Tag Archives: school

The seduction of censored material and other memories from the 60s

Today I noticed this book cover for the classic novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, in the library.

It’s clever, isn’t it?

It reminded me of my childhood days at Russian Saturday School when the fear of communism in the Russian community was still a raw sore.  We used text books from the Soviet Union because they were the only ones we could get, and one woman decided we could not be permitted to lay eyes on certain words which were associated with Soviet Russia. After all, many of us had living relatives who had witnessed and experienced atrocities, including my own maternal grandfather who, at the age of fourteen,  had witnessed his father being shot dead, and whose wife (my grandmother), many years later, was tipped off secretly that he was to be shot the next day. Which is why I was born in Australia.

Anyway, back to the forbidden words in the Soviet Russian textbooks. This lady decided to black out words and phrases to protect us. She spent hours with a ruler and black textas blacking out sections of the book. If there were too many words/phrases to be eradicated, she would glue pages together. My sister caught onto this, opportunist that she was, and glued her own pages together when she didn’t want to do her homework. I wish I had thought of that.

As you can imagine, the blacked out sections of our books became so fascinating that we used to lift the pages up to the light in order to be able to read the words/phrases. I don’t know what we expected but I know I was disappointed when I managed to decipher ‘pioneers’ (Soviet Russian scouts) and ‘Russian Victory Day’ and other words I’ve now forgotten.

It’s funny remembering things that happened in your childhood which you can hardly believe happened.

Like memories of things so different to the way they are now that they seem surreal. I remember in primary school boys and girls played together until they got to grade 3 and then the playgrounds were segregated. Not the oval (strangely) but the playgrounds. If kids wanted to be mean to you, they’d try to push you into the forbidden playground. I remember that happening to me and it was traumatic. Even putting one toe into the wrong playground was unimaginable.

Punishments for boys in my primary school included getting the strap. That usually happened in class – and I think it sometimes involved the yard stick which sat on the blackboard ledge or near it – but if boys got into really bad trouble, they would get the strap at the principal’s office and the procedure would be transmitted to the rest of the school. Maybe once a week we would tune in to the P.A. system mounted high on the wall and listen to boys getting the strap. In retrospect it was a bit like being part of the audience when early Christians were thrown to the lions. There was some sadistic pleasure there. I remember each boy being named, then the dreadful sound of the hard slap, followed either by silence or sobbing.

Girls never got the strap at my school although I have heard others say that they did at theirs. I sometimes wished we could have because it would have been over and done with instead of writing lines. In grade 4 my teacher used to make me write ‘I am a Russian parrot’ many times over because I talked too much.

Now I can’t even believe I went to school in the 60s! And it’s funny what stays with you. I guess you don’t have that original memory but you’ve remembered your way through your life and your memory has never gone out. In this way I remember being called a communist by kids in kindergarten. I didn’t speak English then, maybe just basic things like ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ but I remember hearing the way they said ‘communist’ and thinking that I was disgusting, that people didn’t want to be near me. Later I would discover the irony in this.

Things have changed a lot since then, haven’t they? Schools have anti-bullying policies and educators are more conscious of the language being used by young people. Most of us are more politically correct than before.

I wonder how strong we are in upholding these basic human rights, and how strongly we would protest if this culture came under threat.

 

 

Hacking the school system softly #clmooc #systemhack

#accidentalalliteration  Make Cycle #4 for Making Learning Connected Course.

Susan Watson cracked me up with her comic, The Systems of Comics. She is very clever and funny.

susanwatsoncomic

 

That’s too small to read but you can see the original here. Terry must have made hundreds of these. Here’s one. I decided to try and make my own. It is the first in a series of Personal Conversations at Melbourne High School.

I’m sure that’s illegible so take a look at the original.

I have a plan for this series and also for another to give our students voice. I’ve already asked some of our students for help. This should be fun.

And the Bigger (AlmostEvil) Plan is to infiltrate learning spaces in my school like a stealthy villain.  One of my recent posts expressed frustration about the school system which resists reform and may have to be levelled first in order to be rebuilt. After reading Terry’s comment

I think I am done with reform as a way of re-thinking. I put a lot more faith in kind subversion, asking forgiveness and not permission, under the radar, subrosa, authentic learning.

