General Capabilities as a Way in to Planning
Clarence, Kerrie, Comber, Barbara, Practically Primary
Following the introduction of national testing of literacy and numeracy (NAPLAN) in 2008 and subsequent establishment of the MySchool website, during 2010 many primary and secondary schools across Australia in all sectors were involved in trialling the draft Australian Curriculum. Trial school consultation processes involved schools engaging with the draft document in one or a combination of activities which included: developing teaching programs; teaching, assessing and collecting work samples from a developed program; or testing the functions of the online curriculum portal (ACARA, 2010a).
As English literacy educators and researchers we are interested in the ways in which these national developments are being taken up and/or contested by systems and practitioners. Our work is informed by Institutional Ethnography, an approach which emphasises that texts, including the draft Australian Curriculum, are read by particular people working in local sites and who interpret and take action as a result of reading in particular ways. As Nichols and Griffith (2009 p. 241) explain, 'Texts, created to govern public school can only do so when they are taken up by people in their everyday work'. Here we explore through interviews with a literacy consultant and a teacher working in the same sector how they are reading the Australian Curriculum and how they are organising their work around it. What are they finding productive? What are the challenges? These questions underpin our research projects.
Systems are trying to ind ways of introducing the Australian Curriculum to school practitioners while at the same time they want practitioners to be able to adapt it to meet local needs, to continue to pursue philosophies which are fundamental to their sectors and to maintain some professional autonomy. One teacher who trialled the draft Curriculum explains:
basically I had to fulfil the requirements of the trial while also fitting in with my own philosophy ... I wanted ACARA to have a sense of our school and my class and me as a teacher and where we're at and what our philosophy is and how we plan to fit the Australian curriculum in with that. (Teacher interview, 2010)
Literacy consultants from all sectors are designing professional development opportunities for teachers to become familiar with the Australian English Curriculum often by focussing on literature, language or literacy. One consultant stressed the potential of using the General Capabilities in the curriculum as a 'way-in' to planning and reinvigorating units of work.
Seeing the big picture of the role of General Capabilities and Cross-Curriculum Priorities and the exciting potential of planning and having them drive a unit of work that can be just in English or go beyond just English in some ways. (Literacy Consultant interview, 2010)
The preceding interview extracts highlight both the potential for pedagogical innovation and possible impediments to creativity associated with the mandating of curriculum reform. Here we draw upon Kerrie Clarence's ongoing research to explore the tensions identiied by one teacher. As an experienced Year 5/6 teacher with responsibility for school-wide curriculum coordination in a school located in Adelaide's northern suburbs, Susan (a pseudonym) shares a commitment to curriculum innovation with the school's leadership team and teachers. The school as a whole was keen to trial all areas of the Australian Curriculum to see how it 'its with what we're doing'. This case makes it obvious that teachers are differently positioned to take up or experiment with new curriculum. The intellectual work of aligning what is proposed with what they already believe and do is complex though as Beavis (2010, pp. 21-22) states, 'the work of English teachers has always been to interpret policy documents and requirements and to remake the curriculum in ways that accord with their own histories, contexts and priorities'. …