The Basic Ideas behind Literary Analysis: A Guide for Newbie English Teachers

AKA: Why the Curtains are Blue.

Presented at the SAETA State Conference, May 7th 2018 at Immanuel College, Novar Gardens.

I love this meme. I think of it often when I’m in class attempting to make bored teenagers believe me when I say ‘Shrek is not about an ogre who abandons a swamp’ or ‘Cars is not about cars’ or ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is not about ‘spying’.’ As a new teacher to English, I knew that the message of the meme was wrong, that the curtains could represent his ‘immense depression and lack of will to carry on’. But I couldn’t explain how. Like many newbies to English teaching, I felt I didn’t really understand the basic ideas behind analysing literature or texts.

My presentation at the SAETA State Conference was a basic intro into the key ideas behind our discipline. It’s kind of like a ‘Philosophy of English Education 101’. It’s the session I wish I’d attended in my first year out. If you’re a newbie to teaching English, or you’ve ever wondered why we do what we do in English teaching in Australia, this is the blog post for you!

Presentation Resources:

First up, here’s the PowerPoint and other resources from the presentation.

Plus: I’m currently doing my Masters (parttime, of course), and I’m looking to specialise in Middle School literacy … any feedback or ideas on this topic would be greatly appreciated! Have I got something wrong? Tell me! duffystirling@gmail.com

What makes an accomplished English student?

esides literacy (of course), to be successful in Literary Analysis, our students need:

  1. Strong understanding of language features, elements, techniques, textual concepts
  2. ‘Worldliness’
  3. An understanding of constructivist, post modernist ways of understanding meaning

The first is covered well by most English teachers from primary school onwards. Newbie teachers who are still not sure should check out English Textual Concepts website and Insight Publications. There’s a whole website covering them here: http://literary-devices.com/.

The second we are all trying to do by exposing our students to current events and unfamiliar ideas in our text choices. But it’s the students who are widely read and interested in the ideas of the world that do well in literary analysis.

The third is what this post is all about: getting our students (and ourselves) to understand how texts are constructed.

Constructivism

If you did your pre-service training in the last twenty years, you have probably been trained in  the constructivist approach to education, whether you know the terms or not. If the names Vygotsky and Piaget mean anything to you, then you probably have.

Constructivism is a philosophy of mind, centred on the idea that our ‘reality’ is ‘constructed’, and influenced by our perceptions, experiences, culture and worldview. The central idea is that our ‘truth’ is relative and influenced by our experiences.

Constructivist education posits that:

  • Knowledge is constructed, not transmitted.
  • Learning is influenced by experience, perception, culture and worldview.
  • Learning is assimilated and accommodated in existing understandings.
  • Building useful knowledge structures requires effortful and purposeful activity.

Prior theories of learning assumed that knowledge is transmitted from teacher to student; and arrived in the same state in the mind of the student. Constructivists believe that learning is influenced by experience, perception, culture and worldview. Learning something that is close to what you already know is easier than learning something completely different. There’s also a massive emphasis on students being active learners, in that they gain knowledge through exploration and active learning. Most of our ‘best practice’ principles, such as student-centred learning, project based and inquiry based learning etc. come from the constructivist model of education.

Texts are Constructed

In terms of teaching English, understand that modern English teaching in Australia is constructivist. The key points are:

  • Authors make deliberate choices when assembling their texts.

The idea that authors make deliberate choices when constructing texts is sometimes hard for students to get their head around. After all, a lot of kids when they write their texts just ramble along until they’ve met the word count. A great assignment for students is to write a text, then do a literary analysis on their own work: did they use first or third person, and why. Did they write informally or formally, and why. After a while they can come to understand that they did make choices; and that in future they should plan their writing so they’re making better ones!

Another way for them to get the idea that authors make deliberate choices is to look at texts where the author is documented clearly stating their intentions. For example George Orwell has been pretty clear about his intentions in 1984 and Animal Farm; Steve McQueen also clearly states what his intentions were for 12 Years a Slave, in multiple interviews.

  • They draw upon a selection of textual elements to assemble (construct) their texts. 
    These elements include techniques, conventions, features, language choices, structure and so on.

You can use the metaphor of a house being constructed (e.g. the foundation, the studs, the bricks) to show how different choices in elements leads to different styles of house.

  • Those textual elements are influenced by cultural conventions.
    Over time our culture has developed conventions regarding communication. So every text is heavily influenced by those that come before it.

You can talk about cultural conventions through assignments which explore archetypes; e.g. look at archetypical characters (the hero, the mentor, and so on), or archetypical narrative structures like the Hero’s journey. Website TvTropes.org tries to track these cultural conventions, especially as used in popular culture (consider the ‘token black guy’ convention in teen movies, or the ‘Matthew McConaughey leaning’ convention in romantic comedies).

The concept of Intertextuality comes in here. Philosopher Julie Kristeva proposed that “any text is the absorption and transformation of another.” Basically, intertextuality is the idea that, because all texts are so heavily influenced by what came before, they are effectively re-assemblies of previous texts. Sarah Chamber’s 2017 presentation on Intertextuality was a great place to start for teaching this concept – a handout can be found here: https://www.aate.org.au/documents/item/1315

Purpose, and Creating Meaning

  • Authors assemble texts, making deliberate choices between cultural textual elements, to create meaning, and to achieve a purpose.

English education is all about examining literature and texts to identify how they make meaning. For Example, the purpose could be:

  • To entertain, persuade or inform.
  • To influence a particular audience
  • To explore ideas, values or issues.
  • To create an emotional response.

Different types of texts intend to achieve different purposes; for example narratives are usually written to entertain or explore ideas; advertisements are usually created to influence an audience.

Subtext

Often texts achieve meaning in a subversive way: the meaning is ‘suggested’ or ‘hidden’.

The ‘hidden meaning’ is called subtext. The idea of subtext is popularly compared to icebergs: on the surface a text might appear to be silly and superficial; but the meanings are extensive and hidden underneath.

Literary analysis involves looking ‘beyond the text’ to see the hidden meanings. 

