‘A Monster Calls’ & ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’

24 Nov

I think A Monster Calls and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close would make an interesting textual pairing.  Why?  Both texts explore the process of grieving and a young boy’s experiences as they have to navigate the world in the face of trauma.

This comparison would enable exploration of similar ideas (grieving, loss, truth) across the texts, while also inviting engagement with narrative voice and the ways in which the perspectives of children are created and communicated.

 

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‘A Long Way Gone’ and ‘Freedom Writers’

16 Nov

For a while now I have been posting text pairings on my blog.  I tend to update it once I read or watch something new, hoping that one day I can draw from the list and teach something really exciting, engaging and thought-provoking.

I wanted to take some time out from adding to the list, instead explaining why I think particular texts would work well together.  Some of these options I have tried in my own classroom, others I aspire to teach one day but have not yet had to right class with which to test them.  I hope by explaining my thought process other teachers may have the right class with which to take the leap and might be inspired to try something new.

A Long Way Gone  is the autobiography of Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier from Sierra Leone.  This book explores mature content but in a reasonably accessible way, making it the perfect choice for a mainstream Year 10 class.

Freedom Writers is a film that explores the power of relationships both within and outside of gang culture.  It highlights the role of education and strong relations to change the trajectory of lives.  Again, the content is mature but the presentation is accessible, making it a good film to pair with A Long Way Gone.

You could engage with both the texts around the idea of relationships and the forces that inspire/compel loyalty.  It would interesting to make comparisons between the experiences of child soldiers and those of gang members.  This particular comparison also enables meaningful engagement with notions of innocence and responsibility as well as charting courses towards redemption in various forms.

FRIDAY FICTIONEERS: ‘The Signature Room’

11 Nov

I used to be a Friday Fictioneers regular, but what was intended as a short break soon become a long one.  I thought I would try break the drought with a short story in response to the prompt for this week.  As per usual, the task is to write a complete narrative in 100 words exactly!

The Signature Room

My father saw it as a vanity project.

He refused the title Grandma gave it, labelling it The Signature Room.

I saw colour whirling in time with the whispering wind, and shapes jostling into position as they awaited the arrival of royalty.

I saw windows into unfamiliar worlds, and mirrors reflecting portraits of my reality.

I saw an autobiography, where words were replaced by images, and ink with paint.

After Grandma died I invited my father to sit with me, to see her story.

Three days later a sign appeared on the door: ‘Dora’s Gallery’.

His signature was scrawled beneath.

Talking about death…

6 Nov

I love the novel A Monster Calls.  It is amazing!

This year I taught it in an abridged unit, using the text as stimulus for engagement with and production of a diverse range of text types.

Next year I want to teach it again, but differently.  In particular, I want to link it to a range of other stimulus material as a means of getting students to think critically at the issues and experiences flagged in the text.

I recently read ‘Five Sketches of a Story About Death‘ by Leesa Cross-Smith, and I think it would make a good addition to my new and improved A Monster Calls unit.  In this text, Cross-Smith canvasses various responses to and experiences related to death.  These vary in intensity and connection and could be used as part of a discussion about important issues in A Monster Calls, perhaps signalling to students that diverse responses are expected and accepted.

Interesting debating topics

5 Nov

I have been trying to find interesting, thought-provoking and newsworthy debating topics for my weekly debating masterclass.  Here are some of the ideas I have had thus far:

  • That dual citizenship should exclude someone from serving in Parliament.
  • The sharing economy should be better regulated.
  • That road safety should be a greater priority than national security.
  • That learning an Indigenous language should be a compulsory part of Australian schooling.
  • That reality television is educational.
  • That sport and politics should not mix.
  • That social media is a responsible form of political communication.

Building debating skills

3 Nov

I have a number of new debaters who are participating in my weekly Debating Masterclass.  A number of these students are able to come up with relevant arguments and supporting examples when they do not have time pressure.  Unfortunately, the reality of a debate is that students only have a limited amount of time to come up with their arguments.

