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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 the ‘Conferences Attended’ Category

SLAV Conference: Setting Literature Free

Posted by Lisa Hill on November 16, 2008

fed-square The SLAV conference was held this year at Federation Square, so I went in on our much maligned train system (punctual, clean and swift) and then had a very nice breakfast at Time Out until it was time to make my way up to ACMI Cinema 2.  I am still not entirely convinced that Federation Square is a success for events like these – although the cinema is a much better venue than VIT in terms of being able to see the speaker and all of the screen, it has a strange disembodied feel about it.  The lighting is a bit dim for taking notes, and there’s definitely something wrong with the air conditioning.  I was not the only one nodding off, and not from boredom!  The same thing happened at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival earlier this year, even when some of my favourite writers were on stage.  Elsewhere the informal spaces for gathering and chat don’t seem to work at all, and there simply aren’t enough toilets for large numbers of women.

Anyway, the theme was Re-imagine Other Worlds, very appropriate for teachers of literature.  However, much of the focus  was more secondary orientated than last year.  Although it was interesting, I often found myself thinking how lucky I am that I don’t have to teach library lessons to unwilling year 8-9 students!

The conference began with an introductory address called Setting Literature Free: Story Lines by Linda Gibson-Langford.   Linda talked about how boys in secondary school don’t want to listen to stories – they will fidget and disrupt even a really good book like Brisinger.  Linda quoted research by Schnog (2008), telling us that if we listen to the ‘voice of the boy’ we will realise that they feel no connection to the library or the world of books, because a library lesson is bounded by print and 19th century ‘good’ literature rather than connecting with contemporary culture.  Efforts to create sophisticated teen readers means we often dissect the work and ruin it, alienating the reader. 

This generation is used to publishing their own ideas any time they like – and we should try to explore their world.   Young people today live in a world of choice whether they are consuming, expressing or producing. It’s a world of multimedia, video editing, animation, 3D visualisation and twitter.  It’s Facebook and Second Life, and the interactive Web.  To engage them, she said, we need to discover their place, realise their privilege and develop their passion with creative ways of enjoying the story together.  These ways could include research with digital identities such as avatars to make a game of it, and ‘moving the reading experience sideways’, letting their world converge with reading.

This all sounded fine until she gave an example: they’re interested in Spiderman, so bring in a spider and then read Charlotte’s Web.  This seems just like gimmickry to me, and I was very surprised by her choice of book.  This great classic children’s story suits 8-11 year olds, but I suspect that secondary students would dismiss it as babyish, even if a teacher did jazz it up with Web 2.0 somehow.

However, some of her other ideas were more intriguing.  Reading aloud on a podcast or Second Life; or facilitating an author visit with Skype and a WebCam sounds fun. Personal reading with Kindles or iPhones might lure some students into the world of literature, and pairing a novel with video games might engage interest too. 

I use film and cartoons on and off during the year with most of my classes, always focussing on how the book differs – even with Preps when we read and view the Beatrix Potter stories in term 2.  For some students, seeing the film is an incentive to borrow the book, but for others it is not.  I recognise that some students are never going to become keen readers, and at least they have had some exposure to the great stories of our culture through hearing it and seeing it on film, and they can articulate what the differences are.

However I am not entirely convinced about jettisoning ‘good’ literature in favour of what’s popular and ‘relevant’.  There is a price to pay for spending time on interactive experiences and listening to the voice of the adolescent.  There is less time for story, and I believe that the imagination needs stories of all kinds.  A good library teacher dramatises the reading to engage her students and takes them to a world beyond their own experiences.  As one of my students wrote in the library survey earlier this year: ‘Sometimes we spend too much time doing other things, and not enough on the story.  Library time is supposed to be about books!’

Posted in Conferences Attended, Learning and teaching, Opinion, Professional Development, School Library stuff | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Stephen Heppell in Melbourne

Posted by Lisa Hill on November 12, 2008

heppell2Today I was lucky enough to attend a Policy & Research Forum and hear Professor Stephen Heppell talk about 21st century learning.  Lucky, because I suspect that I was one of very few practising classroom teachers at the event.  I sat amongst a bunch of principals, and I think that most of the other people there were bureaucrats or consultants.  I am lucky that my principal thinks it’s important for teachers to attend things like this.  