I decided to act on an unformed idea I’d had nagging me for a while.

Taking the library out to the school is not a new idea but I think I need to up the ante with it. My new, as yet embryonic, idea is to hack the staffroom in a surprising way. Something along the lines of setting up a small and changeable pop-up shop/library when nobody’s looking. For example, mark the space somehow with a few artifacts, then leave things that beg to be played with and change these regularly. Some ideas so far: puzzles, gorgeous design pages for colouring in, quirky articles – and comics! Like this one. So I envisage leaving one comic per series and updating regularly. Series like ‘Professional conversations at MHS’ and ‘Student conversations at MHS’, and so on.

I’m trying a soft approach to hacking the school system. If, as I’ve said in a previous post, teacher librarians find it challenging to collaborate with teachers because teachers are driven to keep up with the curriculum, then we can entice them, seduce them in a way, with curriculum-irrelevant playful things that help them slow down, make things, laugh, and take a break from the system.  Why not? My aim is to distract teachers, disrupt their single focus so that they might be more open to joining me in collaborative play in class.

And if that’s too ambitious, at least their (mis-)perception of teacher librarians (another blog post) might be popped like a giant bubble containing nothing but air. And that created space is something I will try to inhabit.

All ideas for a soft hack of learning spaces will be taken seriously and collected in a special container.

Oh, and true to villains who leave calling cards, here’s  one I made with Notegraphy for my library.

Of course, it could just as easily look like this.

I’m looking forward to sharing this idea with my colleagues in the school library.

 

Where I am now, where I’ve come from. Reflection.

Reflection and evaluation have always come easily to me, for which I am grateful. It’s not always pleasant but it does help to move forward, or rather, break out of one skin into the next.

In my professional life, I’ve celebrated with my colleagues our first term ‘under my leadership’. I say that with a smile because my role as head of library at Melbourne High School has been passed to me like an unwanted basketball, and my leadership has depended desperately on the experience and good will of my colleagues. Still, at the end of a term which contained an unusually high number of new challenges for all of us, we acknowledged (and celebrated with Laurent cake!) our successes and triumphs, our new directions and relationships. It’s always been a challenge for me to see the positive things amongst the clutter of problems and unresolved issues which tend to cloud my clear vision, being a perfectionist, and often demanding of myself unrealistic goals, but I’m happy to say that, with the help of good friends, I accepted the cake and focused on the whole picture. We had, after all, successfully managed the move to RFID (with related technical issues, as always); moved the huge cultural shift of a silent library – having provided the VCE students with an alternative space for their private study sessions – which surprised us all by demonstrating that most students actually preferred to study under our politically incorrect hovering and insistence on silence than go to the more relaxed space with a moderate amount of noise;  acted on our determination to leave the library more often to make connections with teachers and be associated less with desk duty and ‘library duties’ and more with meaningful support for teachers and students; made a good start on our promise to staff for delivery of services which responded to their specific requests for support, both in curriculum creation and collaborative teaching; worked on the planning and preparation for a refurbishment of the front of our library involving a temporary reallocation of desks, shelves, books and the like in readiness for demolition some time next term, and many more things I won’t mention because this paragraph is getting much too long.

In my personal professional life, some things changed – as they do. My activity within social networks was reduced but not weakened. Obviously I had much less time for online interaction, and sadly missed some opportunities and events (not all), but my focus was more strategic, more targeted and less serendipitous. Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and other online communities have still been my lifeline, professional development, inspiration and connection to new developments and ideas. Blog posts have become less regular as priorities have shifted – all as it should be – in exchange for projects which have resulted in the satisfaction of making things happen, introducing good changes and bringing some people with me.

Do I still have readers? I’m not sure – but then this blog hasn’t attracted dialogue with others for some time. Does it matter? Maybe a little – everyone wants some kind of response when they write (I think), but then again, the writing clears my head and creates another record amongst all the posts since 2008. It may be sand art but I value the opportunity to share my thoughts with what is potentially parts of the world – at least a world further than my own backyard.