As my students were struggling to flesh out the ideas produced under time pressure, I devised a strategy where myself and two more experienced debaters asked questions of the debaters when they ran out of information to help them clarify, extend and support their points.

This strategy ensured that all students reached the three minute speaking topic set for that topic and were able to build their confidence.  It also allowed us to model the critical thinking required to unpack a debating topic while requiring the students to participate in that thinking and learning process.

Thinking about ‘The Tempest’…

1 Nov

A recent discussion with a student has me thinking about The Tempest again.  We were discussing the notion that the opening scenes of The Tempest are largely about Prospero’s need to discover a version of himself that counteracts the model of weakness offered as a result of being ousted from his role as Duke of Milan.  While we both accept this proposition, we did wonder if he was overcompensating!

Prospero is, unquestionably, emasculated by the discovery that he has been duped by those he trusted.  He also, clearly, responds by exerting control over everyone and everything he encounters on the island.  Notably, he enslaves Ariel and Caliban, seeks to mould his daughter’s mind and control her actions, and even musters a tempest as a means of exacting revenge on those responsible for his emasculation and exile.  He seems to be repeating the acts of usurpation and control that humiliated him, merely ensuring that he is victor rather than victim.  The doubling and tripling of this pattern offers dramatic impact – on that we can all agree.   It may also speak volumes about Prospero’s character and the role played by events in shaping personality.

‘The Interlopers’

31 Oct

I recently read ‘The Interlopers‘, a short story in which two feuding men find themselves trapped beneath a tree on the land the subject of their dispute.

I think this could be an interesting related text for AOS Discovery and would pair particularly well with The Tempest.  Like Prospero, the protagonists are blinded by hatred and anger.  These emotions prevent them from making any meaningful discoveries about themselves and their world.  It is only when circumstances transpire to open their minds that they are able to discover.

So… I had to teach a music class

29 Oct

As regular followers of this blog know, I am an English teacher.  Last week I had to take a one-off junior music class.

This class did not have sufficient work left to keep them occupied for the lesson.  I do not have any music knowledge.  So, in a blind panic, I created a new game: musical charades.  This game worked exactly like normal charades, except that students were confined to the categories of band, song title and instrument.  To my complete surprise the lesson worked beautifully – students were engaged and motivated!

The success of this activity got me thinking about whether I could adapt the game for use in a junior English class.  Perhaps the focus could be on book or film titles.

Subverting Fairy Tales

28 Oct

I have recently read Kissing the Witch (Emma Donoghue), a collection of interlinked short stories which subvert well known fairy tales.

I wish I had read this a little earlier as one of these stories would have been a good addition to a recent lesson sequence about subverting fairy tales.  Inspired by the three tales told by the monster in The Monster Calls, I decided to examine texts that incorporate some fairy tale elements but subvert or challenge others.

To illustrate the point, we engaged with a picture book retelling of The Three Little Pigs and a FANTASTIC short story entitled ‘There Was Once’ by Margaret Atwood.  After this discussing these and making connections to A Monster Calls, I asked students to select a fairy tale and subvert it.

Together we brainstormed some amazing ideas, framing our potential points of challenge or subversion as a series of interlinked questions.

  • What if the bears trespassed in the home owned by Goldilocks?  What if she was home?  What if she had a gun?  New bear skin rug?
  • What if Belle has taken the Beast from the wild?  What if the animal rights advocates found out?
  • What if Pinocchio was a real boy?  And a minority?  And he lied to the police?
  • What if Snow White’s experience of a poisoned apple prompted her to pursue an organic farming venture?
  • What if the witch in Hansel and Gretel was involved in human trafficking?
  • What if Cinderella was told from the perspective of one of the stepsisters?
  • What if Aladdin needed a visa to travel to a whole new world?
  • What if the Emperor was arrested after engaging in public nudity?
  • What if the Princess in The Princess and the Pea did not discover a pea beneath her many mattresses?  What if she discovered a handgun, or drugs?  What if she was undercover detective?