Theme

The easiest way I’ve found to start students on the idea of subtext is to talk about themes. Now, I found it really hard at first to get a solid, concrete definition of ‘theme’; it seemed everyone online had a slightly different understanding. This is the definition of theme I’ve ended up with:

  • Themes are the big ideas of a text.
  • Themes are about the universal shared experiences of being human.
    love, death, pain, loss, envy, revenge, conflict, friendship, struggle, resilience …

The key point here is that themes are the big ideas about what it means to ‘be’. I treat the short phrase (e.g. ‘growing up’ ‘resilience’) as the ‘theme’. Other educators see this as the ‘topic’ or ‘subject’, with a short statement which establishes a point of view as being the ‘theme’ of a novel. Instead, I treat that ‘short statement’ as a ‘message’ or ‘lesson’, or ‘moral’:

  • THEME: growing up
  • MESSAGE / MORAL / LESSON / CONTENTION: growing up is painful, but necessary

Napthine and Tulloh’s explanation of this in Insight Publication’s Year 12 English skills is particularly good (I believe this text isn’t available anymore, but I’m sure it’s reflected in some of the other Insight texts). Here are a few examples from this book:

THEME CONTENTION / MESSAGE
Gender roles Women are limited by their roles in marriage
Family Family is the basis of your happiness
War War is horrific; stop war; war harms only innocents
Self Acceptance You cannot love others until you love yourself

Each time I have students read or view a text, I make sure they suggest the theme and contention.

 

Reader Response Theory

Louise Rosenblatt is the godmother of modern English teaching. In her 1938 book ‘Literature as Exploration’, she posited the idea that a reader creates meaning every time they read a book; that a reader (an audience) is essential to the creation of meaning. She is immensely quotable:

and

“A reader makes a poem as he reads. He does not see an unalterable meaning that lies within the text. He creates meaning from the confrontation.”

and

‘Each individual reader, in essence, creates the work anew each time it is read. Reader’s engage with a text as a transaction. The reading of a text is an EVENT in which the reader gives the text life. Each reader has an individual experience with a text.’

Traditionally in English, teachers would train students to regurgitate the traditionally established interpretations of a text. After Rosenblatt’s Reader Response Theory (also called Transactional Theory), the importance of the reader in the creation of meaning was established. Instead of teaching an established meaning, or what the author intended, teachers should foster students’ trust in their own interpretation.

Rosenblatt’s work is absolutely fascinating, and I’ve got a copy of the book on order. Find more here:

Death of the Author

Well, Rosenblatt started something. By the 60s, the idea of authors as the true holders of their text’s meaning ended up, well, assassinated:

Roland Barthes’ 1967 essay ‘La mort de l’auteur’ (The Death of the Author) firmly moved the authority of meaning out of the hands of a text’s author:

“To give a text an Author is to impose a limit on that text, to furnish it with a final signified, to close the writing […] [However] by refusing to assign a ‘secret,’ an ultimate meaning, to the text … liberates  [us, because] to refuse to fix meaning is, in the end, to refuse God and his hypostases–reason, science, law.”
Roland Barthes

Basically, he was arguing that examining a text by considering the author’s historical context, their political views, their psychology and so on, was pointless. Like Rosenblatt he put the burden of meaning in the reader. “To give a text an author” and assign a single, corresponding interpretation to it “is to impose a limit on that text”. Barthes didn’t like the idea that once a text is finished by an author, it is ‘done’ or ‘fixed’.

This is one of my favourite concepts in philosophy. It’s worth reading up on. It’s also worth exposing students to this concept.

Additional Readings for Death of the Author:

Plausible Interpretation

So for literary analysis, Reader Response Theory and the Death of the Author mean one thing:

  • A reader’s interpretation of the meaning of the text is as valid as the author’s intended meaning, and the traditionally accepted meanings; provided it is plausible.

So, yeah kids, what you think the text means is as real as what the author meant. But don’t get too excited. Your interpretation must be plausible:

 

In other words, students have to prove their interpretation. I usually tell them that their opinion doesn’t matter; their informed opinion does. Avoid the fart in the wind tunnel:

 

For more on combatting the ‘I’m entitled to my opinion’ logical fallacy, check out Wikipedia’s page on it.

Literary Criticism

These philosophical approaches promote the idea of the reader as creator of meaning. That’s led to literary criticism, whereby texts can be viewed through ‘lenses’ to examine how power and oppression is created and perpetuated through texts; e.g. through a ‘feminist’ lens or a ‘Marxist’ (class systems) lens.

The new SACE has critical perspectives in Stage 2 Literary Studies. I’m hoping to work some into my future Year 11 or 12 classes but as yet my knowledge is a bit thin.

But anyway, Tim Gillespie’s book Doing Literary Criticism is the bible: it’s written specifically for high school English teachers. He discusses the same literary theories on this page in the intro.

The Curtains are Blue

So I had the answer to why the blue curtains DO represent his immense depression and lack of will to carry on, even if the author didn’t intend it to do so. I teach my senior students about Death of the Author and the blue curtains, and I’m proud to say they get it.

More on why the Curtains are Blue:

Deconstruction

So, what are we doing when we do analysis?

Analysis is when we pull something apart and look at how the separate pieces fit together to understand how something works.

This is true in science, in maths, and anywhere ‘analysis’ is used.

Literary Analysis is when we deconstruct texts and look at how textual elements are used to create meaning.

When a student or a literary professor is writing a response to a text, they are arguing to prove their interpretation is plausible. They do this by providing textual elements, and the way they are assembled, i.e. the deliberate choices made by the author, as evidence. In this way, Literary analysis is really pretty much a persuasive text.

I’ve been working on various ways of getting students to do this. I’ve got to do some thinking around how I’ve been approaching it (the ‘TIEE’ approach I mentioned at the presentation), so there’ll be a future blog post on it.

Finally:

The takeaway points, dear newbie English teachers, are these:

  • Texts are deliberately constructed from culturally available textual elements and conventions for a purpose / to make meaning.
  • Your interpretation of a text is as valid as the authors, and your teachers, as long as you have the evidence.
  • Analysis involves deconstructing texts and arguing your interpretation of the meaning made.

SO GO MY DEAR ENGLISH TEACHERS, INTERPRET WELL!

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Are you feeling the Collaboration Buzz?

