16 December, 2013

Fighting against reality is pointless

The article (which I won't link to, as it is not the point) was actually about gun deaths in the US, but it was the title which struck me "Parents Should Never Outlive Their Children. Can We All Agree On That, At Least?" It struck me, because it is reflective of the disconnect between our lives and the reality of being a fragile bag of skin full of squishy organs in a world full of: sharp, heavy, bitey, zappy, fast.... 'stuff' capable of rendering the 'me' part of me unfindable.
  • 2 days ago a friend's 5 year old decided to crash tackle a moving hilux. 
  • Another old friend's 30-something daughter is currently in an induced coma after a brain bleed. 
  • A month or so ago, I was standing alongside a lot of my senior students at the funeral of a former classmate, listening to his parents talk about his life. 
  • Earlier this year I failed to save the life of a co-worker who had a massive heart attack in a library full of students. 
  • A few weeks later a 15 year old student decided to have a heart attack too and we were told the chances of him surviving were slim. 
Yet, this isn't really much to deal with. I live in a country where death has been taken away. Not just away from the front room and into hospital, but away from the front of our thinking. For most people, in most of the world, throughout most of our history the idea that parents should never outlive their children would be patently absurd. Life is not something you can hold onto by arguing with it, there is no Pratchettesque grim reaper willing to listen to you as you rage against the injustice, like a 13 year old girl who has been told to stop talking in class and refuses to accept any sanction unless EVERY girl in the class who has EVER talked in this or any other class, but has not been caught, get an equal sanction...

Parents should never outlive their children? Why not? Tell that to the parents of Kandahar whose children have been collateral damage. How about the people of Iraq, whose mortality rates for the under 5s is two and a half times higher than it was before we brought them the gift of freedom. Yeah, it is OK, I'm not going all lefty today. It isn't just about the wars, it is about the deaths from famine and disease in so many countries.

Mmm, perhaps we will all

29 August, 2013

I plan, you plan, we all plan for NAPLAN part II

And, a closer inspection of my coursework tells me all my earlier fears have been realised. I am pointed towards the maths NAPLAN too…
Well, I did manage an advanced B in year 10 and then passed accountancy for my (as yet incomplete) Masters in Management. So year 7 should be a doddle, right?

Well, to a degree yes. Like my rant on the language test, my own way of approaching things is a bit off kilter. In the case of Maths, I am a whiz kid for special reasoning (what is the next shaded nonagon in the series, which side of the cube will be opposite side ‘c’) and I am more than capable of working out how to calculate most any equation short of the introduction of Greek letters, so the calculator section is fine. What kills me is a processing inability, I am incapable of holding numbers in my head for more than an instant and I am (genetically? physiologically?) incapable of learning my times tables. This leaves me in a very difficult place for the calculator free test, counting on your fingers may be frowned upon for a year 7 student. It is certainly frowned upon when you are standing in front of a year 10 geography class teaching them how to manage the statistics and graphing data they need for their fieldwork report.

Really, like my earlier post, this one is just going to suggest that it is important that I (and you, dear reader) ensure that we don’t assume that a lack of ability in one area (or several) points to a generic lack of ability or the presence of stupidity. Like the ‘Idiot Savant’ (an evocative, if somewhat inaccurate term) I would posit the existence of the ‘Savant Idiot’. Savant idiots are those of us who despite our obvious intellect across most fields of endeavour, manage to have an area (or two) where our failures are spectacular and no amount of effort seems able to displace our natural deficit.

I plan, you plan, we all plan for NAPLAN

Have I mentioned I am doing a Dip Ed? (or a Graduate Diploma of Teaching and Learning as it is now more grandiosely known). Well, I am. Not because I have been brow beaten by those who 2 or 3 years ago were berating librarians for stealing the jobs of teacher librarians or because I have to. Well, the why is a whole other post so I will ignore it for now. The point today is that I was asked to "Go to the NAPLAN website and complete the year 7 Language Conventions test.  What did you learn about your level of literacy?  How did you feel doing this test? How might your awareness of this test affect how you teach and what you look for in students' work?"

