Government seeks input into nationwide phonics assessment and numeracy check

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The Federal Government has called for feedback to inform the development of a new nationwide phonics assessment and numeracy check.

A questionnaire on the Department for Education and Training  website is the next step in the staged implementation of the checks, announced by Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham in late January.

The assessments of Year 1 students’ literacy and numeracy skills aim to identify students who are behind so they can be targeted with interventions to prevent an achievement gap from widening. It follows three significant national and international reports in 2016 that revealed Australia’s education performance had plateaued or declined.

The questionnaire will inform an Expert Advisory Panel, consisting of principals, teachers, speech specialists, academics and researchers, which will report to the Education Council in mid-2017.

It asks respondents their opinions on the potential benefits of the checks, ways of maximising their effectiveness, the challenges associated with their introduction and the use of the information gained through the checks in the classroom.

The questionnaire is open until 17 March, 2017, and any persons interested have been asked to respond.

Beware the Drop Bear

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It is large and predatory, ambushing its prey from above. It targets tourists and finds Vegemite repellent. It is the mythical Australian drop bear.

‘Drop bear’ was one of 300 terms added to Oxford Dictionaries’ free online dictionary of current English.

OxfordDictionaries.com described the drop bear as, “A mythical marsupial resembling a koala, said to live in trees and attack people by dropping on to their heads from above.”

The entry includes the example of usage, “someone told him that he needed to put Vegemite behind his ears to ward off the drop bears”.

So, where did the myth of this fierce marsupial, supposedly repelled by the scent of Vegemite, come from?

According to the Australian National Dictionary Centre, in 1980 Nancy Keesing provided the first recorded mention of the drop bear. She suggested the term emerged in the Second World War period for the benefit of gullible American servicemen.

As the new entry in OxfordDictionaries.com reveals, the legend is showing no signs of fading.

Earlier this year, Tamworth Regional Council approved the idea of giving a previously unnamed road the name ‘Drop Bear Lane’, while some of Australia’s most respected cultural and environmental organisations and companies have warned tourists of the dangers of walking through forested areas where the drop bear lives.

An official page of the Australian Museum describes the drop bear, or Thylarctos plummetus as:  “a large, arboreal, predatory marsupial related to the Koala.”

“Bush walkers have been known to be ‘dropped on’ by drop bears, resulting in injury including mainly lacerations and occasionally bites.”

The South Australian Government Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources warned travellers of the risks of the drop bear, while a National Geographic study revealed international tourists were most likely to be targeted by the ferocious marsupial.

For the full record of drop bear in Australian English, see the Second Edition of the Australian National Dictionary.

Visit OxfordDictionaries.com to find out about other words in its latest update, including ‘yas’, ‘haterade’, ‘fitspo’ and ‘craptacular’.

Yarning Strong author Ali Cobby Eckermann wins one of the world’s richest literature awards

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Oxford University Press Australia & New Zealand congratulates Yarning Strong: His Father’s Eyes author, Ali Cobby Eckermann, on winning one of the world’s richest literature prizes for her poetry.

The celebrated Indigenous poet and writer was one of eight recipients of the 2017 Windham-Campbell prize, who each received $215,000. The prizes were awarded to writers of poetry, fiction, nonfiction and drama.

Eckermann wrote His Father’s Eyes, part of the OUP ANZ and Laguna Bay Publishing Yarning Strong series. The Indigenous education series is aimed at young Australians aged between 10 and 14 and their teachers, introducing readers to the experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia. A committee of Indigenous educators guided the development and content of the series, which have all been written by Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander authors.

His Father’s Eyes touches on the themes of absence of family, life changes, loss and fear of loss, and the discovery of strength through family.

Eckermann’s writing career began in 2009 with her first collection of poetry, Little Bit Long Time. Since then, she has published three collections of poetry, verse novels Ruby Moonlight and His Father’s Eyes and memoir Too Afraid to Cry, drawing on her experience as a member of the Stolen Generation. She is also the founder of the Aboriginal Writers’ Retreat.

The Windham-Campbell prize, established in 2013, aims to call attention to literary achievement and provide writers with the opportunity to focus on their work, independent of financial concerns.

