Pleasurable Learning, Passionate Teaching and Provocative Debates: Presenting at the ALEA/AATE conference in Brisbane, Australia
At the beginning of July 2005 the annual Australian Association for the Teaching of English (AATE) and Australian Literacy Educators’ Association (ALEA) conference was held at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre, Broadbeach, Queensland. Even though it is winter in Australia in July it is usually sunny and fairly hot but not in Broadbeach this year. Situated just south of the Sunshine Coast conference delegates arriving in Brisbane just a couple of days prior to the start of the conference found the Gold Coast was neither sunny nor gold in colour! The whole region was having the worst weather it had had for many years and the local press reported the storm and flooding as “1 in 1000 year deluge”. Torrential rains meant that many people lost their homes and the whole region was flooded. The airport in Brisbane was closed for a couple of days and many conference delegates arrived to chaos.
Australia is obviously used to extremes in weather conditions and the Gold Coast Disaster District co-ordinators were soon in control. By the time the conference had started the water had subsided and all that could be seen in the vicinity of the conference centre were rivulets of water being pumped into the gutter, levees of sand at each and every protruding obstacle and floating cars in underground car parks which had still not had the water pumped out. It was a momentous start to the conference.
The theme of the conference, Pleasure, Passion, Provocation referred to the pleasure of learning, the passion of teaching and the provocative debates about recent trends in education and innovative approaches to subject English and Literacy within the Australian curriculum…. issues which would not be out of place at a literacy conference in the United Kingdom at this moment in time. The keynote speeches presented delegates with choices to be made between titles such as Learning in Video Games; Literacy in Play and The “demotic turn” in contemporary popular culture: reality TV, celebrity culture and talkback radio to Teaching in Schools serving neighbourhoods made poor: what can we learn from artists in school? And Darth Vader versus Luke Skywalker: reflecting on quests for better literacy education. The rest of the programme included plenary sessions, workshops, papers and panel discussions on educational developments, language, culture, learning and communication.
The conference attracted over 1200 delegates, many of them were from Australia but there was also a small group of academics from overseas. I was one of these and I presented on two occasions. Initially I presented some of my work linking popular culture with very young children’s literacy development, Bob the Builder goes to school: linking children’s popular culture, role play and talk with interactive writing. The second presentation was with David Hornsby, an academic and consultant from Melbourne. Our joint presentation celebrated the importance of children’s literature and was entitled, Literature: an essential springboard for pleasurable learning. Both sessions were well attended with delegates staying behind to ask questions and to give complimentary oral feedback.
At the end of the conference there was a definite air of satisfaction. The terrible weather conditions had certainly not spoiled anything for the majority of delegates and people were leaving with much to think about having found the conference a pleasurable, passionate and at times provocative learning experience.