Standards for Teachers of English Language and Literacy in Australia
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2.1 Teachers plan for effective learning

1.3 Teachers know how students learn to be powerfully literate

In what ways does the teacher provide all students with opportunities to participate in literacy learning that is personally and culturally meaningful to them?

What range of curriculum materials, resources and technologies does the teacher draw on when planning for English/Literacy teaching and learning?

  Shades of grey - a reconciliation webquest
Year 10
Sally Paton

Early in 2000, staff in ACT high schools were faced with the advent of ICTs - information and communication technologies. This was a system response to the importance of literacy for technologies. It translated as staffs across schools in all faculties being required to teach the uses of technology (particularly computer skills) in their area and assess year 10 students against specific criteria.

Many schools find difficulty in providing enough computer hardware both in terms of number and power. Our school is relatively well endowed in this, and is constantly looking for new and improved ways to incorporate relevant and exciting use of these in the curriculum.

Fortunately a national project under the Quality Teacher Project banner - Curriculum Integration Models (CIM) - was made available for groups of staff from ACT high schools. These groups accessed five days in-service to produce curriculum materials, particularly using the Web-and-Flow package. After creating the quest, much of the time was spent finding sites that were valuable and current.

My level 1 year 10 English class was studying The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith by Thomas Kenneally, Kadaitcha by Peter Bulkeley and an assortment of poetry and visual texts on indigenous matters over terms 2 and 3. The opportunity to develop some current IT exercises was delicious.

Having "had" a level 1 year 10 in 1999 (in the ACT this is the "nirvana" class for high school) I had developed an interesting unit on this subject. The questions of saying "sorry" and reconciliation were very topical and one that arose naturally from our studies.

Using the Web-and-Flow program (http://www.web-and-flow.com/cgi-bin/wf.pl) I developed a quest for my students on the question:

Consider the issues involved in indigenous and non-indigenous interactions from European settlement until your time. Is reconciliation an important issue for the average Australian? Is it clearly black and white, or only shades of grey?

There were to be three parts to the answering of this question: part A, with its heavy research and technology focus; part B, emphasising the needs of the group over the individual, and well structured argument; and part C, involving informed debate and team work. All three parts involved open-ended questioning and the restriction of not promoting personal viewpoints - this suited all ability levels.

The class was divided into six groups for part A of this work. Divide as you wish, but I said that they could have one friend, groups were to be mixed gender, and there were to be five members.

This class complained of the frustrations encountered by them in working in groups. We had discussed their need to learn to manage disparate groups, as in the workforce they would often be responsible for leading and managing teams, and that it was less productive to do all the work themselves. We actually worked on group structure and practised effective group management strategies as part of our drama work.

The groups were given a "role" from whose perspective they were to answer the question. The roles were as representatives of: Liberal Party, ATSIC, Indigenous Community, Labor Party, Judiciary, and Non-Indigenous Australian.

Students spent some time establishing their definitions of these roles which in itself resulted in some useful reflection; developing "plans of attack" with a clear timetable and division of responsibilities. Initially they had to take into account the limited access to only three "internetted" computers in the library. (This hardware access has since been increased to some 50 networked computers.)

Students used the Net, print texts and interviews from the various agencies, and the library's main resources. Groups had two weeks of class time to complete their research, including gathering background information as stated in the Quest document that each student received. Most groups divided up the list of sites provided, any library resources, and outside agency contacts, so that each member had a particular focus.

The next step was as a group to develop an oral presentation of their viewpoint/answer to the question, using Powerpoint and other aids, such as posters, music and videos. Students had one lesson for instruction and exploration with the Powerpoint application and the rest of the week to complete their presentation to be delivered to the whole class. This presentation was to involve the whole group and was the first of their assessment items. The energy and involvement of students in this part was fabulous and exhausting!

After these presentations, the role-play groups from part A were divided to form a new group for part B of the work. Each of these new groups had six members, each member representing one of the previous roles. These second groups had to develop a written synthesis of the differing viewpoints from part A. The emphasis here was on listening closely to each point of view and each member ensuring that their viewpoint was represented in the summary paper.

These summary papers formed the assessment for this section of the exercise and students were assessed on the cogency and cohesion of their discussion. Students had three lessons to complete this section. The discussion was initially more argumentative but students quickly realised that for individual success in this section there had to be a successful group product. The change in atmosphere was extraordinary!

The final part of the work was to have been a class debate with the groups from part A reformed to provide a spokesperson, the rest of the group providing assistance. This part C did not eventuate as planned as we ran out of time.

My class was the first to complete this project, but the other Year 10 classes also did all or part of the process, depending on ability and time constraints. The group dynamics were interesting as a number of students tried the group management strategies that we had discussed and role-played in class. I do not feel that this process is beyond any student, but the topic could be varied. There are other less complex activities available through the Web-and-Flow program. Also, it is easy to condense, adapt, omit various parts of this project to suit time factors, ability levels, learning focus arid resource constraints.

Initially, full of trepidation, staff found that they did not need to be experts in technology or the topic. The role of teacher here is facilitator not expert. I found the whole process from creation to review extremely enervating.

Despite the inevitable problems with resources and time, the work produced and understandings reached were outstanding. The excitement at exploring "real" texts and issues was palpable and something that students of both sexes constantly commented upon.

There was no "roadmap" for the students aside from the Quest document and it had been explained to them that they were guinea pigs in its trialing. The "hugeness" of the tasks was for some students quite daunting initially and they needed more direction from the teacher and support from the groups to fully participate. These students were not necessarily the less able students in the class, but rather some of those students who had learnt "what teachers wanted" and felt anxious at the "new" demands and their ability to meet them.

I did not observe any gender division of the work and found that the demands of the tasks were challenging and of interest for all students. Although, I would make the comment that this is a particularly effective learning tool for boys as generally they responded, across classes and ability levels, to (often) complex texts with eagerness. Both gender and the spectrum of learning levels were catered for in this open inquiry, grappling with abstract thinking, technology, and questioning what are "the facts".

Time certainly was a problem but with the extra IT resources now available and timed implementation in the school year, this should not be so in the future. Teacher confidence with the process and the technology varied greatly and again will be easier next time. Teachers commented on the high value they placed on the learning and achievements of students in this exercise.

Parent feedback was unsolicited but forthcoming as there were many delighted responses at seeing the sophisticated concept development and enthusiasm of the students. They took the time to contact the school to express their support of this learning initiative.

I discussed the whole set of activities with students during the course of their work and as part of the review at the end. No negative comments were given, but one less energetic student when asked what he thought of the whole activity stated, "I didn't learn much. Oh yeah, I learnt how to use and present with Powerpoint and do Internet and agency research. Oh and last night, it all clicked together in my head." Pause. "I guess that's what you wanted."

For detailed instructions on this webquest go to the CIM Projects at the O'Connell Centre website or

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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