English language writers from anywhere in the world are eligible, with recipients nominated confidentially by leaders in the literary field, and judged anonymously.

His Father’s Eyes is available from Oxford University Press.

 

 

 

Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year

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After much discussion, debate, and research, the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016 is post-truth – an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.

Why was this chosen?

The concept of post-truth has been in existence for the past decade, but Oxford Dictionaries has seen a spike in frequency this year in the context of the EU referendum in the United Kingdom and the presidential election in the United States. It has also become associated with a particular noun, in the phrase post-truth politics. 

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Post-truth has gone from being a peripheral term to being a mainstay in political commentary, now often being used by major publications without the need for clarification or definition in their headlines.

The term has moved from being relatively new to being widely understood in the course of a year – demonstrating its impact on the national and international consciousness. The concept of post-truth has been simmering for the past decade, but Oxford shows the word spiking in frequency this year in the context of the Brexit referendum in the UK and the presidential election in the US, and becoming associated overwhelmingly with a particular noun, in the phrase post-truth politics.

A brief history of post-truth

The compound word post-truth exemplifies an expansion in the meaning of the prefix post- that has become increasingly prominent in recent years. Rather than simply referring to the time after a specified situation or event – as in post-war or post-match – the prefix  in post-truthhas a meaning more like ‘belonging to a time in which the specified concept has become unimportant or irrelevant’. This nuance seems to have originated in the mid-20th century, in formations such as post-national (1945) and post-racial (1971).

Post-truth seems to have been first used in this meaning in a 1992 essay by the late Serbian-American playwright Steve Tesich in The Nation magazine. Reflecting on the Iran-Contra scandal and the Persian Gulf War, Tesich lamented that ‘we, as a free people, have freely decided that we want to live in some post-truth world’. There is evidence of the phrase ‘post-truth’ being used before Tesich’s article, but apparently with the transparent meaning ‘after the truth was known’, and not with the new implication that truth itself has become irrelevant.

A book, The Post-truth Era, by Ralph Keyes appeared in 2004, and in 2005 American comedian Stephen Colbert popularized an informal word relating to the same concept: truthiness, defined by Oxford Dictionaries as ‘the quality of seeming or being felt to be true, even if not necessarily true’. Post-truth extends that notion from an isolated quality of particular assertions to a general characteristic of our age.

The shortlist

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Here are the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year shortlist choices, and definitions:

adulting, n. [mass noun] informal the practice of behaving in a way characteristic of a responsible adult, especially the accomplishment of mundane but necessary tasks.

alt-right, n. (in the US) an ideological grouping associated with extreme conservative or reactionary viewpoints, characterized by a rejection of mainstream politics and by the use of online media to disseminate deliberately controversial content.

Brexiteer, n. British informal a person who is in favour of the United Kingdom withdrawing from the European Union.

chatbot, n. a computer program designed to simulate conversation with human users, especially over the Internet.

coulrophobia, n. [mass noun] rare extreme or irrational fear of clowns.

glass cliff,  n. used with reference to a situation in which a woman or member of a minority group ascends to a leadership position in challenging circumstances where the risk of failure is high.

hygge, n. [mass noun] a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture):

Latinx, n. (plural Latinxs or same) and adj. a person of Latin American origin or descent (used as a gender-neutral or non-binary alternative to Latino or Latina); relating to people of Latin American origin or descent (used as a gender-neutral or non-binary alternative to Latino or Latina).

woke, adj. (woker, wokest) US informal alert to injustice in society, especially racism.

This article was originally shared on OxfordDictionaries.com on Wednesday 16th November.

[Image source: oxforddictionaries.com]

Australian Foreign Policy and the New International Disorder

9780195596243Australia’s foreign policy elites could be forgiven for thinking that they live in especially challenging times. The current international order appears to throw up a number of problems that not only defy easy resolution but also threaten to overturn many of the ideas and principles that have underpinned policy-making in Australia for many decades. To be sure, the challenges of the past – especially the two World Wars and the Cold War’s proxy conflicts in Asia – should not be belittled; indeed, they seem to dwarf many of thechallenges confronting contemporary policy-makers. Yet what appears to have been lost, to quote British sociologist Anthony Giddens (1991), is Australian foreign policy–makers’ sense of ‘ontological security’: the knowledge of what to expect in a rapidly changing world where established structures and institutions seem to be crumbling. This anxiety is a significant phenomenon of our time, whether or not the developments we now observe in international politics prove to be epochal.

