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Posts Tagged ‘Methods and Theories’

Committing ‘Suicide’ to the Curriculum


Boy! Is this ever a contentious issue. I’m so glad that we are finally having the discussion of how ‘suicide’ is handled in our society.

For years it has been a taboo subject; particularly in media where the issue has been addressed with ‘kid gloves’ in fear of copy-cat events from those who may be more vulnerable in our community. In media circles the only time that suicide is openly discussed is if; a ‘person of note’ has committed suicide, the journalist is reporting on the death of others from a ‘suicide-bomber’, suicide statistics are being discussed and/or the various classifications of this data (e.g. gender, age-ranges, etc.)

The state of mental health in our community is such that we need to have a wider conversation than this. More people die from suicide than in fatal motor vehicle accidents in Australia. Currently, about 2,000 people commit suicide per year in Australia. There is hot debate about what is the best course of action with some arguing ‘we have seen a small drop in the suicide rate – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ and others saying ‘let’s take it off the taboo shelf and discuss suicide more openly’. Both sides agree that ANY reporting and/or discussion must be defined by a mature, non-sensationised conversation.

So where does this leave teachers who are being asked to incorporate ‘suicide’ within the national curriculum (Health? Physical Education?) under the mental health banner. See report:http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/a/-/breaking/8989646/calls-for-schools-to-address-suicide-prevention/

If the mental health experts can’t agree on how it is best to deal with it – is it something that teachers should be ‘boldly addressing’? I’m getting mixed messages, this recent article highlights some of the issues that are bound to await us http://www.theage.com.au/national/education/experts-warn-of-danger-posed-by-school-text-20110216-1awnt.html (I wonder if Romeo & Juliet is being slammed with equal rigour?). Whilst it seems ludicrous to ask students to write ‘suicide notes’ (an oversight on the part of the publisher more than the teacher I would suspect), surely it is important to find and CREATE learning opportunities that allow students to discuss this issue? 

There are many texts from my own teaching that I have used in the English class (frequently) that allow discussion of this topic in a controlled and meaningful manner. Romeo & Juliet, Dead Poet Society and short-stories such as On Saturday Afternoon (from the classic short story collection in SPECTRUM ONE) all open doorways for discussion about ‘dark feelings’, ‘the black dog’ and (not just by osmosis) pathways of help and assistance.  

For me it is about PLANNING these teaching experiences. Don’t misunderstand me, they are not a daily showcase piece of my teaching practice but they are in my ‘swag bag’ and I would certainly be prepared to ‘go there’. I believe that students need to have the opportunity to discuss things in order to be informed, have access to support and have some issues ‘deconstructed’ in complexity.

I should say that I do take precautions when delivering any kind of sensitive material. In the case of texts that address suicide (yes – even Romeo & Juliet!) I would consider the following list a bare minimum of preparation;

  • If I don’t have a good rapport with a group of students, I wouldn’t go there; likewise, if you know that friends/family of students have committed suicide it is just insensitive to ‘go there’ through the use of (in my case) a text choice!
  • Keep those ‘LIFELINE McDonald’s CARDS / KID’S HELPLINE CARDS(you know the free ones they send to schools) ready for these lessons
  • Deliver this type of content when you have TIME – save it for a DOUBLE-PERIOD
  •  Notify the counsellor / chaplain / HoD that you are covering sensitive material
  • Don’t deliver the materials or lead the discussion like you are at a funeral
  • Allow students to talk openly
  • Pitch the depth of conversation to the age

I would love to hear other teachers response to the idea of being mandatated to deliver curriculum in this arena. All thoughts, disagreements, cases, examples greatly appreciated!

If you or someone you know needs help – please access the FANTASTIC resources available at the following website: http://www.suicideprevention.com.au/

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Who IS Responsible for Student Learning?

September 5, 2010 6 comments

Of course, I laughed and thought that this video (which has now received over 1 million hits worldwide) ‘had a great message’ and that all parents should listen to it and reflect on their school communication BUT…. it is really only a half truth if considered as anything other than a clever (and funny) SATIRE. As a disclaimer to my following comments; only read on if you are able to consider these comments but STILL ENJOY THE VIDEO. This is not meant as a vigilante on humour. If you haven’t seen it, here is the video…. followed by my ramblings.