Under steam from Hattie’s assertion that ‘teachers make the difference’ (2003) there has been a focus of moving teacher professional development (PD) away from ‘sit and get’ learning (Barry, 2013) towards collaboration. AITSL consider collaboration and mentoring a critical apart of achieving ‘Highly Accomplished’ status, and promote ‘Collaboration’ (AITSL, 2017a). DECD’s 2018 Performance and Development policy heavily promotes collaborative learning over formal training (DECD, 2018a). Even Hattie has placed ‘Collective Teacher Efficacy’ at the top of the list in his 2016 update on the influencers on student achievement (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Hattie’s Top Influencers on Student Achievement, 2016

I’m sure you’re feeling the Collaboration Buzz. AITSL and DECD want us doing it. But how is it really going?

The Research: Why Collaboration is the Buzz

Since the 80s, PD research has promoted a move ‘From Isolation to Colleagueship’ (Lieberman & Pointer Mace, 2010). Social learning theories, where learning is viewed as a social activity inherently attached to context, suggest that a teacher’s professional network is fundamental for their role (Lieberman & Pointer Mace, 2010) (Hur & Brush, 2014), and continuous support and collaboration among teachers is key to successful teacher PD (Moore & Chae, 2007).

The answer seems to be to ‘deprivatise’ the classroom, that is, make what you do public. Working in isolation is considered ‘an inadequate way of performing teacher’s work’ (Van Waes, et al., 2016). We need to observe, listen, discuss and interact with our peers to gain expertise; attending conferences in isolation without sharing your learning is considered ineffectual. Collaboration is apparently the answer for many modern education challenges, including ‘digital native’ students with ‘increasing economic disparities’ (Barry, 2013), and emotional burnout (Lieberman & Pointer Mace, 2010).

The Policies: What We’re Meant to be Doing

AITSL – The Ideal

In the ‘Essential Guide to Professional Learning: Collaboration’, AITSL argues the benefits of collaboration well (AITSL, 2017a). Collaboration promotes ‘change beyond individual classrooms, resulting in whole school improvement (p. 2), ‘higher levels of job satisfaction’ (p. 3), and ‘improves student outcomes’. schools that effectively collaborate ‘create a base of pedagogical knowledge that is distributed among teachers within a school, as opposed to being held by individual teachers’ (p. 2).

The role of leaders in promoting a collaborative professional learning culture is heavily emphasised (p. 4). Leaders should be aiming to ‘change the culture’, build trust, and develop a ‘positive learning atmosphere’ for staff. Emotional support and trust seem to be the critical elements: delegation of responsibilities is encouraged to ‘increas[e] teacher trust and buy-in for any change initiative’.

DECD – The Practical

Similarly DECD’s ‘Performance and Development’ policy (DECD, 2018a) and ‘Guideline’ (DECD, 2018b) heavily promote collaboration. However, unlike AITSL, this policy is ‘firmer’ and focuses more on ‘organisational needs’ and teacher ‘accountability’, discrediting the priorities of individual teachers. ‘Individual aspiration’ must be aligned with the ‘future needs of the department’; employees are ‘accountable for their contribution to outcomes for children and young people’; the ‘deprivatisation’ of classrooms, rather than in aid of improving teacher practice, is promoted as a way to ‘enable employees to embrace professional accountability’ through ‘openness to performance feedback.’ As part of a ‘primary commitment’ to ‘improve outcomes for children and young people’, employees have a responsibility to align their PD to ‘improvement priorities’ of their site and the department. Employee wellbeing is only nominally identified, but employees must also focus on ‘improving behaviour’: leaders must support ‘constructive behaviours’ which ‘align’ to ‘organisational values’ (p. 6), and must identify behaviours which ‘help or hinder’ performance.

The move towards collaborative PD is emphasised by the unsettling ‘70/20/10 formula’ (DECD, 2018b, p. 10) which suggests 70% of learning at work takes place ‘on the job’ through trial and error; 20% through practices such as observations, reading and mentoring; and only 10% through formal training (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: 70-20-10 Formula of Learning
Figure 2: 70-20-10 Formula of Learning

Like the AITSL guideline, the role of leaders is clearly defined, but with emphasis on management: leaders should coach employees through ‘meaningful and regular performance conversations’, ‘maintaining written records’, and conducting observations and reviews. A small nod is made to ‘recognising and celebrating employee’s contributions’, but leader responsibility primarily involves ensuring employees follow process.

Instead, much of the responsibility for PD lies on teachers. It is their responsibility to ‘participate positively and actively in agency performance development processes’, identify areas of development which contribute to ‘organisational goals’, seek and receive feedback ‘openly’, ‘critically reflect’, and ‘share learning and practice with others’.

The Reality: What’s Really Happening

I asked various colleagues, via an open survey posted to Facebook communities ‘Teachers of Adelaide’ and SAETA, what is really going on in terms of collaboration in South Australian schools. Of 27 respondents, 11 were Primary, 8 Secondary, 7 Leadership with a range of experience.

Multiple staff reported involvement in ‘coaching teams’, ‘priority groups’, ‘team meetings’, ‘hubs’, ‘Think Tanks’, and assessment moderation groups. Most reported a decrease in involvement in isolated PD. It seems a ‘collaborative culture’ is slow to be built in many sites: while 15 respondents reported enthusiastic and effective collaborative culture at their site, 10 reported that although collaboration processes were put in place at the site, barriers were preventing effectiveness. Only one respondent suggested their site was not collaborating at all: it looks collaboration is here and here to stay.

Most were enthusiastic about the idea of collaboration (‘so much potential!’)l collaboration challenges teachers ‘ego’ and allows access to ‘the vast experience that exists under our own roof.’ About 5 were generally positive, but were concerned about its implementation, especially in terms impacts on time and workload. Only 2 respondents were actively against collaboration, cynically suggesting that DECD is interested only in saving money.

Most of the barriers identified are reflected in AITSL’s Guidelines (2017a), cheerfully presented as a ‘snakes and ladder’ boardgame (see Figure 3):

Figure 3: Barriers and Enablers to Collaboration
Figure 3: Barriers and Enablers to Collaboration

The primary barrier, unsurprisingly, was time, with more than half complaining of limited access to shared time: most teachers ‘find it quicker and easier to just work alone with what they have’; it’s ‘another thing to do’, or it just ‘fills another meeting time slot’. This concurs with the literature regarding collaboration, where American (and similarly, Australian) education systems are criticised for not providing adequate non-contact time for shared planning, unlike ‘famous’ educational systems like Finland, Singapore and Japan (Lieberman & Pointer Mace, 2010), (Mardis, et al., 2012).