Perhaps the most obvious transformation worrying Australian foreign policy–makers is the apparent weakening of the US-centred security order in East Asia and the re-emergence of China as a major power in the region. As Nick Bisley’s chapter argues, in the period 2011–15 we have seen the first expressions of a growing Chinese willingness to challenge the status quo, most notably in the East and South China Seas, unsettling Japan, several Southeast Asian states and others in the process. Challenges to the Western- dominated international order have also emerged in Europe, where Russia unilaterally annexed Crimea, taking it from the Ukraine in March 2014, despite strong protests from the European Union (EU) and the United States. Although Australia has cleaved ever closer to its long-standing ally, some commentators have argued that the dissonance between the US alliance and Australia’s close economic relationship with China will grow (White 2015), potentially forcing tougher choices in the future.

Also disconcerting to policy-makers has been the emergence or intensification of a range of transnational, ‘non-traditional’ security problems, including terrorist groups such as Islamic State, climate change, environmental degradation, pandemics and even, for some, irregular migration. These problems are rarely the result of intentional aggression from another state, but are either the undesirable externalities of economic development or are associated with the activities of non-state groups. They are usually not seen to threaten the state’s very survival, but do undermine its real or perceived capacity to protect national populations. Traditional security responses, such as deterrence or alliance- formation, are usually seen as no longer appropriate for these issues, and nor are responses focusing strictly on intergovernmental diplomatic relations. As a result, Australian foreign policy–making has expanded beyond the traditional ‘three Ds’ – diplomacy, defence and development assistance – to include a range of new departments which previously had a more restricted domestic role. The most significant example from the last five years is the fast-evolving and internationalising Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP). Meanwhile, as Michael Wesley’s chapter shows, traditional foreign policy actors in Australia, such as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), have had to acquire new ways of implementing and developing policy, as well as establishing new relationships with other agencies inside and outside the Australian bureaucracy, producing new challenges of coordination.

Adding to the broader sense of volatility and uncertainty in Australian foreign policy– making circles in recent years has been the rapid turnover at the top: in the five years since 2010, Australia has had five prime ministers and four foreign ministers. To be sure, there has been considerable continuity in how Australian governments of both the centre-left (the Australian Labor Party) and the centre-right (the Liberal–National Coalition) have approached key foreign policy issues, most notably the US alliance and the treatment of asylum seekers arriving by boat. Even where policy differences between the major parties have been small in practice, however public debate has often been sharply polarised, as Lorraine Elliott explains in regard to climate change. Traditionally, foreign policy–making in Australia was seen as an elite pursuit, dominated by a handful of policy-makers and bureaucrats with limited scrutiny, even by Parliament (Firth 2005). Yet, increasingly the public discourse surrounding foreign policy issues has taken on populist tones, as the issues, and the way they are managed, are seen as having implications for Australians’ everyday lives. This, we argue, reflects the blurring of the distinction between domestic and foreign policies wrought by the growing complexity associated with public policy-making in an interconnected, globalised world. It is, in other words, another manifestation of the same processes that have made foreign policy–making appear more challenging in general.

Specifically, the tighter interplay between the domestic and foreign policy arenas has broadened the range of interests and groups with a stake in the way many foreign policy issues are managed. This has two important and interrelated implications: first, it is clear that attaining coherent, ‘national’ positions on most issues of consequence is becoming more difficult in practice than in the past. Second, from a normative perspective, governments’ claims to be acting in the ‘national interest’ internationally are becoming even more problematic. As Ramesh Thakur’s chapter in this volume outlines, in reality the idea of a distinctive national interest has always reflected contested choices and preferences,

manifesting political and normative differences over what could or should be done. As Andrew Phillips’ chapter reminds us, foreign policy has been part of the construction of particular national identities and social relations within Australia since before Federation. Yet the relationship between foreign policy and identity-construction at home is becoming more contentious, as it is increasingly apparent that acting in the national interest actually advances only some interests within Australian society.