What have I learned this year?

My colleagues are my strength and support – at school and beyond. If you openly value and respect people, they will reward you with good things and surprise you with unexpected things too. Leadership is not control; it can survive uncertainty as long as that doesn’t turn to fear which makes you lose trust in your people. Life’s too short to keep on the tried and true, safe path – follow your instincts. The change you want will take time. Celebrate with your friends – and cake!

New start – second week at Melbourne High School

Photo courtesy of Jose Cuervo Elorza on Flickr

As far as new starts go, this one feels good. Not one to go with the flow of things usually, change for me is often like a dentist’s visit I want to avoid. I admit the first few days weighed a little heavily with new procedures, finding my way around, new names and the loss of friends and familiarity of my old school, but one day into the second week and I’m really enjoying the experience.

Today we had 2 interesting visits in the library. At lunchtime Adele Walsh, Program Coordinator for the Centre for Youth Literature, came to talk to our Reading Group about The Inkys’ shortlist. (Sorry, I have forgotten the name of the lovely person who accompanied Adele and also shared her experiences of the listed books). Some people talk about books in a way that makes you want to drop everything and read all of them simultaneously, and this was one of those times. When you can talk about books without sounding like an academic, and without relating plot or analysing characters (without mentioning teenage angst!!), then you have the students listening with interest.

After school my head of library had arranged for Simon Shaw from Apple to come and talk to teachers about iPads as tools for learning and teaching. I’ve been to sessions about iPads before, and Simon’s session was probably the best one I’ve been to. There was no hard sell, just a focus on how teachers could do what they already do only better on the iPad, and a range of impressive apps, plus a hands-on session using iMovie. It was good to see a decent turnout too.

Wednesday I will be running an after-school session on Google apps. I have a serious problem when faced with ‘presentations’ and hope to improve with more practice. The research and preparation I do is excessive. Basically, I find it difficult to select a realistic portion of what’s possible. I’m sure the ridiculous amount of research is a procrastination technique. Finally, yesterday, I decided on what I might talk about and what I would exclude. At the moment this is all sitting on a page in my wiki – and looks awful. When I have time I should put this into a slideshow. If you’re brave, here it is. It’s not exhaustive but I wanted to showcase a range of tools. It’s difficult to prepare things like this when you have no idea of what your audience knows or expects, but hey, whatever.

Tomorrow lunchtime I will be meeting with the group of boys I’ll be working with as part of the Creative Writing group. I have inherited this group from my predecessor, and I’ve heard people refer to this group as the Competition Writing group which is an obvious clue in terms of what they do. I had a quick chat to the school captain who is a leader of this group today – lovely boy. I assured him that I didn’t want to change anything they were already happy with, but what did he think about also creating a blog so they could have an audience for their writing. Happily, he thought this would be a good idea. I’m really looking forward to working with these boys; I’m sure there is much passion and talent amongst them. In terms of the blog, I thought it might also be a space for any of us to share anything and everything about writing. Just now I received a Facebook update from the Facebook group, ‘The Wheeler Centre for books, writing and ideas’. I want to include this in a post to encourage the boys to join the group, and to show them what Facebook can provide besides chat.

The Wheeler Centre Facebook group also put me onto Australian Poetry, a Wheeler Centre resident organisation which is celebrating National Poetry Week with a different theme every day this week. There really are so many wonderful programs happening locally, and it will good to share these.

Well, that’s it from me. Just checking in after week 1 in the new job. My blogging has been slow lately, and this has a lot to do with the unsettling leadup to leaving one school and venturing into another. At this point I feel that I will have the opportunity to get involved in some interesting projects, and look forward to telling you about it all.

Have good days!

I’m a teacher librarian. Put up your hand if you know what that means.

