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Workshops: Pliny, Lake Mungo and Angkor, History Teachers Conference 2011

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 4, 2011

I went to three very interesting, and very different workshops on the second day of the conference.  Again, these notes were taken ‘on the run’ and if I have misrepresented anything or made any errors, please contact me and I will amend what follows as necessary.


The first one was presented by Denis Mootz who teaches senior secondary history.  His topic was whether we could trust Pliny the Younger’s account of events in 79AD i.e. the eruption of Vesuvius,

Being historically conscious means being aware that the sources are problematic, and if you’re studying ancient history, it’s (of course) especially problematic.  In the case of Pliny the Younger, whose account of the eruption of Vesuvius at Pompeii was used by Tacitus in his Histories, it’s important to look at the purpose and timing of the documents. 

Pliny wrote his letters 20 years after the event, primarily to provide Tacitus with information about his uncle, Pliny the Elder.  The description of the eruption was a just sideline for Pliny who was basically writing a eulogy about his uncle (who died in the eruption), so that Tacitus would write favourably about Pliny the Elder in his political treatise about how to live an honourable life under a tyrant.  In fact Pliny says himself that what he’s written is not history, and that it would only become history when Tacitus the historian wrote about it.

I liked Mootz’s comment says that ‘Big H’ history is when a  historian writes it, (i.e. there’s analysis involved) and ‘little h’ history is just something about the past.

Mootz gave lots of examples of inconsistencies, omissions and so on that show that the first letter, relied on by Tacitus writing his history, just doesn’t make sense. (His second letter is an eye witness account of an event and contemporary vulcanologists studying recent eruptions say it is more reliable). Not even the date is certain.

Much of what Pliny says has been debunked by vulcanologists, and by analysis of what he says about what he could see in the context of the local geography.  He would not have been able to see some things he said he did, and he should have been able to see other things that he didn’t mention.  For example, he doesn’t mention the noise, he writes that from where they were his mother drew his attention to a column of smoke – but the noise would have been equivalent to a 10+ mega-tonne H-bomb, enough to deafen a person.  One of the largest noises ever heard on earth, but Pliny doesn’t say anything about it.  He also tells us that the green fields could no longer be seen after Vesuvius, but he wouldn’t have been able to see them beforehand anyway.  He says he couldn’t tell which mountain the cloud of smoke was ascending.   This is a bit mysterious, because it’s pretty obvious from the local geography –  and this raises questions about Pliny’s knowledge of the Bay of Naples  and its geography.

When it comes to what he said about his uncle, it’s important to remember that the slaves who told Pliny about finding his uncle’s body had a vested interest in lying about what happened. They were expected to stay with Pliny’s uncle no matter what, but they obviously didn’t because otherwise they would have died too. (Pliny heroicises himself too: he  tells us that in the face of this massive eruption he hung around and did his homework, looked after his mother and so on – and had to be told to get away to safety).  The letter talks up the uncle and his decision making: he doesn’t panic like everyone else, because he’s a great man. Pliny says his uncle was found looking as if he’s just asleep, but the extant bodies from then and other recent volcanic events show that bodies aren’t ever found looking relaxed  and asleep: they’re mostly in the ‘pugilist pose’, (sinews tightened up and the person’s arms and legs contract towards the body)which shows what a gruesome death it was, caused by being exposed to heat over 200 degrees.  (Many people, exposed to temperatures were over 800 degrees, were vaporised, while others were covered in pumice which people breathed in and suffocated). 

LAKE MUNGO and the National Curriculum

This session was presented by Jacquie Taylor and Jenny Bowler, daughter of the geologist who was working on climate change in the Lake Mungo region and in 1969 reported archaeological evidence radio-carbon- dated to over 50,000 years ago that proved an Aboriginal presence there. This work now shows how people have lived in Australia at last 50,000 years ago.

Initially there was hostility and distrust about scientists interfering with the human remains at Mungo and it’s only fairly recently that mutual respect between elders and scientists has emerged. With the arrival of the Australian Curriculum, the time is now right for the story of Lake Mungo to be more widely known and taught.

Jenny worked with Jacquie as a writer of curriculum, to use Bowler’s materials for teaching purposes. The CD which is available has heaps of resources which students can manipulate.