Mindful of these developments, we have decided to break with tradition and make this the first edition of Australia in World Affairs since the series began in 1950 to be organised around key themes and issues in Australia’s international relations and foreign policy, rather than around Australia’s bilateral relations. The most important issues today encompass a set of processes and relations that cannot be simply or adequately captured through an emphasis on the relations between two or more governments. For example, Australia’s bilateral relations with Indonesia were obviously affected by its policy of unilaterally towing boats carrying asylum seekers back into Indonesian waters from late 2013. But it clearly makes more sense to examine this development and its implications in the context of Australia’s broader response to irregular migration, which encompasses domestic debates and policy changes, international legal aspects, and relations with several countries, including Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Nauru; to name but a few. Sara Davies’ chapter takes on this challenge.

Nonetheless, conscious of our duty to produce a journal of record and a reference tool for diverse readerships, we provide a chronology of important events in Australia’s international relations and foreign policy for the period 2011–15 and a list of prime ministers and relevant ministers. We also encourage readers interested in Australia’s relations with particular countries or regions, such as Southeast Asia, to make use of the detailed index.

In this introductory chapter, we trace some of the key elements of the emerging new international disorder that Australian foreign policy–makers are learning to navigate. We then consider how Australian governments have understood and responded to these changes and the normative implications of these policy responses.

A LESS PREDICTABLE WORLD ORDER

Australia now seems to be facing a more uncertain international environment than it has done for decades. Serious transnational threats that are beyond the capacity of Australian policy-makers to alleviate single-handedly seem to be multiplying, while the rise of China appears to challenge the long-standing US-led security order in Asia. Both potentially undermine traditional approaches to foreign policy–making in Australia.

Although the emerging international order has multiple sources, particularly important are the effects of the end of the Cold War and the deepening and intensification of a range of processes subsumed under the rubric of ‘globalisation’ (see Held et al. 1999). The end of the Cold War had been seen by some observers as reflecting the triumph of liberal capitalism as ‘the end of history’ (Fukuyama 1992). As non-capitalist alternatives were weakened and the threat of large-scale war between the superpowers receded, many states, especially the United States, were able to refocus their foreign policies towards opening up markets for ‘their’ corporations in other countries (Smith 2005).Thus, during the 1990s there was a noteworthy, though partial, shift in the priorities of policy-makers around the world, from geopolitics to geoeconomics (Luttwak 1990). Geoeconomics is distinguished from geopolitics in that the latter emphasises power in the context of a territorially demarcated state system, whereas the former emphasises power underpinned by control over trans-border flows and markets (Cowen and Smith 2009). The shift to geoeconomics has also entailed a change in the way security is understood, from a near- exclusive focus on the threat posed by powerful states towards a more comprehensive view of security that includes a range of border-spanning, often non-state, security problems, such as environmental degradation, climate change, organised crime, terrorism, infectious disease and even irregular migration (Cowen and Smith 2009; Hameiri and Jones 2015b).

In short, what we have seen is a partial change both in policy-makers’ perceptions of the international economic and security environments and in the ways in which they seek to deal with these issues. This process of globalisation continues today, despite the apparent decoupling of emerging economies from the traditional centres in the North Atlantic since the onset of global financial crisis. First, the perception of transnational vulnerability to new security problems is now firmly established and not subject to the ebb and flow of interstate economic relations. Second, the winding down of the US Federal Reserve’s program of quantitative easing appears to have affected investment in emerging economies, leading to significant economic downturn, especially in Brazil, which has seen its gross domestic product (GDP) go into negative territory. In China, meanwhile, current economic wobbles and a long-term crisis of over-capacity suggest that the government stimulus program could not forever defy the downward pressures on economic growth wrought by declining demand in the West. Andrew Walter’s chapter outlines some of these issues.

As Cold War strictures dissolved, however, the relationship between what we might describe as ‘structure’ and ‘agency’ in international politics also changed. Traditionally, international relations scholars and policy-makers have understood both structure and agency in world politics as constituted by inter-state relations. Now, however, internal and external transformations associated with globalisation have eroded the neat separation of the world into territorialised ‘power containers’, which the Cold War had reinforced (Giddens 1985; Agnew 1994). As a result, even for the most powerful states, the outputs of foreign policy decisions have become more complex and unpredictable. A clear example is provided by the second Iraq war, widely regarded as one of the most catastrophic failures of US foreign policy of recent times, possibly ever (Stiglitz and Bilmes 2008). Although US and allied forces were far superior militarily to their rivals, the US goal of establishing a liberal democracy in Iraq has proven elusive. This conflict has spilled over into a more generalised regional instability, involving new actors such as the Islamic State, which defies obvious means of resolution.

