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Idiom Vol 53 No1

The Best of Both Worlds

Smaller BOBW final draftLynne Bury, Project Officer (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) with contributions from:
Dandenong Network: Alexander Gray, Leeann Palm, Lisa Rodrigues
Rutherglen Network: Rachelle Enever, Kerrie Ware

The Best of Both Worlds is a program that has been specifically designed to promote positive literacy and English outcomes for students transitioning from primary through to secondary schooling. It is an excellent opportunity for teachers to work together to bridge the gap that can occur between primary and secondary education. Through involvement in this project, schools and teachers have had the opportunity to discover the specialist demands of the Victorian Curriculum F-10 and review the strategies that they believe will most effectively meet the needs of their students.

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Why do we become teachers?

Rachel Towns, St John’s Regional College Dandenong

Rachel Towns presented a workshop on ‘Wild Writing’ in which she used the DEAD technique (description, emotion, action, dialogue) to develop the idea of moving between different elements of writing features to produce stronger and more interesting creative writing pieces. Here she reflects on her own passion for writing—and teaching English in particular. Rachel can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Serpentine Stories

Narelle Wood, Monash University: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The idea for the Serpentine Stories workshop came from my research as a PhD student, where I found myself in a number of different English classes, witnessing snippets of student writing all based on different texts. Previously, whenever I had used text to prompt student creative writing, I had generally used the set text and had placed the creative task quite close to the end of the study to maximise the chances of students knowing the text really well. But I still found many students struggled with the concept of using the text to develop a creative response; there were often lots of diaries and additional scenes many of which struggled to demonstrate an understanding of the text, characters and writing, in anything other than a cursory-surface-level way. And this was in spite of the large amount of workshopping, tools, editing and strategies the students were provided.

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Developing creative thinking and understanding: using artworks in the English classroom

Bev Steer, Carey Baptist Grammar School: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Learning intentions:

  • To use an artwork or visual image as a stimulus for writing;
  • As a class or group to reflect and discuss the messages in the artwork and share and build on each others’ ideas;
  • To create a written piece that reflects an individual response demonstrating deep thinking, creativity, understanding and thoughtful consideration of others’ ideas.

Steps in this approach to learning are:

  • Seat students in a semi-circle around the painting;
  • Students are given time to view the painting and to think—3 minutes. The ‘Thinking Routine: See, Think, Connect’ could be used in this step as a means of students gathering ideas and information.
  • Ideas are then shared and expanded in a group discussion.
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Engaging middle years’ students in reading: short stories, picture story books and peer discussion

Helen Woodford, Monash University: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Our contemporary, text-saturated environment assumes the ability to engage effectively with a range of texts for education, work and rewarding participation in society. Yet, worryingly large numbers of adolescent students are showing reluctance to engage in sustained reading, and difficulty engaging meaningfully with sophisticated texts. Increasingly, traditional approaches to teaching reading in early secondary school are encountering challenges to engaging students in reading, and responding thoughtfully to reading. Using topical, short texts, short stories, picture story books and peer discussion can provide an alternative to engage young adolescent students in meaningful, pleasurable reading.

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Collaborative Learning in English

Lars Andersson is the Director of Pedagogy at Glen Waverley Secondary College: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Melissa Perera is the Director of Students in the Middle School at Glen Waverley Secondary College and was previously the English faculty coordinator: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Most of us learn more productively when we are engaged in a conversation with other people. The opportunity to make sense of something new by discussing it with someone else is crucial for learning to take place. Collaboration is both a skill that is increasingly being recognised as a key 21st century skill that students need to master and one of the most effective and productive ways of learning in the classroom. The Victorian Curriculum states that students need to learn ‘to negotiate with others; work in teams, positively contribute to groups and collaboratively make decisions’ (VCAA). For us as English teachers, it may seem evident that collaboration needs to be part of the classroom culture; for many of us, group work and discussion have been part of our pedagogy for a very long time. Nonetheless, the research into collaborative and cooperative learning suggests that some forms of collaboration are more powerful than others, and that we can tweak our practice to increase the impact of such learning opportunities. Here, we want to explore both some of the key thinking and research findings related to collaboration, and some practical strategies for use in the English classroom.

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Assessment for Learning

Ramesh Mahalingam, Nossal High School: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Elizabeth Morgan, Nossal High School: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Catalyst for Improved Learning and Teaching

Teaching at a select entry school for gifted students can be both a blessing and a curse. Our students, for the most part, are aspirational and therefore compliant. They are hard-working but may not always know how to work with optimal efficiency. They will seek feedback but struggle when there is not a ‘correct’ answer or an absolute ‘recipe’. Further, like many young people today, many of our students are fearful of failure, do not necessarily recognise the positive power of ‘knowing what they do not know,’ or appreciate that learning is a gradual process.

When you place the teaching of English against this backdrop, you add the complexity of students who might not see English as a learning priority, particularly if it does not come easily to them; who become confused by the subjective nature of English marking which can, at times, appear quite arbitrary; and who, because of their profound respect for their teachers, believe that their teacher alone is the purveyor of all truths in terms of feedback and assistance with learning.

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Our Journey: Developmental Assessment in the English Classroom

Megan Crilly, Salesian College Sunbury: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Madeline Zarb, Salesian College Sunbury
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Daniel Walsh, Emmanuel College Point Cook: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.       


The case for developmental rubrics

Assessment is arguably a central focus in our classrooms and in our schools. In our rapidly changing classrooms, we must ask ourselves: How do we ensure that the assessment methods we use in our practice have a positive effect on student learning?

We have attempted to shift towards a style of assessment that assists student growth and teacher practice. Developmental, criterion-based rubrics allow the ‘growth and development of the student [to] be monitored through successive levels of increasing competence’ (Griffin 2014, p. 1). This method has many purposes...

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Developmental Rubrics: Make Learning Visible in your English Classroom

Rohan McCarthy, Brunswick Secondary College: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Collect Game Plans not Grades

At every school I’ve taught in my relatively short career, there’s always been a data person. You know the type, likes databases and graphs, loves to collect numbers and rearrange them in ever more confusing ways. Likes to use that data to pose broad questions, ‘The average score for boys in Year 9 English is 45% whereas girls are achieving 55%. What should we do?’ Previously, I did think this kind of data was insightful and good for kick-starting conversations: what should we do? Then we’d all huddle around with the graphs as a faculty and have one of those conversations. The ones that inevitably degenerate into emotions and anecdotes and personal validation—or even worse, whining about students.

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Why everybody should read this and why you just decided not to!

Looking at teaching through a ‘behavioural economics’ perspective

Ross Brisbane, Wellington Secondary College: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

In this article, the writer considers implications for teaching of the work of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman and ‘behavioural economics’. Intrigued? If so, you might like to read Michael Lewis’ The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds, a review of which can be found at: http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-two-friends-who-changed-how-we-think-about-how-we-think

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