30 October 2011

New Kinds of Smart: Part 1

I am currently reading New Kinds of Smart by Bill Lucas and Guy Claxton, the next text for our Professional Reading Group. Although only a quarter of the way into this, I am already excited by the both the ideas themselves and the way Lucas and Claxton have organised their material, including offering practical examples for teachers. I can see a few posts dedicated to this book.
The first chapter asserts that Intelligence is Composite and reviews theory I am familiar with such as Art Costa’s Habits of Mind. This and other relevant theories have had an impact, not only on my teaching, but on my own skills, knowledge and values. Earlier this year, I decided that I could use some development in two specific Habits of Mind: ‘Gathering Data through all the senses’ (10) and ‘Creating, Imagining, Innovating’ (11).
Essentially, the first of these, ‘Gathering Data through all the senses’, is about being open to the information from a wide variety of sources, and in a wide variety of forms. As I read over a number of my blog posts this last week I realised that blogging has encouraged me to examine information in a variety of forms. I have made links to scholarly books and articles, news articles, video interviews, websites and more. This development needs to be ongoing as I - like many English teachers I’m sure - tend to rely on reading as my way of gleaning information. I would also like to incorporate more visual texts where possible as a way of encapsulating ideas. Perhaps even video!
The second Habit of Mind I’ve chosen to review, ‘Creating, Imagining, Innovating’, is one I am already a practitioner of: using imagination to generate novel ideas and possibilities. In order to focus on these two Habits of Mind I would dearly love to attend one of the Creativity Workshops next year held in New York or Barcelona. The presenters of the Creativity Workshop have developed a unique series of exercises dedicated to inspiring and keeping alive the life of the imagination. They concentrate on creative process rather than product and on the idea of creativity as a way of viewing and appreciating life. I visualize returning with new thinking to help Staff and Students not just access their creativity, but to see how creativity is part of the fabric of learning.
The second chapter of New Kinds of Smart states that Intelligence is Expandable. As a supporter of Carol Dweck’s theory (see earlier post on Mindset) this accords well with my views over the last few years. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of New Kinds of Smart and giving Lucas and Claxton’s work its due consideration. 

16 October 2011

Critical Literacy

I am currently reading Robert Manne’s essay for the Quarterly Magazine, ‘Bad News’, which is about The Australian.  It is a clear criticism of the political agenda of this newspaper under the ownership of Rupert Murdoch and the editorship of Chris Mitchell. Whether or not I agree with Robert Manne’s arguments, I cannot help but be inspired by the quality of his scholarship. It is critical literacy at its best.

In 2003 I attended the International Federation for the Teaching of English (IFTE) Conference in Melbourne and listened to one of the more powerful keynote speakers, Allan Luke. He argued, as many others have, that it is not just essential that students can read, but that they can read for bias, rhetoric, or any other tools which composers use to control the frame. “Critical literacy is the use of texts to analyse and transform relations of cultural, social and political power.” (Luke and Dooley 2009) The purpose of critical literacy is to give students high order analytical skills so that they are aware when texts (in any medium) are positioning them in a particular way.

In terms of critical literacy, Manne is able use the essay form to evaluate the influence of The Australian newspaper on our country’s political sphere, thus on us, the voters and readers. But this essay does more; it shows us how to look for bias in texts and when it is discovered, how to tell the story of the represented perspective.  Manne’s language is both precise and concise, and never does he use twenty words when five will do. It is the kind of text I would recommend to an Extension 2 student who is considering the Critical Response form for her/his Major Work for its clarity of language and argument. Ultimately, this essay is making me think about what role the media play or should play in shaping the agenda of Australian politics.
And that’s the point. Texts which are well-written and evaluative should make us think. If we can teach students both the critical literacy needed to analyse texts, and the writing skills to represent what they have discovered, then we are doing our job. 

05 October 2011

Digitally native?

The term 'digital natives' was coined by Marc Prensky to describe the younger generation's relationship with technology. The implication of the term was that young people were born into technology, hence ‘natives’, and the older generations were ‘immigrants’.  According to this theory, young people are natural at using technology whilst the rest of us are living in a foreign country. A conversation with a friend, also a social networking specialist, raised questions for me about this theory and classroom experience has challenged how I use these terms.

I was recently reminded that students need to be taught about both quality content and critical use of the Internet.

Some secondary students embarked on the analysis of a variety of websites as part of a unit of study for English. During these lessons it was revealed that whilst students seek much information from the Internet, many have not yet mastered how to critically evaluate the material they consume.

Students confirmed their recently acquired knowledge of the grammar of visual design as they evaluated how a website delivered information according to its purpose. Explicit teaching of the language and structure of web pages accompanied the investigations. For the end product, students demonstrated excellence in their design of web pages, showing they had grasped the visual elements with ease, but found imitating the language more challenging.

So I surmised that the students’ years of internet surfing had impressed on them elements of design which only required brief explicit teaching for them to be able to reproduce. However, language forms and features appropriate to this style of writing need continual drilling in order for mastery to occur.

The message for us: don’t assume that because students are what Prensky calls ‘digital natives’, that they do not need explicit teaching of certain aspects of web culture.