The United States’ inability to attain key foreign policy objectives, or even to contain the negative consequences of earlier failures, amplifies the challenges and dilemmas facing Australian policy-makers.

navigating-the-new-international-disorder

This extract is taken from Navigating the New International Disorder, the latest volume in the Australia In World Affairs series.

Edited by:

Mark Beeson, Professor of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Western Australia.
Shahar Hameiri, Associate Professor and Associate Director of the Graduate Centre in Governance and International Affairs, School of Political Science and International Studies, University of Queensland.

Australian Institute of International Affairs

The Australian Institute of International Affairs (AIIA) is an independent, non-profit organisation promoting interest in, and understanding of, international affairs in Australia.

It provides a forum for discussion and debate but does not develop or promote its own institutional views. Each year, the AIIA stages more than 200 public and specialist lectures, seminars and other events around Australia. It also sponsors leading research and publications, including the Australian Journal of International Affairs and the Australian Outlook blog. Established in 1924, it is the only nationwide organisation of its kind in Australia and has been recognised as one of the leading think tanks in Southeast Asia.

The AIIA is financed by members’ contributions, a small government subvention and taxdeductible donations from individuals and businesses. For further information, contact (02) 6282 2133 or visit.internationalaffairs.org.au.

Oxford Word of the Month: October – baggy green

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noun: (also baggy green cap) 1. the cap worn by an Australian Test cricketer. 2. this cap as a symbol of selection in an Australian Test cricket team. 3. an Australian Test cricketer.

THE STORY BEHIND THE WORD OF THE MONTH

The baggy green cap is an emblem of this nation. (Sydney Morning Herald, 28 January 2003)

The cap worn by Australian Test cricketers, the baggy green, is now a national sporting icon. Originally it was not called the baggy green and nor was it baggy (the baggy cap replaced a more fitted cap in 1921). The veneration of the baggy green is relatively recent, as confirmed by the recollections of former Test players in an article by sports journalist Russell Jackson:

Former Australian fast bowler Frank Misson told Fahey and Coward that in the early 1960s it was still known simply as ‘the cap’ and that its ‘flouncy’ aesthetic qualities were deemed a little outdated by his team-mates of that era. Ian Chappell maintains that it was rarely spoken of by he or his 1970s team-mates. (Guardian Australia, 23 December 2015)

Evidence for the term appears late in the written record. Apart from the odd mention of the baggy green cap in the 1950s, it is not until the 1980s that the cap becomes a commonplace in reports on the Australian Test cricket team:

The Aussies went out hell bent on enjoying their cricket. Enthusiasm was high, pride at a premium and baggy greens firmly fixed on heads held high. (Brisbane Courier-Mail, 11 April 1984)

The association of the cap with the pinnacle of cricketing success was well established by the late 1980s: ‘There are still too many willing to die to wear the baggy green cap.’ (Hobart Mercury, 25 March 1989)

During the 1990s the awarding of the cap became a ritual. In solemn pre-match ceremonies new players received their baggy green from the hands of the captain or a former Test great, and for players it became a tangible link to their predecessors in a long tradition of Australian Test cricket. Its elevation to mythical status in Australian sporting history occurred especially under the stewardship of Test captains Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh, and Ricky Ponting.

Although the cap looks somewhat antediluvian in the modern era of international cricket, and offers very little protection from the sun, it is now an object of reverence: ‘Stars sing an ode to the baggy green.’ (Hobart Mercury, 17 November 1999) The cap has become such a potent symbol that in recent years even the players are sometimes called baggy greens:

With any luck the baggy greens are in a position to wipe the smugness from the Barmy Army’s faces. (Melbourne Age, 23 November 2013)

Baggy green is included in the recently released second edition of the Australian National Dictionary (2016).