Lake Mungo is a world heritage site. The evidence of ritual burial there is the oldest such evidence in the world. It is important that the images of the remains be prefaced with statements of respect and acknowledgement that permission to use them has been given by tribal elders. Mungo Woman was returned to the burial site and handed back to the local elders, while the remains of Mungo Man is still at the ANU until it is agreed what to do with them.

Jackie said that it’s important to recognise that not all teachers know much about the diversity of Aboriginal culture or about the geology which underpins understanding about Lake Mungo. The unit of work she’s developed is for Year 4 Australian History in the new AC curriculum. It includes lesson plans, resources, cultural information and protocols, and is intended to give teachers confidence about using it. (A secondary unit is in the pipeline).

It also includes the 8 Aboriginal Ways of Learning as a resource (which if used as a planning matrix, would cover all learning styles). Story, singing, dance and art are integral to Aboriginal learning, using the following components:

  • Deconstruct/reconstruct – knowing the big picture before you unpack the detail, means you always know where you are.
  • Learning maps
  • Community Links
  • Symbols and images
  • Non-verbal
  • Land-links
  • Story-sharing
  • Non-linear

Ref The Incredible Human Journey (BBC production).

I’m looking forward to being able to eventually access this unit of work for Year 4: I think it will be a marvellous resource.


This session was presented by James St Julian , Trinity Grammar school. He introduced the study of Angkor (802-1327) as a topic for study in secondary schools.  The Spouse and I visited Angkor Wat on our trip to Vietnam and Cambodia in 2007, so I am very pleased to see that the study of this astonishing kingdom is gaining greater prominence in the secondary school curriculum. 

Julian very generously shared a unit of work that he has developed using a cut off point of 802-1327 because1327 was when the last known king assumed the throne.  (He says that some people may feel nervous about the pronunciation of names but they are no more difficult than names from the rest of the ancient world once you tackle them).

The Angkor Wat complex is an extraordinary set of buildings, the central wat (temple) is higher than Notre Dame in Paris.

The key issue to discuss (as it is with most ancient empires) is the reasons for its decline. The conventional story is that the Thais invaded, captured the royal family and Angkor was ‘abandoned’. In fact archaeological evidence shows that there was continuous settlement, so this story that it was abandoned is open for discussion.

Other seasons for abandonment?

  • Mismanagement of the ecology
  • Deforestation
  • Over development

Key figures who could be studied in detail:

  • Jayavarman II founded the Khmer empire
  • Suryavarman I expanded the empire over central and southwest Thailand
  • Jayavarman was a prolific builder who is sometimes said to have started the decline of the Cambodian empire because of his extravagance.

There are interesting links between the history of India or China that can be made.

We were given some lesson sequences which could be used, outlining studies of

  • religious beliefs and practices (Hinduism, Theravada Buddhism, and Mahayana Buddhism). Worship of the spirit is still prolific in Cambodia today, major religions are superimposed on top of them, probably brought in by Indian merchants. Not clear whether there was slow absorption or a deliberate decision to adopt Hinduism and Buddhism (from about 100BC) to enhance trade is not known. Studying the religion is a good launching place to start studying about kingship. Adoption of the Reamker (Ramayana) which is a love story a little like Helen of Troy, and it becomes a major artistic influence in classical Khmer ballet and visual representations of it in temples etc., e.g. Vishnu and the Churning of the Sea of Milk, tug of war over an eternal elixir in the belly of a naga (mythical snake),they are fighting over immortality. Neither wins, and out of the belly comes creation. There are representations of Hindu mythology everywhere e.g. on the 5 causeways leading up to the complex. Unfortunately only religious buildings were made of stone, everything else was timber and has perished in the tropical climate, so it’s only from the art works on the temples that we can ascertain what other buildings might be like.
  • political system = the study of kingship is fascinating and students will be familiar with this through studies of Egypt.
  • social organisation – was there a caste system? It appears to have been temporary, successive generations were not assigned to a caste because their ancestors were.
  • daily life – information comes from the visit of a Chinese ambassador: he gives details about the role of women, daily bathing etc. and can be compared to present day actions in Cambodia and pictures on temples. (See notes on handout). Evidence of importing Chinese materials = evidence of connections with Chinese court, why was this?
  • economics, trade and agriculture
  • temples and infrastructure
  • Suryavarman II (Virtual site study: ANgkor)
  • Jayavarman Vii
  • Decline and legacy.