Anyway, it was an inspiring opportunity to listen to a visionary.  He began with a proposition: he thinks that something has changed in the world, because everybody wants to learn.  I think he’s right.  In my 30 years of teaching, we have shifted from a situation where kids couldn’t wait to escape school, to kids who love it, and adults who choose to engage in education in formal and informal ways throughout their lives.

I liked the way he began with a question: what’s a literate teacher?  According to the kids, it’s being able to

  • Edit a Wikipedia entry
  • Choose a safe online payments site
  • Upload a video to YouTube and make a comment
  • Subscribe to a podcast
  • Manage groups in Flickr (and be able to spell Flickr)
  • Turn on or off predictive text on a phone

(I can do all of these except the last one.  My phone is a bit of a mystery to me…)

Prof Heppell is on a campaign for learning.  What’s the most common method of teaching reading?

  • Copying from books or the whiteboard ( 52% .
  • Listening to teacher talk (33%)
  • Taking notes (25%)

And how do students prefer to learn?

  • in groups (55%)
  • doing practical things(39%)
  • learning with friends (35%)
  • with computers (31%)

These preferences are not just what the kids (predictably) want, there are also all kinds of adult experts who confirm that these methods are the most effective for learning: World Bank recommendations, the Head Honcho of Education in Britain, Corporate types and so on. We know this already.  We’ve included some of these ideas in charters over the years, and Web 2.0 is in our new strategic plan because our in-school research showed us that the kids are way ahead of us with IT.  But, system-wide?  It’s all so slow to change!

heppellThe wishlist was long and I didn’t write it all down, but here’s some of it:

  • stage-based not age-based learning
  • 24 hour access to learning (Ten years ago I had an article about this – and 7 days a week schooling – published in The Canberra Times!)
  • more all-age schools
  • multi purpose spaces (no more long corridors)
  • learning by doing
  • assessment as a guide to learning strategies
  • creativity and entrepeneurial activities
  • collaboration not competition
  • assessing ICT using latest technologies (i.e. not essays that nobody does once they leave education – unless they write for The Monthly or Quarterly Essay!)

Already knowledge industries surpass manufacturing in the US, and if it isn’t the same here in Oz, it ought to be.  Exporting things in expensive carbon-emitting ships is not the way for our country to prosper in the 21st  century: we should be selling ideas and innovations on the net.

I also like Prof Heppell’s insistence that assessment practices in Oz should not follow the mistakes made in Britain.  Teaching kids to regurgitate knowledge they’ve ‘already met’ is silly when what we really want from our education system is to teach our kids to be able to respond to situations they’ve never met before.

And lest we felt gloomy about how far we have to go, he reminded us that we are very lucky here in Australia.  We have a culture of literacy here in Melbourne (We’re a City of Literature after all!) and we have the potential to be world leaders in education.

What would be my measure of success for an education system of the 21st century? A huge increase in the number of bright and brilliant young people wanting to take up teaching as a profession and join in the adventure.

Recommended sites to visit are ThinkQuest, NotSchool, Teachers TV and Prof Heppell’s own sites: Heppell and CEMP.

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HTAA Conference: Day 3 workshops

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 5, 2008

My first workshop was with Mike Wohltman, a colleague I met at the History Summer School, and a teacher from Marden College in Adelaide.  He had changed the focus of his talk to be more schools-and-teaching orientated (which didn’t really suit either Tim or me) but it was still interesting. 

The Enlightenment is such an fascinating period, and it was very influential in our early history.  I first learned about it at the History Summer School from Professor John Gascoigne, (UNSW) from his presentation The Enlightenment and the Origins of European Australia, and Mike went on to make more specific its links to topics that are studied in the history curriculum.  He was very generous with resources, and passionate about teaching students to value reason in decision-making and to use it to combat prejudice and ignorance. 

