Saturday, 5 May 2007

So, where have I been?

Away, dammit. Back off.

I haven't really posted since the start of this semester, and for various reasons.
To begin with I had a part-time job, and woe is me, between that and uni, life wasn't interesting enough to find the time to post about anything. It's not like I didn't have anything to complain blog about, it is uni after all, but after the complaining and figuring-out in real life I didn't have the energy to post it.
I just finished the first week of secondary teaching rounds and I have two more to go.

To be honest, I have mixed feelings, mkay?

I'm doing dance, which rocks no end - really, I didn't expect to get a placement with a dance method. So I'm mad chuffed I got one, and with an uber experienced teacher no less. But it stresses me out no end that its VCE and VET dance and I'm unfamiliar with that (we do VCE stuff in 2nd semester). So I read like a librarian about that last week.
I'm not able to see Yr7-10 dance, because there is none, but there is drama and it has the full rainbow of classroom challenges. There's a little bit of streaming in the school so the groups behave really differently, and then there's differences in year levels again, just because of maturity.
What shits me the most is the uni hasn't prepared us for this aspect.

This year we're doing secondary teaching and we have four units each semester - two methods (mine are dance and drama and have provided buckets of practical material), one about curriculum, assessment and reporting (very relevant and applicable) and another called 'Bridging the Gap - Mathematics and Language Education in the Middle Years'. We call it Bridging the Crap. nuf said.
But that won't stop my rant, even if I promised myself I wouldn't mention it on my blog, there's no turning back from this avalanche.

I've had numerous issues with this unit, so I'll try to be direct and quick, lest those of you who are clinging to this post in the grim hope that it gets interesting, sassy or funny actually come-to and nick off. At the risk of committing blogger suicide, those of you not interesting in teacher education, click off now.
The Unit Guide says:

The unit aims are to raise student teachers’:
  • awareness of the needs of middle years students ;
  • familiarity with curriculum documents;
  • proficiency in designing units to meet student needs and curriculum requirements;
  • skills in developing/selecting appropriate assessment techniques for a variety of purposes; and
  • capacity to develop a portfolio reflecting their intended focus as a teacher.

About half way through the unit we defined 'middle years' as years 5 to 9 or 10 (dunno what happens to 10s if they're not in that group...) because people were getting confused about all the grade 6 content.

The second point has been partially addressed through our first assignment - an inquiry based unit - but that itself was flawed for a number of reasons.
We have done nothing to do with:

  • engaging middle years students or addressing their needs.
  • designing units addressing 'student needs'
  • skills in 'developing/selecting appropriate assessment techniques for a variety of purposes' (although that has been touched on in other units) and
  • the portfolio hasn't been discussed in lectures, tutorials or online, even though its due two weeks after our teaching rounds finish.

Its just so... WEAK
Normally, a uni student might say 'well, stuff it, we'll just do enough to pass and forget the rest of it because its useless', and a lot of us have. This seems to happen because, at about week 6, people run out of puff to complain about or redeem the situation and their priorities overwhelm any good will.
There has been a lot of material for doing maths and English topics, and I'll be gleaning that off the online site for future handiness. I'm expecting that these will be great little nuggets for CRT or maths/eng work in the future, because, as far as I understand, we're supposed to be qual'd for teaching junior high maths/English too.
But the supporting content is too flimsy.

The lecturers don't know what we've done before: so when they gave us a task for designing and Inquiry Unit and we said 'Do you mean a unit about an investigation, or an Inquiry learning unit?' they didn't know what we were talking about and we had to teach them the pedagogy of Inquiry Learning. And we'd already done an equivalent task in the pedagogy unit last year. But they didn't know that.

That Inquiry task asked us to design a unit in our method (dance/drama for me) and identify the maths and English in it. Most middle years levels are in high school, and we spent last year doing primary school levels, so we were keen to get into year7+ areas, but in high-schools the opportunity to use an interdisciplinary unit is slim - you get a few hours each week to do your subject, so you won't water it down with other areas... how will this work be useful in the future in a regular high-school? Its unlikely, so I did yet another something for year 6. Surely a task that asked for, say, an investigation in one high-school level of english and different high-school level of maths would've been more useful for our portfolios?

The semester started with 'What gaps to you want us to cover?" A: Uh, all of them? They clearly don't know what we've learned, and we don't know what we're missing, so how the hell are we going to identify 'the gap'? It's a two year course for the whole of VELS and VCE; the bottleneck's too severe to be leaving up to us to pick and choose topics without any guidance.

EVEN THEN, when someone requested topic about 'engagement in the middle years' (okay, it was me) we got back two articles. And as fantastic as they are, I WANT PEOPLE, NOT ARTICLES. How about a guest lecturer from a school who had middle-years challenges, somewhere where they had absenteeism, or benchmark problems, and what they did on a school-wide level and in the classroom to tackle that? What about some research into the problems and challenges that are common in middle years levels, their learning styles and needs - hello? adolescence? teenage boys? puberty?

In the end, we're post-grads. We've got different demands on us to undergrads. If our uni time isn't worthwhile its not just 'a break', its a waste of our lives: we could be earning money, being with our kids/partners, not paying for childcare, or doing uni work. I know that there are a lot of undergrads who have high standards about their unit content, but its hard to know what's relevant and what's not at that level. And you have a lot more time to get through it all, not just two years for prim and sec teaching.

I do my best to support Deakin - I know all the other tertiary providers suck just as much in their own ways - but this unit bites. They had the same problems last year and they should either adjust it to incorporate classroom management skills (as we have none this semester) and middle-year's issues or scrap it and start again.

I wonder what I'll rant about next semester...

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