"It is a good divine that follows his own instructions; I can easier teach twenty what were good to be done than to be one of the twenty to follow mine own teaching."
Portia, The Merchant of Venice, Act I, Scene II.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

My blog has moved!

Hi all!

I have not blogged for a long time and now that I am starting again, I have decided to move my blog to a different email address under my married name.

You will find the new version of my blog here: Teach20

Saturday, April 30, 2016

GAFE Summit Wellington 2016: Keynote 1 - Jim Sill

Jess & Melody at GAFE Wtn 16.jpg-largeKeynote 1 - Jim Sill

  • GoPro is scary
  • Is anyone being moved by what I am sharing?
  • Freytag’s Pyramid
  • Sucking is the first step to being sorta good at something
  • FOMO

Jim was talking about GoPro - in short it’s a 360 degree camera which takes pictures anywhere. I have recently read Dave Egger’s dystopic novel, The Circle. GoPro is like the The Circle in action. Be afraid. Be very afraid. “Secrets are lies….Sharing is caring….Privacy is theft.”

As we video stream our lives 24/7 we need to ask ourselves: is anyone being moved by what I am sharing? This is also a good question to ask in the classroom as educators. If our audience is not connecting to what we are sharing, we are probably doing something wrong.

As an English teacher I recognised this plot structure diagram (Gustav Freytag, 1863) immediately:
We could go even further back, to Aristotle, who perhaps put it more succinctly: A whole is what has a beginning, a middle and an end.

The point? Whether we are talking about ancient Greek drama or a 30 second YouTube video, a story needs to be told and it needs some kind of exposition before the audience can buy into the climax and resolution. This is a good thing to remember when you (or your students) are making movies.

I’m thinking of those ‘nek minnit’ videos. (Here’s the original.) Unless you show the pre-existing situation and can relate to the character in their setting, the complication of ‘nek minnit’ does not engage us, it is not funny.

Something which we as adults have hopefully learned, is that when you try something new you suck at it, but if you persist and practice, you get better. Thus, sucking is the first step to being sorta good at something. A good thing to remind our students - no one should expect instant success all the time, when we are learning something, we often suck at it at first.

We need to engage students using the Fear Of Missing Out. We see this in operation everywhere. Everyone else has a smartphone, so you need to get one for FOMO. All the other teachers can use Hapara or Classroom, so you had better learn it for FOMO. And, of course, this is good pyschology to use in the classroom, make the learning something that students want to engage in for FOMO.

Friday, July 10, 2015

NZATE Day 3: Karlo Mila - Sailing in a new direction to enlarge our worlds

Day 3 for me was all about the final keynote from Karlo Mila. I have to confess I had (a) never read Karlo's poetry and in fact (b) never even heard of her before. Having heard her speak this morning I now have a burning desire to rectify 'a'.
You can see a short bio here on the conference keynotes page. http://www.capitalletters2015.com/key-notes.html

Karlo talked about how young people of Pasifika heritage who are born in Aotearoa can grow up disconnected from their multiple cultures, feeling like they don't fit in anywhere. "Trying to fit into someone else's story sucks," she tells us. "Yes, you have Cinderella, but as a half-caste heavy girl from Palmerston North, you know you aren't even invited to the ball."

Another example is wanting to paint "NOT" at the end of Colin McCahon's "I AM" (Gate III).  This one hits me quite hard as I used to spend hours as an undergrad at Vic staring at that painting. It hung in what was in those times known as the 'Lecture Block' and I saw the verse, "Teach me to order my days rightly, that I may enter the gates of wisdom," as a kind of personal reproach over my lack of adherence to my study timetable or my last minute knocking-up of whatever essay was due. Although I was not a Christian at the time ("I AM" now), I was fascinated by that work. It was the first piece of Colin McCahon's I had ever seen, as a dewey-eyed 17 year old first year, and it had impact. But now I can see that maybe it had such impact on me only because it was part of my story: as a pakeha New Zealander the Judeo-Christian, Western cultural capital was in my kete even if I hadn't claimed it yet and was only beginning to understand that I owned it. "I WAS."

