1.3 Teachers know how students learn to be powerfully literate
3.1 Teachers demonstrate commitment
After the excitement and overwhelming media coverage of the Olympic Games I decided to tap into that feeling of euphoria that many of us felt after we'd saturated ourselves viewing hours of those previously uninteresting sports like beach volleyball, rowing and Graeco-Roman wrestling! I chose my Accredited Year 12 class as the recipients of my renewed fervour for the Aussie spirit and identity. I was sure that they would all have burned the midnight oil watching Roy and HG's The Dream (as I did, didn't you?) and generally developed a proud Australian spirit for themselves over the Olympic fortnight (as I did, didn't you?).
Wasn't it a fabulous fortnight I said as I bounded in to their class on day one. Weren't you all thrilled by our magnificent successes and haven't we got the best country in the world? There were a few grunts of agreement but the majority seemed not to share my excitement. How could this be? I thought. I was in a lather of perspiration just watching Ian Thorpe and Matt Shirvington, and how about those volleyball girls! You wouldn't live anywhere else, would you, I trilled enthusiastically.
I was hoping to engage the class in a discussion of the merits or otherwise of the Games, our Australian Identity and how our identity and vision of ourselves might have evolved over the Olympic Year. I intended to use selected episodes of the ABC series, The Games and also The Dream as source material. I had also gathered articles from newspapers and journals, many of which extolled our virtues as a nation of a mere 19 million who had not only hosted the best party in the world but had gone on an important cultural awareness journey over the past year. Our unit was media-based, dealing with newspapers and magazines, so there would be a focus on developing this theme for a group or class magazine. The stage was set for some excellent good old Aussie-haven't we- done-well Olympic feedback to begin our discussions.
In part the initial discussion worked, but, unfortunately, during the actual Games, quite a few of the students had been either working at their part-time jobs, sleeping, watching videos because television was sooo boring, or going out with friends. Naturally, I accused them of unpatriotic behaviour, which was when the lesson really kicked off!
My class contains several 'Talented Sports Program' rugby league boys who would do almost anything to avoid work associated with English. Three of the boys are indigenous students - one from the Torres Strait Islands and two from Katherine.
Their tone was good humoured, although irreverent, and it began an excellent discussion on the nature of being Australian, the 'black' experience, the Cathy Freeman story, how Jai Taurima can train on cigarettes and pizza, whether we should have spent all that money on a big white elephant and called it Olympic Park, the Kieran Perkins hype, is trampolining worthy of inclusion at Olympic level, and other edifying topics.
Peter and Lennie have been living at the Currong apartments in Braddon whilst they've been at College. They refer to their rooms as their tribal lands ('the Koorong'!) and they often entertain the class with tales of their past and present lifestyles. Most of the other students grew up in Canberra or had limited experiences living elsewhere so the boys' adventures were always interesting. They lead that initial discussion on what it meant to be an Australian in an Olympic year.
It was certainly interesting to hear the Year 12 perspective on the Olympic Games which had consumed so much media attention for so long. I think some students were surprised about how much detail they had processed about these Games and its spill over even though many of them had stated by the end of term 3 how they were over the Games and they hadn't even started!
As a result of our discussions the class decided that their project would be a magazine based around the idea of what being Australian in an Olympic year was all about. Each student would write, edit and format an article based around one aspect of the Olympic Games and combine their research with a view to our evolving identity in this Olympic year. Students would look at topics such the idea of altruism and the contributions made by the volunteers, controversial figures such as Michael Knight and Phil Coles, humour and satire, historical aspects, women and the Olympics, the real(!) meaning of the Torch Relay, ticker tape parades, public adoration for sporting heroes, marketing and mascots, and other aspects of the Olympic Games. They recognised that this activity was a 'one off', that their last year at school paralleled the big party!
The Aboriginal students rather welcomed an opportunity to write a polished piece which involved their own experiences in moving to a new town to play sport and study. Australian identity for them was viewed from a different perspective. The resulting discussions and workshops based around each of the topics chosen and developed by each member of the class became free wheeling sessions in which even normally reserved students were willing to contribute enthusiastically. I was even able to use the idea-sharing sessions as part of their oral assessment. Anyone who has taught Accredited English probably has some inkling of the difficulties in engaging all students in formal oral presentations!
I was pleased that my overt enthusiasm had produced a timely burst of grudging interest from jaded Year 12s in their final term. Most of the students agreed that, for at least a short time, there was a sense of harmony and national spirit lurking in the 'average' Australian. Peter and Lennie's initial comments and incisively honest observations really did galvanise the others into thinking about their place in their own communities.
We never did agree on what the 'average' Australian was, though.