Also important to study are the adjacent Cham people who were often hostile to the Khmer. (We saw some of their sculpture at the Cham Museum at Da Nang).

Sanskrit was introduced from the Indians, Cambodians still use it. It’s complex to translate because vowels don’t match up to where the sounds are (like Hebrew). There are inscriptions everywhere, and translations are available,so  it’s just like studying ancient Egypt, (and no harder).

The Cambodian economy depends on the Mekong just as the Egyptian economy depends on the Nile. Lake Ton Le Sap floods over a huge area because the river floods back into it during the wet season. Water management is crucial.

Internet resources include

  • The Greater Angkor Project

The study of Angkor is also relevant if studying modern history and the Vietnam war.

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What Brings History Alive? Anna Clark (HTAA Conference 2011)

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 4, 2011

Can history be engaging, fun even, and  have integrity? [i.e. history should be interesting, but not dumbed down].

1. What makes it fun? 

The community is very interested in history but that doesn’t seem to translate into the classroom. There is interest in heritage trusts, visits to historical buildings,family history, books (historical fiction, biography), passing on items of historical interest to the next generation – there’s huge popular interest in the past.

Ashton and Hamilton research – noted interest in popular history, but found  disinterest in a formal historical narrative such as taught in school.  In America, research likewise showed that history was thought to be boring.   Clark’s research confirms these findings, a current oral history research project builds on her previous research within schools and extends it into the community.  People of all ages and backgrounds are not engaged with the formal national narrative.  Young Australians have been exposed to the national story but don’t connect with it.  Older people seem to be interested in social history, personal stories, not kings and queens or past eras.  The intimate  past is alive, but is it history?? How to translate this into historical understandings so that people are aware of – and can engage in – the complex debates about major historical issues?

[The quotations Clark seemed to me to show the respondents to be stuck back in the primary history agenda for Prep – year 2,  of connecting at a very simplistic level with a personal past, and not having moved on intellectually].

Media criticism about students not knowing history isn’t fair, because it simply reflects attitudes held in the community anyway.  Teachers know that it’s important to make it real, to provide a personal connection and an immediacy so that students will want to engage in history. Clark noted that it’s easier to get that engagement on the topic of war, with its personal stories, than it is with Federation.

Why the disconnect?

2. Historical integrity. 

It’s not enough to get them interested, students need to develop historical understanding at a broader level.  There’s plenty of evidence that too few children know about Barton, what Australia Day means etc.  The public response falls into two opposing camps: teach ‘em the facts v teach them stuff that interests students.  This is why there is so much heated discussion about history teaching in the media.

Clark thinks that the aim should be to teach students to be historians, and doing history requires knowledge and expertise.  They can’t have informed opinions and debates without knowing what happened at some level.  Skills are needed and so is knowledge.  It’s not enough to have fun, and the skills are not intuitive, they have to be learned.

Essential skills

1. History is soooooo much more than simply knowing what happened.   Factoids and mere fragments of knowledge are not history.  It’s not a disaster if a date or name is forgotten, the point is that students should actually understand the history behind events, but….

2. Having said that it’s also really important to know what happened.   You can’t know or understand the historical story if you don’t.  It’s getting the balance right that’s hard. There needs to be a narrative, a chronology and at the same time to have enough of the detail.

3. Historiography: Students need to know that there is no one right story, e.g. alternative ways of interpreting the Aboriginal story, or the bicentennial.  Teachers needs to challenge students to go beyond right v wrong, B&W, and look at the grey areas. That’s what thinking historically is all about.

4. Moral judgement in history:  Students need to learn how to pass judgement on the past?  To explore issues such as aHiroshima or colonialism  – who was right and wrong, how to step back into the minds of the time about wanting to end the war or bring ‘civilisation’ to other parts of the world – and at the same time deploy 21st century perspective on it.  This is thinking historically.