But, Karlo tells us, having more than one set of cultural resources to navigate by can be a huge asset if young people can be connected to their 'poly-cultural capital'. Reflecting on this, I imagine our rangatahi having Gate III, Shakespeare, Chaucer and Beowulf in their kete alongside Mana Maori, Mana Pasifika, Mana Moana. What could they not achieve, what new directions could they not take us in to enlarge our worlds?

Malo, Karlo - he mihi nui ki a koe.

NZATE Capital Letters 2015: Day 2

Day 2 was great, but I did not feel moved to write a lot of notes. Here's what I did jot down.

Workshop 3 was Emily McHalick and Susanne Richardson from Heretaunga College, talking about how they have changed their English programme so that students chose their courses by the learning context. It sounds quite exciting but I am not sure how feasible it would be in a college our size. They have a Y11 cohort of around 170, whereas ours is about 70. That has got to impact on how many different options we could offer. We want to go back and talk to the change team about it and maybe do a visit to observe and talk to their SMT about some of the timetabling implications. Emily and Susanne's powerpoint is not up on the conference drive yet but I will add the link here when it is.

Keynote: Bernard Beckett

Bernard was quite simply brilliant, and I tweeted a few of his quotable moments, but his talk is hard to sum up. Essentially, he was talking about how exam results and compliance culture aren't what English is all about - that our job is getting kids to think about ideas and try on identities via texts.

"If your idea of your job is to get good grades for your students it is, I think, soul-withering.""There is so much that is incredibly valuable and rich that only the English teacher does."Variance studies: Bernard explaining how people misinterpret them, focussing on the variable that shows greatest change, and mistaking this for the most important factor. His analogy: oxygen would probably show little variance in terms of impact on educational outcome. But without it? Outcomes would probably not be that hot...Beckett re the premise behind his new novel Lullaby: "Totally medically unrealistic but narratively convenient!"

Workshop 4: Louise Munro - Flipped Classroom for Year 11 Novel Study

Louise was talking about running a novel study on Dystopic fiction where the students could choose their own novel.  It was an interesting approach and I can see it working for some classes I have had, especially at Year 12. This year when the students voted on their novel there was a 50:50 split and I suggested a choice - students were reluctant. They said they thought it was easier all doing the same novel, but several of those who had voted the other way never finished the chosen novel - I think the choice may have worked better. We shall see!

Louise's powerpoint is here.

Iain McGilchrist - John McGlashan College - 24 Lies Per Second

photoshop friday - note to self: check it out!

Iain's resources at at: tiny url.com/24liespersecond

They are awesome, so go and look at them if you are teaching film.

Close Reading: Ten Practical Tactics

1. Circle the full stops, question marks and exclamation marks.
Read the poem only stopping when you hit those. Don't stop if there isn't one. Poets write in sentences and the lines don't necessarily match them.
2. Circle key conjunctions - but, and, so
They may signal a turning point.
3. Juxtaposition underpins everything.
Look for things that are opposites - contrasts. If you see 'dark' then look for 'light.' Then ask: which does the poet prefer?
4. Pronouns
5. Substitution
Ask: 'Why didn't the poet use the word ________ instead?'
6. Sound patterns are secondary
Alliteration is easy to identify but it is difficult to explain why it has been used. Usually to enhance the meaning of words and the connections between them.
7. Skip the parenthetical.
On first reading you can cut to the chase a bit more.
8. Examine pairs and three-of-a-kind. (The 'Poker' rule)
Crescendo effect to increase the intensity. Parallel constructions intensify the point the poet is making.
9. Read poems aloud.
10. Give the tyres a good kick before you read in-depth.
or 'approach it like a Christmas present' - shake, poke, prod, guess, predict.
Pre-reading skills:
  • title and author
  • stanzas or paragraphs
  • full stops
  • key words
  • opposites

I was interested to see how many of the above are things I have found I have to teach students when reading Shakespeare. Many have great difficulty decoding, because they do not observe the punctuation - seeming to think that the line end signifies the end of whatever clause they happen to be on. For many, just teaching them this simple thing is a revelation which then opens the language up to them. 'Skip the parenthetical' is also a very useful one for Shakespeare.