Librarians Are Ready [slideshare id=8693280&w=477&h=510&sc=no]
I was reading Jennifer LaGarde’s excellent post and nodding. So much I agree with about the school’s perception of teacher librarians, and reasons why teachers aren’t leaping to collaborate with us. Jennifer summarises it like this –
  • Teacher Isolation:  As a classroom teacher, I was deeply entrenched in my own world.  I spent so much time worrying about what was happening inside my classroom, I sometimes forgot there was a world spinning outside of it.
  • Teacher Education #Fail:  If my own teacher education program emphasized instructional partnerships of any kind, I forgot to sign up for that class.  Collaborating with other professionals was not a skill that I was taught in teacher school.
  • Librarian #Fail: This message was not being sent by the school librarians I worked with.  Or if it was, not very effectively.
I was a also ‘classroom’ teacher long before I decided to mutate into a teacher librarian. Teacher librarians and librarians belonged in the library and looked after books. They weren’t intrinsic to my day to day functioning. Since that time, the role and skillset of TLs has exploded, but who knows that apart from TLs themselves? We sigh, we complain to each other, we throw our hands up into the air, but we’re wasting our time  if we’re not collaborating for active advocacy. This point was made very clear to me during my Master of Education (Teacher Librarianship) studies at Charles Sturt University. I soon realised that it is one of the most important things to keep foremost in your mind, otherwise you are spending many, many hours creating resources no teacher uses; your offers of collaboration and support fall on deaf ears.
Thanks,Jennifer, for creating this flyer. Maybe we should screen this daily and hope that it gets through subliminally. Frankly, I think that TLs will not be accepted inVictoria, Australia, unless the focus of education changes from the content-driven, mark-based VCE to a focus on teaching and learning skills which are badly needed and which would equip young people for work and life.  Don’t get me started.
Of course, ‘selling yourself’ must always be accompanied by a sincere and consistent effort at developing real relationships. Don’t be a door-to-door salesperson. That’s just horrible.

Rest, recharge, and ready for another term!

National Gallery of Victoria (Städel exhibition)

I don’t know how non-teachers survive with so few holidays.  I’m not feeling guilty about teaching holidays though because that’s what I do, and I work hard, so if you’re not a teacher and feeling resentful, why don’t you do a teaching degree?

Seriously.

Teaching is one of the most satisfying careers. Yes, it can be frustrating, infuriating, depressing, tiring, all-consuming – but it’s definitely a privilege to have a hand in shaping young minds, the shapers of our future.

For me, working with people who love shaping those young minds is more than satisfying. Some of these educators are at my school, and many are elsewhere, and I’m grateful to them wherever they are.

Photo courtesy of Jane Hewitt on Flickr (Great quotes about learning and change)

I’ve really enjoyed these two weeks of holiday, and  balanced a nice mix of everything I need to recharge – enjoying the company of good friends, catching up with news and exchanging stories and ideas; going out into various parts of Melbourne in the winter (Melbourne has its own Winter style which I really like); appointments(!); domestic chores (not fun, but inevitable); reading and thinking, reflection and re-evaluating, shifting perspective, gathering strength and resolve, making plans for the new term ….

Amazing that I managed to pack in so much in the two weeks, including (possibly too many) musical concerts, for example, the Goodbye Hamer Hall concert in which my younger son played in the Melbourne Youth Music orchestra, the Tim Burton exhibition at ACMI, and I also went to see the European Masters from the Städel Museum in Frankfurt. AND I still had a lot of me-alone-time.

I finished reading Will Grayson, Will Grayson – a young adult novel written by John Green and David Levithan about two separate Will Graysons whose chance meeting changes their lives – and I’ve also started Seth Godin’s Linchpin (incidentally, Seth has just shared a free e-book) and Ali Shaw’s The girl with glass feet. I hope the reading doesn’t stop but somehow school projects always spill into the evenings and reading only begins just before my eyelids glue themselves shut.

The Tim Burton exhibition made me want to drag all the students out so they could be inspired by Tim’s prolific and imaginative illustrations. I could see so much potential for students writing, drawing, animation, sculpture, photostory, film-making – so many possibilities. I think the exhibition inspires because it shows early work back as far as school, and makes you want to have a go at all that zany creativity yourself.

So, what is my direction for third term? Well, apart from existing partnerships with classes, I want to trial more of my Writing Prompts. I want to give Howard Rheingold’s expert crap detection program a go, as well as teach some serious critical thinking.