Secondly, professional relationships and emotional wellbeing were identified as a major barrier: ‘staff egos’, cynical colleagues, colleagues with different priorities and motivations, uncommitted colleagues, anxious colleagues, a lack of trust in leadership, and colleagues who don’t ‘pull their weight’. AITSL’s guidelines also heavily emphasised ‘emotional support’ and ‘building trust’ as significant ‘ladders’ to collaboration. The literature concurs: again Hattie found Collaborative Teacher Efficacy – a group’s belief in their capability to achieve their goals – was critical in improving student achievement (Visible Learning, 2018); Downer pointed out that teachers with low self-efficacy were less responsive to reflection and mentoring (2009); that ‘emotion, cognition, and action are integrally connected’ (Moore & Chae, 2007). Hur & Brush found in their study of teacher collaboration that many turned to online communities for emotional support, as ‘on the internet, there isn’t a disapproving look; there is just advice’ (2014).

Finally, ‘mandation’ was also a major barrier. It seems where collaboration is heavily structured and ‘mandated’, enthusiasm for collaboration was low. Sites where leadership ‘set’ the PLC focus without consultation with teachers, enthusiasm and commitment to collaboration was low; one referred to these as ‘random groups that have to sit together on training days’. Others were critical of their mandated collaborative policies, highlighting that they felt discouraged to collaborate because their personal goals did not align with site priorities, or were forced to collaborate in areas which were irrelevant to their areas of interest. This is unfortunate as the literature suggests that mandating collaboration is a sure way to squash collegiality, as ‘putting too many requirements and restrictions on allowing teachers to grow the necessary relationships and shared work’ (Lieberman & Pointer Mace, 2010, p. 78), and that ‘structural incentives for joint work’ didn’t lead to stronger collaborative relationships (Van Waes, et al., 2016).

The Possibilities: What We Could Be Doing

It’s clear that building a collaborative culture is the way forward for improving student outcomes and whole-school teacher improvement. It seems that teachers on the whole are willing to (even enthusiastically) collaborate. Yet it seems that culture is slow to grow in our sites. So what can we do?

Clearly building a collaborative culture is hinged on leadership. Time, resources emotional support and ‘trust’ have been identified here as significant barriers to collaboration, and these are all things identified by the AITSL guidelines as under the control of leaders. Where leaders do not allocate significant shared time for collaboration, where staff have no input into the focus and structure of PLCs, or staff do not feel safe or supported, a collaborative culture is unlikely to develop (see Figure 4). Sadly, the DECD policy does not make that responsibility clear.

Figure 4: Does your site have a collaborative culture?
Figure 4: Does your site have a collaborative culture?

Another possibility, also confirmed by the literature, is to use technology for collaboration. Over half of the respondents used Facebook regularly for collaboration, seeking assistance and to discuss educational issues, and others recommended cloud services (e.g. Google Drive, OneNote, Dropbox). Twitter was also identified as the place to go for discussions about learning, a phenomenon occurring worldwide, according to Guardian journalist Erin Miller, who considers joining Twitter ‘one of the best career decisions I’ve made’ (2017). Similarly, many teachers pointed out that collaboration outside their site – such as in regional moderation groups, or discipline organisations and conferences – were also important. The APSTs (AITSL, 2017b) encourage involvement in the educational community under standards, where Standard 7.4 requires educators to ‘engage with professional teaching networks and broader communities’. Clearly, collaboration via technology and external to school sites encourages collaboration that benefits teacher PD and site improvement: perhaps these need to be reflected in DECD policy.

Finally: What about you?

How do you feel about the rising tide of collaboration? Are you encountering snakes and ladders preventing or enabling you to collaborate more effectively? Are you concerned about the downfall of formal training, the neglected ‘10%’ of learning? Let me know your thoughts below, complete the survey yourself, or send me an email: duffystirling @ gmail.com!

References

AITSL, 2017a. The Essential Guide to Professional Learning: Collaboration. [Online]
Available at: https://www.aitsl.edu.au/tools-resources/resource/the-essential-guide-to-professional-learning-collaboration
[Accessed 5 April 2018].

AITSL, 2017b. Teacher Standards. [Online]
Available at: https://www.aitsl.edu.au/teach/standards
[Accessed 5 April 2018].

Barry, B., 2013. Teacherpreneurs and the Future of Teaching and Learning. International Journal of Innovation, Creativity and Change, 1(2).

DECD, 2018a. Performance and Development Policy. [Online]
[Accessed 4 April 2018].

DECD, 2018b. Performance and Development Guideline. [Online]
[Accessed 4 April 2018].

Donohoo, J., 2017. Collective Teacher Efficacy: The Effect Size Research and Six Enabling Conditions. [Online]
Available at: https://thelearningexchange.ca/collecti ve-teacher-efficacy/
[Accessed 5 April 2018].

Downer, J. T., Locasale-Crouch, J., Hamre, B. & Pianta, R., 2009. Teacher Characteristics Associated with Responsiveness and Exposure to Consultation and Online Professional Development Resources. Early Education and Development, 20(3).

Hattie, J., 2003. Teachers Make a Difference, What is the research evidence?. Melbourne, Australian Council for Educational Research.

Hur, J. W. & Brush, T. A., 2014. Teacher Participation in Online Communities. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 41(3).

Lieberman, A. & Pointer Mace, D., 2010. Making Practice Public: Teacher Learning in the 21st Century. Journal of Teacher Education, 61(1-2), pp. 77-88.

Mackey, J. & Evans, T., 2011. Interconnecting Networks of Practice for Professional Learning. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 12(3).

Mardis, M. A., Elbasri, T., Norton, S. K. & Newsum, J., 2012. The Digital Lives of U.S. Teachers: A Research Synthesis and Trends to Watch. School Libraries Worldwide, 18(1).

Miller, E., 2017. Teachers on Twitter: why you should join and how to get started. [Online]
Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2017/apr/20/teachers-on-twitter-why-join-get-started-social-media
[Accessed 5 April 2018].

Moore, J. A. & Chae, B., 2007. Beginning teacher’s use of online resources and communities. Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 16(2).

Van Waes, S. et al., 2016. The networked instructor: The quality of networks in different stages of professional development.. Teaching and Teacher Education, Volume 59, pp. 295-308.

