Standards for Teachers of English Language and Literacy in Australia
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3.3 Teachers are active members of the professional and wider community

2.1 Teachers plan for effective learning

What range of English language and literacy teaching strategies does the teacher draw from?

How does the teacher work with colleagues, parents and community members to develop the quality of teaching and learning in the school?

  Just imagine... if only it could be...
Year 3/4
Glenda Gauntlett

Like any class, the Year 3 /4 class included students with a range of abilities, interests, learning styles and attention spans. Their teacher had a special interest in catering for the special needs of children and particular skills for managing the behaviours of children diagnosed ADHD. The class of twenty-nine children had three children with this behavioural disorder as well as children who were noted as having special talents in the Arts and Language area. One child was highly gifted in Language and enjoyed lengthy philosophical discussion about issues related to literature studies. However, her dominance of these discussions tended to restrict opportunity for other children to participate and was in fact isolating her from the group socially.

The term's literature focus for their classroom program and their program in the Library Resource Centre was on philosophical inquiry, using a range of picture storybooks. Learning outcomes for the children were the ability to share their opinion in a group, to hypothesise and develop ideas creatively. I took the class for a library session once a fortnight and shared lesson planning with class teachers in order to make the relevant links between the Library Program and the Literature and Integrated Program in the classroom. During team meetings a shared focus for both classroom and library programs was identified. Their teacher and I were both challenged to plan learning experiences which would allow for all children to participate at their own developmental level, to listen to and value the opinions of others and develop skills of building on to the ideas of others material which would both entertain and maintain attention, would not take long to share, and which would stimulate active response from all the children. The activity should also contain the possibility of follow-up and continuing the theme developed with the class teacher. I chose the picture storybook If... by Sarah Perry.

If... has very little text, but the content and illustrations are extremely powerful. The text and illustrations demand a response, both immediate and in imaginative "what if " type discussion. Interaction with the text is immediate...

If cats could fly..., If mice were hair..., If worms had wheels..., If toes were teeth..., If ugly were beautiful..., If music could be held, ... The book ends with If this is the end ... then dream up some more!

The front cover of the book shows a branch covered with green fish ("If leaves were fish"). Before commencing the reading of the book, the children predicted what the book could possibly be about. Could this relate to the world we know? Why / why not? Could there be a time or situation where this could happen? How? What questions did they want to ask about the possibilities of "If.."? Why such a strange title? How could this fit with what we predict about the book?

This inquiry approach to the introduction to this book set the mood for imaginative thinking, a sense of fun in contributing ideas and listening to what other children could suggest. We then established some ground rules for further sharing of opinion, as we all agreed we were going to discover some strange things in the "story". The children came up with discussion rules like: taking turns, speaking up so we could all hear ideas and add to them, looking at the person speaking, even arranging ourselves so we could see everyone& so we did!

As each page was read, the children interacted with the text. Children, who at times had difficulty maintaining focus, were engaged in the activity and valued by the other children for their opinion. The child who, in previous sessions dominated discussion, shared in the fun, enjoyed offering her ideas, but also was genuinely interested in what other children came up with. I interspersed the reading of the text with opportunity for children to predict what could come up next, what would they create as author "If..". The children were given opportunities to share ideas, their predictions and responses with the child next to them, to discuss what would be the result if their idea could possibly happen.

At the end of the book I challenged them to respond to the author's challenge of "dreaming up some more" with some writing, artwork or dramatisation. The room became a hive of activity, with some children choosing to respond in the written form, some heading for the Art Room for materials to work with, while others worked in small groups to organise dramatic performances of their creative ideas. One group of children used the search computer to make a collection of books on dreams and imagination.

The hour was not enough, but the children took back to their classroom a rich collection of creative ideas, possibilities to further develop in class, beginnings of art projects and a collection of books to stimulate further philosophical discussions. Most importantly, all the children had opportunities to contribute in discussion and be heard and valued for their opinion and ideas. A real sense of being part of a learning community was experienced by all, including their teacher waiting in the classroom and me.

The message came not fifteen minutes after the children had left the Library... "Are we able to look at the book again in our room?" This introductory session began a unit of work on creative possibilities and developing personal and shared thinking skills. I introduced other books to the children which challenged their thinking about "What is normal" and "What if...". Collaborative planning between myself and their teacher became a model for planning collaboratively with other teachers where links are able to be made naturally between the class literature program and the Library program. In the library I have focussed on introductory philosophical discussion and activities to "tune in" to the topic, teachers have continued in classrooms with writing workshops and group sharing of ideas children want to develop further.

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Australian Association for the Teaching of English A L E A ~ Australian Literacy Educators' Assoication
Department of Education & Training (Victoria) Education Department of Western Australia