ALEA conference 2016 – day 2

I’m a little delayed on this blog post due to the enormity of thoughts floating around in my head after 3 days of intense learning. Forgive me. Here is as coherent a summary as I can manage.

The power of the word – Jenni Connor

This was my first keynote of the day and Jenni grabbed me early as she spoke of the importance of a childhood rich in books and literacy experiences, something I’ve blogged about before and which I am particularly passionate about. She talked of how, to truly grow a lifelong reader, we need to let them read rich and inviting texts, not necessarily those which are age appropriate or at the right level for them. She provided us with some rich examples of quality literature, in picture books I’d forgotten about, such as The Coat by Julie Hunt and Ron Brooks, but also in places you wouldn’t imagine, such as the powerful writing of Stan Grant in his speech for The Ethics Centre on racism and the Australian dream.

Jenni also ranged into novels and spoke of Morris Gleitzman’s ‘Once‘ with its honest, raw and child centred portrayal of a horrific time in the world. This novel and all that it embodies sums up for me another of her key messages – the power of fiction really is in its lessons of empathy beyond our own lived experiences. As a young child, I was fortunate enough to experience actual life in both the UK and Australia but the diversity of experience I was exposed to was much broader thanks to the range of texts I read or had read to me.

Narrative and creativity: Where do they fit in today’s schools? – Misty Adoniou

I love hearing Misty speak and still count the keynote I attended at last year’s conference as amongst the most powerful professional development I have been part of.

To begin with, Misty spoke about the messy, competing demands and critical thinking required by engaging with multimodal texts in the real world then considered whether this was the case with those neatly packaged, single genre texts encountered by students in the classroom. In fact, it was a speech of considering contrasts – literacy as skill acquisition vs literacy as meaning making being the next. As a primary teacher, this is one I often grapple with, particularly in writing. While students obviously need to develop a whole range of skills and will need varying amounts of time and practise to build them, there is no point in developing such skills in the absence of meaning and purpose. Grammatically correct sentences with sturdy punctuation make no difference if there is no one to read them.

Misty finished with an idea that resonated that helped bring the contrasts to a point – perhaps part of our role in school is providing students with additional skills, opportunities and beliefs that, in conjunction with those from their home environments, allow them to exist in and create in a third space, separate from but informed by (and enriched by) both. I like that concept a lot and I think it helps me reconcile my role as an educator – not there to be the only element in a child’s education, just part of the complex mix that will support and extend their life choices.

Using picture books to explicitly teach about language – Robyn English

A thread that was very common throughout the conference was the power of narrative, particularly picture books, for learners of all ages. This session was no exception and provided both multiple great picture books as well as novel and interesting ways to use them with students.

One of the games I liked was a ‘grammar by dice roll’ game where students were given sentences from favourite picture books and, based on the roll of a dice, were encouraged to…

1 – change the verb

2 – add an adjective to the second noun

3 – add an adverb

4 – add a circumstance

5 – add detail to the subject noun

6 – add a circumstance that includes a conjunction and a pronoun

I could see this being a lot of fun, especially playing with language from texts that my student already loved and were familiar with.

Another activity involved using vocabulary from familiar books and asking students to discuss and justify which was the odd one out of each line. This takes the skills beyond just knowing what the word means and requires students to think more broadly and argue for their point of view.Cm5tHk-WIAA03wc

Overall, another great day of ideas and wonderings.

Day 3 post to follow soon…

ALEA conference 2016 – day 1 reflections

Well timed to end the school holidays on an inspirational note, this weekend is the ALEA conference being held in Adelaide.

Literacy & imagination: schools as wondering places and spaces?

The conference started with a keynote from Barbara Comer  encouraging us to consider teachers as ‘imaginative designers, weavers and researchers’ rather than bound by templates and programs which restrict us and limit opportunities for our students. It set the scene for the rest of the weekend well – these conferences are always an energetic mix of new ideas and revisiting more familiar but forgotten ones and I always leave feeling full of possibility. So being reminded that, as teachers, we are responsible for researching, interpreting and implementing ideas, woven as an intricate and specifically crafted tapestry was exactly what I needed to hear.

Students with literacy difficulties: Same and different

Anne Bayetto presented about the needs of students who experience difficulties with literacy and the message was both clear and reassuring – on the whole, all students, whether experiencing difficulties or not, have similar needs, including requiring cognitive level tasks and dignified access to a range of aural, visual, print and digital texts.

Most importantly, students who are experiencing difficulty need to speak, listen and read more. Activities involving cutting and pasting, colouring, drawing and, generally, doing ‘busy work’ are not likely to have any impact and will further disadvantage students.

Anne spoke of some great resources to encourage speaking and listening:

Embedding oral language across the curriculum

This presentation was full of both new material and reminders of things I used to do but which need to be revived in my classroom. The concept of ‘hands down’ to ensure all children have an opportunity and an expectation to speak and participate is an important one which needs to be developed as the culture of the classroom and school. Too often, quiet or less confident students are able to fly under the radar during sessions involving oral language, deferring to those who more confidently raise their hands. Sheena Cameron and Louise Dempsey suggested a number of different strategies to encourage greater participation during speaking activities, such as:

  • allowing adequate thinking time for students when using ‘think, pair, share’;
  • turning it into ‘think, pair, square’ with student pairs becoming a group of 4 to provide more opportunity for student talk;
  • compass partners (one name at north, one at south, one at east and one at west) so that students are quickly able to find a partner during oral language activities;
  • a listening triad where one student is speaking, one is purely listening/responding and the other is recording.