None of these essential skills will be learned, however, without some personal connection.  This is as true of the national curriculum as every other curriculum.  Tony Taylor at the HTAA conference in Sydney said that history has to be ‘teachable’, around the country.

It’s a challenge!

Posted in Australian History, Conferences Attended | Tagged: | Comments Off on What Brings History Alive? Anna Clark (HTAA Conference 2011)

Keynote address History Teachers Conference: Prof Stuart McIntyre

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 3, 2011

(Prof McIntyre along with Tony Taylor, has been a Lead Writer involved in the writing of the Australian History Curriculum)

It’s three years since work on the National Curriculum began: it’s now at an advanced stage and ministers for education have agreed to staged implementation.  It’s hardly been rushed…and while it’s been making slow progress….

…the consensus about implementing it has since  weakened due to the federal election and successive state elections, and there have been discouraging statements from the opposition. 

Prof McIntyre has some reservations about some changes:  Some recent revisions have altered the underlying design of the curriculum, and some have taken no account of the consultative process.

It was initially determined that the curriculum had to start from first principles, not be an amalgam of existing curricula, have a futures perspective and so on. The issue of there being distinct disciplines is one that McIntyre agrees with, and he was pleased that History is conceptualised as it is in AC. It’s important that history be a World History, it needs to go beyond what’s familiar and dear to us. The writers also recognised that most Australian children found history classes boring and they wanted to redress this.

The AC document partially realises its aims. The primary curriculum is less than he had hoped, because it’s constrained by lack of time available, and because it’s mostly taught within an integrated curriculum.  most primary teachers are not trained historians. Remains to be seen how much time it gets given the focus on literacy and numeracy.  It’s not much about a world history; it’s about home, community, and the nation (in later primary years).  It’s very Australian – some minor comparisons e.g. NAIDOC day can be compared with Bastille Day, but it’s overwhelmingly local – given that Australia has an immigrant background, it’s remarkable that there’s no greater attempt to invoke their histories. There’s still a lot about military history, and it’s a bit Eurocentric. In later years Asian history is episodic, and there’s not enough about other countries.   No history can be fully comprehensive, but it could be better, he thinks.

Digitisation has brought history out of its previously specialised academic limitations – the problem now is not opportunity. School history needs to excite so that students have the skills to evaluate what’s online.  But many teachers want to hang on to topics they’re comfortable with, and the history curriculum has had to cede some of its topics to social science, that is, many of the big picture issues that history might excite students with, e.g. globalisation, were criticised because that was ‘current affairs’. 

So – what happens next rests with the teachers who have to implement it!

Posted in Australian Curriculum, Australian History, Conferences Attended | Tagged: , | Comments Off on Keynote address History Teachers Conference: Prof Stuart McIntyre

Gender, Literature and the Australian History Curriculum by Dr David Rhodes 2011 HTAA National Conference

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 3, 2011

How does ‘difference’ manifest itself in the history curriculum?

This session, (which I thought was going to be about the omission of women from history), was actually about people who are same-sex attracted.  It turned out to be very interesting, even though there wasn’t much about literature.

Rhodes began by showing a continuum clarifying the difference between

  • sex (biological)
  • gender identity (how I feel on the inside)
  • gender expression (what I show to the world) and
  • sexual orientation.

Presumption of heterosexuality is automatic in schools, schools are highly gendered places and transmitters of social values. 

Should it be like this?  The Melbourne Declaration (2008) asserts equity in education in all systems that is free from discrimination of any kind including gender and sexual orientation.  An inclusive classroom wouldn’t make school so problematic for adolescents who are same-sex attracted.

The AC is guided by this Melbourne Declaration. A national curriculum that is inclusive ought to enable the 10% of students who are same-sex-attracted to know about people like themselves who have thrived and achieved great things in the past.

From its earliest times the colonial government was keen to stamp out homosexuality: only murder and sodomy was punishable by death. (The sentences was to be handed over to the New Zealand natives to be eaten!)

The ‘love that dare not speak its name’ (a term coined by Oscar Wilde’s lover, Lord Douglas) was talked about, mainly in terms of stamping it out.  Rhodes showed extensive research that shows the extent of discrimination, e.g.

