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Category Archives: curriculum

Catch-up part one: some interesting sites.

1. A book, really – and a site that introduces it.

whiffling_ukcoverThe Wonder of Whiffling is a tour of English around the globe (with fine coinages from our English-speaking cousins across the pond, Down Under and elsewhere).

Discover all sorts of words you’ve always wished existed but never knew, such as fornale, to spend one’s money before it has been earned; cagg, a solemn vow or resolution not to get drunk for a certain time; and petrichor, the pleasant smell that accompanies the first rain after a dry spell.

Delving passionately into the English language, I also discover why it is you wouldn’t want to have dinner with a vice admiral of the narrow seas, why Jacobites toasted the little gentleman in black velvet, and why a Nottingham Goodnight is better than one from anywhere else.

I am a sucker for things like this, and you can do a lot worse than to become interested in odd and curious words, and above all in the fascinating stories that lie behind so many words.

2. A good reference site for ESL teachers

It doesn’t hurt that this site is included there! 🙂 — 15 of the Best Blogs for EFL and ESL Teachers.

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3. Ed Tech, e-learning, e-literacy.

There are some good posts on Barking Robot. For example: Study: Children Who Blog Or Use Facebook Have Higher Literacy Levels.

Research conducted by The National Literacy Trust on 3,001 children from England and Scotland showed that schoolchildren who blog or own social networking profiles on Facebook have higher literacy levels and greater confidence in writing…

Among the key findings:

  • 56% of youth reported maintaining an active profile on a social networking site such as Facebook or Bebo, while 24% said they maintained their own blog;
  • The study also found that 49% of young people believe writing is “boring.” However, 57 per cent of those who used text-based web applications such as blogs, said they enjoyed writing compared to 40 per cent who did not;
  • 56% of youth who had a blog or profile on a social networking site (SNS) reported to be confident in their writing ability: 61% of bloggers and 56% of social networkers claimed to be good or very good at writing, compared to 47% of those who had neither.
  • A total of 13% of children surveyed had their own website, 24% kept their own blog and 56 % had a profile on a social networking site like Facebook or Bebo;
  • Social web activity was also credited with encouraging children to engage with more traditional forms of writing. Those who were active online were "significantly more likely" to write short stories, letters, song lyrics and diaries than those who had no online presence;
  • The National Trust urges that kids should be encouraged to write blogs and use social networking sites like Facebook to improve literacy levels and encourage them to engage in writing…
 

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On not seeing the wood for the trees – HSC Advanced 2009-12 Module C

People, I really have had a problem interpreting the rubric for Module C Elective 1.

This module requires students to explore various representations of events, personalities or situations. They evaluate how medium of production, textual form, perspective and choice of language influence meaning. The study develops students’ understanding of the relationships between representation and meaning…

In their responding and composing, students consider the ways in which conflicting perspectives on events, personalities or situations are represented in their prescribed text and other related texts of their own choosing. Students analyse and evaluate how acts of representation, such as the choice of textual forms, features and language, shape meaning and influence responses.

I even emailed an ex-student who is now a young (and thus up-to-date) English teacher in Sydney’s south-west.

A serious question, which I hope you respond to. I am at the moment tutoring 3 Advanced students and we have reached Module C, and I am having a problem getting my head around the implications of the rubric for "Changing Perspectives". I did not have a problem with the previous options on "Telling the Truth" and "Powerplay" — which are clearly thematic, making relevant issues and possiblities for supplementary texts straightforward enough . My life is further complicated by the fact each student has a different text: "Julius Caesar"; "Snow Falling on Cedars"; Ted Hughes.

I have seen what HSC Online offers. I have also in mind Janne Schill’s "Deconstructing Perspectives" (Sydney, Sapientia 2003) which is excellent in many ways but goes very deep into theory. (She is or was a teacher at Sydney Girls; maybe the text is in your school resources.)

Now in practice I will try to zero in on whatever approach my coachees’ teachers are taking…

But it helps if I have a clear view myself, and at the moment I don’t — at least not to my own satisfaction. (Secretly, or not so secretly, I curse the whole enterprise and wish we were just studying the texts for their own sakes; I would quite happily pursue all manner of contextual, thematic, structural and language issues then.)

Do you have any ideas? Are you doing this option? I would really like to know…

Unfortunately he isn’t currently doing this option, so I asked other practitioners and now I think I have my answer.

Two issues perplexed me:

  1. How deeply to go into the theory behind the concept of perspectives?
  2. Should “related texts of their own choosing” relate directly to the set text, or only to the concept of “conflicting perspectives”?

One Head of English saw the same problem and consulted the Board of Studies. The answer to (1) is to judge what elements of theory actually help students discuss “conflicting perspectives” but to beware of being led too far from specific, concrete discussion of text and how it works. The answer to (2) is that the additional texts do not have to relate directly to the set text.