The Enlightenment covers the period in Europe from 1715 (the death of Louis XIV) to 1776 (the US Declaration of Independence) and 1797 (the First French Republic.  It is based on a belief in the supremacy of reason over pleasure; the conviction that humans could perfect society through application of the intellect to human affairs.  Science took its place for the first time in history, and the movement influenced all the great intellectuals of the period.  The timing of Australia’s settlement was fortunate, for the Enlightenment was influential in the peaceful political development of our country – our public intellectuals at the time learned from the revolutions in Europe and applied ideals about stable and effective government without bloodshed.

The motto of the Enlightenment is Sapere aude! which means have the courage to use your own understanding.  There are five driving forces: happiness, liberty, nature, reason and progress, and they influenced all aspects of C18th life, including politics, intellectual life, culture, society and the economy.  To learn more, Mike recommends A Beginner’s Guide to the Enlightenment

I am especially fond of this period too because of my visit to the Enlightenment Exhibition at the British Museum in 2005.

After lunch, I went to Laura Chandler’s presentation about The Changing Roles and Identities of Women in the Latin East at the time of the Crusades.  Laura is a Phd student researching this period, and it was fascinating.  My grade 6 boys are not going to get away with their sexist comments about weak women any more (not that they ever did, but now I have some handy facts to impress them with!)  There will be a book one day, and I hope it’s well publicised because I’d like to know more about these women who ruled crusader states in the absence of their men, not to mention how they actively participated in the front lines in various ways (albeit non combatant).

Tim came with me to the final workshop, Pompeii and Herculaneum, presented by Denis Mootz.  We loved our visit to Pompeii, due in no small part to the teachers who inspired us to visit it.  Denis showed us some brilliant images of the forces that caused the eruption, and introduced us to some of the controversies around interpretations about the event.  Most amusing were his stories of how ‘discoveries’ were timed to coincide with the visits of VIPs – whose vanity was sufficiently flattered to ensure funding for continued research and excavations! We shall look at these sites with fresh eyes, next time we visit, and my teaching of the topic of natural disasters will definitely include Pompeii!

Posted in Australian History, Conferences Attended, Learning and teaching, Professional Development | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

HTAA Conference: Day 3 Keynote Speaker, Peter Cochrane

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 5, 2008

Peter Cochrane is the author of Colonial Ambitions: Foundations of Australian Democracy and his address was most interesting.  He pointed out that most Australians learn their history from writers like Peter Carey, Kate Grenville and Tom Keneally, not from scholars, and that he wrote his history by attending to similar narrative skills: a plot, composition that delights in language (and sometimes poetry), and character. 

Cochrane wanted to write a biographical narrative with an interesting ‘leading man’ – he chose William Wentworth, our first ‘great Australian’.  He was fascinating because he was flawed, and because his private life was so different to his public life.  To find a way into the ‘boring’ story of our early history he examined the revealed v. the concealed self, drawing on the private life of this man to illuminate the past.

Wentworth sounds intriguing.  Cochrane begins Colonial Ambitions with the story of his wedding to Sarah – a small wedding because Wentworth e was ostracised over his ‘convict blood’. He felt humiliated by being treated as a social pariah and this was influential in his behaviour – he was full of vindictive rage about it and wanted revenge because the Wentworth family was never included in Sydney society.  This complex man went on to become a key figure in the story of our peaceful evolution of colonial autocracy into a self-governing colony.

Cochrane also talked about the structure of his book, and explored some of the recent controversies about historical writing.  Simon Schama is worried about storytelling not being ‘serious’ and the risk of ‘dumbing down’, and Inga Clendinnen’s spat with Kate Grenville is well known.  Cochrane acknowledges that narratives run on historical time, but chronology doesn’t rule life and nor should it rule a book.  There can be patterns of impulse, and links between childhood and adult life, and these can be treated using flashbacks, retrospectives and glimpses of the future.  (All very useful ideas for the history that I am writing about the Draft Resisters Union! ) Cochrane believes that in writing accessible history, a writer can include analysis ‘by stealth’ and that it’s ok to fill in the gaps in the sense that one can imagine what something might have been like in the historical context (e.g. being ill with a stomach complaint and therefore unable to travel in the days when facilities were primitive) or to evoke the spatial dimension (e.g. what were the places of relevance? how did the city operate in those days?)

