Reading/literacy roundabout

There was a good news story on ABC yesterday, and I did welcome it, even if I also had a total deja vu moment!

There is a national focus on engaging girls in maths and science, but the underperformance of boys in literacy attracts little attention. Now, teachers are calling for a national campaign to counter boys’ mass rejection of the English curriculum….

One boys school in Sydney’s inner west is trying to turn things around and has taken up the challenge to foster a love of literature.

It starts first thing in the morning. Canterbury Boys High begins every school day with 20 minutes of reading time. There’s no screens in sight as boys devour a wide variety of books from the classics to graphic literature.

English teacher Nathan McKinley said the initiative had helped create an ingrained focus on literacy that permeates all subject areas.

“It’s a whole-school focus now,” Mr McKinley said. “We’ve been able to move away from the idea that literacy is the English teacher’s job.”…

That’s great! However I witnessed exactly this practice as long ago as 1993, and it wasn’t exactly new then! See also my Grad Cert TESOL essay from 1998 on Literacy.

The practice is known as Sustained Silent Reading or Drop Everything and Read . I saw it happening in 1993 at South Sydney High School.

Back when I was doing that TESOL course Canadian Stephen Krashen was a big name. It is still worth reading his 2003 article False Claims About Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Skills vs. Whole Language, and Recreational Reading, especially given both major parties here in Oz have tended to go all reactionary on this.

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More reading SBHS

From the previous post you could — correctly — get the idea that SBHS in 2017 is a pretty progressive place. I spoke of the school being “transformed” in recent years. And it has been, not least because of the vision and leadership skills of the Principal, Dr Jaggar. He’s had his share of challenges too. Early on in his being in the job I was involved in one of them.

What strikes me though, having thoroughly read the 2016 Record and browsed back as far as 2010, is how tradition has been preserved, indeed augmented, while embracing change.

Let’s go back sixty years: and yes, I was there. See my post 1957 or MCMLVII.

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Edgar Bembrick was the legendary Latin teacher of us mob in 3B. I was 14. He, I suspected, personally knew Julius Caesar, in fact probably taught him. In fact it appears he was born in 1890. In 2007 I wrote, referring to 1959:

Edgar Bembrick, my Latin teacher in my last year in high school — his last year too as he died before that year was over — was in some ways as boring a person as you could hope to meet, and with a face remarkably like a prune. However, there was a twinkle in the eye and an awesome reputation in his subject area: “Don’t use that crib, son; I wrote it.” He would also come into the lesson without a text book and tell us what page to turn to and would then proceed to his exposition without recourse to anything other than his memory. He once claimed to be able to complete any line of Latin or Greek verse we could throw at him. We never caught him out.

The French teacher was truly ancient, speaking a strange kind of French he apparently honed among the poppy fields of Picardy. He was quite awful, actually, so I will pass over his name.

Now English with Mr Harrison was a delight.

In 1958 I and some classmates — one Lionel Laurie among them I recall — went to Sydney University to participate in a Latin Reading Competition. My effort was no great shakes, but it was the first time I ever visited that magic quadrangle.  I was to return: Random Friday memory 18 – Latin at Sydney 1960.

Now speaking as I was of tradition. Look at this from The Record 2016. And look at the names.

On Friday June 3, Years Ten and Eleven participated in the Latin Reading Competition, held annually at Sydney University and organised by the Classical Association of New South Wales. Entrants had to recite a passage from the works of Virgil and Ovid. Students were judged by leading academics in Classics.

This year, Sydney Boys High achieved excellent results. Two students, Roy Wu of Year Ten and Sanishka Balasooriya of Year Eleven, have been selected for the final of this prestigious competition. In addition, Edward Heaney’s presentation impressed the judges and has been awarded a Highly Commended. Edward was presented with his Certificate on the night of the final in the Law Building, University of Sydney, on 1 August. Year Ten Latin presented a choral piece on the night, as normally happens when a Year Ten student reaches the final.

