Each year the Better Strangers project runs an Imaginarium for teachers hosted by our partner school Barker College (Sydney). An Imaginarium is a series of 2-hour workshops run over a number of weeks during the school term. Every Imaginarium is informed by our 'Five Principles of Imaginaria' which emphasise: the promotion of fresh thinking about subject content and education; the awareness of professional constraints on teachers without being too confined by them; the inclusion of teachers from multiple institutions to maximise sharing of ideas and expertise; the exploration of a unifying theme while remaining open to unexpected emergence of ideas; and the value of imagination and creativity in all teaching and learning. Some of our previous Imaginaria have become online modules on our Shakespeare Reloaded website, such as The Shakespeare Imaginarium and Shakeserendipity.
The 2022 Imaginarium had a broad scope, focussing on three topics: how to write effective reflection texts, how to teach poetry; and how to develop student voice in writing. The Imaginarium was attended by about 30 teachers from 8 Sydney schools. Each workshop involved a prepared presentation by a member of the Better Strangers team, and included time for discussion and sharing of expertise and experience amongst participants.
In Workshop 1, Prof. Jackie Manuel focused on the topic of writing reflective texts, highlighting its importance in the New South Wales Year 12 English Module, 'The Craft of Writing'. She provided an abundance of approaches to supporting students' reflective writing practices all backed by the latest evidence in the study of writing. Prof. Manuel emphasised the importance of teachers making time to share their own personal writing practices with students, set low-stakes writing tasks, provide authentic reasons to write, and to normalise writing as a practice that requires time and development in the classroom. Prof. Manuel then expanded on these practical strategies in relation to the specificity of 'reflective' writing by discussing the relation between reflection as a type of thinking that requires time and distance, and the way students may reflect on the texts they encounter at school and in their personal lives. Teachers in attendance shared their own strategies and ideas for supporting students' reflective writing, rounding out a lively and engaged conversation about the teaching of writing.
In Workshop 2, Emeritus Prof. Will Christie approached teaching poetry through a blend of captivating readings of poems suitable for classroom teaching and practical approaches to engaging students in the qualities that make poetry unique, especially time and sound. Prof. Christie emphasised the complexity of teaching poetry, as students may struggle to possess knowledge of poems on their first attempt, and how teachers may engage students by supporting their experience of poetry as a pre-cursor to understanding meaning and content. The conversation evolved over the course of the session to include practical approaches to conducting classroom close readings of poems, and teachers contributed their own professional approaches to poetry teaching. The session provided an opportunity for teachers to experience poetry as their students might, and to share their expertise with peers.
In Workshop 3, Prof. Liam Semler and Dr Lauren Weber discussed the concept of student voice. The workshop began with teachers' voices through a discussion about what student voice means to them and strategies they employ to support their students' unique approaches to writing, Prof. Liam Semler built on their contributions by looking at the way student voice is defined in a variety of educational contexts around Australia. His exploration revealed the way student voice can take on a multitude of meanings, from supporting students' social justice movements to the pros and cons of student councils. Following Prof. Semler's wide ranging approach to voice, Dr Weber presented on current research involving the enablements and constraints of students' voices in classrooms and strategies teachers can draw on to support students feeling heard in writing contexts. She shared the philosophy of the Story Factory (Sydney) with teachers as an example of how low-stakes writing opportunities where students' ideas and interests are validated can support reluctant writers to raise their writerly voices.
Teacher feedback on the 2022 Imaginarium included comments about their new knowledge of reflective writing, poetry, and student voice. Teachers commented on their appreciation of the 'variety of topics covered' and the 'depth of presenter experience and knowledge'. In specific relation to Prof. Christie's session, a teacher commented on the way 'conveying a love for text can impact students', and how the session inspired them. Multiple teachers commented on how they intend to implement the strategies in their own practice, and their valuing of the theoretical ideas explored in tandem with practical approaches.
Find out more about the Shakespeare Imaginarium here.