Apart from stuffing my literature blog with new reviews by different members of my community, I’d like to take some of the ideas from Joyce Valenza’s Reading Wiki and run with them. There’s so much in this reading wiki too, and this one is bursting at the seams with resources for teacher librarians.

Plenty to do, and I’m even starting to get a little excited. I hope that you all have a great term, and for those of you in the middle of things, be inspired and re-inspired!

Creating a community of readers

We all read, don’t we? If not books, then newspapers, if not hardcopy then online, if not novels, then graphic novels – does it really matter?

Having started my reading blog for school, I soon realised that it had to move from being limited to my own reading to including that of all the members of my school community. Of course, this is still an unrealised dream, but I was happy that so many teachers (and some students) offered their diverse reading reviews.

This year I’d like to expand the scope a little more to include anything and everything related to books, reading, film and whatever catches my eye and leads to a love of literature and ideas, as well as interaction and possibly a good laugh or at least a chuckle.

The variety of topics will hopefully mean that something will appeal at least some of the time. Ideally, interaction and collaboration with others is the goal.

Here are some examples of my recent posts:

The Age Resource Centre not only contains great resources you’d expect, but also a Reading and Writing page which includes extracts from great books (as described in this post):

Currently, Andy Griffiths has contributed a hilarious short story, Just commenting,  as part of a special series on the Summer Kids pages of The Sunday Age.

Here’s the first half of Andy’s story (you’ll love it):

WHEN I grow up I’m going to be a commentator. I’m getting really good at it, too, because I practise every chance I get. In fact, I’m practising right now.

I’m sitting at the dinner table using the pepper grinder as a microphone.

“It looks like we’re in for an exciting night’s eating,” I say in a hushed voice. “Anything can – and probably will – happen. The father is chewing on a chicken bone. The mother is pouring gravy over her potatoes. And the sister . . . well, the sister is looking directly at the commentator.”

“Can you pass the salt please, Andy?” says Jen.

“And the sister has opened play by making a direct request to the commentator to pass the salt,” I say. “The question is, will he give her the salt or is he too busy commentating?”

“Mum,” sighs Jen, “Andy’s commentating again.”

“Oh dear,” I exclaim. “The sister seems to have forgotten about the salt and has decided to tell on her little brother for commentating instead.”

“Just ignore him,” says Mum.

“I can’t,” says Jen. “I want him to pass the salt.”

“She’s getting impatient now,” I say. “She’s thrown away all pretence of politeness and good manners. Looks like she still really wants that salt. But her little brother is just shaking his head. Looks like we have a stand-off on our hands.”

Jen rolls her eyes. “Can you pass me the salt, please, Dad?”

“A brilliant change of tactics on the sister’s part,” I say. “Let’s see how it works out for her.”

Dad nods, picks up the salt and leans in front of me to pass it to Jen.

“What a pass!” I say into the pepper grinder.

“Straight from his hand to hers, no fumbling – and Jen is wasting no time in transferring the contents of the salt shaker to her dinner. Just look at her shaking that thing – she’s giving that shaker everything she’s got. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the salt-shakingest salt-shaker action we’ve seen around this dinner table in a long time.”

“Jen,” says Mum, “that’s quite enough salt.”

“Looks like the mother has stepped in to shut down the sister’s salt offensive.”

“Shut up, Andy,” says Jen.

“Jen!” says Mum. “Please don’t talk like that at the dinner table.”

“But, Mum . . .”

“I know your brother can be very annoying, but there’s no excuse for language like that.”

“Oh dear,” I say.

“Looks like Jen’s dinner has definitely taken a turn for the worse. Not only has she been cautioned for excessive salt use but now she’s getting into trouble for being rude at the dinner table.”

“All right, that will do now, Andy,” says Dad. “Just eat your dinner.”

“But who will do the commentating?”

“NOBODY will do the commentating!” says Mum. “We’ll all just eat our dinner in peace and quiet.”

“But that’s boring.

“And unfair.

“How can I be a professional commentator when I grow up if you don’t let me practise?”