Visible Learning, 2018. Visible Learning. [Online]
Available at: https://visible-learning.org/2018/03/collective-teacher-efficacy-hattie/
[Accessed 5 April 2018].

 

Improving Academic Literacy in Our Senior Students

Notes and links from the SAETA State Conference session, June 3rd 2017.

Hope you enjoy the presentation!

Downloads

Register

Functional Grammar – Field, Tenor & Mode

Register Continuum

Handouts / Factsheets

Vocabulary

Germanic vs Latinate

Nominalisation

Clarity and Conciseness

Readability Statistics

Other

  • University of Alberta’s fact sheet on Science Writing:  http://www.crystaloutreach.ualberta.ca/en/ScienceReasoningText/ScientificLanguage.aspx
  • The DECD Literacy Secretariat had some excellent resources which are now mostly available on the DECD Intranet. One that was particularly useful is available via DECD intranet > Educating >  Numeracy and Literacy > Literacy resources > Engaging and Exploring writing in the secondary years. Sorry Non-DECD schools, these are only available for DECD employees.
  • If you haven’t already, every English teacher in Australia really really needs to check out the English Textual Concepts website developed by the English Teachers Association of NSW. It is basically a catalogue of the content we need to teach. Our primarily skills based subject can sometimes feel content-lite, especially to new teachers. Go here if you want to know what it is we actually need to teach and when. This is a brilliant achievement. http://englishtextualconcepts.nsw.edu.au/
  • If you can get someone to pay for you, I recommend the How Language Works course. If you have to pay the $4000+ fee for yourself, give it a miss. Literacy for Learning is How Language Works lite; I don’t recommend it. More details here: http://www.unlockingtheworld.com/programs/how-language-works

 

Making a Nation: Year 9 History Resources

This year I’ve picked up both Year 9 HASS classes at my small site. The second depth study – Making a Nation – promised to be mind numbingly dull to deliver, with its focus on early Australian history and that thrilling topic ‘Federation’. I vaguely remember memorising mnemonics regarding the reasons for Federation during my 90’s high school career and entered into the topic with a heavy heart.

However I have to commend the Australian Curriculum in this area: the topic is now filled with enough blood and controversy to keep my middle schooler audience happy. Why didn’t we study Indigenous resistance fighters when I was in high school, I ask? Afghan cameleers in the outback are fascinating. Sure, the usual list of ‘key [white male] players’ is required to be covered and the events leading up to Federation (snore) but at least there’s some good stuff out there.

In fact there’s enough out there in the internet ether that I haven’t needed to resort to developing many resources myself. This page will collect the best of what I’ve found.

Note:

Australian students cover first contact, exploration, settlement, convicts and the Gold Rush in primary school years (from Year 4 onwards). Many resources available online target this age group and are simplistic. Although Year 9s cover similar territory, I felt the focus should be more on exploring bias, differing viewpoints and controversies. Another suggestion: avoid resources which describe Europeans ‘discovering’ Australia. These are outdated.

First Contact
ACDSEH020

‘Terra Nullius’

Frontier Wars

Famous drawing of Yagan's preserved head; note the culturally inappropriate headdress which were attached post-humously (a good talking point with students)
Famous drawing of Yagan’s preserved head; note the culturally inappropriate headdress which were attached post-humously (a good talking point with students)
  • Yagan: My students really engaged with the story of Noongar warrior and leader Yagan, who fought back against settlers in his homeland. His story would make a great film as it features misunderstandings, betrayal and loss.  ABC commissioned a great documentary – Yagan (2013) – which tells parallel stories of Yagan’s life (through gritty recreations) and his family’s bid to have his head returned from England, where it had been sent 160 years ago as a ‘souvenir’. We watched the documentary on Clickview (which I don’t recommend – it was frustratingly jumpy and fuzzy), but a DVD can be purchased from The Education Shop. ATOM has a study guide for purchase here.

From Colonisation to Federation
ACDSEH091 and ACDSEH090

  • Changing map of Australia. Source: Wikipedia
    Changing map of Australia. Source: Wikipedia

    Changing map of Australia: I used this Wikipedia page to quickly throw together a worksheet where students had to cut / paste each map with its matching description. Took 20 minutes and isn’t too difficult. Gets kids reading and reasoning.
    Worksheet: PDF / PPTX (original file for editing and answer sheet)

  • Why Federate? I found this semi-roleplaying activity on TES and I’m going to give it a go tomorrow. Basically, the resource includes a series of roleplaying cards representing each colony. Students work through a series of questions and then report back to the class about whether their colony would vote for Federation or not. I’ll be using it as an intro to the reasons for Federation.

 

Parsnips in ELT: Stepping out of the Comfort Zone

Love the PARSNIPS acronym. Will never look at root vegetables without thinking about those ‘whale’ lessons we avoided teaching in Japan.

teflgeek

most requested ebooks

The concept of Parsnips in ELT has always intrigued me.  These are the things that you’re not supposed to talk about with your classes, the taboo topics that might get you into trouble or which your students might protest at.  These are the topics that mainstream coursebooks leave out.

And for a very good reason – coursebooks are market dependent and they rely on economies of scale to make a profit.  A coursebook that cannot be used in an entire region of the world because it touches on political issues that might offend ruling regimes means potentially losing money in sales.  But this leads to some interesting omissions and to a one size fits all policy that essentially has us teaching to the lowest common cultural denominator. And to what someone once described as “in-flight magazines for the grammatically challenged” (Scott Thornbury I think…?).

Personally, I see no problem in…

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Class Activity: Kaleidocycles

In the evenings, while I devour Netflix, I’ll often have something engaging but brain numbing to help wind down. Generally it’s knitting or sewing, but recently it’s been ‘adult’ colouring in. Colouring in the latest relaxation-rage, dontcha know, and I’ve got the bug: I’ve spent far too many nights trawling through Pinterest for colouring pages (Islamic Geometry! Art Noveau! Zentangles! damnit!) and too much money splurging on Sharpies. Anyway, I discovered Hattifant’s Kaleidocycles and now I’m obsessed. Following a night spent colouring and constructing these geometric wonders, I found myself with unusually small Year 9 class to occupy. They’re easy to colour and construct, making them an ideal time filler and the kids flip out when they see the rotation. I bet there’s a decent Maths-last-lesson-on-a-Friday-afternoon in there.