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Oxford Word of the Month: September – hip-pocket nerve

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noun: an imaginary nerve that reacts whenever demands are made on one’s money (especially in contexts such as government proposals to increase taxes).

THE STORY BEHIND THE WORD OF THE MONTH

The first evidence of the term hip-pocket nerve occurs in a speech by Prime Minister Ben Chifley in 1947. In May of that year, during a tax debate in the House of Representatives, Chifley responded to a comment on aggregate taxation by the member for Fawkner:

The average citizen is not interested in what the whole of the community pays; his sole interest is in what he pays. Accordingly, I shall bring the honourable member for Fawkner right down to earth. As members of Parliament receive an allowance of £1000 a year, I propose to examine the case of a man in receipt of that income, because it will bring home the facts to a very sensitive nerve in the human constitution—the ‘hip-pocket nerve’. (Reported in The Australian Worker, 21 May 1947)

The hip-pocket nerve gets its name from the pocket in the back of a pair of trousers, just behind the hip, that traditionally contains a wallet. Chifley’s point is that we are all sensitive to demands on our wallet, especially those coming from government. Australian governments of all persuasions are acutely aware of this around the time of the annual Federal Budget:

While this year’s Budget will be hitting the hip-pocket nerve, the Government is taking solace in the knowledge that it has up to two years to win over the electorate. (Sydney Morning Herald, 16 August 1986)

Did Ben Chifley coin the term hip-pocket nerve, or was he using a term he already knew? In the absence of earlier evidence we can’t rule out the possibility that it is Chifley’s coinage. What is clear is that its first recorded outing in a tax debate foreshadowed the context of bureaucratic impost in which this Australian term is still chiefly used:

This week’s Geelong city council decision to lift rates an average 8 per cent will leave ratepayers, whacked heavily about the hip pocket nerve in recent years, even more disillusioned. (Geelong Advertiser, 4 June 2005)

Hip-pocket nerve is included in the recently released second edition of the Australian National Dictionary (2016).

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Using dynamic and real world case studies to inform learning

When we were approached by Oxford University Press to create a book about language development, we were given some clear directives about what it needed to be: interprofessional (for linguists, educators and speech-language pathologists), locally relevant (for an Australian and New Zealand audience) and useful (for students, lecturers prescribing it as a text and for professionals). So we set about developing a book that we would use as professionals, teachers, and online learners.

We invited contributions from authors with backgrounds in education, linguistics and speech pathology from around Australia to ensure the text was interprofessional. Most of these authors had worked in the field and their knowledge and experience of the Australian context ensured their chapters would be relevant to our prospective audience. Then we did something a little unusual, we asked them to think about the kinds of case studies they wished they had easy access to, those that would be useful to show in classes and lectures to enhance their teaching and improve student learning and retention.

We knew from our experience that real world examples are the key to explaining concepts and demonstrating ideas. But, rather than creating imagined, one dimensional (paper based) case studies as supplementary resources to aid understanding, we wanted to utilise real, dynamic, engaging children and adults. We wanted our case studies to be easily and immediately accessible to staff to frame their teaching, and to students to inform their learning. We used suggestions from the chapter authors to plan our case studies and then invited children, students, and adults to participate in filming for the book. Ten videos were created and made available online. Chapter authors were then invited to select the video content that was most useful for them to illustrate their chapter content, and to write these case studies into their chapter. Supplementary materials (e.g., transcripts of the videos, look and learn activities) were also developed to aid lecturers in planning curriculum design and content. We even used a photograph of one of our 2-year-old video stars on the front cover.

The result is a text that is undeniably Australian (the accents give it away!) and authentic. It is available as an interactive ebook with access to the videos, live links to resources and additional online activities. Students can access the materials independently, but have reflective questions to guide their study. Lecturers can use the videos and online activities in their teaching or set tasks for students to do in their own time. The book is intended to meet the needs of the new breed of learners and the lecturers who teach them. We hope it does just that.

J9780195527926ane McCormack, PhD
University of Sheffield, March 2016

Jane is a speech pathologist with experience in early intervention and education. Jane is the co-editor of Introduction to speech, language and literacy (2015) with Sharynne McLeod.

