I have been asked to ‘lecture’ at the University of Wollongong this year. This position gives me the privilege of working with tertiary students preparing to become English teachers. This is an exciting opportunity and while preparing, thinking about the idealistic and the pragmatic, it became evident to me that the experience of organising to teach at the university might make for a useful introductory anecdote about the mixture of traditional and new tools/resources we use daily.
Like those who will commence teaching careers in a school next year, I am starting in a new environment, uncertain of the spaces and technologies, abilities and interests of my students. I am not familiar with the University’s systems or infrastructure. How am I preparing? What will my students do to prepare for their classes?
Here’s a list of what I have been doing in the last few weeks since accepting the position:
- contacted – via Twitter, Facebook, Skype and email – colleagues and friends who work in universities teaching teachers, especially ‘English Method’, to ask for advice
- contacted – via Twitter, Facebook, Skype and email – colleagues and friends who are the most knowledgeable practitioners of English I know, seeking advice
- read the previous outline of the course I am to teach and looked at the text list; found what I already had on my bookshelves
- brainstormed and researched texts, websites, tools and resources to be be considered for the course
- asked questions of my contact/subject co-ordinator at the university via email and phone, especially about the space where sessions take place and the technology available
- jotted down all of the changes that I believe need to be made to the course and importantly, listed what I wanted to achieve
- I then tried ‘to see’ or imagine from one of new students’ POV what they wanted/needed from the course to prepare them for their careers. What will their first experiences teaching English be when newly appointed to a school? I made an incomplete list of scenarios of what may happen
- NB I have also made a few written points about being ‘realistically idealistic’ (trying to find the right balance) that may be fodder for reflection in later posts
- I asked on Twitter, “what’s the best poem you know about being a good or bad teacher?” and ‘favourited’ the most interesting responses for later reference
- I thought about my Year 10 program and ideas as an opportunity to share with my tertiary students
- I sought support from our professional association, the NSW English Teachers, who have a deserved reputation for ‘sharing the expertise’
As a result of the above preparations I had a range of resources I wanted to read, reread or buy. Some were as far away as my bookshelf or Kindle. Of course, I used booko.com.au to find the best prices, which, for textbooks, were still ludicrously high. As you know, I love the freedom and flexibility my Kindle – with Macbook, iPhone and iPad apps – offers. James Gee and Elisabeth Hayes’ latest, Language and Learning in the Digital Age (2011) was available for S2.39, rather less than at a local bookstore. I started reading immediately and tweeted a quote from Gee via my iPad that seemed particularly sage. I believe that James Gee sees very clearly the rewards and challenges of our digital era and highly recommend his work.
Student teachers have a particularly challenging but very rewarding road to travel, especially considering that the vast changes taking place, as a result of ICT, have to be balanced with the realities of potentially working in a classroom that has a blackboard and chalk. Even in the most well-equipped school, it is unlikely that every student will have a laptop, iPad, wireless connectivity and an Interactive Whiteboard. Teachers, all of us, live in a world that is ‘digital’ and ‘analogue’. Of course, there are very practical time management issues for all of us as well.
cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by Jill Clardy
Having said that, we need to make sure that students have opportunities appropriate to the era they are growing up in and that we do not use the reality that “the future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed” (William Gibson) as an excuse or barrier that slows change. Teachers needs an ever-growing repertoire of skills.
I asked myself this question, how would someone have prepared, in the immediate weeks/months before commencing, to teach ‘English Method’ or their high school classes twenty years ago? What tools and resources would they use? Are they any better off today due to technology?
I obviously used books from my shelf, like any good academic but the benefits of being able to access a quality, relevant tome, like Gee’s book, so inexpensively electronically (where I can make notes, highlights and share) is very convenient and practical. Tools – Skype, Facebook, Twitter and humble email – really allow for excellent access to expert colleagues.
How will student teachers prepare for their lessons? What tools? Are they connected?
It seems that the best classrooms would have the kind of access and flexibility discussed in this post. Students should be able to have the best of both worlds. It seems very obvious that highly professional teachers are collaborative, seek ongoing professional development and to be connected. They like to share.
I hope to model, in my ‘lectures’, methods for being a connected, highly professional English teacher. I intend to share my experiences with you in 2012.
I meet with new colleagues at the university tomorrow to discuss my role and the above. I will send them this post…
Thanks Darcy – great to read about your preparations and thanks for the Gee book tip – i just downloaded it. best wishes
Great post and excellent opportunity for you. Certainly a win for the uni and its students.