  • in 2000 26% of those  surveyed had suffered discrimination during their education, e.g. non directed homophobic comments, to
  • serious physical assaults over a number of years. Disturbingly this often happened with the knowledge of teachers.

GLSEN 2009 (US) National School Climate Survey showed that

  • 75% of LGBT teens hear slurs such as faggot or dyke frequently or often at school
  • 9 of 10 report hearing anti-LGBT language frequently or often
  • Homophobic remarks such as ‘that’s so gay’ are most commonly heard.

In Australia WTi3 research shows that

  • 61% reported verbal abuse because of homophobia
  • 18% reported physical abuse
  • 80% said school was the most likely place for it to occur
  • 69% reported other forms of homophobia including exclusion and rumours.
  • 10% reported that there was no sexuality education
  • 40% said there were no social or structural support features fro sexual difference
  • Only 19% reported a school supportive of their sexuality
  • Over 1/3 reported the school as homophobic
  • The internet was the most important source of information about homophobia and discrimination, gay and lesbian relationships and gay and lesbian safe sex.

Schools have an obligation to teach about homophobia, but within the secondary curriculum homosexuals do not exist.

‘They are ‘nonpersons’ in the finest Stalinist sense. They have fought no battles, held no offices, explored nowhere, written no literature, built nothing, invented nothing and solved no equations’. (Unks, 1995, p5)

The message is that they have done nothing of consequence, and the new curriculum offers an opportunity to redress this. Using a positive psychology framework, Rhodes’ school has a Y7-12 program called Love Bites which aims to build positive relationships, adapted from NSW for the NT. 

Research shows that a whole-school approach is essential. One teacher challenging ‘that’s so gay’ achieves nothing; a whole school approach can have an effect. Anti-homophobia is part of their no bullying approach. 

Such a program needs to

  • Be age appropriate
  • Offer consistent messages
  • Be incorporated into an inclusive multicultural curriculum
  • Identify GLBT historical figures/issues
  • Offer literature as a resource for students.

For example, no study of Nazi Germany could be complete without reference to the number of homosexual people who were murdered by the Nazis, (Estimated to be 100,000, equal to the population of Darwin).  It should be mentioned.

Literature: there is a great Gay canon available which can be used as a resource. Often a heterosexual background is mentioned (i.e. wife, family of author) but there is a silence about the home life of homosexuals. 

Rhodes showed some interesting resources from the US but they would need to be adapted for Australian schools. is a photography campaign that has been set up to fight homophobia.  There are gay role models featured on the site.

It’s important not to focus on the negative, which is mostly society’s negative responses: there has been homophobia in history, e.g. the Holocaust, but there should also be a focus on their achievements, the books written, the armies led etc.

It’s important to be alert to this issue: there have been recent examples of a return to previous attitudes around the world, not just for same sex attracted people but also for women and other aspects of social justice.


This session made me think that it’s interesting that other areas of discrimination are specifically addressed in our latest curriculum, e.g. against women, Aboriginals, awareness of Asia, but not this one. I wonder if that’s the influence of the religious right??

Posted in Australian Curriculum, Conferences Attended | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

HTAA Conference opening address: Closing the Achievement Gap

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 3, 2011

Closing the Achievement Gap: will the national education agenda be a help or a hindrance?

Prof Alan Reid, University of South Australia

NB These are notes taken at the History Teachers Association conference, and they are done ‘on the run’ so they may not fully represent what was said. If I had made any errors please contact me ASAP and I will correct them.

Equity: increasing national influence over education which has been the province of the states. Reid supports the principle, but has some concerns re equity.
Equity = dominant theme in national agenda, revival of its importance, talk of closing the achievement gap and used to make judgements about education programs.
Reid thinks most programs are counter productive because processes are superficial and lacking in education research – won’t achieve the rhetoric.