Another great reminder from this presentation is that, as teachers, we ask a lot of questions throughout our day and this isn’t the only way to prompt and provoke student discussion. Comments and statements can be just as effectively used to get students talking – the important part is that we provide quality and meaningful reasons for them to speak that are relevant to them. It would be frustrating for our students to be asked to talk about thing that aren’t worth talking about from their perspective.

This presentation in particular has given me food for thought – so much so that I went and bought their new book, The Oral Language Book. Looking forward to diving into that one and exploring more possibilities for student talk in my classroom.

Wanted – technologically confident teachers for mentor roles. Immediate start!

I’ve just attended the ALEA/AATE National Conference in Brisbane and am, as is usually the case at such events, feeling very intellectually stimulated and challenged. While there will undoubtedly be further blog posts on the topics I’ve been focused on and ideas that are building, this one is actually a bit of a plea.

It started with the twitter feed. I’m used to going to educational technology conferences and hanging out with people that I have first met online via twitter (or people who I have newly met on the day via twitter). At the recent ICTEV conference I attended, the hashtag trended within about 1/2 an hour of the conference keynote beginning. At the ALEA/AATE conference, I was really pleased that there was a twitter hashtag and there were certainly a few articulate and thoughtful tweeters but the feed in general was a little…….thin. Is it because English teachers aren’t comfortable with twitter? Do they know it exists and what an amazing source of professional development it is?

The theme of the conference was ‘Brave new world’ and random conversations that I had with teachers who attended were that they were looking certainly for ideas and conversations about literacy but were also very open to and wanting support and ideas for utilizing new technologies in their classrooms. What they need are the kind of mentors I’ve had over the last 3 years from the world of educational technology enthusiasts that I also frequent. Throughout the conference, I’ve attended some great presentations by teachers and researchers working with an expanded idea of what being literate means but think the overall conversation would be further enhanced by some of the work I know is being done in classrooms throughout the country that is often shared at ICT conferences and Teachmeets.

So here’s the plea to the twittersphere – come and present at next year’s ALEA/AATE conference in Darwin. Your ideas and contributions deserve to be shared with as wide an audience as possible and I know that it would enrich this fantastic event even further. Besides, if we think the Brisbane weather has been good, imagine what it will be like sunning ourselves in Darwin this time next year. Hope to see you there!

Making my own ‘creative connection’ at ICTEV

For a while now, I’ve attended professional learning sessions about ICT in education and been enthused, inspired and, often, blown away by the creativity and ingenuity of other educators. While I’ve delivered professional learning at my own school (daunting enough) to share ideas I’ve had, I haven’t previously had the confidence to take it further. Who would want to listen to me? Are my thoughts and knowledge really worth sharing?

So, in another fit of ‘resolution setting’, I decided this year would be different – I submitted an abstract to the ICTEV Creative Connections conference and, to my utter delight, it’s been accepted. We received the program at school yesterday and I proudly looked at my name in print. The session I’m presenting is a culmination of lots of ideas, many of them that came together during my literature review for my PhD as well as some things I’ve observed in the multitude of classrooms I’ve been part of. I’m really looking forward to sharing – now I’m just crossing my fingers that people find it interesting enough to come along!


Attending the DEECD Innovation Showcase today highlighted the amazing and inspiring environments that are being created by students and teachers in Victorian schools. It kicked off with 2 incredible Secondary school students as MCs who were articulate, confident and brilliant ambassadors for both their schools and their generation. Another highlight in the opening was Monica Scully of Huntingdale Primary School, who talked about the bilingual education that students at her school experience and the benefits it has been shown to provide.

The practitioner showcases had been hard to choose from as so many were appealing. I watched and talked to students in the ‘Learning through games’ room, where learning through play was clearly demonstrated. I was particularly impressed by Meredith Primary School and their ‘Digital sandpit’ time to promote school attendance and the very articulate students from Tyrrell College who were keen to discuss the learning that happened through and around online games such as ‘Lord of the Rings’.

The next two sessions highlighted for me that innovation doesn’t have to involve new technologies – it can just as easily be about rethinking our practice, identifying problems and finding solutions through creativity and imagination. Staff from Ouyen Pre-School discussed their use of flip cameras to assess and record the learning of children in their care and River Gum Primary School students and teachers wowed the audience with examples of multimedia embedded deeply throughout their curriculum. As I said, it was a good reminder that innovation comes in all sorts of packages but is primarily a change response to an identified problem. Both presentations triggered my own ideas that could change and improve my own setting, some small and some ambitiously over-large.

Finally, after an inspiring performance from Cultural Infusion, we were treated to a closing keynote by Anh Do. As well as many laughs, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in the room wiping away tears as he wove his inspiring tale of overcoming adversity and always ‘having a go’. He reminded me why I teach – because I believe that all children deserve the chance to dream that they are capable of achieving anything and that education can open those doors for them.

Thanks to the organisers and those who contributed in whatever way to the showcase – events like these renew our enthusiasm, provide new ideas and inspirations and remind us why we teach. If you couldn’t attend but want to be inspired, try the Educators’ Guide to Innovation where you can make connections with some of the amazing educators who presented today.