What follows is my answer and I thought it rather 'blogworthy'

Year 7 language conventions? Ha! I’m sorted with this one. Now, if you’d been asking me to do a NAPLAN on year 7 maths I would have had to fire up a few neurons which haven’t been used as much of late (see post 2 ed.).
I’m going to make a few tangential remarks on this one.
Firstly if I was your student and you were given my special needs documentation you would see that I am an ADHD kid whose language scores are rock bottom and whose maths scores are sky high (at least as far as the aptitude testing reports it). Yet in the classroom (and the subsequent ‘real world’) you would see that maths bores me while literature excites me. You would also as a teacher come to realise that part of the reason for this is that, while I know the conventions of language, I do not always choose to use them. But, add to this the fact that I am manifestly incapable of spelling.
As a school student, this was the bane of my existence. Picture a poor, put upon, year 4 boy whose face falls when it is time for the school-wide reading programme. Hates reading? Mmm, he won’t be alone there. No, in fact he loves reading, but at the start of year 4 has progressed well beyond the reading programme which is still engaging every other student in the school. So the school-wide programme becomes ‘school -1’ and this boy is instead sent to sit out on the front step (where he won’t disturb others) and to work on a remedial spelling programme. A remedial programme which fails utterly, perhaps because it is as dull as dishwater, perhaps because the student doesn’t care to spell, perhaps because the programme doesn’t address why he can’t spell? 
Whatever the reason I (who will stop referring to myself in the 3rd person now, as that is the behaviour of egotistical sportstars in post-match interviews)…
I keep on progressing through school without any marked improvement on spelling. Content that I am able to make myself understood but caring more about the idea I am caught in, than about the niceties of making it pretty to the eyes of society. As luck would have it though, I was born at a point where this would not cause me any issues at all. At the same time I hit the job-market and the university, technology gives me the spellcheck. At first this just allows me to fix things at the end, but with the introduction of the wiggly red line something changes. This line, in my peripheral vision, somehow shortcuts its way into my subconscious and over the period of a few years I found myself repeating my errors less. Words, which were once a mystery to me (like those with a proliferation of Cs, Ss or double Ss followed by a single C…) suddenly work.
Am I making a point here?
I hope so.

Standardised testing is a very good form of data gathering, but not on the micro level. Mmm, perhaps not on the macro either. Umm, somewhere in the middle is a sweet spot where the data is good. But if you use these tests to tell a kid language is not his thing, you might not be looking at the totality of the kid.
How does this affect my teaching? I am liable to take an English class and say “you are writing poetry, don’t interrupt your flow of ideas in order to make sure you are spelling things right”. I might be tempted to tell a history student that I will NOT be marking spelling in her essay (how many marks did I lose over the years because my ability to spell did not match my knowledge of Greek Mythology?). Will I therefore ignore spelling? I don’t think so, my students need to know how to make themselves understood. But I will not let a student’s lack of spelling make them believe they are not good at writing or at history nor will I make them recalcitrant to use unaccustomed words because the mundane ones are safe. I will also work to find the right tool for the student. This will mean doing things like: turning off the autocorrect so they need to look at a word before the computer fixes it; making sure the language settings on their computers are set on British English not US English; showing them how GOOGLE will suggest ways to spell a word if their own computer is stumped; I will give them thesauruses so that they can find exciting alternatives whose spelling makes sense to them; and I will make sure they know that there is always a way to get around whatever the test tells them, that they decide their destination not some computer-read piece of A4 that they need to mark with a 2B pencil.

19 July, 2013

The death of compassion.

An awful day in Australian Political Life has lead me to re-pen our national anthem.

Australians all let us beware,
For we are girt by sea;
We've golden soil and wealth you’d spoil;
We are with-out sympathy;
Our land abounds in nature's gifts
The K Rudd Labor 'Australian' flag for 2013
Of beauty we won’t share;
In history's page, let every stage
Australia Don’t Go There.
In joyful strains then let us sing,
Australia Don’t Go There.

Beneath our tattooed Southern Cross
We'll toil with heads and hands;
To keep this Commonwealth of ours
Locked off from all the lands;
For those who'd come across the seas
We've boundless plains to keep;
With courage let us all combine
To make them just for sheep.
In joyful strains then let us see
you, piss off to PNG.

I guess it is only a matter of time before we change our flag. I have been quite fond of that idea for some time, so I present to you a new flag to go with our new Anthem and new policy on refugees.