I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t read this book.  I remember picking it up in a bookshop (and this must have been on one of those rare days when I was trying to restrain my book buying obsession) and dismissing it as ‘just about NSW history’.  (Yes, how parochial of me!)  The first thing I did back in Melbourne was to order it from Readers Feast, to pick up this coming Tuesday when I go in after work for the launch of Kate Grenville’s new historical novel, The Lieutenant.

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HTAA Conference: Day Two Workshop Sessions

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 5, 2008

First up was Hilary MacLeod’s workshop called Looking Out – Global Perspectives in the History Curriculum.  This was really good, and because we had difficulty with this topic when we were writing our curriculum plan in 2007, I was pleased to discover that there is now a handy new framework for us to use.  (Download a copy here.) We had a quick look at it, (and we were given a copy to look at properly back at school) and then we did a lively activity where we had to place attributes of globalisation on a set of scales to indicate the pros and cons. The slideshow below is from the Global Education website and is well worth looking at.

After lunch I went to David Harri’s True Lies, Turning History into Adventure Stories. This was rivetting! With barely a pause to take a breath, David led us through the ways in which he rescues the most interesting people in history from oblivion, so that young people will want to read about them.
These are the ‘rules’ which enable his books to conform to the reading needs of 15 year olds:

  • Each chapter should end with a cliff hanger
  • Sentences should not be too long
  • Follow the Rules of 3 i.e. 3 main clauses, 3 main ideas, and not more than 12 words per lead sentence.
  • Begin with action or speech or a brilliant initial image, or a sense of smell, or a thought.
  • Avoid adverbs and adjectives because they slow adventure stories down
  • Strengthen verbs, and
  • Use vocabulary from the students’ world e.g. use ‘lover of old books’ not ‘archivist’
  • Compress time, events, space and characters e.g. from 5 years to a few days
  • Keep enemies together and friends apart
  • Reduce the number of characters e.g. 7 guides become one, for a character needs a sidekick to talk to, but doesn’t need many
  • Make historical figures enter real events, and fictional characters enter the real world.

Is this dumbing down?  Not in my opinion, not if it introduces an otherwise disinterested audience to history.  There are plenty of other books around for students with more advanced reading skills, and I’d rather books were accessible and engaging for kids who would otherwise not read anything at all.  I don’t subscribe to the toilet humour theory of reading for kids, but telling adventure stories to lure kids into history is different!

Here’s how David gets students to write structured stories in his workshops at schools: write one 1-2 line sentence for each sentence starter…

  • Every day…
  • But one day…
  • Because of that…
  • And because of that…
  • But that only made things worse…
  • The moment of truth was…
  • Finally…

and then write a resolution which is linked back to sentence one in some way.

This is what I wrote, in five minutes, about Chifley (hereby exposing my lack of real knowledge about him!)

  1. Every day, as Chifley drove his train, he dreamt of a better world.
  2. But one day there was new IR legislation and he no longer felt secure.
  3. Because of that he joined the union and represented the workers’ views.
  4. And because of that he went into politics and joined the Labour Party.
  5. But that only made things worse because he still had to compromise his views.
  6. The moment of truth was when as leader he had to break up a miner’s strike.
  7. Finally he decided to try promoting his views on the world stage.
  8. He died still dreaming of a better world.

My last session of the day was in the computer lab. Richard Ford, a wonderful young history teacher from St Andrew’s Cathedral School in Sydney, showed us how to use Movier Maker for photo essays in history. This is what to do:

  1. Select images first and save as jpegs. Tip: When importing form google select which size – medium or large is best (use the drop down menu to select which).
  2. Open Movie maker and import them.
  3. Then, at the bottom of the screen choose timeline rather than storyboard (it’s easier).
  4. And for effects and transitions (see edit menu) eg. make it all sepia.
  5. Then add titles (but not over images – inappropriate).
  6. Remember to acknowledge sources.