After their recitations, the students visited the Nicholson Museum, which currently has an exhibition on Pompeii, and then attended a lecture on the Greek and Roman Oracle, a prophetess who presented “the future” (albeit ambiguously) to those who sought her guidance.

Mrs D Matsos, Latin

But here is something 2016 offered which 1957 could not!

March 28 was a day filled with triumph. As a student who has participated in the National Chinese Eisteddfod (poetry recital) every year since 2013, I can say without a doubt that this year was the most exhilarating and competitive of them all. From the lunchtime rehearsals to the last minute alterations, every single High contestant was able to demonstrate the focus and hard-working ethic, which provided Sydney High with outstanding results.

The National Chinese Eisteddfod comprises of an individual and a group based competition. In terms of the results from the individual category, I would like to congratulate Vitaly Kovalevskiy (Year 7) who came third in the eight to twelve years age group for non-native speakers, Yeong Meng Li (Year 8) who came second in the ten to twelve years age group for Cantonese speakers, Royce Xiao who came third in the thirteen to fifteen years age group and Justin Liu who came second in the thirteen to fifteen years age group for Mandarin speakers…

Took this when I revisited the school in 2012:

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Reading SBHS: proud

Among the many things I have been reading lately has been the 2016 edition of The Record, the magazine of Sydney Boys High, where I was a pupil 1955-1959 and a teacher variously between 1985 and 2005. See posts tagged Sydney High.

The latest Record really impresses me, capturing as it does the transformation — much for the better, in my opinion — of the school in recent years. I really recommend you have a look for yourself on the link at the beginning of this post.

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And how about this!

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Proud of the old school! Let me quote brilliant ex-student Raymond Roca:

I would like to begin by saying how privileged I feel to be able to talk to you on this occasion of the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia. It was less than ten years ago (2007) that I was sitting on the other side of this podium, just like you, and it never would have crossed my mind that I would be back here at a school assembly so soon after graduation, and particularly at an assembly on the issue of homophobia and transphobia. This inaugural event is an indication not only to how far things have come socially in relation to LGBTI equality in this country in the past decade, but also a testament to the leadership position that Sydney Boys High School has held on issues of social justice and more broadly. There are still so many schools out there where an event like this would simply not be possible. So the fact that we are all here today is a testament to you and to this school, which has always been a beacon for leadership and for a progressive, well-rounded public education accessible and inclusive for all.

I would like to talk to you today about the importance of a positive recognition of diversity…

The greatest lesson that I learnt at this school was not in the classroom – great as those lessons were – but rather in the unique and fantastic exposure to difference that I received here. An exposure to and understanding of diversity that will better prepare you to be the leaders of the future that this school is so well regarded for. Thank you.

The Record 2016 page 83 

 

In which I am made to feel very old…

So the Same Sex Marriage Survey is in its last fortnight, with as of yesterday 75% of eligible responses received. The feeling is that YES has won, but you never know…

I was chuffed to see iconic Aussie songman John Williamson (“Hey True Blue!”) on Channel Nine this morning saying absolutely sensible things as he talked about his latest release. See ‘My whole life has been about loving Australia’.

But it’s not all looking back: It’s All About Love is a jaunty call for marriage equality, sung as a duet with the out-and-proud country siren Beccy Cole. It’s not a new thing for Williamson, who has toured extensively with the unashamedly gay fiddle player Pixie Jenkins since the early 80s, but it’s refreshing to hear a country song dedicated to a time “…when it’s not important what sex you are, or what sex you have”, as Williamson explains. “Or what colour you are, or where you’re from. Wouldn’t that be nice?”

On Monday #QandA dedicated itself to the marriage survey. They had the wonderful Magda  Szubanski, the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, the excellent Father Frank Brennan, and NO campaigner Karina Okotel, a vice president of both the Federal and Victorian divisions of the Liberal Party, a champion Chicken Littler.  Now as the show neared its end came this question:

This question is for Karina. In your speech at the National Press Club last month, you cited a case in the UK where an orthodox Jewish school was threatened with closure because it didn’t teach kids about tolerance and respect. I was teased at school for being “faggy”. They said I was a little too expressive with my hands. I spoke with a bit of a lisp, I liked fashion magazines. I got teased much, much more for looking gay than being Asian. Can’t you see that by not raising awareness in class about gay people in society perpetuates the feeling of isolation that children have, like I did, in coming to terms with their sexuality?…

KARINA OKOTEL
That material is taught to children as young as 11 or 12, from Year 7.