“Just eat your dinner,” says Dad, “or else you’ll have to leave the table.”

When I found Nancie Atwell’s quote about reading and how it makes you smart, I knew I had to put that in.

There’s nothing better for you – not broccoli, not an apple a day, not aerobic exercise. In terms of the whole rest of your life, in terms of making you smart in all ways, there’s nothing better. Top-ranking scientists and mathematicians are people who read. Top-ranking historians and researchers are people who read. Reading is like money in the bank in terms of the rest of your life, but it also helps you escape from the rest of your life and live experiences you can only dream of. Most important, along with writing, reading is the best way I know to find out who you are, what you care about, and what kind of person you want to become.

When I found the homonymic (is that a word?) poem, Sum thyme’s I’m ache Thai pose (Sometimes I make typos), I thought I had to put that into a post. I love quirky stuff, and I think many students do too. Anything that has value but isn’t what they expect to be ‘academic’, classroomy (another made-up word).

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_RLCdPwvjeI&feature=player_embedded]

Then I found out about an exhibition which included the biggest book in the world, and thought this would be perfect for the blog too.

I’m hoping that the diversity and quirkiness of the post content will work well with the reviews and trailers, so that members of the school community and readers outside the school will turn to the blog for enjoyment. It would give me deep satisfaction.

Your contribution is very welcome, wherever you are.

What have I learned from VCE?

This article in The Age resounded with me – Surely there’s a better test was written by Alexandra Adornetto, Year 12 VCE student at Eltham College and, at 17, already an author of a popular children’s trilogy starting with The shadow thief.

Of Alexandra’s initial questions,

How have I been shaped by my learning experiences? What skills have I developed that are valuable and transferable in the workplace? What lessons have I learned about the value of education?

– I wonder most about the last one: What lessons have I learned about the value of education? Or even, what have I learned about learning?

Alexandra’s answer is negative; she sees students having to work

within a system that reduces achievement to a game where strategies are more important than ideas.

Her cynicism flows from the fact that

the sum total of my education will soon amount to nothing more than a figure — an ENTER score that will determine which percentile I fall into statewide and which courses I will be eligible to apply for.

I agree with Alexandra when she says that

the system fails to recognise the diversity of skills and most subjects do not allow students to demonstrate skills in a form other than a written exam.

I’ve started reading Rethinking rubrics in writing assessment by Maja Wilson, which, at one point, talks about decontextualised teaching of literacy through ‘separate literature, speech, and composition courses’. In the past ‘Reading, speaking, and writing were simply a means to dialogue with professors, peers, and the community at large about matters of public interest.’

Andrea Lunsford (1986) describes an integrated, language-rich environment that supported powerful literacy.

Classroom activity… was built around “oral disputation.” One  student chose and presented a thesis, often taken from reading or class discussion, and defended it against counterarguments offered by other students and the teacher. In addition, students regularly gave public speeches on matters of importance to society, in forums open to the entire college and the surrounding community… the students learned more from their peers than from their teachers … this model of oral evaluation and the form of student speaking societies provided an audience, a full rhetorical context, and motivation for discourse, features woefully lacking in later “set” essays and written examinations.

Maja Wilson goes on to imagine how ideal this kind of learning would be. This would be the antithesis of the VCE as we know it, and as described by Alexandra. Instead of receiving ‘a static score from faceless evaluators’, a student could receive a type of assessment ‘not to rank’ the written content, but purely as feedback to aid learning and develop abilities.

Assessment would be free to interact positively with learning since ranking … was not its main objective.

In her article, Alexandra goes on to point out the many skills students possess in activities they do outside of school which are not taken into consideration in the VCE assessment.

Life skills, innovative ideas and community involvement — what intelligent nation needs these? It’s obviously much safer to work towards the goal of conformity. Here is just the beginning of a list of skills that exam results cannot possibly hope to reflect: interpersonal skills, the ability to entertain, how articulate we are as speakers, our ability to work as part of a team, the ability to deal with challenges and invention.

I’ve often thought the same, and when I see the curriculum packed to bursting with content that teachers struggle to cover, I’m not surprised that they often lament the lack of time to develop important skills.

