NOTE: this program is now booked out
Date: Wednesday 28 March 2018
Subject: Australian history Unit 3: Transformations
The VCE Australian history day will inspire and empower students in their study of the Port Phillip District (1834–60), and enhance their VCE experience.
The program has been shaped by the key knowledge and key skills criteria for Area of Study 1 in the Australian History VCE curriculum.
- attend a keynote address from Koori Librarian Maxine Briggs on the topic of 'Victorian Aboriginal understandings of land and responses to the European settlement of the district'
- delve into the Library's collection and view rare and authentic sources from the Port Phillip District
- take part in an interactive research skills workshop led by State Library Victoria educators, and be introduced to a vast array of free online academic databases
- explore the Library's heritage spaces and the Changing face of Victoria exhibition, as part of a guided tour.
This program assists students to:
- use primary sources as evidence to analyse changes to the Port Phillip District
- compare the understandings of Victorian Aboriginal people and British colonisers about land management and ownership.
A limited number of bursaries are available for this program.
Eligible schools must be located more than 50km from the CBD or have an Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage (ICSEA) ranking less than 1000.
Teachers can apply for bursaries on behalf of a class of students or nominate individual students.
Note: all bursaries have now been allocated.
Achievement: Rose Kirchhof says teachers need to have passion for their subject.
In 2014, only eight students in Victoria scored more than 48 in Australian History, and two of them came from Rosebud Secondary College. But their teacher emphasises that her top pupils' marks – of 50, 48 and 44 – are their achievement, not hers.
"I just helped them," says Rose Kirchhof, 32, a teacher for seven years, all of them at Rosebud.
But she is quietly pleased with the fact that the school's Australian History marks are improving, with the number of 40-plus scores increasing each year from 2012 to 2014.
"Passion for what you are teaching" is the key qualification for a successful teacher, says Kirchhof, herself inspired to study history by her Bentleigh Secondary College history teacher Jenny Date.
"You have to really enjoy your time in the classroom and you have to want students to improve."
But her methods, she maintains, are little different from most history teachers' – with, for example, the use of "primary source" visual images such as cartoons and paintings as visual aids to the many quotes the students need to learn.
The teacher always encourages her students to form their own ideas, rather than repeating what they think she wants to hear – or has already said.
"Examiners (I assume) are looking for students to have their own voice," she says.
She uses blocks of 30-minute "timed writing" practice to help students prepare for exam stress and improve the conciseness of their writing. She also gets them brainstorming alternatives to "says".
"Sophisticated language shows effort and that you're striving to do well. Small changes can make a big difference to your score."
And she focuses on teaching students the specific way of responding to a history question, which differs from what is expected in English.
"The structure differs, as does the writing style required. I encourage students to make a point of difference by using evidence that perhaps the majority of the students (in the state) won't be using.
Like most teachers Kirchhof spends a lot of after-hours time editing students' work.
"Students who get higher scores are those students who take on board advice and adapt their work, so the next time you mark their work you don't keep seeing the same mistakes."
The teacher also encourages students to submit as many practice exams as they can in the pre-exam period. "Top students submit several practice exams every couple of days."
Elevation: Peter Clarkson believes that team effort is crucial to his students' success.
Last year, every one of Peter Clarkson's 75-minute VCE philosophy classes began with one of his nine students taking their turn to introduce an idea or a YouTube clip they'd come across.
"They might say 'Here's a bit of the text I've been thinking about – or a counter-example I've thought of'," says Clarkson, 32, a Monash University philosophy major who has been teaching at Billanook College for 10 years. "I'd just sit down and be part of the group and they'd lead the discussion. This led to students helping each other, bouncing ideas off each other and sharing their writing."
The teacher believes that this "team effort" – along with a small class, where the best "lift" the others – was crucial to the scores of 44 and above obtained by six of these 2014 students. It also applied in 2013, the year Billanook introduced VCE Philosophy, when four in a class of eight scored over 40.
Clarkson also sat down and did every assessment task or practice exam he set his students – and within the same prescribed time limits. It's an idea from his own school days when he asked his English teacher to show him an essay that "worked".
"I would then share my answers. I would say 'I don't pretend these are perfect' but I think the students got a lot out of it."
Detailed feedback was another feature. In the lead-up to the exam Clarkson was on his home computer every night emailing back his corrections, suggestions and edits of his students' practice answers to different test questions.
In the case of the student who scored 50, and who wrote her answers by hand, he would sit down with her to refine and review her many test answers. Ranked third in the school-based scores, this student's hard work and tenacity meant she "smashed the exam" (which contributes half a student's study score), Clarkson says.
The teacher's most important pre-exam "drill" involved ensuring his students truly understood the work of Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche and Locke. But he also made sure they knew the precise meaning of exam question phrases such as "outline an argument" or "critically compare".
Clarkson's personal passion for his subject also contributed to the results, he believes. "I find myself thinking about the ideas and arguments we study all the time, outside of class, and this is because I'm so interested in it."
ELTHAM HIGH SCHOOL
When Eltham High School trialled the new VCE subject Extended Investigation in 2012, Loren Clarke jumped at the chance to teach it. Added to the curriculum in 2013, the subject was only scored in its own right last year, with 23 schools offering it, and Eltham High contributing three of the eight students scoring 43 or more.
