Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

When English Meets History: Exploring the Faction Genre through Action Learning

Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

When English Meets History: Exploring the Faction Genre through Action Learning

Article excerpt

Background

In 2010 a transition centre was established at Bunbury Cathedral Grammar School for the Year 7 cohort. With an emphasis on middle school pedagogy, especially that of 'developing effective student-centred learning and teaching strategies' (Dowden, 2012, p. 8), such as integrated curriculum, one teacher taught both English and Society and Environment (S&E). The S&E topic was WA history (not aligned with the Australian Curriculum); its stories and people. Working in small, differentiated groups and using an inquiry approach, students sourced factual material and read supporting literature. Inspired by a visit from Mark Greenwood who stressed the importance of visiting the places where the events took place, they organised a variety of excursions. Some students found people to interview and one boy even handled a bullet-ridden pocketbook and photos from World War 1. This source material is summarised in the table below.

Understandings were demonstrated through dramatic monologue. Students assumed the persona of the character and told his/her story. Rather than simply presenting a collection of facts, students brought their characters to life, demonstrating a high level of analysis, deep empathy and an ability to critically reflect on the role the person played in the shaping of Western Australia.

It was the richness of this approach that provided the idea for 'When English meets History: Exploring the Faction genre through Action Learning.'

The project

The project involved 24 teachers. They came from a variety of schools (large/small in number, high/low socio-economic backgrounds) with many different religious affiliations (Christian, Anglican, Catholic, Jewish, Islamic) and pedagogical approaches (Montessori, community). There was a mix of year levels (Year 2 to Year 10) and there was a variety of locations (both city and regional).

Despite such a diverse mix, the outcome was the same; the blending of English and History through either faction or historical fiction proved successful at all levels and in all schools.

The project spanned 12 weeks during which four opportunities for collaboration and professional discourse were provided. This was an important component as research shows that 'traditional professional development is often insufficient to improve teaching quality' (Sather, 2009, p. 11).

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During Day 1, teachers were introduced to the Australian Curriculum: English and the Australian Curriculum: History, the concept of action learning, the genre of faction, the role of historical inquiry and the creation of narrative.

The action learning model introduced came from the WA Department of Education website ('Introduction to action learning,' n.d.) and is one that has been used successfully in schools to address identified needs. It involves five phases:

1. Identify an issue, challenge, opportunity or initiative to address

2. Develop a plan of action

3. Implement the plan of action

4. Describe the effects of the action

5. Evaluate and reflect on the whole process.

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The challenge identified was engaging with the Australian Curriculum: English and the Australian Curriculum: History. The links between the two learning areas are clearly stated. (To locate these statements, select the organisation tab, then links to other learning areas.) After perusing these, the genre of faction seemed a logical connection.

There was much discussion around the word 'faction' and its connection to 'historical fiction'. Braxton (2010, p. 1) provided an initial definition--Faction, a blend of the words fact and fiction, is used to describe a literary work that is a mix of fact and fiction--which Knight (2008, p. 18) clarified:

Historical fiction: stories set in the past, and sometimes using realpeople in the background, but with imagined main characters and storyline. …

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