McLeod, S. & McCormack, J. (Eds.) (2015). Introduction to speech, language and literacy. Melbourne, Australia: Oxford University Press. (ISBN: 9780195527926)

Using humour to inspire young writers

Hey, want to hear a joke?
Novice pirates make terrible singers because they can’t hit the high seas. 
(Cue collective groan)

Sometimes humour can be in-your-face and silly (like the joke above), and other times it can be more subtle. Whether it’s a pun, a child’s knock-knock joke, a funny movie, or situation comedy on television, we all enjoy a good laugh. Given this natural human tendency to appreciate humour, how might we, as educators, leverage humour in our teaching?  This idea deserves further attention.

Consider how social humour is. Think about the last time you watched a funny movie or television show with someone. When something funny happens on screen we turn to the person beside us as if to say ‘did you get it?’ It’s almost as if sharing the joke or funny situation enhances its humour.  The same is true with children, especially with their reading. Think about when you were a child, and saw a group of other children huddled together around a book, laughing.  How did you respond to that situation? You probably wanted to know what was so funny!  We all want to know what’s so funny. We all want to be part of the joke. Humour is a social phenomenon.

I observed this firsthand when I researched how humorous children’s literature engages young readers.  My research revealed that humorous literature is a huge motivator for children to read. When they read humorous books, they want to read more in general, and more specifically they want to read books by that author or other funny authors.  Also, when they do read something funny, they want to share it with someone immediately, whether they are a friend, family member, or teacher. This has classroom implications for teachers around the globe, because humorous literature can reach both struggling and reluctant readers.

In a related research project, I found that humorous children’s literature also motivates young readers to become writers of humour.  This was more than just wanting to copy their favourite author’s style of writing, but a need to be creative and write funny stories as well.  That is why in my latest book there is an entire chapter discussing humorous texts and their value in the classroom, and what teachers can do to harness these texts in developing young writers.

Some tips to help promote writing using humorous texts:

  • Expand your definition of ‘genre’ to include humorous texts (comics, joke books, etc.).
  • Value and include comics in your classroom activities.
  • Read and learn about blended narratives (Zbaracki & Geringer 2014) such as the 13-Storey Treehouse.
  • Allow students to write their own comics, perhaps using technology, websites or apps, and read each other’s creations.
  • Use technology (such as the ‘Pun of the Day’ app) to encourage students to explore the multiple meanings of words.
  • Explore parodies of well-known fairy tales and nursery rhymes to inspire students to create their own parodies.

So, it’s important to remember that humour, in addition to being fun, has great benefits helping students in both reading and writing.   ‘Sigmund’, a grade five student in my research study summed it up best:

… all books kind of have some humour, and if you don’t, I’m not saying that you should put like all humour in the book, it’s just if you don’t it’ll be kind of dull, and it won’t … well, it’ll be like the cake without the icing.

He’s so right! Keep eating that cake with icing, and reading and writing those funny texts!

Matthew Zbaracki is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Education at Australia Catholic University (Melbourne) and the author of Writing Right with Text Types (2015).

 

Featured image credits:  [1] OUP 9780195519068; [2]Shutterstock ID 144699151

 

Using real voices to inspire student teachers

OUP Authors Neil Harrison and Juanita Sellwood show the importance of using real stories in teaching by sharing their own experiences.

Be generous and stay a while

Numbulwar is a tropical paradise, replete with coconut palms and golden beaches. This was my first school appointment in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory.

I had been teaching for ten days, when suddenly the kids starting yelling, ‘Get down, get down!’ But it was too late! I was left standing as a shovel-nosed spear sliced through the classroom door, its tail end vibrating like a rattle snake. One of the older students had been misbehaving the previous night and was being cautioned, publically!

1988: The sun as the provider of life

1988: The sun as the provider of life

Teachers came running from all directions to see that I was OK. Yes, I was fine, stirred but not shaken. Following some emotional checks on the beginning teacher, everybody returned to the classroom, and I returned to my teaching. Discipline can be swift and severe in some Indigenous communities if children do not do the right thing.

I went on to work with an amazing Yolŋu (Aboriginal) teacher in north-east Arnhem Land. We established a shop in the school where the students sold everything from bubblegum to dresses, toys and comics.

