‘Racism needs your help’

29 Sep

I was watching Gruen the other day and was introduced to an amazing public service announcement by New Zealand director Taika Watiti.  In this short clip he aims to raise awareness about racism.

I think this would be a great clip to use as an introduction to a unit about discrimination, inequality, racism or social advocacy.

It could also be a good tool to teach students about irony.

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Getting creative!

22 Sep

I am trying to get students to think outside their known universe when writing.  To do this, I want to show them images depicting scenes from various countries and get them to write descriptively about what they see.  I am keen to help them move beyond the mere visual similes and metaphors and, as such, I am asking them to focus on texture and movement.

Monsters

21 Sep

I have recently re-read A Monster Calls and, as a result, I can’t get thoughts of monsters out my head!  In particular, I cannot stop thinking about a unit about personal, social and political monsters in which A Monster Calls keeps company with FrankensteinThe Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and maybe even ‘Monsters‘ by Poetri.

As suggested by the unit title, the unit would examine monsters in various manifestations, viewing them as vehicles for personal, social and political commentary.

The Merchant of Venice

5 Sep

I am experiencing difficulty engaging one of my junior classes.  These students don’t really want to discuss ideas raised in texts and they don’t want to write about what they have read.

To address this problem, I decided to begin my The Merchant of Venice unit with a moral dilemma, namely the trolley car problem posed by Michael Sandel in his ‘Justice’ series of lectures.  I hoped that this would get my students thinking and talking about the relationship between justice and morality, and that I could use this as foundation for understanding some of the issues in The Merchant of Venice.

Strangely enough it worked!  My kids articulated perspectives, justified their viewpoints, and proposed changes to the scenarios to make connections to real world experiences.

Reading to Write

4 Sep

I have been spending a lot of time thinking about the new stage 6 English syllabus.  In particular, I have found myself unable to stop thinking about the new Year 11 unit ‘Reading to Write’.   In this unit students are offered opportunities to “undertake the intensive and close reading of quality texts,” using these to “develop the skills and knowledge necessary to appreciate, understand, analyse and evaluate how and why texts convey complex ideas, relationships, endeavours and scenarios” (Stage-6 Advanced English syllabus document).

Below are a selection of texts which I think could offer some interesting opportunities for engagement.  I will add to the list as I come up with more ideas.

‘New Boy’

2 Sep

I have just finished reading Tracy Chevalier’s novel New Boy, it is an appropriation of Othello and part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series that also includes Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed.

Like OthelloNew Boy explores jealousy, manipulation and choices that cannot be unmade.  Interestingly, New Boy sets the action in a school playground, perhaps alluding to the notion that the manipulation engineered by Ian (the Iago character) is just another childish game.  This setting also allows the easy manipulation of Oesi (the Othello character) to seem more plausible; it makes more sense to me that a child, rather than an adult soldier, may not have the resilience or savvy to withstand the tactics of a manipulator.

Another interesting choice made by the author is the title.  Unlike Shakespeare who named his text directly after his protagonist, Chevalier has chosen to title hers New Boy,  I think this raises some interesting questions:  Does using the protagonist’s name honour  the protagonist or publicly call out his conduct? Is referencing a status rather than a name a statement of universal applicability or does it buy in to the very prejudice that is described in the text?  Do these choices honour victims or name perpetrators?  Why does the manipulator not have his name or his title plastered across the front of the cover?

I think New Boy could be a really interesting text to teach alongside Othello in Year 11 Advanced, perhaps functioning as a precursor to an HSC study of The Tempest and Hag-Seed.

 

‘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.