Hitting the ground running: first responses to this semester’s literacy unit

Yesterday we began our new unit for preservice secondary teachers, on literacy across the disciplines. In our Grad Dip tutorial, small groups discussed their initial impressions and recorded their thoughts under four headings.

Clarify: On what would students like more clarity?

Value: What are students liking about what they’re hearing and reading about this unit?

Concern: What are students feeling some level of concern about, given what they’ve read and heard about the unit?

Suggest: What suggestions do students have which might address some of their concerns?

I promised to report and respond by the end of the week, so here I go:





Q: Can we have more details about the Literacy Project? When is it due? What does it involve? How is it to be presented?

A: I’m working on an online lecture about the Literacy Project which will address all these questions. I plan to have it posted by the end of the week. If you have any questions once you’ve watched/read the online lecture, or if you’d just like to chat about your ideas for your project, please send me an email so we can make an appointment on Monday during the Drop In time (3-6), or on Thursday afternoon.

Q: What definition of literacy are we working with in this unit? Is it just reading and writing?

A: I began the lecture with a story, rather than with a definition. Josh was struggling with the text in front of him. In his case, it was Macbeth, but there are students in every KLA classroom who struggle to find meaning from the texts in their subject. Some of these texts are word-based; some involve images, plans, maps, tables, recipes and so on. Many involve a mixture of these, and can be paper-based or electronic. Our unit is about helping students find meaning from all the texts relevant to a particular KLA. I’m wanting you to identify the types of texts and literacy (the ability to read and write texts) which your KLA values, and to learn strategies for teaching these relevant literacies to those students who struggle.
One of our Grad Dip students has already begun this exploration, in her KLA of Science, in a post called Return to the Grad Dip: Teaching Literacy.

 Q: Will we learn specific teaching strategies and approaches?

A: The textbook is full of them. We’ll model and practise others in our tutorials. The e-Reserve has articles on others.

Q: Why are the tutorials not organised along KLA lines?

A: We have a lot to learn from our colleagues in different KLAs. Why does a student who creates havoc in one subject behave like an angel in another? Could it be that the student finds one set of literacies inaccessible and acts out in order to divert attention from feelings of inadequacy? If this at least part of the explanation, perhaps we can learn ways to adapt some of the strategies and literacies of our colleagues from other KLAs? You might find the following video – Teaching spreadsheets though street dance –  interesting.

Q: Are we going to learn about things that hinder literacy (eg dyslexia)?

A: RINE is going to open some doors here, as will SCPE and CPP3. But if you’d like to learn more about a specific issue like dyslexia, then construct your Literacy Project and your weekly reading around the issue. Previous students have done wonderful work along these lines.

Q: How much reading and writing should we be doing each week?

A: The unit (like all university units) is based on the assumption that you’ll spend around 10 hours per week, including lectures, tutorials, workshops and so on. Every week on Moodle I’ll post guidelines and suggestions for your reading and writing, but I want you to be making the decisions about what reading and what writing will be most useful to you. Delve deeply into the aspects of the unit which most engage you, and/or will be most useful to you become the kind of teacher you want to become.

Q: Where will online lectures and the weekly program be posted?

A: On Moodle, in the ELPC G2/LAD section, under the relevant week. (Let Valerie Barker know if it’s at all difficult to find; we want to make these things easily accessible to you.)

Q: Where can we find more details about Assignments 3 and 4?

A: There is information about these in the Unit Outlines and on Moodle (in the Assessment box). After you’ve read these, I’m more than happy for you to make an appointment with me (Monday or Thursday afternoons) to discuss possibilities and idea (email me or Rachel to make a time).
My office, by the way, has posters (Assignment 4) from last year all around the walls.

Q: The Grad Dip Unit Outline mentions a Student Led Mini-Conference. What’s this about?

A: Last year a group of Grad Dip students planned a mini-conference where the Assignment 4 posters were displayed, past students were invited to share their experiences of their first year out, and various other celebrations took place. Later in the semester we’ll be calling for volunteers from this year’s cohort to organise this year’s mini-conference.



2.    VALUE




The things students mentioned as being of value to them included

  • emphasis on literacy in general and KLA specific literacies in particular
  • opportunity to learn new skills and strategies to help struggling students
  • the modelling of the staff, the clarity of the communications (online, in tutorials and in the Unit Outline)
  • the structure of the tutorials, time to work with others and establish a sense of smaller communities of learners
  • the link made between behaviour management and literacy
  • the support structures for students, and the role Valerie is taking as triage person
  • the way e-Reserve is structured, and the flexibility of choosing what to read
  • the integration between the units and the integrated assessment
  • Steve’s example of Josh in the lecture
  • moving the Drop In to Mondays, and the later time slot
  • having online materials posted on time




The things students mentioned as being of concern to them included

  • literacy is a primary school, not a secondary school, issue
  • expensive text books, and the late notice given about this
  • 70% weighting for Assignment 3
  • part-timers having to do Assignment 3 for a second time
  • unrealistically heavy workload expectations, and the pressure of fitting it all into 9 weeks
  • the lack of fast, direct communication with students
  • the lack of notice about Week 1 required reading and preparation
  • the possibility that working in the same tutorial groups for 9 weeks would become monotonous
  • Ning and Moodle being difficult to navigate
  • the lack of usesful KLA information in the lectures/tutorials
  • little or no guidance as to what was the essential part of the unit
  • the lack of clarity about TQI registration process
  • lack of specific help for LOTE teachers who will have students whose English is poor
  • too few live lectures (online not as effective)
  • the Boiler Room as a lecture space





The things students suggested arising out of some of the concerns included

  • consistency across unit outlines
  • Moodle and Ning demonstrations on where to find the relevant information
  • sharing past Literacy Projects and posters
  • online readings rather than textbooks
  • more support from Academic Mentors during prac
  • clearer outline of expectations and outcomes
  • return to the wiki
  • fewer discussions in tutorials
  • a whole course discussion forum on the Ning [ed: there is one]
  • more information on the Literacy Project
  • looking at multiple literacies
  • more feedback on assignments
  • spread the lectures and tutes over multiple days (exhausted by Tuesday program)
  • establish clear method of communication when we’re on prac
  • more LOTE articles on e-Reserve
  • information about literacy programs going on outside uni (eg Tactical Teaching)
  • podcast responding to questions about assignments
  • better communication between workshop tutors and lecturers
  • KLA specific literacies
  • more formative assessment to gauge learning
  • demonstration from lecturers of strategies explored in the unit
  • more application in a practical classroom environment
  • how to craft inquiry  questions to guide reading
  • more colours, pictures, graphs to make texts more accessible
  • have weekly readings and tasks posted earlier

Some thoughts on the concerns and suggestions

I hope that what I’ve written in the Clarify section has helped with some of these.

If you’re feeling that one of your concerns or suggestions has not been responded to adequately, please make a time to come and see me. Talking through an issue almost always works better than just writing about it. To make an appointment (during either Monday or Thursday afternoons), email me and we’ll set up a time.


One thought on “Hitting the ground running: first responses to this semester’s literacy unit

  1. I have already done LAD but I just read this blog out of interest and I think it is a great idea. I noticed that there were a couple of comments about the textbook. I want to let people currently doing the literacy unit, I think the textbook is a really good read and something that I will probably refer back to when I start teaching. I found it so much more accessible than many journal articles. I felt it was well worth the money.
    I really enjoyed this unit and am actually working as a literacy tutor now as a result, so I hope you all get as much out of it as I did.
    Good luck this term everyone!

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