Archive | July, 2015

‘They’re Made Out of Meat’

17 Jul

Students often find it difficult to come up with an interesting angle or approach when trying to write a short story.  As such, I am always looking for examples of short stories that offer new perspectives, explore exciting subjects, and have the potential to inspire students to take risks in their writing.  One such story is Terry Bisson’s ‘They’re Made Out of Meat‘.

This short story allows us to access an alien encounter.  The twist, however, is that it is from the perspective of the aliens who, as it turns out, do not have an awfully high opinion of humans.  In fact, they refer to humans as “meat.”

I would use this story as an exemplar in a lesson where the focus was encouraging students to write from different and unexpected perspectives.

Encouraging wide reading

14 Jul

The kids that I teach are awesome.  They are also, however, with a handful of exceptions,  non or occasional readers.

On a human level, this concerns me because students who do not read regularly miss out on opportunities to explore new worlds, to develop their ability to empathise with others and to see the world from different perspectives.  Indeed, there are worlds and experiences that my students are unable to access due to geography, time, or personal circumstances.  Reading would enable students to transcend time and space and engage with that which is currently out of reach.

As a teacher, my non or occasional readers cause concern because these students are disadvantaged when it comes to understanding how sentences should be structured, how images are built, how ideas are connected to create a coherent whole, and  how meaning is constructed.  They are also disadvantaged as they have less access to popular and quality literature (and yes, these are often different categories).  As such, these students have greater difficulty in evaluating the quality of their own work and that of their peers.  They also have greater difficulty in analysing texts set for study.

In light of all this, the question then becomes: How do I get my students to read?

As it turns out, my students are not overly receptive to novels.  Perhaps this is because, for many of these students, it takes ages to read a novel and, during that time, they lose track of the story line.

With this in mind, I think I am going to focus on getting students to engage with short stories.  My more motivated and competent students can read a short story in one sitting, while weaker students can read one over the course of the week.

The hitch, it seems, is figuring out how to sell this approach to my students! Any ideas?

‘Hotel Rwanda’

5 Jul

Hotel Rwanda is a filmic representation of Paul Rusesabagina’s attempts to save over 1000 people by offering them shelter in a hotel that he was managing during the Rwandan genocide.

This film would be an interesting addition to my (still hypothetical) unit ‘Representing the Self‘ as it raises some interesting questions about the purposes of representing lives.  Is the intention, for example, to showcase Rusesabagina’s bravery and courage, or is to draw attention to the horrors of the genocide? Can it do both?  If it does both, is the film’s status as a biographical text lessened?

‘Kwa Heri Mandima’

4 Jul

As part of my research for the (still hypothetical) ‘Representing the Self’ unit, I came across a short film entitled Kwa Heri Mandima.  The film tells the story of a young European boy’s departure from the village in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo).  In less than ten minutes, it flags the boy’s formative experiences in the village, and his relationships with other members of the community.  It also touches upon important questions about identity, expression and knowledge.

It would be an interesting addition to the unit as the narrative is told from a second person perspective, allowing for an unexpected lessening of distance between subject and audience.   If I were using this as part of a lesson, I would be asking students to comment on the effect of this perspective and, perhaps to transform a first person autobiographical text into second person and then to discuss the effect of this change.

‘Representing People and Landscapes’ Related Texts

3 Jul

English Advanced students studying Module C are required to find a selection of related texts to complement their set text.  For students studying the elective entitled ‘Representing People and Landscapes’, the idea is to select related texts that help illuminate relationships between people and real and/or imagined landscapes.  Below is a list of possible related texts that may be suitable for students studying this elective.

  • The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (film)
  • ‘Where is Home?’ by Pico Iyer (ted talk)
  • ‘And of Clay We Are Created’ by Isabel Allende (short story)
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison (novel)
  • Belonging by Jeannie Baker (picture book)
  • The Rabbits by John Marsden and Shaun Tan (picture book)
  • Mirror by Jeannie Baker (picture book)
  • Where the Forest Meets the Sea by Jeannie Baker (picture book)
  • Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie (novel)
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (novel)
  • ‘Prairie Spring’ by Willa Cather (poem)
  • ‘The Daffodils’ by William Wordsworth (poem)
  • ‘Dear Future Generations: Sorry’ by Prince Ea (poem)
  • ‘My Story Is Your Story’ by Alice Eather (poem)
  • The Disappearing (interactive)

Representing the Self

2 Jul

I am interested in running a unit entitled ‘Representing the Self’ as a way of introducing students in Year 9 or 10 to the choices made by composers when creating or adapting autobiographical and biographic texts.

Interesting possible questions to discuss could include:

(1) What are the difficulties of representing reality?

(2) Whose perspectives matter?

(3) For what purposes are biographical and autobiographical texts created?

(4) How does one represent the self?

Related text: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

1 Jul

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is a film based on a novel by the same name written by Jonathan Safran Foer.  It is about a boy, Oscar, who believes his late father left him a final message hidden in New York City.  The film showcases Oscar’s journey in pursuit of this message and allows us to travel with Oscar as he finds himself.

This text would work well as a related text for AOS Discovery and ‘Exploring Transitions’ for Standard English.

AOS Discovery

As flagged in the plot overview, this is a a story about Oscar’s journey to discover something specific and, instead, learning about himself and his world.  This text has particular relevance if students wish to craft arguments around accidental discoveries, openness to discovery, and the ways in which one person’s discoveries impact others.

For other AOS Discovery related texts, click here.

Exploring Transitions

Oscar undergoes a number of transitions.  He moves, for example, from frightened to brave, closed to open, confused to certain, and from weak to strong.  Similar transformations are evident in Rita in Educating Rita.  It is, however, worthwhile noting that Rita’s transformation is intentionally and purposefully pursued.  In contrast, while Oscar’s journey is intended, it is not undertaken with the purpose of facilitating a change in self.

For other ‘Exploring Transitions’ related texts, click here.