The subject requires students to submit a 4000-word "mini thesis " featuring new research and a literature review, undergo an external oral exam, in which they explain their report, and sit an externally-marked "critical thinking" test. It was designed for a high-achieving cohort, says Clarke, 27, who has a Masters of Education and who is a year into her PhD.
Enthusiasm and feedback are the key aspects of the teacher's role in student success, says Clarke, who became a teacher because she "loved to learn" as a student. As an undergraduate she worked as a classroom integration aide for students with learning difficulties, relishing her role in extending students' learning.
Students thrive on seeing a teacher who is connected with what they're doing and enthused by the task of working with them, she says.
"You have to be willing to spend time to sit down and talk through their ideas, talk through issues if they are having a problem and come up with different solutions to help them."
The teacher gives extensive feedback on structure and but always in a way that helps her students master the art of independent research.
"We set things up not to spoon-feed them the answer but so they understand what needs to be fixed, so they can then go away and do it themselves."
Independence of thought is especially important in Extended Investigation, where each student chooses their own topic – such as a study of primary school students' views on the stress of NAPLAN.
Last year's arrangements, with Clarke "team teaching" with science teacher colleague Katie Reach, helped underline that teachers were "facilitators", not "knowledge holders", she says.
Students were also given extensive rehearsals for the oral exam, with outsiders brought in to help students practice the fielding questions in defence of their research.
"I get students to focus on defending why they have done or structured things a certain way," she says. And the top student isn't necessarily the smartest, but "just the person who understands exactly what they have to do and works really hard to get there".
Determination: Veer Fowdar has overseen years of high achievement.
Glenvale School's head business teacher Veer Fowdar is no longer surprised when a student from one of his school's eight country or outer suburban campuses scores a 50 in VCE/VET Business.
Every year since 2008 a student from the Christian school has achieved this perfect score, while his or her classmates have dominated the high achievers list. Last year, for example, 17 of the 34 students who scored between 40 and 50 were from Glenvale. In 2013, 16 of the state's 33 top scorers were from the school.
Fowdar, 50, taught business studies in Mauritius before emigrating to Australia in 2004 and describes teaching as "a passion". While Glenvale students might be studying anywhere from Swan Hill to Bairnsdale or the school's main campus in Yarrambat, all do exactly the same course, co-ordinated by him. Moreover, Unit 3-4 Business is a compulsory subject, which all students complete in year 11.
The talents of his team of teachers have contributed to the results, he says, with lots of practice answering past exam papers and careful attention paid to VCE assessors' reports.
"We always try to make our students believe in themselves," he says. "The first time when someone got a study score of 50, we said 'if one person can do this, then you can all can'."
The teacher believes that Glenvale students also have one big advantage over students in other schools: they all have to organise an annual 336 hours of structured office, customer service or business work placement. With the addition of an extra school subject called Business Operations, they complete Certificates II and III in Business by the end of year 11. At the same time, they are absorbing knowledge that gives them a competitive edge at exam times.
Fowdar and his colleagues supervise students' work placements carefully, ensuring that that the work done is relevant to the course work.
"In term three for example, I teach design and produce business documents," he says "After this, when students do their placement, I will be asking the business owners to give them work in which they will be involved in designing letters or brochures or flyers.
"When I mark the work, you can see from the examples they give that their answer is not coming straight from the textbook or what they learned in class but is something they have learned in the workplace."
Communication: Briony Hutchison-Pepper is in email contact until late at night.
Teaching is "much more than a job" to Haileybury College's head VCE Sociology teacher Briony Hutchison-Pepper.
So much so that, last year, she returned early to school mid-last year after only five months of maternity leave, taught a few Twentieth Century History classes, and did some extra work with some of the students in the school's three boys' and three girls' sociology classes (the school has separate classes for boys and girls, who enrol as Haileybury Girls College students).
Her efforts were rewarded. Out of the 14 students in Victoria to score more than 45, nine were Haileybury Girls College girls, and one was a Haileybury College boy. This echoed 2013, when nine out of the 13 with scores over 45 were Haileybury Girls College girls (including two 50s) and one was a Haileybury College boy – a discrepancy explained by only a quarter of her sociology students being boys.
Hutchison-Pepper, 32, has been teaching VCE sociology for seven of her nine years at Haileybury, but has wanted to teach "for as long as I can remember", with her ambitions cemented by her inspiring Year 12 English teacher at St Peter's College, Cranbourne.
"I've always had an interest in social justice and in how people are treated in society, and I feel lucky that I can pass that on through teaching sociology teaching."
Classes numbers of between 10 and 14 contributed to her student's good results, the teacher says.
"They can't just blend in. They have to be accountable, engaged and asking questions … and the top students set the example for the rest of the class."
Building a good relationship with students is also important in getting them to produce their best, she says.
"Then they want to do well not just for themselves but also for their teacher."
Students are drilled on exam technique, with special emphasis on following the VCE examiners' comments that students should know how to structure their answers well.
They are also taken to external revision lectures and relevant events, such as a talk on the experience of Sudanese-Australians, and are encouraged to do many extra essays and trial exam questions. All will be emailed back, with feedback, as soon as possible.
"There will be times when I get up at 5 in the morning (to email) … or at 10 at night. And not just me, it's the whole team. There is constant communication with the students outside of hours."
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