I was also helped by the material on Mel McGuinness’s blog. Mel is “presently employed in Catholic Education as an English co-ordinator.”

 

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Someone has posted on Ted Hughes (HSC Module C)

And I am very grateful, for one. See Fulbright Scholars some notes. Thanks to Mel McGuinness, who has in turn kindly referred students to this blog for Frankenstein and Blade Runner.

melmcg

I propose to say something about Module C myself shortly.

Update 24 June

Some references I have found.

 

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For many kids Civics is arid, deadly dull and is thus hard to teach

That, I suspect, is part of the problem behind the story in today’s AustralianStudents do badly in study of civics. I really don’t think results would have been much better fifty years ago when I was fifteen.

STUDENTS’ knowledge of Australia’s system of government is lower than expected, with only one in three Year 10 students knowing what the Constitution is.

The national assessment of civics and citizenship in Years 6 and 10 found about 54 per cent of primary students and 41 per cent of high school students met the proficiency standards for their year. But about one in five Year 10 students failed to meet the Year 6 standard.

"This was especially the case in relation to information about the constitutional structure of Australian democracy," the report says. "Lacking such fundamental information will restrict the capacity of students to make sense of many other aspects of Australian democratic forms and processes, and they may, therefore, be disadvantaged in their capacity to engage in meaningful ways in many other levels of civic action or discourse."

At Year 6, students are expected to recognise the division of governmental responsibilities in a federation, identify a link between a change in Australia’s identity and a change in the national anthem, recognise the benefit of different political parties and the federal budget.

By Year 10, students are expected to recognise key functions and features of parliament, analyse the common good as a motivation for becoming a whistleblower, explain the importance of a secret ballot, and recognise how the independence of the judiciary is protected. On the Constitution, Year 10 students were asked "what is the Australian Constitution?" and given four possible answers: the rules about how the major Australian political parties are run; the policies of the Australian federal government; the framework for the ways Australia is governed; all the laws that Australian citizens must obey…

Look at the last paragraph there! Did I know all that fifty years ago? Answer: NO! What do we expect then? Why, aside from pious hopes, should we expect 100% of kids to have mastered all that arcane matter?

On the other hand, kids today do have advantages. In the web world there are some marvellous sources of information. Even the Book of Answers from the last government’s ill-conceived citizenship tests is not a bad resource on these and other matters. But then there are sites such as Australian Politics and Oz Politics. Certainly it isn’t hard to find out these days; in my day it was less easy.

There is a big role here too in well organised excursions to parliaments and courts, as many schools do. The information people there are often brilliant, and the whole thing becomes more concrete. On the other hand bureaucratic responses to child safety issues have made organising any excursion a logistic nightmare, so I suspect there has probably been some reduction in such activities. A shame. Mock courts and parliaments are another approach that can bring these matters to life.

Coincidentally, yesterday I found myself with a 15-16 year old from China, a recent arrival whose English is developing, trying to help him with a Legal Studies task on the rule of law – and a whole host of other key terms all crowded into one or two of his school lessons. A challenge. We did our best.

 

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Yes, there is a problem!

I received an email the other day; naturally the first part I find very pleasing. 🙂

I thought about creating an ESL blog for my students, but now conclude that this is not necessary as your site does it all. I passionately support all your ideas on this site and applaud your remarkable work. I am an ESL/English teacher in a … non-selective independent high school. Even though I graduated with HD from my uni ESL program five years ago, I have been using my scales and teaching ESL for only the last year and I am overwhelmed with the learning needs of my students. I am from a NESB [myself], but I do not speak the first language of the students.

My school is currently going through a learning support review and I would like to seek your wisdom. The school has found that students entering from language colleges cannot cope with the demands of our curriculum. Some students have learning difficulties as well as a language barrier. What type of ESL delivery has worked best at SBHS?

Well, I doubt how much wisdom I might have, but I am glad this site has met a need.

To take the last part first: SBHS no longer has an ESL teacher, and I am retired aside from the odd job here or there, and some tuition work, but even when I was ESL teacher as SBHS we didn’t confront problems of the kind the writer mentions, as there were no overseas fee-paying students at the school and only very occasionally did someone come from an Intensive English school to us. Mostly they had already been a few years at least in an English-speaking educational setting. There were some students who had been speaking English for three years or less, however, who fell well within the five to eight years normally required to attain adequate levels of cognitive academic language proficiency.

The writer is correct in saying that some “students entering from language colleges cannot cope with the demands of our curriculum”. I base this on my tuition work rather than on my work at SBHS. It does seem that there is a mismatch between the levels students from some private language colleges attain and the basic level needed even to function in a mainstream school environment, which I would say has to be at least Australian ESL Scales 4; 5 or 6 in some subjects, even in HSC English ESL, if a decent result is to be gained. I should add that many private colleges do an excellent job, and the NSW Intensive English schools for state school students are particularly good.

