Thursday 30 January 2014

JCSA Change: Why the Miyagi Method is Difficult

In the new JCSA English course, one very welcome addition is the fact that pupils will be given the chance to study film. One film that did not make the final cut into the course, but certainly should have, is the 1984 classic The Karate Kid. In the movie our young protagonist, Daniel Larusso, is being physically bullied. He wants to be able to defend himself and he wants to know how to do it now. He then meets a sage old local, Mr Miyagi, who tells him he can show him how. However instead of showing him how to defend himself by teaching karate, he starts to get Daniel to complete seemingly random manual chores around his house. Daniel is frustrated. He knows he has an immediate concern, defending himself, and he feels he is not getting what he was promised. Then one night this happens...and all becomes clear.

Miyagi did have a plan. He felt if he gave Daniel the skills he would need, then he would be able to pass any test.

I think teachers at the minute feel like Daniel. The anxiety caused by increased class sizes, extra working hours and wage cuts have left us looking for certainty in a rapidly changing work place. The new JCSA English course is not being rolled out into some cultural vacuum. It's being rolled out into a very particular context with existing structures and real people with real concerns. Teachers would like to know what is needed to teach this new course and they want to know now.

It's my belief that teachers at the minute feel the current in-service being provided is, like Daniel, asking us to do manual chores. Without any current guidance on final assessments or how moderation/quality assurance will be guaranteed, they don't particularly feel like another session of 'wax on/wax off'.

I attended my first in-service day on Tuesday and it compelled me to write this piece. I enjoyed it. I got ideas I could immediately bring back into the classroom and I thought it was well planned and delivered. But then I have been following developments for a while and knew the day was never going to be discussing assessment or moderation. There has certainly been positive feedback on the day but I have heard, and experienced, colleagues being at best angry at the day and at worst disengaged from the day. The main reason? They feel there is no plan. Many teachers have genuine concerns about assessment and moderation but at the minute that has been replaced by 'this is starting in September and nobody knows what is going on'. But Miyagi knows.

Junior Cycle Specification on Assessment
'Junior Cycle English will have two assessment components in the assessment for certification: a school component and a final assessment. The school work component will carry 40% of marks available and the final assessment will carry 60%.

The school work component will comprise two assessment tasks. The tasks will be spread over the second and third years of junior cycle and will relate to the student's reading, writing, and oral work during that time' (Continuous Assessment Tasks -Oral communication task & A collection of the student's text)

This looks like a plan to me. Does this look like a plan ? Does this look like a plan? Does this look like a plan? There has been some criticism that having 39 Learning Outcomes has made the new course too prescriptive, too rigid, too planned. What is it that we are looking for? I feel that in recent weeks and months the debate around Junior Cycle reform has shifted from legitimate concerns about the 'How' of change to an unnecessary muddying of the waters on the 'Plan' for change.

The reason the in-service doesn't deal with assessment, the reason the government have not published on assessment yet is because, I would suggest, they feel we don't need it. Without knowing, I would assume that it is almost certainly still being developed but even if it was ready, would starting with the exam be the best place to start? I think all parties involved wish to change the current junior cycle experience into something more engaging and relevant to modern societal needs e.g. use of digital technology. First year is an important part of the Junior Cycle course as it teaches key skills and learning outcomes, not preparation for the final 'test'. If we focus on what we clearly know and the methods suggested at in-service, many of which we already use, I don't see why First Years in September should be entering 'chaos'. Teaching is sill teaching. For teachers to continually go to the in-service day and become frustrated at the lack of information on assessment or moderation is an unnecessary exercise in mental self-flagellation.

Would we like to know karate right now? Yes. Are we going to know karate right now? No. Until all aspects of the course have been revealed I think it is redundant to argue over external or self-moderation, course content, final assessments etc. These are fundamental concepts and teacher consent to their final structure is not just preferable but mandatory for success. But we have to stop beating the 'there is no plan' drum. We may not agree with the content of the plan, the time scale of the plan or the ideological sources from which the plan grew but there is a plan. A very clear plan. I just hope that when the dust settles and the actual learning begins, we will see Miyagi did have method amongst all the madness.