There were lots of other tips, but alas, someone somewhere realised I was blogging on the school site, and shut down my access!

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HTAA Conference: Day Two Keynote Speaker, Professor Barry McGaw

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 5, 2008

There was never any doubt that history was going to be included in the new national curriculum, and it was very interesting to hear Professor Barry McGaw talk about work in progress.
He explained what the remit was.  The board is charged with responsibility for writing:

  • a single world class K-12 curriculum
  • English first, then maths, sciences and history (and after that, languages and geography)
  • a continuum of learning in literacy and numeracy.

There is to be flexibility for the different jurisdictions, systems and schools, and there will be national testing linked to standards so that student achievement can be reported in a similar way nationally. 

What’s different this time is that the board reports to the Productivity Agenda Working Group (PAWG) not to state Education Ministers.  On the agenda are content, pedagogy and assessment, and not on the agenda (but obviously needing connection) are purposes of schooling, national assessment, curriculum resources and professional development.

It was, alas, these latter issues which exercised the minds of most of the panel and the audience, and it seems to me that what I heard most about was profound fear of change, parochialism, and the usual bleating about implementation issues.  McGaw must get very tired of this, I think, and some of the audience were obviously bored too (since some near me were playing with mobile phones, and reading the paper) but I suppose people need to have their say.

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HTAA Conference: Day One Workshop Sessions

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 5, 2008

The first session of the day was terrific. Presented by Kate Wain, it was titled Brain-Friendly Teaching, a layperson’s interpretation of the recent findings from neuroscience – and what astonished me was that Kate ‘s school (St Hilda’s in Southport) had funded her to go to the US to learn about this stuff – it certainly is a different world in private schools!
Anyway, Kate was an excellent presenter and I am really cross with myself for having misplaced my notes somewhere because I wanted to pass on the relevant points to staff at school. Most pertinent, was that certain parts of the brain don’t develop fully until the 40s or later, and that some types of thinking are beyond primary school children. She spoke specifically about the ability to plan, and how this requires a capacity to think of consequences in the future – a skill that is difficult for most adolescents, never mind 10 and 11 year olds. What I take from this is that I need to provide much more support for students to plan and monitor project work, for they are not developmentally ready to do this for themselves.

After that, I went to Strategies for Critical Thinking, presented by Eric Frengenheim.
is a dynamic speaker, and he has adapted various thinking tools for education use. His Framework for Thinking at Different Levels is fabulous: it links numerous thinking tools with Bloom’s Taxonomy and I know I’ll be referring to it constantly as I plan my next units of work. I wish now that I had bought his book…
I didn’t go to session three. I was just too tired after having slept badly, so I rang Tim who had just returned from a day’s gallivanting in Brisbane. Thanks again to the Navman, he found the College and we went back to the hotel for a snooze. (I always sleep badly on the first night away from home – I should have gone up a day earlier). It was a shame because it was about the new portrait gallery in Canberra, which I am very keen to see. It’s due to open in December.
I missed the screening of Broken Sun too. We were too tired to go anywhere so we dined in at the hotel – which (in contrast to breakfasts) was very nice.

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Knowledge Bank Online Conference Session 2

Posted by Lisa Hill on July 23, 2008

Steve Hargadon

The keynote speaker today was Steve Hargadon from the USA.  These are some of my notes that I took from the presentation but for more info, do have a look at Steve’s blog because he explains it much better than I do.

He thinks that Web 2.0 is as powerful a change agent as the phone or the car because it involves a new publishing revolution.  We are no longer recipients of information on the web as we were.  Web 1.0= recipient mode; whereas Web 2.0 = the read/write web  involving contributing,  collaborating, & creating.

