2.3 Writing my own story
This English unit, Exposing the Media was originally targeted at all Year 7 students at Sioux Denim College. It was a sparse, three-week, teacher-led “filler” unit presented at the end of term, after assessments had been completed, with no culminating purpose or product required. The English teacher responsible for the 7C class grouping recognised that this was an opportunity to engage with the new Gifted & Talented Coordinator (me) to redesign the unit to make it more responsive to the social-emotional and learning needs of her class. An interim unit was developed in consultation with a group of four teachers, the English/SOSE/Christian Studies teacher, the Digital and Design Technology teacher (also responsible for e-Learning), the Media studies teacher and the Gifted & Talented Coordinator (me).
The unit was trialled in the classroom with great success and will be changed more when used next year. The attached unit is aspirational (in the spirit of university assignments) but was also designed to be realistic and appropriate to context. It is hoped that by designing “what could be”, “what is” will be of better quality.
WHAT IS 7C?
7C is one of the classes in the Y7 cohort. It was introduced in 2019 in recognition of the unique opportunity for reinvention that beginning high school poses. Entry into 7C was intentionally based on academic potential, as opposed to performance or achievement. By focusing on potential, it was envisaged that students who were underachieving (as a result of perfectionism, motivation or twice-exceptionality) would be given a chance to shine along with those who are already exhibiting exceptional academic performance. Extension classes in Y8 and beyond are based on academic performance.
WHAT DO GIFTED LEARNERS NEED?
“Each child should come to school
to stretch and grow daily”
All students need content that is relevant, meaningful and purposeful in classrooms that are respectful and responsive to their needs. However, those who are gifted, just like those who experience learning challenges, do have different learning needs.
Gifted students typically require:
· Learning experiences that are organised by “big ideas” where they can make connections across learning areas and to real life understandings
· Faster instructional pace in response to less need for repetition
· Time saved to be used to “go deeper” (more complex, abstract, open-ended, multi-faceted than appropriate for age peers)
Whilst Sioux Denim College and the Australian Curriculum base their provisions for gifted students on the work of Gagne, I have been searching further afield to discover:
Why do some people who have not enjoyed the advantages
of special educational opportunities
achieve high levels of accomplishment,
whereas others who have benefitted from the
best of educational opportunities and enriching lifestyles
fade into obscurity?
Renzulli believes that it is not simply academic potential that students need in order to achieve, but also creativity – for what is the point of academic potential, if not to create ideas or product for the betterment of society? The last factor of the triad, inter and intra personal skills – especially executive and affective function, has been distilled into the “Big Five” personality traits (Almlund, Duckworth, Heckman & Katuz, 2011).
How we could develop these personality traits in the students of 7C was discussed at a meeting of teachers of the 7C class, and the work of Jonathan Nalder was introduced. These success literacies, whilst beneficial for all learners, may be particularly appropriate for the learners of 7C, and will be explicitly explored as part of the pastoral/ personal care component.
Previous experience with the DISCOVER/TASC (Thinking Actively in a Social Context) Model (Wallace and Maker, 2009) and its focus on understanding the perspectives of others also influenced the design of this inquiry unit.
WHAT KIND OF INQUIRY?
Dialogue is when people talk and listen to create new understanding (Barrett, 2019). The above teachers worked together to formulate an idea of what we believed the class philosophy was, and what/who we wanted the students to be. We wanted students to be active, engaged, inquiring into their world, and their place in it. Approximately half of these students had come through the Junior College and had been educated in the PYP inquiry-led, transdisciplinary framework, others were new to inquiry learning, therefore it was decided to scaffold the inquiry process carefully. However, the limited amount of time, and the huge scope of learning presented some challenges. We considered what skills and understandings we believed students would need in order to inquire deeply and successfully. This was where collaboration between departments became even more important in the silo style atmosphere of high school. My goal of creating big picture collaborations was starting to take shape.
The model of inquiry chosen was that of Gourley (2008), as she had designed her inquiry circle based on the PYP Model and the work of Kath Murdoch, which were familiar to many students.
Strengths also included its focus on:
· Questions – learning what to ask to guide the investigation
· Investigating, evaluating and curating information
· Connections – between learning areas, between ‘school learning’ and the world beyond school,
· Collaboration - of students building connections with each other as they investigate.
· Learning “just in time, rather than just in case” (Cook, 2010)
The initial unit was very much teacher directed, with very little expected from students. This redesigned unit will initially involve teacher modelling and scaffolding, but with a gradual change from teacher to facilitator and supporter as students begin to inquire on their own topics of interest. Thus, it will move from controlled inquiry to guided inquiry over the course of the unit (Mackenzie).
In initial teacher collaboration discussions, current student knowledge and skills was investigated. This was of great benefit as many concepts are not subject specific, and it was discovered that some visual literacy and information literacy skills had already been covered in different subjects; however, it was decided that a quick lesson based on what students may need for this particular task would be of benefit. This is the more controlled part of the inquiry.
Whilst the teacher/ department has chosen the overall topic of the media, and how it can influence attitudes, the students will choose their own topic of interest to research. Topics this year included: euthanasia, gun control in USA, protests in Hong Kong, Extinction Rebellion protests, Tamil Family, Israel Folau. The suggested method of communicating understanding (developing a scripted, current affairs style video using layering enabled by green screen technology) was suggested, but not compulsory. However, it was so inherently motivating to students no one chose any other form.
Images from class lessons - faces and uniforms blocked to maintain anonymity
Images by A.Gold.
At its heart, inquiry learning is based on the questions that have been asked. Whilst it was tempting to spend time on the Question Quadrant used in Philosophy for Children, it is not useful in this instance. The questions that students need to ask are those that will stimulate and guide their inquiry process (see below based on Wiggins & McTighe, 2013 and Murdoch, 2013). Whilst the unit has provided the essential question (What is truth?), using techniques such as “But Why?” and the redeveloped KWHLAQ framework (Rosenthal Tolisano, 2015) or brainstorming webs (see Kruse, 2010) will be useful for developing generative questions.
HOW DOES THE GeSTE EVALUATIVE FRAMEWORKS APPLY TO THIS UNIT?
The GeSTE windows (Lupton, 2016) provide a hierarchical model of the information literacy used within the inquiry process. The generic window within this unit students will have explicit lessons in searching for and evaluating information utilising a variety of online and print based resources. The ABC news quiz and Snopes, ABC Factcheck as well as the REAL and CRAP tests can be used in these lessons.
Of particular importance to the unit designers was the Transformative window. These year 7 students are building a critical consciousness of how people are positioned by the media, whilst beginning to build their own perspectives. As students at an elite private school in the affluent west, many have not viewed or experienced inequality or oppression in its many forms. When students are encouraged to take charge of their own inquiry, to explore diverse perspectives, the teacher is released from a position of power to become a collaborator, the focus on mastery of skills and content is lessened, understanding and empathy are encouraged.
“from this point of view,
individual rights entail obligations towards other citizens”
I am truly excited about collaborating with teachers to present this unit next year, as the changes made this year were empowering for students and their teacher. The reaction of the staff members (and their departments) to the concept of working across departments was particularly gratifying. I am so proud of the growth in learning and understanding that students were able to achieve, and was truly “blown away” by the quality of thinking that was evidenced by the videos that they produced.