TONY JONES
Our questioner is shaking his head, so I’d just like to get back to him.

ANHTAI ANHTUAN
I think you’re taking the Safe Schools program, there are fringes of that program which were inappropriate, definitely, but at the heart of that program, was about teaching about tolerance and respect. That there are people that aren’t heterosexual but they’re normal people, but yet we lose sight of that and that’s the problem here. I think by saying No, you’re saying Yes to being treated differently for something I can’t change.

See my posts on the much maligned Safe Schools program, especially Show some backbone, PM.

Now I am such a Marxist, eh! Why only a couple of days ago on this blog I was commending Robert Service’s Comrades: A World History of Communism (2007) to my readers! A Marxist I really am not, but I do embrace diversity as a core aspect of the human condition and commend any society or program that does the same. Hence on Twitter I wrote yesterday: “I totally support #safeschools.” I also retweeted: “RT @JoshThomas87: .@TurnbullMalcolm You’re turning out to be a real shit bloke.” Among others.

First, a really really good idea is to read the actual stuff that Safe Schools offers.

And I remember Anhtai from my teaching days at SBHS. Proud to see him handle himself so well on #QandA, but at the same time it really makes me feel old. The world now belongs to these boys I knew as teens — to me such a short time ago!

And then earlier on Monday who should pop up on The Drum but another one: Jack Manning Bancroft. What an impressive human being he is!

Finally, there is much heat at the moment concerning the internet activist outfit GetUp! I really suspect that GetUp’s cardinal sin is that it is effective. See my post on the Class of 1995.

There is much of interest to me in today’s Sun-Herald, not least a wonderful cartoon by Cathy Wilcox – not yet online. Going back a bit I was drawn to the article The class of 1995: HSC high achievers 20 years on, having taught the Class of 1995 at Sydney Boys High. One member, Jeremy Heimans, features in the article.

Having received a TER of 99.95, he studied Arts Law and then Honours in government at the University of Sydney. After studying at Harvard he has spent the past 10 years working as a political activist and entrepreneur. In 2005 he founded Get-up in Australia. Today he is chief executive and co-founder of the New York-based company Purpose.com. In 2014, he delivered one of the year’s top TED talks, which attracted more than a million views, and today he is working on a book on the topic of “new power”.

Heimans describes himself as “an activist from the age of 12”.

“I had this funny childhood where at age 12 I sounded like a 40-year-old,” Heimans jokes. “In many ways I’m doing a lot of the work I did as a kid, but with better tools.

“I had to try on a bunch of different suits for size – I tried on a lot of different roles in my teens and mid-20s.”

“I benefited from a great public school education and I’m very grateful for that,” said Heimans, who remembers his final school years as a period of robust debates, challenging ideas and honing his debating skills.

Finally but irrelevantly I am posting for posterity this  oh-so-evocative image of Donald Trump. I gather he hates it. I think I can understand that! It is just TOO revealing!

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Today: the 50th NSW Higher School Certificate!

And I taught the first one! See If the jacarandas are out, the HSC must be coming… and HSC 50 years on.

Sheep Husbandry was not on offer at Cronulla High School where I as a newly minted English teacher fronted what would be the first 3rd Level (i.e. bottom) English Year 11 class in 1966. So strictly speaking this year it is 49 years since that first HSC, which was sat in 1967.

I did return to Cronulla back in 2011. See these posts: How young we were! (and do read the comment thread!) and Here I am at the Cronulla High 50th!

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Revisiting Cronulla High in 2011

See also 2017 HSC written exam timetable and HSC begins for 70,000 NSW students. There were 18,000 in 1967.