September 21, 2008
Myth two: It’s too hard for high school students
There are some academics (especially literature professors) and a bunch of nongs in the media who claim that critical evaluation of texts is (or should be) beyond the reach of students at high school. This comment is almost universally applied to the study of (‘serious’) literature. That is, the job of high school teachers is to give students a love of books and reading. Only after students are ‘hooked’ are they then capable of evaluating literature critically – under the expert guidance of university academics.
It is a regular criticism that really makes me laugh. Part of the trouble with the claim is it is just so hypocritical and applied so narrowly. These same people never claim the same for media studies, for example. Why is it that students are to love literature in a completely unqualified way, but they are not encouraged to love the media in an unqualified way? Where are the voices crying against critical evaluation of media products? Where are the voices crying for teachers to encourage students to just ‘love’ advertising whilst at high school and let the academics worry about making them critical once they reach university? The notion that literature should be granted a special status is errant nonsense.
More to the point, where are the same voices saying that students should not be considering ‘politics’ when it comes to subjects such as Media Studies, Modern and Ancient History, Economics and even the Sciences (where the ethics of science is a significant component)? If students at high school are too young to consider the ‘politics of texts’ in English, why aren’t they equally unprepared to study the same thing in other subjects?
Finally, what about the students who will never go to university? Does that mean that they will never learn the skills of critical evaluation? Are high schools to contribute to a system that formalises the notion of the critically empowered Alphas and drone-like Epsilons?
Students in high school (and younger) are much more capable of independent, critical thought than what the whining academics and media commentators understand. It must surely be a core requirement of schooling to produce students who can take their place as active, informed and critical citizens. English can play its role in this. It just requires balance and commonsense on the part of English teachers. Appreciation and critique of literature are not mutually exclusive. Instead, they should be seen as the yin and yang, and a good education system (primary, secondary and tertiary) will encourage both – in ways that are appropriate for the age and maturity of level of students.
September 21, 2008
Do you need some help with improving your students’ achievement in writing? Here is one strategy for modelling the requirements of particular genres that will contribute to student success. The sample document below is intended to be put on a school’s intranet for ease of student access.
Further details about how this model can be used are provided below.
Preparing students to write effectively in a particular genre (or text type) involves a range of activities, including:
- understanding the purpose of the writing
- generating and developing subject matter to write about
- understanding the roles and relationships involved in the writing, i.e. what is the writer’s role and for whom are they writing?
- explicit teaching of the structure and language demands of the writing task
- explicit teaching of the thinking processes involved in composing within a particular genre.
This knowledge and understanding is commonly developed through strategies such as:
- immersing students in examples of the required style of writing
- modelling and joint construction
- guided and independent practice
- peer and self reflection.
The interactive document attached is an example of one on-line resource that teachers can make available to students. It is based on an analytical exposition meant for older students – but the idea can be adapted for any age (pre-school upward) and any genre. While the model could be printed out in hard copy form, it is designed to by read on screen.
Some teachers claim that the document is too long and complex. However, a few things need to be kept in mind. Firstly, it is not designed as a standalone document. It assumes that students have been participating in a variety of activities to develop their knowledge and understanding of the required genre. Thus, it acts as a summary of information already taught and, hopefully, learned. Secondly, it is not meant to be read in one sitting. The hyperlinks are provided so that students can move directly to those bits of information they require at a particular moment in time. It is, therefore, more like a resource package that provides just-in-time information for students. Finally, the model provided relates to work done in the last couple of years of schooling when the length and depth of written tasks has increased. For younger students, the model could be much shorter – because the length of writing tasks is also shorter.
If you want to know more, or would like help developing some of these models, contact: Lindsay@wordsmartconsulting.com.au.
September 14, 2008
Queensland students have not done as well as their counterparts in other states when it comes to literacy – at least on the raw data. There are a number of unavoidable reasons for this, including:
- the later school starting age for student
- the number of students in living in remote and isolated areas.
However, there is no doubt in my mind that lack of educational leadership from the Queensland Studies Authority (QSA) has much to answer for in this regard. In pandering to the prejudices of politicians, journalists and a small but vocal minority of academics, the QSA has ensured that there has been no statewide syllabus for English since 1987 (yes, 1987 – that’s not a misprint!). To make matters worse, the QSA no longer employs experienced English Heads of Faculty in order to provide advice about teaching English to schools and, recently, a Physical Education teacher was given the task of re-writing the Senior English syllabus. A number of consequences have flowed from this situation:
- a lack of a coherent, educationally sound approach to teaching English and literacy
- confusion in many teachers’ minds about what is the right way to teach English and literacy – with the result that they have often fallen back to outmoded teaching methods.
The situation has been worsed by funding cuts to the QSA by the state government – according to reports, all work on new syllabuses in the early and middle years has stopped until the next financial year due to a redirection of funds to the health system. Providing lists of essential learning targets is only partly helpful.
So, what are teachers to do? Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Do you have a good knowledge of English grammar (traditional and functional), and can apply that to practical strategies for helping students read and write?
- Do you understand the range of factors that will assist students to undertake reading and writing tasks, including cultural knowledge and understanding, knowledge about language, thinking processes and attitudes?
- Do you consistently and effectively use all aspects of the teaching-learning cycle: modelling, guided practice and independent practice?
- Do you understand the various roles of the reader (code breaker, meaning maker, text user and text analyst) and do you understand the implication of these for teaching individuals and groups of students in your care?
- Do you structure your teaching of reading effectively with appropriate pre, during and after reading activities?
- Do you structure your teaching of writing effectively with appropriate pre, during and after writing activities?
- Do you effectively and explicitly model all significant written tasks that students are required to undertake?
- Are your students trained to reflect effectively on their own work and that of others?
- Is your approach consistent with the approach taken by other teachers at your school?
- Are you part of a professional learning community that seeks to strive for constant improvement?