Classic Texts in
the New Syllabus:
Dr Nina Cook,
Pymble Ladies’
College.
Our aim whilst implementing the new syllabus is to
promote a culture of thinking within our school. Whilst
planning for next year we see an opportunity to develop
the work that our Director of Teaching and Learning is
implementing and that is being furthered through
relationships with schools such as Masada.
I would like to:
• explain a Teaching for Understanding model;
• link this model to Stage 5 and NSW syllabus
outcomes;
• investigate how this model may promote critical and
creative thinking;
• discuss how two classic texts may lend themselves to
this model;
• provide some useful tools for promoting thinking
within the classroom.
What if education were less
about acquiring skills and
knowledge and more about
cultivating the dispositions and
habits of mind that students will
need for a lifetime of learning,
problem solving, and decision
making? (Ron Ritchhart)
What is Teaching for Understanding?
“…teachers already strive to teach for understanding.
So this performance view of teaching for
understanding does not aim at radical, burn-thebridges innovation. Its banner is not “completely new
and wholly different” but a just-as-crucial “more and
better.” Perkins, David and Tina Blythe, “Putting
Understanding Up Front”
Teaching for Understanding provides teachers with
a language and structure for planning their curriculum
and for discussing teaching for understanding with
other colleagues and with their students. It also
stresses in depth learning.
I am going to discuss the five
elements of an understanding
framework:
• Generative Topics
• Throughlines
• Understanding Goals
• Performances of Understanding
• Ongoing Assessment
1. Generative Topics:
Generative topics are the “big” ideas in the
course that merit attention.
Generative topics are issues, themes, concepts,
and ideas that provide enough depth,
significance, connections, and variety of
perspectives to support students' development of
powerful understandings. They should be:
• Central to one or more disciplines;
• Interesting to students and teachers;
• Accessible to students;
• Provide opportunities for multiple connections.
How Medea and A Streetcar Named Desire led us to our Generative
Topics:
Edith Hall says of Medea, ‘The play must have been ethically shocking, Medea
stands alone amongst tragic felons in committing her offence with impunity.’
This led us to see that both texts allow an exploration the question: what is
justice?
Both texts study the effect of being outside the mainstream of a society and
how social understanding may be developed through empathy and tolerance.
Tennessee Williams has said: ‘… people that have to fight for their reason;
people for whom the impact of life and experience from day to day, night to
night, is difficult; people who come close to cracking. That’s my world, those are
my people.’
So these two texts allow students to investigate how the effect of social
isolation and lack of understanding can lead to breakdown, suffering and
violence.
These ideas led us to focus
upon:
• What is justice?
• What is the effect of being
outside the mainstream of a
society?
• How does social isolation and
lack of understanding lead to
breakdown, suffering and
violence?
From this focus we are already
considering some of the General
Capabilities outlined in the new
syllabus:
• critical and creative thinking;
• ethical understanding;
• personal and social capability;
• difference and diversity.
2. Throughlines:
‘Overarching goals, or throughlines, describe the most important
understandings that students should develop during an entire course. The
understanding goals for particular units should be closely related to one or more
of the overarching understanding goals of the course.’
Throughlines:
• What is the effect of being outside the mainstream of a society and how can
social understanding be developed through empathy and tolerance?
• How does the composer shape language features, structural devices and
conventions of the medium and/or genre of the text to influence the
responder’s response to the experiences and feelings of someone outside
the mainstream?
• How do texts encourage contemporary responders to re-evaluate aspects of
their own society?
• How do we comprehend what is fair and unfair in our world?
• Is it possible for some texts retain value and integrity across the boundaries
of time/place/culture?
3. Understanding Goals
Understanding Goals, ‘identify the
concepts, processes, and skills that we
most want our students to understand. They
are worded in two ways: as statements (in
forms such as, "Students will understand ..."
or "Students will appreciate ...") and as
open-ended questions, what do I want my
students to understand after having studied
this unit?
Question form: What is the impact of society upon the individual?
Statement form: Social understanding may be developed through
comprehending what it means to be an outsider.
Question form: How do playwrights allow the audience to experience the
feelings of individuals as they navigate the expectations of society?
Statement form: Through tragedy playwrights can present the experience of
the outsider in order to develop empathy and understanding.
Question form: How does witnessing the characters struggles help develop
our own sense of empathy and tolerance?
Statement form: Witnessing the tragedy of others can help to develop social
understanding and empathy for others.
Question form: How can you use an aspect of the tragic form to demonstrate
understanding of the characters plight?
Statement form: Aspects of the tragic form can be employed by students to
express the plight of the outsider.
Linking Outcomes to the Understanding Goals:
Outcome 1: A student responds to and composes increasingly
sophisticated and sustained texts for understanding, interpretation,
critical analysis, imaginative expression and pleasure.
Outcome 5: A student thinks imaginatively, creatively and interpretively
about information, ideas and texts when responding to and composing
texts.
Outcome 6: A student investigates the relationships the relationships
between and among texts.
Outcome 7; A student understands and evaluates the diverse ways texts
can represent personal and public worlds.
Outcome 8: A student questions, challenges and evaluates cultural
assumptions in texts and their effects on meaning.
4. Performances of
understanding:
‘Activities that both develop and
demonstrate students’ perceptions
of the understanding goals by
requiring them to use what they
know in new ways. The require the
applying of knowledge and are
visible.’
5. Ongoing Assessment:
Ongoing assessment is the process by which students
get continual feedback about their performances of
understanding in order to improve them. This might
involve feedback from the teacher, from peers, or from
students' self-evaluation. Sometimes the teacher may
give criteria, sometimes engage students in developing
the criteria. This will lead to a Culminating
Performance.
While there are many reasonable approaches to
ongoing assessment, the constant factors are shared:
• public criteria;
• regular feedback;
• frequent reflection throughout the learning process.
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Classic Texts in the New Syllabus Presentation