Steve identified 10 trends in education – and I took beaut notes about his ideas, pasted them in here – and somehow lost them, so now all I have is my headings…


  1. Ability to create content
  2. Tidal Wave of Information – imagine when everyone is contributing to Wikipedia, eh?
  3. Culture of openness
  4. Culture of participation – Amazon reviews (and travellers rating hotels on Trip Adviser)
  5. The age of the collaborator – the wisdom of the masses?  (I’m not so sure about this.  Who needs reality TV and tabloids anyway?)
  6. An explosion of innovation
  7. The World Is Getting Flatter and Faster
  8. The Long Tail – this means that if the cost of something is too high, it’s not worthwhile for a retailer to sell it.  But if somehow the product does become available, an audience emerges for it.  50% of Amazon sales are for things that are never stocked in shops.
  9. Social Learning Moved Toward Centre Stage
  10. Social Networking – it’s not just My Space, Facebook and Orket, but social networks touch an emotional chord and bring us all together.
 What should we as teachers be doing?
  • Learn about web 2.0
  • Lurk – to familiarise yourself with what’s going on, until you feel confident
  • Participate
  • Digest This Thought:The Answer to Information Overload Is to Produce More Information.
  • Teach Content Production
  • Make education a new discussion
  • Help build the new playbook

Posted in Conferences Attended, Learning and teaching, Virtual conferences | 2 Comments »

Knowledge Bank Online Conference Session 1

Posted by Lisa Hill on July 23, 2008

Last night when I got home from work I viewed today’s sessions from the Knowledge Bank Online Conference through Elluminate.  The first sessions was a really inspiring presentation from two wonderful teachers, Anne Mirtschin and Jess McCulloch from Hawkesdale P-12 College.  They have 10 minutes tech spot sessions at staff meetings, but I really liked their idea of WIWOW Walk in walk out Wednesdays…a little bit like what we have been doing at MPPS but more ongoing, and open to everyone.   Anne and Jess make themselves available after school on Wednesdays for buddying and trouble-shooting for learning Web 2.0 with other teachers, and now 70% of their teachers blog, and comment on student blogs, which is an amazing achievement.   Their maths and science faculties have their own wikis, and the LOTE department even has pages with pronunciation guides for students to practise at home with.  They started off with and with some social networking – which was immediately appealing as it has been with us at MPPS.

One of the presenters said that Web 2 isn’t a thing, it’s a state of mind, and I think that’s true – which is both exciting and problematic, because some people are not very willing to embrace it.  Jess and Anne used Teacher Professional Leave to get the project started at their school, and that enabled them to provide a lot of support.

These are some of the links I noted from their presentation:

They also talked about growing your own personal learning networks eg through Twitter and Classroom 2.0 – but I’m still not sure about this because a network that’s too large becomes too time-consuming.  I’d rather have quality networks that really relate to my practice.

Some of the applications they use are unfamiliar to me so I’m going to have to find out more about them: 

  • MS Photostory for storytelling
  • Skype used for internal communication just for fun
  • Irfanview and digital photo manipulation

Students drive the blogs most of the time, and this is partly because teachers do respond to the blogs.  Assessment was raised as a topic, and Jess and Anne find it helpful that these  blogs are accessible at home.  They feel they’re getting to know the students better, and there are better learning outcomes because it shows students the teachers are interested in them, and the improvements in their writing.  In LOTE using 2.0 also allows for different learning styles, and allows the quieter student to participate. They like the visibility of thinking of the other kids – and think it’s challenging without pressure.  However,  they haven’t developed a rubric for marking blogs – and are not sure that they are necessary.  (I’m not so sure about that.)  The best thing is that it frees up class time for teaching – it’s non synchronous. There’s been a massive increase in asking questions because students aren’t embarrassed to do that online.  

I wonder a bit about the time commitment too… I’m enjoying playing around with 2.0 at home, but what if the enthusiasm of keen innovators becomes the expected norm?  How much of our evenings is going to be spent this way, or is there  going to be a time allowance to deal with it as the use of 2.0 grows?

I didn’t find the presentation about Meeting the Motherfish so interesting.  It was very much about the excitement of discovering new developments in paleontology, and not very much about 2.0. 



Posted in Conferences Attended, Learning and teaching | Tagged: | 4 Comments »