One of two keynote speakers for the online Educational Publishing Awards ceremony this year is a western Sydney humanities teacher who is the first Teacher Ambassador for the New South Wales Department of Education. Her students call her Ms Selva.
Yasodai Selvakumaran has been teaching at Rooty Hill High School for ten years where the student population spans more than 40 language backgrounds. Yasodai juggles classroom teaching with leadership positions, such as her current role as acting Head Teacher Mentor supporting and inducting beginner teachers. In the following interview Yasodai shares her experience transitioning teaching online, how she chooses topical and relevant learning resources for her students, and touches on where she is dedicating her energy to see change in the sector through greater stakeholder involvement.
What has it been like for your school and Covid? Have there been any blessings in disguise with the disruption to online learning?
Transitioning to teaching online during the pandemic highlighted just how important adaptability is in teaching. My colleagues and I learnt what worked and what didn’t work online quite rapidly at each phase. New lessons in the transition when we went to back to face-to-face learning were found too. My passion for teaching has become stronger despite the challenges. I’ve been energised by the pace of teacher collaboration which I’ve never seen before, and it’s on-going. From working with colleagues in my school to teacher forums online nationally and internationally, teachers are continuing to seek out professional learning and to support each other to do the best for students.
With the diversity of your student community, how do you go about selecting resources for your students? What are you ultimately looking for?
With the nature of Humanities teaching, I integrate contemporary events with texts that cover historical, sociological and anthropological content. I supplement published texts with relevant media links to create case studies reflective of what is current in the discipline. I sometimes adapt a planned lesson that morning, depending on what is in the news! Resources that link directly to the diversity of my students or present opportunities for a transnational historical link or cross-cultural study are particularly useful. Inquiry based suggestions in resources are fantastic as the nature of open-ended questions and debates spark new strategies and enables me to further personalise the learning and offer choice to my students. I also look for resources that cater for different levels of learning to help differentiate in the classroom.
What have you found to be most helpful in resources you have used or are using?
I always find it helpful when there is an overarching narrative that captures an explanation with engaging visuals, key terms and questions that are ‘chunked’ down appropriately and visually not too far from the sources and written text. (This is to deter students from flicking through multiple pages to find their ). I look for tasks that enable critical and creative thinking and enable the teacher to adapt tasks for the needs of their students. I also find it helpful when the curriculum links are clear to a range of case studies that link directly to outcomes and syllabus content.
Where would you like to see resources improving to be more reflective of your students? How do you see that being achieved?
I would like to see resources improving to include broader case studies and ‘untold’ stories that reflect the diversity in Australia today. I see this being achieved with broadening narratives to include more examples from a number of perspectives and backgrounds and context links to other parts of the world.This is crucial to develop empathy and broader worldviews. It also presents opportunities for more of our students to see themselves and reflect on experiences that they can relate to. I would also like resources to consider the various literacy levels of students to ensure that language is academic and the layout of texts are accessible, especially in the junior secondary years.
Covid-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement have presented two topical subject areas to draw from in your classes. How do you do incorporate fast emerging topics into your lesson plans when traditional resources may not be available to work from?
As an example, last term my colleagues in Society and Culture re-designed an assessment task for the Year 11 topic of Personal and Social Identity to consider the impact of COVID-19 this topic. Students were asked to publish a Time magazine type feature article that compared the impact of COVID-19 on personal and social identity in Australia with another culture or country of their own choosing. We then mapped lessons in class that included: “Language of the pandemic: public health or panic?” and teachers modelled writing that explored the impact COVID-19 had on our own lives for students to consider their own.
For my Year 12 Society and Culture class, I was teaching the topic of Hip hop as a focus study last term for Popular Culture. Black Lives Matter in the media enabled us to link and explore the power of protest songs today and throughout History. This term, I am teaching the topic of Social Inclusion and Social Exclusion and have programmed media case studies and academic journals that link directly to Black Lives Matter in the United States of America with the impact it is having around the world, including in Australia. Traditional resources still played a crucial role for background information, theoretical explanations, teaching key vocabulary and drawing links to historical, sociological and anthropological case studies.
You were a Global Teacher Prize finalist last year – big congrats! It’s been stated on the GTP website that you would like to, in the long term, “lead greater sharing of what teachers and schools are currently doing to work effectively with stakeholders, including governments, students, and parents.” Can you see educational publishers being added to this list of stakeholders? What benefits could you see with all stakeholders better working together?
Thank you so much. It was an incredible opportunity and I’m thankful for everything that has come since as well including the opportunity to speak at the Education Publishing Awards.
I absolutely see educational publishers being a part of this as a crucial link in connecting curriculum and pedagogy. Stakeholders working together in publishing can ensure that resources reflect current approaches in Education and current scholarship in disciplinary understandings.
Professor Lee Schulman speaks about “what counts as knowledge in a field and how things become known” when speaking on signature pedagogies. I believe the power of publishing is in fostering empathy, and individual and collective belonging and wellbeing, as we promote the knowledge, skills and dispositions our students need.
To hear more from Yasodai, be sure to tune into the Educational Publishing Awards when they screen on 3 September. Bookmark this page to tune in!