A Teacher-Author’s First Assignment

A Teacher-Author’s First Assignment

In my last blog, Six Scenes In The History of Teacher-Authors, I attempted to draw up a timeline of teacher-authors through the ages.  The linear nature of chronologies is a neat device to show historical continuities, but they do little else.  I’d like to turn now from the general assumption that teacher-authors have always existed, in some sense or another, to examine my first experiences as a textbook author.

When I wrote my first textbook in 1997, Primary Arts: An Outcomes Approach, I did not use ‘teacher-author’ to describe myself.  I was a classroom teacher who through my love of teaching and learning I had grown understanding and practice of arts education and what it meant in primary schools. Though I was a secondary-trained ‘specialist’, I continued to teach primary-aged children through partnerships with primary educators and through the fact that I offered my services to the primary school which my children attended. If you’re interested in reading of my primary classroom adventures, I’ve outlined ‘The Rainforest Project’ I facilitated in my youngest daughter’s classroom in Going To A Rainforest With Six-Year-Olds.

From Teacher To Writer

Nonetheless, constructing the timeline on how tightly coupled education reforms are related to writing about insights into teaching and learning processes seems important to keep in mind. Ann Whitney’s 2009 article “NCTE Journals and the Teacher-Author: Who and What Gets Published”, in fact, makes a similar claim but notes how the relationship changes across different education sectors. For instance, in the table of 1,771 authors who publish with Pearson USA over the ten year period ending 2009, 50% teach at the tertiary level and of classroom teachers nearly three times as many secondary teachers are published more than primary teachers. I have not yet found figures showing the trend in Australia.

However, I would be very interested in seeing if there existed, for instance, an empowering effect for primary teachers through publications such as those produced by the Australian Literacy Educator’s Association (ALEA) and Primary English Teaching Association Australia (PETAA).

In fact, I know from personal experience that participation in my professional association had the effect of becoming a natural context in which as a teacher I found opportunities to frame ideas for writing articles and become known as a ‘thought leader’.  For instance, when I wrote Primary Arts, I was involved through my State and National Drama Association in the National Professional Development Program (NPDP).  Barbara Preston’s description of the NPDP in “A National Teaching Profession?” reminds one how school authorities and the Commonwealth provided the teaching profession with time and money to control the process of reform. At the risk of sounding like I am championing ‘the good ol’ days’, I agree with Preston’s perception that the National Professional Development Program projects strengthened the profession because of the broad base of interest in framing professional development  to national priorities through involving national professional associations such as subject associations, as well as teacher unions, school authorities, university academics, and the Commonwealth. (Preston, 1997, 87)

The motivation for writing within such as context was highly pragmatic as well as idealistic, as we were swept up by the introduction of the new outcomes-focused Curriculum Framework for Western Australia. Yet, the project could not have been more radically aligned from anything we had done before: in short, being philosophically based on a constructivist theory of education in which teachers framed learning experiences by how they effectively they enabled students to achieve mandated learning outcomes. I had been appointed to the Assessment and Reporting Branch of the Education Department in 1996, soon after submitting my PhD for examination.  One of my keenest memories was the debate raging around the issue of how ‘the content’ of teaching programs did not necessarily guarantee ‘student learning’. I particularly remember the many presentations that began with the cartoon shown below by curriculum managers who addressed teachers and school leaders en masse to underline the point. The shock value of the absurdity of teachers teaching dogs to whistle focused the discussion on what should we consider the most effective way of teaching and what resources should be part of the teacher’s pedagogical repertoire (referred to as ‘the teacher’s toolkit’).

It was during this time that I was transforming my own work through presenting workshops and conference papers to colleagues at the State and National level: for instance, I ran workshops on a post-colonial perspective to teaching Australian Drama; A Developmental Approach to Teaching Australian Theatre History; on teaching text in upper school TEE Drama Course; ways of teaching drama in the English classroom; and on ‘Artful Literacies’, a consideration of artistic processes in teaching literacy. Of course, I didn’t realise this at the time but all these experiences were preparing me to imagine my role as a ‘teacher-author’.

Teaching And Writing Are Collaborative Tasks

The NPDP project to create Primary Arts: An Outcomes Approach for Arts Accord, Affiliation of Arts Educators was a great project to learn the crucial business of producing a classroom resource.  Above all, it enabled me to see from the outset that writing educational texts was, in fact, a social task, much like I was used to when creating dramatic productions.

