The HTAV Primary Teachers conference was a disappointment. This is a real pity because it was great to see this secondary subject association offer its expertise to primary teachers for the first time. That the conference didn’t live up to its promise is probably nobody’s fault: the timing was premature…
I booked myself in (paying the registration myself) because it was advertised as an opportunity to identify the differences between the new national curriculum and the Victorian VELS. As Director of Curriculum, I wanted to explore these implications in detail so that we could make an informed start on implementing the new curriculum in 2011. Partly because of the political hiatus in Canberra and Tony Abbott’s threats to jettison the history curriculum if he forms government, and partly because our local Powers- That-Be have by their own startling admission made no plans to provide practical support for its implementation, the conference floundered around in a bit of a vacuum.
David Boon, the keynote presenter was wonderful. I had heard him do a presentation at the History Summer School in Canberra and once again he was able to focus in on (probable) key themes in the draft curriculum with examples of how it could be brought to life for young children. I would dearly love to be able to access his ideas and resources online but I suspect that there’s not going to be any funding for anything as useful and practical as that!
I also went to a really good session about using ICT in the history curriculum. Louise O’Doughery had some great practical ideas, all focussed on the premise that an interactive whiteboard is best used by the students so that it generates discussion. Alas for the profession, this talented teacher is leaving teaching to work for a whiteboard company – for all the hot air talked by politicians state and federal about improving teaching standards there still seems to be no way to retain our best and brightest. Would a teacher like Louise be lured into staying for a vague promise of a possible occasional bonus if her class results are better than the rest? Of course not. It’s a stupid idea, Julia Gillard. (Who is this twerp who has the PM’s ear about education, importing the most stupid of stupid ideas from the US?? It is this ‘faceless’ man or woman I’d like to see lose influence in Canberra!)
The publishers’ stands were a bit of a disappointment too. The same old cultural institutions (Arts Centre, Department of Veterans’ Affairs, etc) promoted their wares, but there was only one very limited display of books that could be used to bring history to life. Perhaps because I teach history in my library classes I have a better idea than most about how a well-chosen picture book or serial can transport kids back to the past, and I would have liked to have seen a collection of diverse titles from a major supplier (e.g. Scholastic or Link). Perhaps they were approached and couldn’t/wouldn’t do it? I don’t know.
What this conference revealed to all of us there on the day was that primary teachers are, as usual, on their own, with no support from our employer, for the implementation of curriculum. We will be expected to develop our own units of work, in our own time, and – no doubt – encouraged to share them on the Ultranet. We will have to spend hours researching websites and local history sources to customise the curriculum for our own schools, and while teams of secondary history teachers will have text books galore and time away from face-to-face teaching to design their curriculum, we’ll have to find the time to do it within our paltry two-and-a-half hours per week time release and implement the new English, Science and Maths curriculum as well.
The Usual Suspects will develop units of work for ‘years five to eight’ which will inevitably be pitched at years seven and eight, and primary teachers will (a) get to spend their time ‘adapting them’ and (b) get criticised (with some justification) by secondary teachers for pillaging the best bits out of these units so that year seven and eight students complain that they’ve done it before.
Not only that, we’re told yet again that the solution to finding the time for the inclusion of history in the curriculum is to integrate it into the literacy block. Do these people who suggest this have any idea how to teach literacy? A literacy lesson is planned to provide for individual literacy needs. It’s about teaching reading and writing. Children are grouped together and taught specific skills that they have not mastered. Four or five groups have different texts and different tasks because they have different learning needs. Are they seriously suggesting that teachers can come up with resources and tasks for four or five groups with different needs for history topics???? No, of course they’re not. They’re suggesting that kids read something or other about the history topic and that can be called a literacy lesson just because some of the kids – though certainly not the ones with low reading ability – are going to be reading it. Is it any wonder that there were cross mutterings in the auditorium?
On the plus side, the venue was NGV at Federation Square so I was able to duck in for a quick look at some of the exhibitions, and when it was all over I was able to meet up with The Spouse for a couple of evening Melbourne Writers Festival sessions as well!
PS While hunting around for a site about interactive whiteboards, I came across this one – check it out!