How do we enter literary worlds?

9 Nov

The new Extension English HSC course requires students to engage with a common module entitled ‘Literary Worlds’.   One of the questions that I think students should consider is: How do we enter literary worlds?

In order to answer this question, I think it is important for students to engage with a range of texts, exploring how their introductions in particular constitute an invitation to responders to step outside their known universe and immerse themselves in someone else’s fictional creation.

Toni Morrison’s Beloved, for example, begins with the following lines:

“124 was spiteful.  Full of baby’s venom.  The women in the house knew it and so did the children.  For years each put up with the spite in his own way, but by 1873 Sethe and her daughter Denver were its only victims.”

Here, the invitation is made through the information missing and the questions which, like the occupying presence, demand to be heard and answered.

Isabel Allende’s ‘And of Clay Are We Created‘, in contrast, demands our involvement through the emotive and evocative imagery:

“They discovered the girl’s head protruding from the mudpit, eyes wide open, calling soundlessly.”

I think it could be helpful to students to engage with a range of literature, unpacking how these appeals are made (in the opening lines) and strengthened as the texts continue.

I also think students could find it interesting to explore how composers transition from one world to another within a text, changing setting or emotional state.  A text that would be interesting to look at in this regard is Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West.  In this text, doorways are literalised as pathways into new worlds, and metaphors of birth are leveraged to communicate the significance of these transitions.

Reading as a gateway to empathy and solidarity

9 Oct

There is an emphasis in the new senior English syllabus on why people read and how what we read helps us to better understand the world, human experiences, and ourselves.  With this in mind, I am thinking of asking my students to read ‘How to be a good man: what I learned from a month reading the feminist classics‘.  As suggested by the title, the article explores how the reading of feminist classics can help a man to demonstrate solidarity in the era of #metoo and also begin to better understand the complexity of women’s experiences.

I think it would be an interesting activity for students to craft their own list of texts that should be read if someone wishes to better understand a particular issue, idea or group.  I would be inclined to broaden the task out, allowing students to identify (and later read) novels, short stories and poetry.  I would also be inclined to ask students to read as many texts as they can, developing a system for evaluating what they have read in order to make meaningful recommendations.

How do narratives shape our world?

30 Aug

As part of the new year 11 Advanced module ‘Narratives that shape our world’ students need to explore how and why narratives matter.

When asked ‘How do narratives shape our world?’ my students flagged a number of interesting ideas:

  • Narratives offer a way of organising and understanding the complexity of human existence; structure, cause and effect, motivation and character allow us to relive and understand significant experiences.
  • Narratives offer windows into the worlds of others.  Here, narrative devices help to develop the reader’s empathy and compassion.
  • Narratives enable us to understand how universal human experiences are re-imagined across time and space.
  • Narratives prevent us from feeling alone; by being exposed to the experiences (fictional or otherwise) of others, the perception that someone is different, ‘other’, or isolated dissolves.

 

Peer into the List of Pairs

8 Aug

My list of textual pairings now offers over 210 combinations!  I have tried to craft the list so that it offers a mix between what schools might already have in the book room and texts that could be purchased to supplement existing stock.

Telling Stories

27 Jul

In the introduction to my Penguin Books edition of Shakespeare’s Hamlet the following quotation appears:

“The telling and retelling of stories is our main means for getting some insight into and control over our circumstances.”

It seems to me that sentence could be replicated exactly in an introduction to Othello.  Indeed, that text is preoccupied with the telling of stories.  In fact, it is through the telling of stories that Iago is able to consolidate his power over Othello and a range of other characters.

It would be interesting to see whether students studying the ‘Narratives that shape our world’ unit in Year 11 Advanced feel that this statement is an accurate representation of the purpose of storytelling.

Re-imagining the Past

24 Jul

Yesterday I posted about the possibility of students creating a play script in which they fictionally re-imagine or extend the life of an individual whose story is explored in ‘How Far We’ve Come’.  Additional resources that could be useful include the overview of migrants’ experiences at Immigration Place and the Australian National Maritime Museum.

In a variation of the previously outlined activity, the teacher could, without telling students, provide each with a different section of the profile.  Students could then share their fictional re-imaginings, trying to find the kernel of truth that inspired each of them.  Then, with all the information provided, students could evaluate the plausibility of events represented in the play scripts.

‘How Far We’ve Come’

23 Jul

I am a big fan of SBS interactives, and love using them in the classroom.

I’ve recently been exploring ‘How Far We’ve Come‘ and am keen to use it as the basis for an extension activity.  In particular, I want to offer students the opportunity to explore the experiences described in the interactive and then create a play script that offers a fictional re-imagining or extension of the life of the chosen individual.  This activity would require students to transfer and extend the knowledge gleaned through close study of a dramatic text.

So many pairs!

22 Jul

My list of textual pairings now exceeds 200!  I am keen for suggestions of combinations that have worked in your classrooms so that I can expand my list.

What is storytelling?

21 Jul

As part of the Year 11 Advanced module ‘Narratives that shape our world’, students need to engage with notions of narrative and storytelling.  I stumbled upon an article in The Guardian about scientists and storytelling, and thought it could be used early in the unit as a means of teasing out this concept with students.

Dramatising One’s Own Story

13 Jul

As part of an upcoming drama study, I am keen for students to demonstrate knowledge of the dramatic conventions set for study by creating an additional act for Sally Mackenzie’s Scattered Lives in which they document a migrant experience drawn from their own family history.

To glean relevant information students will be set the task of interviewing parents or grandparents, thus building cross-generational connections.

Additionally, students will have to storyboard the experiences, and then put themselves in the position of director to decide how to best and most powerfully stage the experiences.

I think it would also be interesting to have students type, edit and refine their work so that it can be collated as a second edition of Scattered Lives that, perhaps, could even be displayed in the library or made available as an e-book for students to share with their families.