology Fire Danger Rating, which determines whether a school in an at-risk area closes, would be declared twice a day – at 5am and about 5pm.  So schools may not know until then that the school – for the safety of students and staff – MUST be closed.  Brian Burgess, president of the Victorian Association of State Secondary Schools Principals  was quoted as saying that there was no way a high school could shut on such short notice.

What utter nonsense!  School communities are in the same location as the families that attend there.  And even if some students travel some distance from the school, every parent has a responsibility to monitor these fire danger ratings on a daily basis.  These warnings will be broadcast in the media well before any child sets off for school in the morning, and any family in the same at-risk area as the school ought to have enacted its bushfire safety plan anyway.  It is not the school’s responsibility to notify people that there’s a catastrophic fire danger rating for the day!

We have seen what happens when people rely on getting personalised warnings about bushfire danger.  Every parent in Victoria ought to know the potential risk to the school their child attends.  Check the  Bushfire At-Risk Register if you don’t.  Every Victorian has a responsibility to monitor those daily warnings for their area or any area they plan to travel to,  and to share the information with anyone who is vulnerable.

Click this link for Victorian Forecast Areas.

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Seeing Things Differently: SLAV conference Keynote address by Dr Mark Norman

Posted by Lisa Hill on November 13, 2009

Dr Mark Norman is the author of a number of books in my school library: Birds in Suits, The Octopus’s Garden, The Great Barrier Reef, Sharks with Attitude, and Living in the Freezer and we love them all.  He’s passionate about the idea of encouraging children to escape into reality, and while he acknowledges that kids are fascinated by the Lord of the Rings monsters and fantasy creatures, he thinks the natural world is intriguing for kids.  He showed us some wonderful slides of deep sea animals that are ugly grotesque and gross, but they’re beautiful too.

So Dr Norman wants us to see things differently – to look around us more than we do.  He’s a very entertaining speaker, and a great role model for kids becoming interested in science.  He says we have to get our eye in – because sometimes we can’t see things because we’re not looking in the right way.  He himself thought he had failed in his first research project on the Great Barrier Reef because he failed to see movement of camouflaged octopi.

Dr Normans’ books for kids are all based on his research but they’re not dumbed down.  They’re predicated on the idea that the visual is critical to not only engaging interest but also providing information that is critical to  understanding.  There’s a narrative behind the photos too: he told us about one photo that took ages and ages to get because the octopus kept squititng ink to avoid the photographer.  The creepy details of these creatures behaviour is of course very appealing to kids and these real stories can compete the silly stuff kids see in the popular media: the important thing is to have this information in kid friendly language.

At Black Dog books, Dr Norman learned to

  • play with stereotypes
  • space and place
  • time

The Shark Book, Fish with Attitude: challenges the stuff about sharks being a terrible threat to humans: gentle giants like the whale shark and tiny little sharks in the deep that never get near humans.  We are much more of the threat than they are to us.  Koala the Real Story challenges the lack of detail about some that we think we know a lot about. Koalas have huge noses because they need to sniff out which of the leaves they eat are the least toxic.  (This book is due for release soon).  He adds jazzy facts to his text comparing the scale of the koala embryo and its mother to a human child and multi storey buildings.  Let’s call creatures silky instead of slimy; let’s recognise the engineering feats of the house fly.  (Hmm, not too sure about that one!) There are many stories to tell about these creatures…

Place and scale can be explored and you’ll find living creatures anywhere, even places that seem like sterile concrete deserts.  In the inner city, planting a few native plants and the creatures will come.  Get to know your local creatures and then build on that. Another new books is about the Deep, down through the different layers of our oceans, exploring the most common creatures on our planet that most people don’t know about because we can’t go deeper than 6km into the deep.  These books involve complex visual literacy, including scales to show how deep the creatures are, graphics, text and striking background.  Another forthcoming book explodes the myth than penguins and polar bears live together: these will be vertical books, not horizontal…

Loved his suggestion that an ovenight sleepover or a twilight activity at school can introduce children to their local creatures that only come out at night!

Interesting aso to compare the local area: the time scale at your own place during the indigenous period, and during pre human history.