M.C. Escher Kaleidocycle
Kaleidocycles = awesome

Kaleidocycles are paper tetrahedron rings which rotate endlessly and reveal, kaleidoscope-like, patterns (they are sometimes called ‘hexa flexagons’ or similar). They were a thing in the 70’s when the M.C. Escher Kaleidocycle book first came out. The most popular kind feature six tetrahedron segments (hexagonal) but as you can see at – the brilliant but under-designed geometric paper craft site – Korthal Saltes, there are multiple types. There is geometry involved which is fascinating – check out Mathematische-Basteleien’s Kaleidocyle Page or this PDF report on the mathematics – and the colouring is fun, but to tell you the truth, it’s all about how awesome they look when you rotate them. However, consider the possibilities for the classroom, besides a time filler activity. Obviously there’s a place as a maths activity, perhaps in compass skills. Consider what you could put on the template: vocabulary, equations, times tables, cheat sheet notes or a calendar:

Kaleidocycle Calendar: now that's cool
Kaleidocycle Calendar

How about flags for a geography assignment?

kaleidocycleflag
Kaleidocycles featuring flags

On this Wiki, a teacher has set a geography assignment whereby students create a Foldplay (see below) kaleidocycle to demonstrate their learning. Meanwhile, you could even make one out of fabric as per Ann The Gran’s machine embroidered felt one, this one out of quilting strips on Digipics’s Photography Weblog and this origami one out of felt.

Ann The Gran's felt kaleidocycles
Ann The Gran’s felt kaleidocycles

Ready to Colour/Construct Printables

There are hundreds of designs out there, as a quick Google Image search for ‘kaleidocycles’ will show. It is also relatively easy to design your own. These were worth a mention: Hattifant’s Flower Kaleidocycle was my first: print the printable (JPG), colour it in, and then follow the folding instructions on the website. There’s also a good YouTube instruction video. She also has a stripey animal one which some of my students didn’t mind, and links to a Frozen and superhero pre-coloured one.

Hallifant's Mandala Kaleidocycle: pretty!
Hallifant’s Mandala Kaleidocycle: pretty!

These stylish stripey kaleidocycles by Minieco can easily be printed from this PDF:

Minieco stylish kaleidocycle
Minieco stylish kaleidocycle

This coloured coral one by artist Eveline Kolijn is most spectacularly pretty:

Coral kaleidocycle by Eveline Kolijn
Coral kaleidocycle by Eveline Kolijn

I really liked the beautiful geometric design on this kaleidocycle from French site  ‘Math@ctivitie 3D’, but the painfully poorly designed website is just awful, so just download the template here without visiting it:

Math@ctivitie 3D
Math@ctivitie 3D Kaleidocycle

I had a go at creating some of my own; click on the image to download and print away:

duffystirling-diamondsandsunrays
Diamonds and Sunrays kaleidocycle
Squares and Sunrays kaleidocycle
Squares and Sunrays kaleidocycle
Art Deco Kaleidocycle
Art Deco Kaleidocycle

The stars and rays look quite pretty when it rotates:

Diamond and sunrays kaleidocycle
Diamond and sunrays kaleidocycle

If you make one of these, I’d love it if you could send a photo to see how they turned out! Email duffystirling@gmail.com.

Design Your Own

Foldplay

Foldplay Mandala Kaleidoscope
Foldplay Mandala Kaleidoscope

A quick Google search for kaleidocycles will bring you to the granddaddy of awesomeness that is Foldplay. Plug in your photos and Foldplay will make a kaleidocycle printable for you. I made this one from a collection of mandala colouring images I had saved: it took me a minute. You could add photos and diagrams of the topics you’re creating; or your students could choose which pictures they wanted to make their own.

Templates

Blank templates are easy enough to find, including this PDF from Minieco. Most are designed using tabs. Here is a template I drew up quickly:

Blank Kaleidocycle Template - 'net' method
Blank Kaleidocycle Template – ‘net’ method

And again without the fold lines:

kaleidocycletemplate2
Blank Kaleidocycle Template sans fold lines

Click on the thumbnails to open and save the larger JPG.

Folding Method

This YouTube video shows how to draw up and fold a kaleidocycle from scratch. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFUyXWlObLw

Pencil and Compass

If you’re going to deliver a maths lesson on compass and protractor skills, start your planning at Mathematische-Basteleien. Meanwhile this Instructable on Kaleidocycles shows you how to draw up a template from scratch. At first I thought I could get the correct dimensions of the base diamond by splitting a hexagon equally in three: this would make the individual diamonds easy to design by using a compass. However it turns out that kaleidocycles designed using diamonds of 60 and 120 degrees are too tight to rotate. Instead, the angles of the kaleidocycle tetrahedrons are slightly squatter:

Angles of the tetrahedron diamonds
Angles of the tetrahedron diamonds

Keep this in mind if you are drawing them using a compass and ruler (which I initially did).

Construction Tips

I found that ‘scoring’ the folds before folding made the kaleidocycles’ rotation smoother. The best kaleidocycles I made were printed on glossy photo paper which was 180gsm. the 220gsm card at school was somewhat clunkier. Paper glue seems to ‘grab’ the photo paper, making the bonds stronger: otherwise you generally need to rely on double sided tape to hold the joins. If you’re looking for construction instructions, I still quite like Hattifant’s Kaleidocycle page and the YouTube instruction video. Most kaleidocycle templates – including those on Foldplay – use ‘tabs’ to join the ring. I find that these tabs don’t quite cut it and often the ring breaks after multiple rotations. An alternative is to create a template with an extra row and column of triangles/diamonds to ‘glue over’ the opposing faces as per the templates on Math N Stuff (they call it the ‘net’ method):

Alternative template method which doesn't rely on 'tabs'
Alternative template method which doesn’t rely on ‘tabs’

The templates I provided above use this method.

Meanwhile

I’d seriously like to get a copy of the M.C. Escher Kaleidocycles Book by Doris Wallace: if anyone spots it in Australia, let me know 🙂

Later:

Mostly because I could, I had a go making a fabric kaleidocycle:

It was pretty straight forward and quite successful! It worked quite well: if you make one I’d suggest avoiding packing the tetrahedron too tightly.

Recycling your teaching resources … literally.