History of education and equity in Australia –

1870- 1960s
concept of equity weak – schools established for working class children, basic, elementary schooling for the purposes of social control.  Secondary education was for middle and upper class children who’d be leaders – over the century access broadened via an emerging ideology that had a liberal, meritocratic agenda – people could succeed if they had the ability, interest and capacity for hard work. But it didn’t take account of child’s background so it tended to replicate existing patterns.  Most children still left at 14 or went to tech.  Exceptions ‘proved’ that this system ‘worked’. 
1960s – early 1990s
Post-war demand for better opportunity – age of compulsion rose to 15,  economy needed more skilled workers, need for more mass education, finishing secondary education

became the norm, and 70s and 80s states funded eg disadvantaged schools program to redress unequal outcomes.  Realisation that equity was not just an individual concern, also collective and social – wanting all children to contribute.  Recognise of barriers e.g. from particular barriers which needed to be removed, curriculum and resource barriers.  Research showed that tackling inequity was more complex than first thought.  Strategies – funding policies, curriculum reforms, teaching strategies to broaden away from favouring certain cultural groups. Not a golden age, some inroads made and recognise that sustainable long  term change would be difficult.

1990s – 2007
Education as a key factor in economic reform.  Economic purposes of education strengthened with ideological twist: market ; talk of equity waned: a positional good for individuals not a social good, choice and competition.

2007 -present (Rudd/ Gillard)
– equity returns to centre stage – goal lifting retention rates to 90% , lifting participation for disadvantaged groups, improving outcomes for Aboriginal children etc.  Equity has a visible presence in rhetoric, but there’s no clear meaning of what equity means, so equity is shaped by 3 dominant ideologies:
1. preparation for workforce
2. schools operate best when they compete against each other in an  education market
3. Best way to achieve quality is via transparent accountability to enable consumer choice and strategies to motivate teachers.

PISA and NAPLAN are used to assess progress. These enable assertions about gaps, but not in effective strategies to change anything.  Only simplistic policy solutions, which don’t and won’t work.

Reid’s analysis:
1. Policy simplification
2. Policy borrowing
3. Policy catch-up

1.  Policy simplification
Tanner shows how policy is being dumbed down in Australia – in education this is true too. e.g.
* Causes of problems rarely explored with frequent leaps from problem to solution. e.g. research about quality teaching has leapt into focus as the sole factor instead of looking at other matters such as child background and it sets up false expectations and is doomed to failure.  Any criticism is met with response that you don’t care about quality teaching.
* language of certainty: ‘it’s the right thing to do’.  NAPLAN raised as ‘real and true’ sole arbiter of truth, more nuanced data excluded as soft.
* strident over-claiming about its benefits – first draft of national curriculum said it was a world class curriculum, claiming world status. Politicians chest thumping about standardised testing showing improvement = result of policies they’ve put in place.
* Professional educations not trusted, often blamed and rarely consulted.
* Increasing trust of people with no expertise in education, non-experts in education gaining a hold in policy circles.  e.g. business people, lawyers, journalists, etc. Bill Gates is involved in policy in the US. Here in Australia, Murdoch in 2008despite spending more and more money presented Boyer lectures Golden Age of Freedom, one dedicated to education, an American businessman talking about education during the GFC, in Australia, UK and US, ‘our public education systems are a disgrace’ ‘children learning less and less’ – no evidence given for this, apportioned blame to the public school educators.  His reasons for wanting equity are economic not social justice, 3 strategies needed: set higher standards; holding schools to account, corporations should get involved in schools especially at the lower leaders b/c they know better than anyone else what’s needed to make sure children ‘at least a basic education’.  (Don’t quote this online without checking properly).  Quoted some very amusing and reductive ideas from Murdoch which would be funny if he had no influence. The speech was widely reported and very favourably.  Since then he has outlined plans for the Murdoch corporation to become a major provider of educational materials, and has recently spent big on this agenda. 

Policy borrowing
Risky to import from other countries with a different culture.  Education Revolution borrows from New York. In 2002 Joel Klein lawyer and businessman was appointed in charge of education system – they had to change the rules b/c he had no background in education.  he used to lifting the gap rhetoric, and designed an education program to improve it i.e. he set up

  • the use of standardised test results,
  • awarding schools public grades with consequences, i.e. the school got grants if A, principals removed or school closed down if graded E or F
  • Bonuses to principals and schools for rewards
  • Charter schools offering ‘choice’
  • Promoted the ‘Teach for America’ program – recruitment of top graduates from other areas, gave them 6 weeks teacher training and then put them into disadvantaged schools.