Design and accessibility for weak readers incudes non linera narrative, side bars, storng graphics and making information available in mutliple ways.  The Octopus’s Garden even includes DVDs showing film without a narration, which draws kids back to the book including the fact files in the back of the book which can be read by adults interpreting the books for children.

Kids and Climate Change: inevitable that it will affect us but Al Gore’s book was focussed on the problem and not enough on the solution.  We need to give kids the idea that they are part of the solution.  The narrative that’s needed will empower children so that they do what they can…

This entire presentation was given in a darkened Cleminger Theatre: it was a rivetting slideshow featuring the amazing creatures that Dr Norman talked about.  This post can’t p ossiblyconvey the power of the visual images that he stressed were so important – you had to be here!

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Seeing Things Differently, SLAV Conference 2009

Posted by Lisa Hill on November 13, 2009

Blogged live at the conference, so typos and errors will be tidied up later at home!

The focus of this conference is to explore multiliteracies and visual learning, and so the NGV as venue is ideal.  The opening address reminded us of the interdisciplinary aspects of learning in the 21st century.  Learning through the visual arts is championed by not only educational  experts, but is also recognised by political leaders such as Barack Obama.  The arts teaches children that there are multiple solutions to probelms, and make vivid that neither words nor numbers exhaust everything we can know, especially when considering feelings and emotions.

The growth of technology saturates everyday life, and children are swamped by it.  42% of children prefer to learn visually, and this is a statistic we can’t ignore.  Linking learning with the arts, at the NGV or any other gallery is therefore a valuable learning experience that is intellectually challenging outside of the school walls.  It enriches children by teaching tolerance, flexibility and originality.

Michelle Stockley from the NGV talked about narrative and story-telling.  Her first example was the wonderful painting of The banquet of Cleopatra, and she reminded us that while most people can correctly interpret the status of the painting’s participants and other visual cues, but the story behind it – Cleopatra’s bet with markl Anthony needs to be told – or they can read the labels on the wall at the gallery, or the touch screens but these involved not just the ability to read but also the knowledge about where to find it.   Basic museum literacy involves reading objects and full competence means being able to draw on all the resources of the gallery to make sense of the experience.  A museum literate visitor can not only make sense of the pciture but also its place in the gallery – the 18th century gallery that it’s sited in.  It means being able to compare it with other paintings around it including works by the same and other artists.

Michelle referred to Gombirch’s The Story of Art, which was enduringly popular because it was a narrative about art that people found easy to enjoy and understand,  But there were voices missing: indigenous artists, women, photographers and other forms of new media.  The narrative view of the development has been challenged in recent years, and is now more inclusive.  

Sometimes the story behind an acquisition is fascinating.  How did we come to have Tiepolo’s painting here at the NGV?  It came on the market because the USSR thought its subject matter degenerate, and sold it to fund its Stalinist programs.  Negotiating its purchase was therefore politically incorrect, but we bought it anyway.

Critical literacy is important too.  Some of the nationalistic paintings that are so popular omitted women’s experience and the indigenous experience.  Diana Jones, shearing the Rams 2001 appropriates Tom Robert’s pitcture and puts in indigenous shearers in the picture.  Some recent exhibitions place side by side with iconic paintings that we know, different topical views of the same issue.

Stories from behind the scenes are fascinating too.  The restoration of  Arthur Streeton’s Spring involved removing stripping off Estapol over many months (and you can read about this online if you Google “The fine Art of Stripping” though it may be safer to use Arthur Streeton’s Spring as a search term!)  Michelle also explained that the way an exhibition is set up – the colour of the gallery walls, the sounds and lighting used all contribute to the narrative of the art works.

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What an insult!

Posted by Lisa Hill on November 5, 2009

All teachers in Australia are used to being undervalued, but every now and again there’s fresh evidence that the complexity of our work and the expertise that underlies our profession counts for nothing…

Today I was approached to work as a consultant (for an organisation I won’t name) for a flat fee of $350 for 10 hours work.  

My cleaning lady is paid $25.00 per hour. 

You do the maths.  Don’t forget to deduct tax.

There’s no prize for guessing that I said ‘No thanks! ‘

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