Administrative & Management Tasks

There was a cluster of tasks which were achieved through an administrative and management perspective, such as meeting with the management committee and planning the goals of the project. These management tasks continued to be monitored and facilitated through the executive officer of the organisation.

Creative Tasks

There were creative tasks involved in interviewing, writing and co-creating the curriculum examples used in the text with a number of teachers in a diversity of schools and classrooms (from Year One To Seven). The tasks also involved working with a graphic designer to find the most economically way of translating the vision of the committee and the teachers in the project for a ‘beautiful’ resource. I still get blown away when I go to the finished text and observe what a graphic artist achieve with ONE colour (together with black & white text)

Teacher-Author As Epistemologist

The table of contents of any textbook reveals how the role of teacher-author should be seen as related to that of an epistemologist. An examination of the term reveals that like the philosopher who intentionally studies the structure of knowledge and logical discourse, the textbook author must also have structured the knowledge of a particular subject and draw up a particular logical sequence of activities and tasks to engage teachers and students around a specific topic and combination of topics.  This is fundamental to the role.

As Norm Friesen demonstrates in his article “The Past and Likely Future of an Educational Form: A Textbook Case”, such a logical structure to textbook writing does not mean textbooks are either fixed or monolithic. On the other hand, 

On the other hand, William Chesser shows in the “The E-Textbook Revolution” that the textbook endures into the digital age. Chesser believes that this shows that the dependency of publishers on deriving their digital resources from print products, in fact, origins within a traditional publisher’s print workflow.(Chesser, 2012, 32) This is evident, for instance, through sampling textbooks on Jacaranda’s learnON digital platform as features of the print textbook can be identified through the table of contents whereby each chapter “is structured hierarchically, subsuming definitions and propositions under a unifying theme.” (Friesen, 2013, 500)   

The example used below is from Jacaranda’s digital textbook for Year 9 English. The table of contents ‘home page’ for the resource is also a vital aspect of its navigation: from chapter topics on the left-hand navigation bar to the opening up to a titled list of individual chapters to more detailed information inputs with their corresponding activities. The chapter’s hierarchical structure is reinforced by the numbering sequence which advances the chapter’s logic and theme.  In turn, the activities are structured around ‘inductive questions’ that guide students away from prescribed answers, asking them to determine an explanation for him or herself. (Friesen, 2013,  503)

Imagining the Value Of The WHOLE Structure

A comparison with my own structuring of the contents on the TOC page of Primary Arts shows how I came to understand how the teacher author’s role vitally structures the resource to logically relate content knowledge to mandated State and National learning outcomes.

Primary Arts is ‘layered’ in three sections: the first is focused on the rationale and learning contexts that validate my approach. As the resource is essentially about enabling the Arts to be monitored and, ultimately measured and evaluated, within a new Curriculum Framework, Part One gives teachers practical ways of understanding and explaining the Arts to their students in relation to Student Outcome Statements.

Having made the case, Part Two is about the arts and learning theory in practice. The five exemplars offer an integrated approach to ‘enquiry topics’ which are generic yet are able to be adapted to specific cultural context. The topics are family, independence, identity, emotions and change.

Part Three is the curation of organisations and other resources that are chosen to support primary teachers to integrate arts into the curriculum.

I could not have had a more satisfying apprenticeship for my introduction into the world of textbook writing. I look forward to relating to you how I’m adapting the Primary Arts text into a digital resource.

References

Chesser, William D. (2011) The E-Textbook Revolution In Sue Polanka (ed) The no shelf required: guide to e-book purchasing. (pp.28 – 40) ALA TechSource, Chicago, Ill

Fantasia, Josephine Vita (1997). Primary arts: an outcomes approach. Arts Accord Affiliation of Arts Educators, Subiaco, W.A

Friesen, Norm. (2013). The Past and Likely Future of an Educational Form: A Textbook Case. In Educational Researcher, Vol.42(9), p.498-508. DOI: 10.3102/0013189X13513535

Jacaranda Preview Pages @ http://www.jacaranda.com.au/learnon/english/

Preston, Barbara (1997) A National Teaching Profession? In Bob Lingard & Paige Porter (eds) A national approach to schooling in Australia? Essays on the development of national policies in schools education,  Australian College of Education, Canberra, pp 76-94

Whitney, Anne (2009) NCTE Journals and the Teacher-Author: Who and What Gets Published Author(s) In English Education, Vol. 41, No. 2 (Jan), pp. 101-113