Am I being a spoil sport by writing about this in a serious way and objecting to some of its content? (Especially the final comment which shoots inclusivity as an unfriendly footnote!). Well, the fact that the video is now packaged as ‘an actual recording that is used in a Queensland school’ is both dubious and (I would suspect) an attempt to give a tongue-in-cheek, satirical look at parent/school communication a far too considered hearing. I sincerely hope that no one REALLY used this for an actual answering service (as stressed in this posted version).

I was part of a staff discussion once (no school / staff disclosed) in which we discussed the role of the teacher. I asked staff to move to different corners of the room according to their response to certain statements. The room corners to which staff moved were labelled “AGREE”, “DISAGREE” and “UNDECIDED” – we covered a lot of issues over this time but the core intent was to get to the following decision statements:

Teachers are responsible for student learning” – AGREE / DISAGREE or UNDECIDED

and

Students are responsible for their own learning.” – AGREE / DISAGREE or UNDECIDED

I admit the questions could be interpreted as divisive yet I realistically thought that there would be a 50/50 split between the AGREE and DISAGREE categories on this issue. That wasn’t the case. Only 4 of over 50 agreed with statement one and only 5 disagreed with statement two. There were a handful in UNDECIDED. Each group was asked to defend their position, ‘Why” did they believe this was the case?

The discussion was robust, challenging and decisive. Being one of the five, I reflected long and hard about the beliefs of my peers. I knew that they were committed, focused individuals who gave beyond the ‘requirement of the job’ on an ongoing basis; yet I found it difficult to understand what I perceived to be a lack of personal ownership of our responsibility in teaching.

  • Was there any incentive to ‘get better’, as a teacher, if one fundamentally believed that learning was the sole responsibility of the child?
  • Did this belief make staff more resistant to ‘changes’ that created ‘inconvenience’ on the journey to a ‘greater good’?
  • Were staff of the opinion that educators who delivered Professional Learning to THEM were more or less effective in achieving learning outcomes based on an adjustment of teaching style/energy/activity choice, etc?
  • Did this belief impact a teacher’s willingness to support ‘special needs’ in the classroom?
  • Did this belief foster an attitude of ‘giving up’ on students too early?
  • Did this attitude result in a tendency to ‘quickly flick poorly behaved students to someone else’?
  • Did this belief impact the volume of teacher/parent/student communication?
  • Was it WRONG to THINK this way?

I have a simple illustration that I use most frequently with students to help them understand effort and reward. “If I promised to give you $1,000,000 if you got a “B” in English, what would you DO to ensure it happened?” Clearly, they know I will not be delivering on this but the point is clear – behaviour WOULD change. Can’t I ask the same question of our teachers? Our parents?

The truth is, that we are responsible to partner together regardless of how right or wrong any of us are. I will try to the best of my ability to persuade staff that whilst students must contribute a willingness to be present; that we do bear a responsibility to be ‘learning bridges’, to take students as far as humanly possible.

If the point of this video is to remind parents that they can’t flick all responsibility to schools, point well made – but I just don’t want to hear others cheering TOO loudly about it.

E-Portfolios OR Why I Wish I Was a School Student Again!


I have a great interest in this area and have been examining a wide range of online facilities that students are able to utilise. Mahara.org certainly seems to have the best scope for our needs (from the ones I have looked at – Moodle ready). I like the idea of a student being able to carry their accomplishments, results and samples with them across their learning years / lives. It ‘feels’ more like going to school to ‘write your life book’.

We talk of the notion of ‘life-long learning’ and this is a true opportunity to capture it all’. I can see many benefits;

  • Strong sense of ‘audience’/ ‘readership’ through online publication (secured distribution)
  • Record of ‘progress’
  • Organisational maintenance of portfolio
  • Students look for opportunities to capture their achievement
  • Ongoing access to assessment items that can influence new learning
  • Functional – students should be able to use their e-portfolio as a project that ‘moves with them’ both from year to year, but also, school to school.
  • Mum’s LOVE it!

A particularly useful resource for teachers who may want to investigate this further has been produced at http://wiki.rscwmsystems.org.uk/index.php/Eportfolios if you have no intention of visiting the site – no worries – here’s a video!