It doesn’t take long to figure out that our current system does not reward creativity or cater to the diversity of skills and abilities possessed by students. What it does reward are formulaic learners and those with a good memory.

I don’t claim to be an expert, but I noticed a difference between, for example, the Psychology course offered within the VCE  and that within the International Baccalaureate. VCE Psychology seemed to be largely a matter of content memorisation, whereas IB Psychology involved higher order thinking.

Alexandra comments:

Other knowledge-based subjects such as legal studies, psychology and history ask us not to apply knowledge but simply to recall and regurgitate the contents of our hefty textbooks.

It’s interesting how Alexandra’s suggested solutions harken back to the older system of assessment described by Wilson in her book:

Clearly an overhaul of the current system with a review of its goals and objectives is in order. Until universities take a radical look at their selection procedures, nothing is likely to change. How much more sensible would it be to include an oral exam (where you might talk through your ideas or your achievements) as a percentage of our final assessment?

I like the way Alexandra thinks, I like her suggested alternatives:

Perhaps the presentation of a folio of achievements would go a long way in presenting us as individuals with a unique contribution to make. Perhaps a hands-on project in a preferred area of study should be a compulsory assessment task.

Yes, Alexandra is cynical about the merits of VCE, and grim in her description of the final exams:

As for us, we will be writing furiously for three hours, surfacing only to check the clock and take periodic sips from our water bottles from which we have assiduously removed the labels in compliance with yet another inane regulation, designed to eliminate cheating.

What do you think? Is she being too harsh?

As for me, I hope that this year’s VCE students will at least be able to demonstrate the extent of their study efforts, not like the poor girl during this year’s English exam whose watch stopped, freakishly, at the same time as the wall clock, and was caught out at the end with only two thirds of her examination paper completed. So much frustration and upset – two years of effort spoiled by a fateful turn of events.

I recommend The English Companion ning which has a rich discussion between Maja Wilson and educators of her book.

Design the school of the future, but do it now (GPS)

As I’ve said in my previous post, Green Pen Society is Paul Cornies’ brainchild, and has brought together bloggers (thinkers, writers) from different parts of the world.

It’s my turn to devise a theme for October’s post, and I’ve chosen the theme of school design, namely:

What would your ideal school look like? Design the school of the future – but do it now!

A tweet from @kentmanning led me to the designers’ website of the award-winning International School in The Hague, Design Share: designing for the future of learning, and I started thinking about what was essential pre-thinking for a school design. These statements make a lot of sense:

The classroom is the most visible symbol of an educational philosophy.

It is a philosophy that starts with the assumption that a predetermined number of students will all learn the same thing at the same time from the same person in the same way in the same place for several hours each day.

Personally, I never felt comfortable with that assumption, and as early as kindergarten, which I attended on and off from the age of 2, in order to learn English (Russian was my first language at home), I knew I was starting from a different place in terms of what I had to learn.  Further on, in early primary school, I remember sitting obediently, silently, while students took turns to read aloud (and struggle through) the one reader for the year, whereas I had finished it at home in the first week. Statistically, I would not have been the only student, although my respect for authority kept me squarely on my chair, not even moving to fiddle with ruler or doodle in the margins.

How many of us learned to daydream away the waiting time in classes which expected all students to learn at the same pace and level?

tradschool

In contrast to the traditional classroom design is the Learning Studio. The L-shaped room includes 3 separate but open areas: Active Zone, Breakout Zone and Flex Space.

learningstudio

 The L-shaped classroom was first built in 1940, but the classrooms in the schools in which I’ve taught look like the first design, with rows of students sitting facing the front. Wait, there has been a change – we don’t have single rows any more. Do we think that having 2 or 3 students sit together in rows is a significant enough change to classroom design?

I think the trouble lies in the need to rethink the philosophy behind our learning spaces. How do we learn? How do we teach? What I’m still seeing is the predominance of the teacher as ‘sage on the stage’ and the students listening and responding in turn, or writing their own responses for only the teacher to read and correct.