Or: What I Did With 15,000 Sheets of Used A4 Paper and 100 Used Overhead Transparencies.

This summer has been the Summer of My Printer.

I bought it three or four years ago, attracted by the high efficiency, low running costs and auto feeder. After the joyful discovery that my it can scan and convert to PDF using the auto feeder, I saw a way to excavate the mountain of teaching resources (upwards of 20 lever-arch folders), inherited from an experienced retired English teacher. My two-bay desk had squeezed out to three-bays and was piled high: much to the polite chagrin of my Co-ordinator, who is a goddess of organisation. Due to a jaw injury, I faced several weeks during my summer break interned in my living room so I decided to start the laborious process of scanning those resources worth keeping. 20 lever arch folders packed full of A4 paper were reduced to four smaller folders. My Co-ordinator is going to be beside herself.

Excluding paper printed only on one side (over 15 standard reams worth, to be reused), I was left with four or five shopping bags full of useless paper, a thousand sheet protectors and a hundred plastic overhead transparencies. Oh what to do with all of that? Guess I could use it for kindling, or put it in the ‘recycling’ bin? Put it in compost?

Hey, why not take useless paper and make more paper!

Ever made recycled paper? It is so squishy messy and fun, I recommend everyone at some point in their life should try it. Wait till you are squishing your hands through strangely clean feeling paper pulp; sprinkling glitter and making confetti; being completely damp and wet from drips; and spray jetting the random particles of dried paper pulp which somehow manage to get everywhere. I’d always wanted to try it: as a kid I even got so far as getting my father to make me a frame and to pulping some paper with my mother’s old blender, but never got around to actually making the paper.

Google ‘how to make paper’ and you’ll find dozens of instructables and how-to’s, many quite comprehensive. This post is not a ‘how-to’ but rather a summary of my experiments: successful or failed.

Pulp

Blending the pulp.
Blending the pulp.

I shredded, soaked overnight and blended the printer paper to make the pulp: I found the longer you soak the paper, and the more diligent you are at blending, the finer the final product. I separated bright white printer paper from yellowed or ivory: the white paper produced a slightly grey pulp which dries to a bright white with black specks; the yellowed printer papers and newspapers produced a speckled ivory paper that is lovely. One thing to note: the printing and colour stays firm on paper printed with laser or photocopiers, leading to paper which, depending on the thoroughness of blending, features small scattered text, colours and random letters. This looked somewhat very rock and roll eighties:

Rock and Roll Paper
Rock and Roll Paper

I have heard you can use food-colouring also to dye the pulp but I had quite a lot of coloured scrap paper that I was able to make pulp in various colours:

Soaking coloured paper reading for blending.
Soaking coloured paper reading for blending.

Frames

My ‘mold and deckles’ were made from recycled photo frames. I sifted through several op-shops looking for solid wood frames. I found solid wood is preferable as nailing the mesh is easier, and they withstand the water damage better. A few websites recommended sealing your frames with Estapol or similar to avoid water damage and warping, which I will do next time (my cheap MDF A4 frames are now soggy and warping). However, if you can only get MDF or plastic frames, a hot glue gun will attach the mesh: the glue seems to hold in the water.

I delighted in finding the ugliest pictures I could find to convert into molds.
I delighted in finding the ugliest pictures I could find to convert into molds. As long as it’s solid wood, it’s all good.

I bought cheap nylon fly screen from a discount store to make the deckle, but if I did it again I’d get a second hand open mesh curtain and cut that up. The mesh you use leaves a texture on the paper: imagine the patterns you could create!

My trusty A4 mold and deckle, which is now much more warped and soggy due to it's cheap MDF frame. I'm keeping an eye out for two identical A4 sized solid wood frames to replace it.
My trusty A4 mold and deckle, which is now much more warped and soggy due to it’s cheap MDF frame. I’m keeping an eye out for two identical A4 sized solid wood frames to replace it.
Two solid wood 5x7inch photo frames made my first (and still best) mold and deckle. This one has held its shape and is the easiest to use.
Two solid wood 5x7inch photo frames made my first (and still best) mold and deckle. This one has held its shape and is the easiest to use.

Process

Standard paper making setup.
Standard paper making setup.

I had a typical setup: tray of water; mold and deckle; towels and cut up flannelette sheet; vinegar (which apparently whitens grey pulp) and liquid starch (which apparently ‘sizes’ the paper to prevent ink absorption); sponges; and of course pulp.

After several weeks of experiments this is the process I found the most successful:

Mold and deckle 'scoop' into the tray of water and pulp.
Mold and deckle ‘scoop’ into the tray of water and pulp.

The basic idea is frame with mesh (the ‘deckle’) is held together with the mold and ‘scooped’ under water in a tub full of pulp. I would scoop in from the side, submerge, shake, and lift the mold and deckle out as horizontal as possible (see other instructables on paper making to see how this is done). I’d then let the frame sit on the edge of the tub/tray to drain:

Draining: removing as much water as possible is the name of the game.
Draining: removing as much water as possible is the name of the game.

Then carefully remove the mold:

Removing the mold ...
Removing the mold …

Typically you would flip the deckle onto a waiting backing – usually cloth (in my case flannelette pieces cut up from an old sheet) – cushioned on a towel. Instead I found this process more successful:

Place backing over pulp-side:

Place cloth over pulp ...
Place cloth over pulp …

Press the soft pulp side flat and remove as much water as you can using a sponge:

Press and sponge off as much water as you can.
Press and sponge off as much water as you can.

Flip the frame onto a waiting bed of towel or blanket; sponge the ‘mesh’ side to again remove as much water as possible (and to reinforce the structure of the paper).

Sponge extra water from the mesh side
Sponge extra water from the mesh side

Carefully place on drying space (being careful not to let the paper fall away from the deckle surface too soon).

Place on drying space
Place on drying space

The tricky part of paper making is to release the paper from the deckle. I found after many tries that pressing in the corner of the mesh and then tugging on the backing allowed the paper to ‘peel’ away. If it doesn’t release automatically, go back and sponge again.

Press carefully in corner and peel backing away ...
Press carefully in corner and peel backing away …
... to release paper.
… to release paper.

While cloth is the standard backing used in paper making, I had heard you can get a very smooth surface using glass. I tried this out (conveniently the frames I’d bought came with glass … :)) but found the paper tended to stick.