Some schools have good ESL support structures; one that I know of actually runs its own ELICOS classes for newly arrived overseas students, affording limited or phased participation in mainstream classes until the right level is reached. Others have sufficient numbers of overseas students to allow targeted classes in mainstream curriculum designed for those students in many subjects, while others rely on traditional forms of ESL support such as regular presence of one or more ESL teachers in various curriculum areas, and cooperative planning of work units with the students’ language needs consciously addressed.

There is an ESL strategy document available from the NSW Department of Education that gives many good pointers, but how effective a particular school can be depends on the human and other resources it can afford. You probably know it but here it is: English as a Second Language: Guidelines for Schools (PDF).

One thing is for sure. Some schools may have, I believe, gone into the overseas student business, which is very profitable, without being fully aware of the social, logistical and educational issues involved.

When I was at SBHS I tested all new students, gathered information about them, and assessed their needs from an ESL viewpoint. This material was shared with classroom teachers. Particular cases were discussed with teachers. Some students were interviewed and given some additional tuition in some cases. With some classes I visited in various subject areas, participating in some lessons. Sometimes teachers would refer certain issues to me. This blog in its original form was a way of reaching more students than I could personally.

 

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School’s back!

Here in NSW teachers went back today. I called in at the local and said to the Head of English: “Guess I should start seeing what we can do about the 2009 HSC!” Guess I should…

This is what is on offer: NSW Higher School Certificate English Prescriptions 2009-2012 (PDF). Do check the NSW Board of Studies Site for possible updates or modifications.

 
 

Legitimate concerns about writing rubrics

There is no doubt that some criterion-referenced assessment procedures and related documents such as the Australian ESL Scales can be extremely useful; one example of the latter in use comes from The New England (NSW) Girls School. A “cut-down” form I use myself is here, and it has proven very accurate.

However, there are legitimate concerns about the use of writing rubrics. See for example The Trouble with Rubrics by Alfie Kohn (ENGLISH JOURNAL March 2006 — vol. 95, no. 4).

Once upon a time I vaguely thought of assessment in dichotomous terms: The old approach, which consisted mostly of letter grades, was crude and uninformative, while the new approach, which included things like portfolios and rubrics, was detailed and authentic. Only much later did I look more carefully at the individual floats rolling by in the alternative assessment parade — and stop cheering…

Consistent and uniform standards are admirable, and maybe even workable, when we’re talking about, say, the manufacture of DVD players. The process of trying to gauge children’s understanding of ideas is a very different matter, however. It necessarily entails the exercise of human judgment, which is an imprecise, subjective affair. Rubrics are, above all, a tool to promote standardization, to turn teachers into grading machines or at least allow them to pretend that what they’re doing is exact and objective. Frankly, I’m amazed by the number of educators whose opposition to standardized tests and standardized curricula mysteriously fails to extend to standardized in-class assessments.

The appeal of rubrics is supposed to be their high interrater reliability, finally delivered to language arts. A list of criteria for what should be awarded the highest possible score when evaluating an essay is supposed to reflect near-unanimity on the part of the people who designed the rubric and is supposed to assist all those who use it to figure out (that is, to discover rather than to decide) which essays meet those criteria…

I worry more about the success of rubrics than their failure. Just as it’s possible to raise standardized test scores as long as you’re willing to gut the curriculum and turn the school into a test-preparation factory, so it’s possible to get a bunch of people to agree on what rating to give an assignment as long as they’re willing to accept and apply someone else’s narrow criteria for what merits that rating. Once we check our judgment at the door, we can all learn to give a 4 to exactly the same things.

This attempt to deny the subjectivity of human judgment is objectionable in its own right. But it’s also harmful in a very practical sense. In an important article published in 1999, Linda Mabry, now at Washington State University, pointed out that rubrics “are designed to function as scoring guidelines, but they also serve as arbiters of quality and agents of control” over what is taught and valued. Because “agreement among scorers is more easily achieved with regard to such matters as spelling and organization,” these are the characteristics that will likely find favor in a rubricized classroom. Mabry cites research showing that “compliance with the rubric tended to yield higher scores but produced ‘vacuous’ writing.”…

Maja Wilson has written a book on the subject: Rethinking Rubrics in Writing Assessment . The fact it won a NCTE James Britton Research Award attracts me, and the chapter I downloaded looks very promising indeed. The gist of her argument may be seen here:

So if you really do want to think about what rubrics, for all their uses, might miss, and whether what they miss could after all be very important, I suggest you follow these ideas and keep thinking…

See Maja Wilson (PDF) Chapter One

RELATED

Right-wing education critique is historically inaccurate and perpetuates myths on my personal site quarrels about some relevant issues. It was written around the same time as this post. Teachers may be interested. As the title indicates, it is a bit of a rant…

 

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