Two years later Klein claimed great improvement, though there were vociferous protests from communities when disadvantaged schools closed.  Julia Gillard was education minister at this time and invited him here, and she had no doubt about his effectiveness, claiming his ideas to be ‘morally compelling and intellectually convincing’.  So our ‘Education Revolution’ resembles Klein’s agenda:

  • My School 1 & 2
  • Performance bonuses for schools with improved NAPLAN
  • Performance bonuses for teachers and principals
  • Autonomous schools (like Charter schools)
  • Teach for Australia

What’s wrong with this?  Apart from the fact that we have different circumstances, and different contexts, there are these problems:

1. If we’re going to borrow, borrow from successful countries. Assuming international PISA tests have validity, US was ranked 29th and Australia 15th in Maths results, and Australia 9th and17th US in reading results.  We should have borrowed from Canada or Finland who are ranked higher than us not below us.
2. It ignores research from US and UK which shows the failures of these ‘accountability’ regimes. They narrow the curriculum, and they get phony results because schools exclude students, teach from the test, they cheat etc. There are NO improved outcomes overall.   Performance bonuses show they don’t work, and they diminish teacher collegiality as well. 
3. We should investigate in depth the claims made by people like Klein before transplanting the policy. In 2009 84% of schools were A rated – apparently huge advances, and Klein was riding high then.  The US mayor used these results to bolster his re-election, and Gillard became enamoured of this approach. But claims subsequently surfaced that the tests were getting easier, and teachers could prepare the students because the test didn’t change from year to year, and the benchmark was being lowered.  When a new test was introduced due to public pressure, (a national test) – results plummeted.  Over half the schools failed English, worse for black and Latino students.  This revealed the agenda as sham, and NY parents protested about exaggerated results because it denied help to children.  The equity gap as wide as ever it was…

These results were replicated in other US states which adopted the regime too. Klein quickly resigned and went elsewhere, i.e. to Murdoch’s education division.  

But this is the regime that Gillard wants to impose.  *sigh*

3. Policy catch-up (policy ‘Spakfiller’)
As problems emerge from implementing AC Phases 1 & 2, curriculum writers have to paper over the cracks,  handicapped by previous policy statements that were made. 

The National curriculum began with just 4 subjects and had no sense about the other subjects, no coherent ideas about them and then they were gradually added in phases 1 & 2. (ACARA says this was always intended because of the Melbourne Declaration).  But the subjects not in The Big 4 can only pick up the scraps so the lack of an overall curriculum design is problematic.

The Implementation timetables had to be altered anyway because the original timetable was unrealistic – so they could have actually redesigned the whole curriculum while they had time.  Conceptually opportunities have been lost.  Catch up work still needs to be done to patch the gaps, for example:. 
1. Assessment and reporting: the nature of achievement standards not thought out well, there’s no common approach within subjects or between them.  Some are just summaries of content.
2. General capabilities – were supposed to be so important e.g. creativity: but naming and defining them has not been done well so individual writers had to do the best they could.  Catch up now being done, but there’s still no conceptualisation about what they are.
3. Approaches to equity and curriculum – no statement about principles to be followed, ACARA is currently advertising for people to give advice about that.
4. Interdisciplinary work – should/could have provided triggers or signals for this to be done, again catch up being done.

The curriculum has a narrow, emaciated, individualised view of equity: it’s counterproductive to achieving equity- public test results and holding individual schools to account won’t change anything.  It’s a complex area, and it’s galling that instant non experts are destroying the hard won gains over the years. 

Our curriculum should 

  • Be based on a developed and articulated view of equality
  • Be thorough and systematic and recognise complexities
  • Be based on research
  • Not reinforce inequities
  • Trust the profession
  • Be wary of hyper inflated claims

Thanks to the History Teachers Association of South Australia for hosting a great conference!

PS I will tidy these notes up a bit when I get home and it’s not costing me  a mint to be online.

Posted in Australian Curriculum, Australian History, Conferences Attended | Tagged: , | Comments Off on HTAA Conference opening address: Closing the Achievement Gap

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!

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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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