The teaching resources I’d just trashed included several hundred plastic overhead transparencies which, in the age of Smart Boards and projectors, are near useless. I found that using them for backing worked surprisingly well:

Place overhead transparency on pulp side of deckle
Placing plastic on pulp side of deckle, overlapping as necessary
Press to squeeze out paper
Press to squeeze out moisture

Using the transparencies is also good as more moisture can be squeezed out.

The paper pulp tends to want to stick to the plastic which makes peeling the paper off onto the drying place much easier. They’re then easier to manhandle and move around. Because the paper constricts as it dries, the plastic curls up (which is a handy indicator to tell you when it is dry).

Wait until the paper is completely dry before peeling the backing away: otherwise it will stick and ruin the paper.
Wait until the paper is completely dry before peeling the backing away: otherwise it will stick and ruin the paper.

Avoid peeling the paper from the plastic until it’s completely dry: if still damp it will stick.

I also used old plastic sleeve protectors (of which I have thousands after going through these folders) which worked as well (though the overhead transparencies were nice and thick and sturdy).

The plastic creates a smooth, velvety surface which would be good for writing:

Smooth velvety flat side ...
Smooth velvety flat side …
Rough textured mesh patterned side.
Rough textured mesh patterned side.

Drying

On a side note, while I was doing paper making it was 35 degrees Celsius and very windy. In fact, it was the same time the Sampson Flat bush fires were terrifying the Adelaide Hills. While this meant very short drying times, it did mean several fluttering sheets of paper ended up scattered around my yard. With some clamps or clothes pegs, spare mesh (including garden netting, fly screen and lace curtains) I rigged up several portable  drying tables:

Drying table
Drying tables

In full sun the sheets of paper dried in two hours; in the shade it could take overnight. Sheets I brought inside took even longer to dry. Besides how wet you get, the drying time alone makes paper making a summer activity. It helps to have Catastrophic Fire Danger conditions (yes, that is a thing we have in South Australia).

Pressing

I made a basic press using big bolts and wingnuts (new, from hardware store) and the sides of an old Ikea side table I had:

Just a big version of the flower press my Poppa made me.
Just a big version of the flower press my Poppa made me.

However, my cat, Maia, decided that sheets of recycled paper are oh so comfy so she assisted me in the pressing:

IMG_8530

Printing

I was delighted to find that my beloved printer can also print quite happily on the recycled paper:

The absorbent paper soaks that ink-jet ink up, giving vivid colours.
The absorbent paper soaks that ink-jet ink up, giving vivid colours.

I haven’t experimented with a laser printer or photocopier yet, but provided the sheets aren’t too thin or too thick, the paper will make it through without clogging your printer.

Other experiments

The winner of the ugliest doily is ...
The winner of the ugliest doily is …

I experimented with creating textures on the deckles: in this case I found these dreadfully ugly doilies at an op-shop and hot gun glued it to the mesh.

The results were beautiful:

Doily art
Doily art

I might even frame some of these pieces. I’m experimenting currently with cutting stencils out of the plastic transparencies to create patterns.

I also tried adding confetti (or, in my case, coloured paper which had been hole punched), unblended paper, wool threads and glitter to the papers with varying levels of success.

Glitter and confetti were the best:

Confetti paper
Confetti paper
Colours featuring chunks of paper pulp which I didn't blend, leaving solid pieces of colour
Colours featuring chunks of paper pulp which I didn’t blend, leaving solid pieces of colour

The leftovers from making the confetti I soaked and then added to the pulp unblended, leading to paper with solid pieces of colour. Love the colours, not sure about the look of the paper though.

The best looking paper, though, continues to be the white and ivory sheets with the fewest ‘specks’ (and maybe some gold or silver glitter):

Peach, ivory and white
Peach, ivory and white
Blue and red pulp, yellow pulp, ivory, pastel green, and white with pink heart shaped confetti
Blue and red pulp, yellow pulp, ivory, pastel green, and white with pink heart shaped confetti

So …

The next time you have to clean out your teaching resources and you have a mountain of paper headed into the bin, think about how you could spend a nice summer in the sun getting soaked and covered in paper pulp. Raid some op-shops and thrift stores for ugly frames and uglier doilies. Get some kids involved. Cover your yard with fluttering paper. Make a year’s supply of scrapbooking materials.

And make your cat some comfy paper:

Seriously: I couldn't put a sheet down anywhere without her sitting on it.

More Duffy Stirling Teaching Stuff

duffystptbanner proper

Everything available on this blog is happily free, but if you’d like to see some of my better resources, please visit my above store at Teachers pay Teachers.

DECD Employees

Attention my DECD sistas and bros!

south-australia-department-education-childrens-services

If you’re a DECD (Department of Education in South Australia) employee and take a liking to any of my Teachers Pay Teachers resources, email me (duffystirling@gmail.comusing your schools.sa.edu.au address and I’ll send it to you for free. There’s many DECD teachers out there that have happily shared resources with me and I’ll happily pay it forward.

European English

Shamefully stolen from here …

European English:
The European Commission has just announced an agreement whereby English will be the official language of the European Union rather than German, which was the other possibility. As part of the negotiations, the British Government conceded that English spelling had some room for improvement and has accepted a 5- year phase-in plan that would become known as ”Euro-English” .

In the first year, “s” will replace the soft “c”. Sertainly, this will make the sivil servants jump with joy. The hard “c” will be dropped in favour of “k”. This should klear up konfusion, and keyboards kan have one less letter.

There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year when the troublesome “ph” will be replaced with “f”. This will make words like fotograf 20% shorter.

In the 3rd year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible. Governments will enkourage the removal of double letters which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling. Also, al wil agre that the horibl mes of the silent “e” in the languag is disgrasful and it should go away.

By the 4th yer people wil be reseptiv to steps such as
replasing “th” with “z” and “w” with “v”.

During ze fifz yer, ze unesesary ”o” kan be dropd from vords kontaining ”ou” and after ziz fifz yer, ve vil hav a reil sensi bl riten styl. Zer vil be no mor trubl or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi tu understand ech oza. Ze drem of a united urop vil finali kum tru.

Und efter ze fifz yer, ve vil al be speking German like zey vunted in ze forst plas.
If zis mad you smil, pleas pas on to oza pepl.