I’m going to tell this story in the second person. Not grammatically because that would sound bossy — in the sense that I’m experimenting with being the second person in English classes this year — something I started last year with Amanda. This year I’m with Amanda’s year 11 English class and Blair’s year 9 English class.
So the first paragraph will not be about me. The first paragraph is about Amanda and Blair, and through the eyes of the second person — which is me. I can’t emphasise enough what a privilege it is to join their classes and to get a feeling for how they teach. That sentence: “get a feeling for how they teach” doesn’t really capture it so I’ll elaborate. In observing their teaching style, it’s as if I can hear the cogs whirring in their heads as they communicate what they know to their students, as they draw their students’ attention, interest, desire to connect, contribute, reflect, take risks. I’m drawn in to the lesson too, suspending disbelief as I pretend that I’m back in the hands of skilled teachers of my schooling days. They are conjurers: transforming words and ideas into shining images projected in the students’ minds, weaving together threads of themes and eternal truths and so lifting the students above the everyday reality of battered chairs and baking classrooms. Both gifted teachers, each in her and his own way — if I think about any of the many criticisms of traditional teaching as they continue to exist in the 21st century, I don’t associate these with the kind of teaching which no doubt always was and will be, the real-time, face-to-face interaction between an educator who lives and breathes their subject, who is eager to reveal what constitutes their love of language and literature (in this case) to their students. This is the kind of teaching that will always prevail over whichever educational catchphrase is flitting around at the moment, and will never be replaced by new technologies — although it can definitely be enhanced by some of them.
So now that we’re on the topic of technologies, what role does technology play in these classes?
In Amanda’s case, she uses a blog as an extension of her classroom teaching. She’s been doing this since last year, when I managed to convince her that this would be a Good Thing. This is no prescriptive thing; she speaks through her posts and there is no mistaking her voice and her engaging style. The posts for text study are full of references to other texts, to art and history, to philosophy, this year especially in the case of Logicomix. For my part, being in class allows me to tune in to how I might support and extend, either in the blog (although this year Amanda is the driver and needs much less help from me) or in our Libguides which are richer and more targeted as a direct result of my immersion. I know that these resources would not be as good if I were to have the occasional conversation with Amanda and she would tell me what to do. I like to capture her lessons in note form (although she does expect students to do the same) and the blog will often include photos of her whiteboard notes. I love the way Amanda brings in unexpected references like Bucks Fizz’s 1981 Eurovision performance to engage (perhaps confuse?) students with something as unrivetting (I made up that work, I know it) as essay writing structure.
Meanwhile, although I’d never heard of them, the members of Bucks Fizz have aged pretty well. Here they are in 2016!
A little aside. Now we’re back…
Blair has decided to experiment with Medium as his publishing platform for his year 9 class. What we both like about this choice is that Medium bloggers are automatically situated within a writing community in contrast to Wordpress (which I usually use), because you feel that your blog is isolated unless you do some serious sharing on other social media. Students can easily find and follow other writers and publications, as well as each other. They can (and do) also follow their teacher’s publications which gives them a connection to their teacher’s ‘real-life writing self’. Apart from the publication Blair created for his year 9 class (“Better a witty fool, than a foolish wit”), he had already been publishing to “I like to watch…Shakespeare”. This is his ongoing project “to watch all 37 Shakespeare plays included in the BBC’s Shakespeare Collection”.
Recently Blair and I embarked on a new project — I asked him if he’d mind if I published his daily poem (which he reads out at the beginning of the class) along with an accompanying image. It was a shame (to me) that his wonderful selections of poetry weren’t being captured somewhere for others to read. And so “Poem of the day” was created. So far there are eleven days of poetry. Blair has been doing this for ages so I’m confident he’ll continue to share a poem a day for — forever. Blair has also published his reading recommendation lists — these from a man who must read through every part of his day: 100 great novels by living authors, 100 great novels by dead authors, and 100 great graphic novels. I can see that his year 9 class is impressed by this. They look him up on Goodreads to see what he’s reading and recommending, and I can tell they are in awe. It’s a good way to back up your preaching of the virtues of reading fiction. It works.
My second-personhood has been a rich experience. It’s fortunate that my role as teacher librarian is so elastic that I can experiment with how I support students and teachers. Since English was one of my methods (along with LOTE) when I did my Diploma of Education so many moons ago, I’m happy to be a second person in the English class. I hope that my involvement will continue to evolve throughout the year, as I become aware of opportunities and possibilities when they arise.