If learning is to be student-driven, research-based and collaborative, then our learning spaces definitely need to take this into account. If we are to stop separating learning into discrete disciplines, and realise that in life we function in an integrated way, then we surely need to redesign our schools. But a physical reconstruction will have no effect unless we all start with a communal rethinking of the philosophy of learning and teaching.

One of the aspects of design in the index of this book is that of display space for student work.

studentdisplay

I know that there are schools that display student work around the school, and I think this is a great idea, and should be taken into account when designing the school. If the school takes pride in what students have created and displays it everywhere, not just in designated subject classrooms, then the message is that the school belongs to the students.

 As a teacher librarian, I also think that the library should be the centre of the school – physically and philosophically. It should be a central working, displaying, playing and meeting place, welcoming of all the different subjects and activities. It is, after all, a place which specialises in the location and use of information and ideas, as well as one which encourages leisure and relaxation in the form of reading and discussion.

Public libraries are changing their image and moving away from strictly controlled quiet areas, where people read or research in isolation, to places offering diverse learning programs, meeting places and leisure activities. I think school libraries should learn from them, as well as from book shops which create a welcoming environment and put the customer first, providing attractive and helpful displays and signage. And there’s nothing wrong with injecting a sense of fun. This applies to all aspects of learning in the school; learning should include time allocated to playing with ideas or tinkering with things – because that’s where the creativity steps in, especially in collaboration – instead of focusing on completing tasks for grades. Spaces in the school should be designed for this tinkering.

I’ve posted this TED talk video previously but I think it’s worth revisiting at this point.

Gever Tulley uses engaging photos and footage to demonstrate the valuable lessons kids learn at his Tinkering School. When given tools, materials and guidance, these young imaginations run wild and creative problem-solving takes over to build unique boats, bridges and even a rollercoaster!

[ted id=588]

Tinkering allows for learning through discovery and this type of learning is richer than learning from the assimulation of theoretical information.

As far as physical design goes, I’d love to see spaces that

  • encourage connection, collaboration, discussion, performance and celebration;
  • transparency and flexibility between rooms and to the outside;
  • a natural outdoor environment maintained partially  by students;
  • places to socialise in free time;
  • spaces for quiet, reflective or creative projects.

Of course, technology will become more and more ubiquitous. I think that technology is developing so quickly that we won’t need to think about design in terms of spaces housing cumbersome computer equipment, but spaces to provide for the learning and interaction of social networking using small, handheld technology.

Although, it would be kind of cool to have a school in a Jetsons-type world…

win-pics-jetsons

By words my mind is winged – Aristophanes

Photo courtesy of Thungaturti on Flickr.

Aristophanes made an excellent point. Our thoughts soar but are carried on the wings of words.

Paul Cornies at Quoteflections has selected Aristophanes’ quote and many others on his eclectic blog. He has provided a platform for the sharing of ideas by giving an opportunity for bloggers to unite in contributing a monthly post based on a common theme. Green Pen Society is Paul’s brainchild, and has brought together bloggers (thinkers, writers) from different parts of the world.

I was thrilled to be asked by Paul to devise a theme for October’s post. I’ve chosen the theme of school design, namely:

What would your ideal school look like? Design the school of the future – but do it now!

I’m an educator, so this theme interests me, but we’ve all been to school (of some shape and form), so I think we all have ideas about what our ideal school might look like.

You could come to this in many ways – it could be a futuristic school, not entirely plausible, but desirable. You might submit plans, or you could contribute using images or even a slideshow. You might prefer to be more descriptive, like I intend to be – philosophising about what learning should and could be, and how physical spaces cater for this.

Doesn’t matter how you do it – imagine what a wealth of ideas we could pool together.

If you’d like to contribute, tag your post with the label Green Pen Society (GPS). Leave a comment here with a link to your post, so that I can find you and include you when I gather all the contributions together.

I’m looking forward to gathering your ideas in a future post. Thanks, Paul, for this opportunity.

If you haven’t done so already, check out previous themes on Paul’s blog. September’s theme was What gets you flying when you want to write? by Ken Allan of Blogger in Middle-earth