Just a thought, more than just modeling, is it possible to create ‘tasks’ to immerse the students in connectivity? I think Alec Couros’ eci831 course. he set up a twitter hashtag, archived tweets, set up a twitter list, got students to blog and comment on each others’ blogs, etc. oh, and he asked his PLN to dip in and become mentors. all good, I think.
Thanks for your comment. My intention is that the ‘modeling’ extends to students participating in the maker you suggest. We will use Edmodo and SurveyMonkey, twitter and blogs. There are, of course, time-restraints but in my perfect world, the university should look to coordinate, across subjects, in a more effective way for students. This would permit a more holistic approach to using social media tools.
Your stamina is amazing Darcy. I remember once working as hard as you, but I couldn’t sustain it. 🙂 Anyway, I remembered this post by Dean Groom a few years ago which links to a great video on Video Games and Storytelling that you may be able to use. I’m sure your under-grads will find it useful. http://deangroom.wordpress.com/2009/07/30/video-games-and-storytelling/
Well done Mr Moore! A refreshing approach.
From Dapto HS’s point of view I am very hopeful your appoitment will facilitate closer liaison with Wollongong Uni.
High on my list for 2012 is a determination to erect a sign on our front fence:
Dapto High School -Wollongong University. Learning Partners.
Our recent evaluation of the pre-service experience here and the impact on our ‘supervising teachers’ has created some useful momentum.
Congratulations Darcy – I’m sure the students under your care will be excellently prepared.As I read through a few points occurred to me, more in order of reaching them than in relative importance.
As you prepare for students have you considered how they might affect you? I have had a stream of student teachers over the years and I find, given my relatively long time in teaching, that they constantly keep me on my toes. I think it’s both possible and likely that after a few years you “know” how to teach/learn without actually needing to be conscious after your actions. Having a prac student asking you why you did such and such a thing can be both interesting and concerning – interesting in that you can see what the tyro focusses on; concerning in that you really feel you need to have the answers. Such students force me to constantly consider my work and I’m sure my classes benefit (and some have told me in no uncertain terms!). You must let us know how you are shaped by the experience and you shape them.
You move on to question if the tools available today make things better. IMHO that is not the right question because it focusses on the tool and not the action. Is a chainsaw better than an axe – depends but what is the actual job you are trying to do? In one way (as one who was well into teaching 20 years ago) it was simpler because the focus was on the work and not the technology involved. Today, we have a vast range of material at our disposal but we must not allow ourselves to be blinded into thinking that it is “better”. It is certainly more complex and throws up more challenges but we need to look at how we can leverage that to appreciate the mastery of English and put the actual tool into the background.
Finally, I can only whole-heartedly agree about the modelling of teaching through your work. Somewhere there’s the data/statistic/ apocryphal information that suggests that we take far more into our brains subconsciously than consciously; we would do well to make sure that the message we send is that we wish others to receive.
Best of luck – enjoy the experience.
A well-deserved and excellent opportunity and I am excited that future colleagues should be so lucky. 🙂 I have enjoyed reading your approach in the post and the extended thinking in the responses here. I know you will keep us in touch with your latest endeavour, and I look forward to that soon 🙂
Welcome to university teaching Darcy 🙂 It was good to talk to you about this appointment. I look forward to a stronger English methods PLN evolving for having you in it!
Interestingly at QUT the unit is called ‘English Curriculum Studies’ rather than ‘English Methods’. This shift in terminology alone has given me more scope to engage with curriculum theory (which I love) rather than just showing preservice teachers the ‘methods’ they will need for Prac. The textbooks that I use are ‘Evolving Pedagogies: Reading and writing in a multimodal world’ by Bull and Anstey (http://www.curriculumpress.edu.au/main/goproduct/13029) as well as Volume 1 of the ‘English Teaching Survivial Manual’ by Williams (http://www.englishteacherguru.com/secondary-english-teaching-a-survival-manual/).
Personally, I found it really hard to engage students in assessment-for-learning that didn’t ‘count’ toward their grade. If I had more time with them, maybe that would change, but my unit only runs for 9 weeks (!) Participation in the class blog, or with Twitter etc. has been hard to elicit. This semester I am attacking this problem by replacing the old assignment 2 with a new ‘Challenge Task’ so that students can earn grades based on activities participated in. I’ll let you know how that goes!
Looking forward to some Skypey crossovers 🙂
You can follow my class tweets during semester, replies are welcome: @CLB_018