3.1 Teachers demonstrate commitment
3.3 Teachers are active members of the professional and wider community
This sequence of two lessons was part of a Semester One unit with a streamed, 'top level' Year 12 class, working within the requirements of the Queensland English syllabus. Within the school itself, emphasis was on challenging bright students in this streamed class and engaging them in activities which developed a love of English as a subject, along with a willingness to think critically and creatively. More specifically I believed that modelling was a strong teaching method which could develop student confidence and sense of risk taking, as well as demonstrating processes of thinking and writing. Briefly, the whole unit involved:
These aspects of the unit were loosely held together by the concept that "Nothing will come of nothing". Students were aware that the unit was intended to challenge them to think beyond the obvious, to be prepared to be divergent thinkers and develop strong critical awareness as language users.
Prior to these two lessons, the students had been reading the novel Snow Falling on Cedars, as well as studying King Lear At this stage of the semester, a student teacher was working with the class, but since she was in her first week at the school, observation lessons were the focus and my objectives were twofold:
I asked for their patience while I took a key idea from the word map that seemed to trigger a response in me - that of control - and wrote a poem on the board in front of them.
This is the first draft I later copied from the board:
After reading the poem aloud, I tried to reflect on my thought processes for the other writers, noting the use of a chronological pattern or the emphasis on the strong associations with critical periods in my life with my mother. There was strong emphasis on the need to develop some structural control to help ideas merge. Essentially, I was also suggesting that my brain was running its little video camera in slow motion and I was trying to use words to reconstruct brain images on paper. (That's the way I try to explain this kind of writing to students.) The emphasis was on 'show' not 'tell'.
As the students started their own writing, along with the student teacher, I made a few adjustments to my poem and copied it from the board. The students completed their own word maps and started their poetry, with some interaction and very productive conversation. A couple of them were very strongly analytical thinkers, quite unenthused about this challenge, but prepared to give it a go. This was mainly due to the fact that they knew me from being in my class in Years 9 and 10, so were more used to me and my methods. In fact, half to three-quarters of the class were students I had taught before. A few were quite committed and enthusiastic about writing poetry (one had been the state winner of the Dorothea McKellar competition in Year 9). So I did have some evidence that maybe my methods might work. At the same time, the students were very creative and might have done all this without any help from me.
The students finished their first drafts for homework and arrived at the next lesson ready for response. By then I had revised and redrafted my poem. As the photocopier was broken, I had not put it on an overhead transparency, so read it aloud.
Clearly this strategy of modelling revision and editing would have been much better if I had both poems on an overhead projector, or both on a sheet of paper for students to read. But they were less than fascinated by my writing anyway, because they wanted to get on with their own. They listened while I explained changes and reasons, but then began solid work on their writing, working in pairs and threes, while the student teacher and I worked with individuals.
Over the next week or so, poems dribbled in for response and dribbled back as I found time to work on their writing. This was possible because there was no dreaded Assessment here. We were writers working together and when I handed poems back, I gave them the option of rewriting and publishing. The student teacher also completed a draft, to which I responded. This then became the model for her Year 11 writing lesson, not that we planned it that way initially.
What was achieved?
My conclusion? Some lessons are better when you trust your instincts.