2020 – English Revisited

As a subject, English inspires its own controversies; from text choice to the “goals” of English education in a modern curriculum; from use of spell checkers to “whole language” and “phonetic” reading practices. Everyone has an experience to share and an opinion to express.

When I reflect on my own exposure to Language/English during my schooling years, I feel grateful that I was part of the phonetic reading/spelling generation; however, I recall that grammar was definitely “out” … there was no direct teaching of ‘parts of speech’ as a functional tool for improving written expression (though I do recall a class on “collective nouns”). Reading and Writing were privileged and Viewing / Speaking and Listening were inadequately marginalised.

Personally, I didn’t score so well in English Literature at school. As a mature-aged university student, I think my motivation for choosing English Teaching as a vocation, was really developed through my years of “dramatic immersion” – learning, deconstructing, performing and directing scripts. I found the English core units in my university major both enlightening and exciting but still lament that, after four years of university, we were not taught how to use functional skills, nor were we ever expected to study them – even though our mandate was to go into the classrooms of the nation. That still floors me.

I remember buying a book on grammatical rules from the Secondhand Bookshop (which was published in 1954) and studying it so I knew the “languages of language”. It was the hardest unit of study and I still think I should be recognised with a unit credit for that torturous semester break :).

Reflecting on how to harvest the best practice from my own experiences, knowledge and years in the classroom and then project that into what I feel “subject English” should look like in 2020 … I would prioritise the following considerations;

  • Put creativity and imagination back in the centre.
  • Authentic opportunities, projects and engagement in real world/relevant learning!
  • Build bridges – Actively seek opportunity to integrate learning with the other core learning areas; English is the subject MOST able to make authentic links across curriculum.
  • Assess vehicles for operational ownership of the role of functional language (I want to read adverbs and adjectives in student’s writing again!)
  • Embrace the new class of digital-natives – anything to maintain and enhance the culture of reading, writing, speaking, critical viewing and listening practices.
  • Debate, debate, debate.
  • Consent to the marriage of English and vocational preparedness – attend the wedding and pay for the reception.
  • Question whether the role of the English language as the “central, universal language” is outdated… certainly accept that it is a dynamic, evolving language and will be more-so in a globalised, more connected world stage.
  • Love your LOTE and ESL staff – you have no idea how good they are making you look! OR … support your school teaching a second language!
  • Ask students, business and educators what modes of assessment will be best to prepare for a 2020 future.
  • Seek relevant opportunity for the use of exceptional ‘out-sourced’, digitally relevant English tools.
  • Demand a culture of literacy – bribe colleagues with cake.
  • Articulate and affirm the irreplaceable role of the effective 2020 librarian – consider re-birthing the “role” which incorporates easy access to text and digital tools.

But… why wait until 2020?

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Secret Mums on “POSITIVE” Business … OR … Engaging Our Parents in the Learning Partnership

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I hope you don’t mind my indulgence. It has been a fantastic few weeks at our little school. We have been running an intimate and innovative program for our Middle School girls (aged between 11 and 14).

These are confronting years for our young ladies and we have identified the need to focus on our girls in this age range. Families are needing support to cope as their girls deal with the new pressures of adolescence; confidence issues, body image and representations of beauty, healthy attitudes to food and exercise, complicated relationships (parents, “other girls”, and attraction/s to others) as well as the stresses of school, building success and coping with the technological presence of social and electronic media. It is no surprise that anxiety and stress are a growing community issue.

If our young people don’t have the tools to deal with these issues, they are simply not in a position to be able to learn.

The Middle School team consulted and researched widely to target a program that would offer the girl’s the confidence to address these issues within the school environment. Staff worked to collate a library of POSITIVE centred readings, video clips, podcasts, songs, feature articles and short stories centred around the themes we had identified and addressed POSITIVE solutions to HELP Girls… Kaz Cooke, Maggie Dent (our patron), the “Dove” media packages offered some great provocations;  as well as best practice readings from Relationships Australia and other professional support organisations.

resourcesThese “readings” have been broken into five weekly reading packages which will be delivered as a “girls only” group in a fully integrated English program. We have secretly employed the mums who also completed the reading program, complete with homework for Mum AND daughter.

Mother and daughter study, discuss, read and reflect on the weekly readings TOGETHER before they come to school to share their thoughts with their “Reading Circles” group.  The package integrates perfectly with English, Health, Electives, Zentangles and our Girls group and is informed by the pastoral care focus we have throughout the school.

The series culminated today (Friday the 6th June) with a special surprise event! The girl’s arrived to find all their mothers AT SCHOOL accompanied by our special guest; Kate Wilson – our amazing “spoken Word Poet” – a passionate young lady who has much to say about the issues we are addressing. You can view a sample of her work at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rK46nILY-rw – she was truly MAGICAL!

Most significantly – each mother shared about a moment from their own childhood where they had to face a challenge lead to a POSITIVE; something that was special to all of the girls – they were invited to present their snapshot through a medium of their choice; a dance, a song, a poem, a story but REAL and from the heart.

They also gave their daughter a handwritten letter in which they communicated and celebrated the BEAUTY they see in their daughter.

We are sold on the belief that schools must work with parents in partnership toward developing our young people – not JUST in an academic program but multi-elementally. We are excited that our school has been in an intimate position to RESPOND to the needs of our children in partnership with our wonderful community.