Such an excellent professional development opportunity! The English Teachers Association of New South Wales hosted another thought-provoking conference over Friday, November 28 and Saturday, November 29. Despite the fatigue of HSC marking and end-of-year slump, attendance is a must for all serious secondary teachers of English. There are too many highlights to discuss in detail, so I will mention a few great moments.
Firstly, the opening plenary – The Ken Watson Address – by Dr Louise D’Arcens engagingly shared a philosophical and anthropological perspective on thick analysis. Where thin analysis remains largely descriptive, encouraging students to use thick analysis results in sophisticated written responses by accepting that texts are “embedded in worlds rather than simply the product” of a world. Texts are both produced from and received into worlds. Geertz suggests that texts are artefacts which draw meaning from the role they play in an ongoing pattern of life. D’Arcens suggested that we should accept that our students will always occupy a space of tension between a subjective interpretation of a text and the position of the ‘correct’ understanding sought from us as teachers. Students should expect to negotiate what a text is as ‘literary texts are aesthetic experiments in thought’. Her case study of thick analysis was that of introducing university students to troubadour lyrics of Occitania. Captivating.
For the next session, I was fortunate to introduce three teacher from Moss Vale High School, Janeen Pepping, Adelle Morris and Heather Kemp, who shared our journey of national partnership funding to improve literacy. With a focus on reading and comprehension, these inspiring teachers explored a range of activities and strategies that have successfully been implemented across all KLAs, proving that literacy is the responsibility of all teachers.
The middle session provided another opportunity for Moss Vale High to shine, this time through the passionate voice of Josie Davidson as she introduced her audience to Our Ways – a story of success by adapting 8Ways pedagogy. Through community involvement with elders from our Gundungurra country: students, parents and teachers, Moss Vale High School received a prestigious Nunga Mai Award in 2014. Josie encouraged her audience to share their teaching moments that could be categorised under the symbolic representations of Our Ways and successfully demonstrated that these respectful approaches are not ‘extra work’, but rather a reflection of how we can readily incorporate a culturally sensitive attitude in every class irrespective of who we teach.
I thoroughly enjoyed hearing director Simon Nasht respond to the questions asked by James Clarke (Mullumbimby High) about the HSC documentary Frank Hurley: the man who made history. A complex pioneer of photography and the form of documentary, students could encounter this absorbing film through studying the Area of Study : Discovery. Nasht made clear several ideas and premises behind the process of his text, and at the same time providing glimpses into the family of Hurley. It was intriguing to hear that Hurley’s daughters chose to live simple lives in adjoining caravans on the north coast of NSW and offer original prints and images for auction when travel money was needed. More resources by the film makers are available at www.frankhurleythefilm.com.au
My own two presentations were warmly received – Reading Australia (new ideas to celebrate Australia’s most exciting writers) and ‘Writing for Publication’ – encouraging teachers to share their expertise and experiences through writing for journals and professional publications. I am continually inspired by the committed volunteer teachers and presenters who support the professional development of our members.
* first two images by me; last two images courtesy of Peter Yager.