‘Becoming Kirrali Lewis’

7 Aug

I have also recently read Becoming Kirrali Lewis.  I read this text, hoping to discover a great Australian text that I could use in Year 9 instead of Deadly, Unna? which is not universally adored by students.

The text explores the experiences of Kirrali Lewis, an Aboriginal girl adopted into a white family, and her experiences during her first year of law school in the city.  The raised a number of important issues about identity, conflict and relationships which I think would interest some students.  However, the scope of experiences and short length of the book meant that these issues were, at times, left unexplored or not fully developed.

While I’m not sure my current Year 9 class would love this book, it is nonetheless something I would be interested in teaching.  With this in mind, I think it would be well placed as part of a textual pairing, perhaps with Taika Waititi’s film Boy.  Both texts explore the complexities of family relationships and the impact absent and found parents have on identity.

No Safe Place

5 Aug

As part of a mission to revitalise the English Department’s Book Room I have been reading a lot of teen fiction, hoping to be able to make recommendations as to which texts we should purchase.  As part of this process, I recently read No Safe Place by Deborah Ellis.

I think this novel would be a fantastic choice for a Year 7 or 8 class, potentially as part of units engaging with identity, refugees, migrations, survival, relationships or choice.  It follows the experiences of a group of young people fleeing danger, war and abuse, and seeking safety in England.  The text weaves between past and present, allowing for a nuanced understanding of characters and their situations.

Representations of Youth

31 Jul

I am always interested in new ways of engaging my students in Shakespearean texts.  I am also always interested in new ways of teaching these texts.

This year, extending an idea raised by a colleague, my students studied Romeo & Juliet through the lens of representations of youth.  We engaged with key scenes, sought to identify how youth were portrayed and to understand how these representations were constructed.

I began the unit by showing students a number of trailers for Romeo & Juliet appropriations.  For each trailer, students had to identify and account for the characteristics of youth, explain which representations had continued resonance, and explain why particular representations frustrated/angered them.  They also had to identify and explain continuity and change in terms of representation across the trailers.

I found this to be an interesting way of understanding the depth and detail of students’ thought processes.  Some students, for example, saw only the demonstration of romantic passion and suggested it was not an accurate representation of youth today as young people do not fall in love so quickly today.  Others however, looked at romantic passion and saw, instead, young people’s abilities to throw themselves into projects with enthusiasm and commitment, often in service of causes they believe in.  For these students, the representation of passion was then both accurate and as relevant in Romeo and Juliet as in contemporary society.

Have Your Say

15 Jul

It is important for students to hone their speaking skills and develop their confidence in contributing to class discussion.   To do this I have developed a scaffold that helps students to structure and organise their responses.

The scaffold requires students to address the following points:

  • Issue
  • Why is this issue important?
  • Reason #1 – Why is it important/relevant to you?
  • Reason #2 – Why is it important/relevant to your community/country?
  • Reason #3 – Why is it important/relevant to the world?

For weaker students, I can supplement this scaffold with relevant persuasive language and, possibly, sentence starters.

 

‘The Disappearing’

14 Jul

The Disappearing is an interactive website which offers a means of poetically representing places and experiences which are disappearing.  These places and experiences are sometimes disappearing due to the passage of time,  other times due to environmental factors, and sometimes due to urbanisation.

I think this would be an interesting related text to use alongside Go Back to Where You Came From for HSC AOS Discovery.   Go Back explores individuals renewed perceptions of self and world.  It takes individuals on a journey which causes them to confront their prejudices and beliefs and to potentially alter their engagement with the world as a result.  The Disappearing similarly invites individuals to reconsider their perceptions of the world they live in.  However, where discoveries in Go Back are largely emotional and social, discoveries prompted by The Disappearing relate first and foremost to man’s relationship with the natural world.

‘Viceroy’s House’

11 Jun

I recently watched Viceroy’s House, a film about the transition of British India to independence.  The film was beautifully made, utilising the difficulties of a love between a Hindu (Jeet Kumar) and Muslim (Aalia Noor) to represent the divisions in a nation that will need to be partitioned in order to realise dreams of independence.

I think the film could be an interesting partner for a study of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet.  This pairing would be a particularly useful way of exploring how the relationship between protagonists illuminates broader social tensions.

It would also be a good related text for Year 11 AOS Journeys or Change.  In both instances, students would be able to analyse the experiences of characters and then connect this to journeys or change on a national scale.

‘Hag-Seed’

28 May

I recently read Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed.

Initially, I wasn’t hugely impressed as it seemed like an unimaginative adaptation of The Tempest; like Prospero, the protagonist (Felix) was usurped and experienced a period of exile, albeit from directing plays.

However, as I continued to read I found myself getting sucked in.  Particularly interesting was Atwood’s emphasis on notions of imprisonment; Prospero is imprisoned on the island, Caliban is imprisoned by Prospero and the protagonist of Hag-Seed is imprisoned by the past.  I do think this notion was laboured a tad by setting Felix’s path as directing plays for prisoners.

I was also intrigued by Atwood’s representation of Miranda (Prospero’s daughter in the play, and Felix’s daughter in the book).  Unlike in the play, where Miranda is very much alive, in the novel she begins as a memory and them begins to assume ghostly form.  This was reasonably effective as a metaphor for representing the haunting spectre of the past, and the way in which the past informs present action.

Overall, I am not sure I loved Hag-Seed as a novel.  However, as a companion to The Tempest (as it will be in the new HSC) it does, definitely, have merit.

Comfort Zones

22 May

I recently read an article online about comfort zones.  This article sought to challenge the conventionally accepted wisdom that we should try move beyond our comfort zones.

While reading the article I couldn’t help but think of Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’.  In this poem, the persona desires to “disturb the universe” and challenge the boundaries of the unknown, but is unable to do; he is crippled by his anxiety and indecision.  In other words, he does not venture beyond his comfort zone.  For him, however, being stuck in the bubble of his comfort zone is not a good thing – when in his comfort zone he is not living to the fullest.  In fact, he is not living at all!

Silences and Gaps

25 Apr

I have been spending a bit of time recently considering the silences and gaps in texts, and how to make students aware of these.

I am fascinated, for example, with Mr Collins in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  Elizabeth mocks him for his chatty ways, deeming his contributions worthless and undesirable.  What would the narrative look like from his perspective?  How would he perceive Elizabeth?

I am also interested in Marjane’s perspective in Persepolis.  The voice of a young woman in the context can, perhaps, be described as revolutionary.  As such, it becomes a fitting vehicle by which to chronicle the changes in Iranian society over time.

Equally, I am fascinated by the stories told by the child protagonist in Haroun and the Sea of Stories.  The narrative functions as an allegory for a number of issues faced by society.  The voice of the child is, often, marginalised in literature and should be celebrated.  Additionally, the use of allegory means readers need to read between and across lines in order to interpret authorial purpose and meaning.

‘The African Doctor’

25 Mar

I recently watched The African Doctor.  This film explores the experiences of a recently arrived family of Congolese descent as they seek to find their place in a rural village in France.

Although overly simplistic at times, the text engages with ideas of tolerance, acceptance, identity and communal action.  For these reasons, I think the text has the potential to engage students.

That said, I think I would be reluctant to study this text in isolation.  I think it would work best either as part of a comparative unit, or as a related text for AOS Journey or Discovery.