I can see the above are going to be very helpful in teaching unfamiliar texts - thanks, Iain!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Shakespeare: Feel the fear and do it anyway!

Do your students fear Shakespeare? Do they grumble and complain that they don’t want to study his plays? Do they try and change English classes to avoid it? Mine do! However, using tough love, IT tricks, bribery and my passion for the bard, I can usually turn them around and get the students grudgingly admitting: ‘Maybe I like Shakespeare after all’.

I would like to ‘share the love,’ and pass on some ideas which have been successful for me, including drama circles, social media, Kahoot quizzes, video commentaries, debates and good old-fashioned ‘chalk and talk’.

The attached presentation was prepared for a workshop at Capital Letters 2015 - the NZ Association of Teachers of English Conference. It is mainly based on my Level 3 Shakespeare Unit where we study Hamlet and then students complete a research essay for AS 91479 – 3.8 Develop an informed understanding of literature and/or language using critical texts.

Click here to view my Google Slides presentation, which includes links to all the resources. Enjoy, and please give me some feedback at the end. 

Kia ora.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Reflecting on NZATE Conference, 2015: Day 1

I attended my first NZATE conference in 2001, the year before I decided to chuck in my job as a policy analyst and go to teachers' college. It was an experiment: I figured that if I could spend three days with a bunch of English teachers and enjoy it, then that was probably a good test of whether or not I would enjoy teaching English. I still think it was quite a good test, although I am probably a biased sample, having been brought up by two English teachers. (Yes, I did also go and hang out with some students!)

Today, 14 years later, I presented at NZATE conference for the first time ever, talking about teaching Shakespeare, the most fun part of my job. The title of the workshop (Shakespeare: Feel the fear and do it anyway!) refers to both students and teachers, as sometimes teachers too are a bit diffident about tackling Shakespeare, particularly with reluctant students. I don't claim to be any kind of expert, but I LOVE Shakespeare and decided to share some of the things I do in the hopes that others might pick up something that is worth trying.

I was a bit nervous, but I enjoyed running the workshop and hopefully the attendees got something from it. Presenting was itself a case of feeling the fear and doing it anyway.

A great first day, and having presented my workshop today I can relax and enjoy the rest of the conference. I'll post my workshop presentation tomorrow, it has been temporarily 'unshared' while the conference people organise the online resources.

NZATE 2015 Workshop 1: Karen Melhuish Spencer - What's in it for me?

Student-Centred Learning   http://bit.ly/NZATE15

Reminding ourselves about issues like:

  • relevance
  • reason why we are learning
  • choice
  • opportunities for collaboration
In our group we saw that the answers were very different depending on whether we were thinking of junior or senior classes. In senior classes collaboration only goes so far until we hit the realities of the NCEA assessment task.

Real, engaging and authentic

Learning that is grounded in stuff that is relevant for our learners. They have to understand how it's part of English, and it has to connect to their own experience. 

Accelerated by and supported by: social networks, Skype, social media, blogs/wikis, quadblogging, multimedia presentations, book creator.

Responsible for my learning

You have to know why and what you are learning, set goals, understand next steps and know how to get there.

Accelerated by collaborative docs, eportfolios, vlogs, learning logs etc.

Challenge and Choice

See clear links to large concepts. Use SOLO to help understand how to make thinking more complex.

Accelerated by: differentiated tasks, student voice via google forms etc to find out needs, multimedia tools, social media.

Collaborate and Connect

Reflective learning is effectively social - we need others to push our thinking and learning. Create collaboratively, share what we have learned.

Accelerated by: collaborative docs, social media, social networks, etc.

Great workshop to remind ourselves of those things we know we ought to be doing and help us focus back on areas to work on - thanks, Karen!