We made a fortune, and the kids who previously could not add single digit numbers all of a sudden were counting the day’s takings in hundreds of dollars. Previously, it had been almost impossible to get parents into the school for any reason, now hundreds of parents were coming to the school to shop and talk and feel at home.

In the meantime, my amazing Yolŋu colleague negotiated a place for me in the local community, made sure that I was given a skin name (an Aboriginal name), and guided me through the local protocols. She was absolutely generous with her heart and time, and was an expert in working across cultures. Like me, she is still teaching today.

That gift of generosity has been part of my experience wherever I have worked with Indigenous people in education.

I moved to Sydney in 2007. I felt absolutely intimidated by the big city at the time, but I soon started to work with the Darug people, the traditional custodians of the Country here, and again I met with generosity of spirit. I asked for advice and received it; I asked for help with my teaching and people were only too happy to give their time and assistance. Because of that generosity, I now feel like I have a home here just as I did in Arnhem Land. It is good to feel at home in many places.

1982: Eel on the Parramatta River, Sydney

1988: The sun as the provider of life

Be generous and respectful in how you speak to your students about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people—your language in the classroom will govern how kids learn about the Indigenous people.

Learning and Teaching in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education will set you up to teach well, and to enjoy your collaborations with Indigenous people, whether that be in the city or in rural and remote regions. It takes time to meet people, and to establish networks and to feel comfortable. Take your time – you have a lifetime. Working in Indigenous education is a lifetime commitment.

– Neil Harrison

Apasin (respect) and good pasin (sharing our good ways)

It was with much anticipation and excitement that I arrived on my family island in the Torres Strait, Masig: a beautiful coral cay shaped in a tear drop, surrounded by the most vibrant reef and turquoise waters. In such a small island community of 50 families (about 340 people), everybody knows who is coming to the island and the nature of their visit, so everyone knew that I had arrived for my eight-week practicum at Yorke  Island (Masig) State School.

I was assigned a composite Year 5–7 class. The behaviour in the class seemed challenging and I couldn’t keep the kids on task. I was trying all sorts of strategies to get them engaged. I tried speaking Yumplatok with them, but a couple of the older girls said my accent was not a Masig accent (and they were right). I tried talking about my father being a fisherman and working with him, but still the kids seemed to be testing me with defiant behaviour. It didn’t even matter that my uncle was one of the policemen on the island.

By the end of the first week, I was exasperated and I still had seven weeks of teaching ahead of me. I decided to observe the other two teachers in their classes and to my surprise everything was fine. I went back to my class and found my supervising teacher effortlessly teaching and the students working contentedly. All of the teachers had been on Masig for a number of years and each had developed good relationships with the children and their families.

Even though this was my family island, I was still considered an ‘outsider’ by the younger generation (who I had never met before). I then realised I had to earn apasin (respect). My role as the teacher had a certain kind of status in the community that exceeded my role as ‘Aunty’. It meant the children positioned me in a more formal way. I assumed that I would easily engage with the children because of family connections and I expected an automatic rapport. It did not happen, and like the other teachers who had been teaching on the island for a while, I had to develop a relationship with the children and show them I had good pasin (sharing our good ways) by being courteous and caring beyond the school context.

I started going to public events in the community and to the local church every Sunday, and I made sure I always chatted to parents, taking a genuine interest in their family and life on the island (and I made sure the children saw me doing this). Over those weeks the challenging behaviour ceased. By the end of my prac, I knew that I had developed a good rapport with the children as every afternoon the children would follow me along the beach, like the Pied Piper (and they still always called me ‘Miss’).

During your practicums when you get the opportunity to meet Indigenous students and their families, give your time generously and show interest in their lives both in and outside the school context. ‘Sharing our good ways’ will go a long way in establishing long lasting connections with families.

– Juanita Sellwood

9780190303204 Learning and Teaching in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education 3eNeil Harrison and Juanita Sellwood are the authors of Learning and Teaching in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education third edition.

Dr Neil Harrison is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Education at Macquarie University. He has over 30 years teaching and research experience in Indigenous education.
Juanita Sellwood is a Lecturer in the College of Arts, Society and Education at James Cook University. She enjoys the opportunity to work with students and inspire them to become passionate about Indigenous education.

Featured image credits: Neil Harrison