After some time out of a school classroom context (three years) but still working in schools at the senior school level with a special project across three large secondary schools, I have been reappointed to a small K-10 school in the metropolitan area of my city in Australia. The school has high numbers of EALD (English as an Additional Language and/or Dialect) students and the low levels of literacy are proving really problematic in the secondary classes I teach at the school.
Thinking, talking, writing and reading are all far down the list of my student's preferred ways to interact and communicate. They much prefer online gaming, and Facebook style gossiping, with verbal taunting including fast comedic retorts and high levels of sarcasm, such as those seen on web based social media sites such as fail.com. and various online memes. The notions of essays and the written style of communication as used almost exclusively in schools for educational assessment purposes and for the ranking and testing of students is something they see as so far away from the world of what communication is according to what they know and experience it. The tools of language seem to be something they don't really see as useful or important nor do they seem to know how to use language to express ideas, thoughts or opinions effectively.
They do not inhabit the world of books, films, TV, documentaries or libraries as did their teachers and the test setters. my students are as far away from the expected school forms of writing and reading as I am from understanding the writing and texts that are being created and shared on-line such as the Harlem Shake phenomenon.
I have been teaching my secondary classes at the sentence and paragraph level with my 13-15 year olds across all classes having completed modelled writing sessions that have focused on the structure of sentences and paragraphs. Also surprising me, my 14 year olds are responding really positively to the use of word prompts in their argumentative essay writing task. I gave them a bank of connective vocabulary such as; also, considering , firstly, secondly, most importantly etc, - all the ones that real writers commonly use in crafting their opinion based writing - and asked that they have to go to use them effectively in their own writing. The kids seem excited to try them out, with a few students saying how much they liked trying to craft their writing to make it sound more 'grown up' and educational.
Anyway...serendipity being ever present...I heard a Radio National interview of Peg Tyre this morning and as a result it prompted me back to my much neglected blog. The interview segment also gave me a sense that I could be onto to something positive for my kids and their need to improve - so I thought I'd share the link to Peg Tyre and her article she wrote in 2011, in The Atlantic. I have also added a link to the podcast to the ABC Radio National segment that aired this morning for you!
I hope you get something positive out of the links! I did. Enjoy!