Archive | November, 2015

Challenges of Discovery

22 Nov

Students often find it difficult to understand and articulate the challenges of discovery.  In order to assist them, I hope to show them a short film entitled ‘Ray’s Big Idea‘ at the start of the lesson.

The short film follows Ray, a pre-historic fish as he seeks to improve his life by leaving the water and taking up residence on the land.  His journey to the land is difficult, and involves physical and mental challenges.  Upon arriving at his destination, Ray is initially ecstatic.  This, however, does not last long as he realises that he is not the first to discover this new environment.

I think viewing this film would be a helpful way to have students engage with the challenges of the process of discovery and the challenges that arise upon making a discovery.

Opening the door to connections between texts

13 Nov

While searching for related material that would link to Life of Pi I came across Miroslav Holub’s poem entitled ‘The Door‘.   I might love this poem!  Actually, I definitely love this poem!

The poem, although written simply, is powerful.  The anaphoric exhortation to “Go and open the door” appears directed to the responder, immediately immersing the responder in the world of the poem.  The low modality “[m]aybe” in “Maybe outside there’s a tree… / or a magic city” and “Maybe a dog’s rummaging…” signals that discovery is often uncertain and that possibilities are, in effect, endless.  This sentiment is echoed through the cumulative listing of possibilities beyond the door: “a tree, or a wood, / a garden, / or a magic city” and  “a face, / or an eye, / or the picture / of a picture.”   Enjambment further propels the poem forward, offering visual and auditory encouragement to go forth and discover.

So, how does this all link to Life of Pi?  If  “the door” in Holub’s poem is a symbol for opportunities to discover, then Pi walks through a number of doors.  In fact, in many regards, Pi requires little encouragement to “open the door.”  This is evident in his interest in religion.  Although he was “introduced to God as a Hindu,” Pi becomes fascinated by, and then adopts elements of, other religions.  For him, religion is the metaphoric “tree,” it grows and changes.  It is also a metaphoric “magic city,” offering him opportunities to explore unfamiliar traditions and incorporate these into his life.

Furthermore, and as described in the poem, not all discoveries are immediately positive.  Again, this is evident in Life of Pi, particularly when he discovers that his ship is sinking and his family cannot be saved.  When he walks through this “door” and makes the heart-wrenching discovery that he is alone, his emotions are foggy.  However, as predicted by Holub, the “fog… clear[s],” revealing a boy with previously untapped resilience and strength.

I cannot wait to introduce my students to this poem and see if any of them are game enough to complete the analysis and build the necessary conceptual connections between ‘The Door’ and Life of Pi.

Adapting and modernising

8 Nov

I can’t stop thinking about The Lizzie Bennet Diaries!  The idea of exploring characters’ personal responses to events depicted in classic literature fascinates me.  In fact, I am keen to implement a project inspired by The Lizzie Bennet Diaries in my own classes.

One option is to study Pride and Prejudice and ask students to craft a selection of vlog entries from other characters.  This could be used as the basis of appreciating that shared events would likely be represented and understood differently in light of variances in characters’ attitudes, perspectives and agendas.

Another option is to have students study a classic text and update the narrative for the modern-day.  The aim would be for students to select an event/events of interest and significance and relate that event in a way that would particularly resonate for modern audiences.  Students might, for example, elect to represent emotions and experiences through twitter, vlogging, tumblr or any other form of relevant social media.

A frosty reception…

7 Nov

There was talk, for a while, of asking our students to study the poetry of Robert Frost as their set text for AOS Discovery.  After hearing about the frosty reception that this poetry received from students at other schools I am so glad that we elected to go with another option!

Generally speaking, students seem to be able to understand Frost’s ‘The Tuft of Flowers’.  They appreciate that, at the start of the poem, the persona discovers that he is alone even though he is, in effect, continuing the work that another man started earlier that day.  They also understand that the presence of the butterfly signals a turning point in the poem and in the persona’s attitude as it guides the persona to a tuft of flowers which have been spared the scythe.  In other words, they function as a link between the man who mowed the grass and the persona whose job it is to toss the cut grass.  Students also seem to understand that the existence of these flowers allows the persona to rediscover and bolster a connection which had been tenuous at the beginning.

However, students do not come to these ideas of their own accords.  Instead, they need to be guided through the process step by step.  This is particularly the case for weaker students.

Also problematic is the fact that the concept of discovery is more clear in ‘The Tuft of Flowers’ than in any other of the Frost poems set for study.  This means that, as students find it more and more difficult to identify discovery concepts, students quickly switch off and stop engaging.



Attitudes towards discovery

6 Nov

My Advanced English students are studying Ang Lee’s film Life of Pi as their set text for AOS Discovery.  While this would not necessarily have been my first choice, it is nonetheless working reasonably well for the cohort and eliciting some interesting viewpoints.

Of particular interest thus far are my students’ opinions as to the significance of the early references to Pi’s interest in religion.  Some students viewed this section of the film as introductory material and have elected to largely ignore it.  Others, however, have elected to view Pi’s interest in religion, and his desire to embody and embrace the characteristics of multiple religions simultaneously, as indicative of his attitude towards discovery more generally.

This second category of students argue that, for Pi, discovery occurs by invitation.  Their argument is anchored in Pi’s comment that “[n]one of us knows God until someone introduces us.  I was first introduced to God as a Hindu.”  There, they argue, the repeated reference to an introduction indicates that Pi seizes opportunities to discover rather than creating them himself.  In this sense, he reacts rather than creates.

The notion that discovery is catalysed by an invitation is an interesting one.  In The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, for example, circumstances create an invitation to engage and discover.  There, Walter finds himself faced with a challenge which only he can meet.   I would really like to take this concept further and give my students a list of texts with which they should be familiar and get them to identify the explicit and/or implicit invitation to discover.


Pride and Prejudice for the modern generation!

5 Nov

I know I am coming ridiculously late to the party, but I have just discovered The Lizzie Bennet Diaries  For the uninitiated, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries are a series of webisodes which reimagine the protagonist of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice as a 24-year-old grad student vlogger.

I would love to study this text with a Year 10 class in conjunction with Austen’s original novel, exploring the ways in which a classic text can be reinvented for a new generation.

Classic texts

4 Nov

My Year 9 students often study a unit in which they examine a selection of classic texts and seek to understand why classic texts are considered to be classics.  The aim is for them to better appreciate why texts continue to be valued over time.

Next time I teach this unit, I want to use ideas flagged by Calvino in this article to stimulate class discussion.

Developing Empathy and Understanding

3 Nov

Refugees and asylum seekers are big topics of conversation in Australian politics and media.  Often, the tendency is to discuss refugees and asylum seekers as economic or social issues.  In doing so, human empathy is often forgotten.

My experience is that, in class rooms, this lack of empathy is often similarly absent.  While it is not my role or intention to reshape students’ political beliefs, a lack of empathy can make it difficult for students to meaningfully engage with texts studied.  In order to help them develop an ability to relate to events in texts set for study, I want my students to participate in ‘Asylum Exit Australia‘ which simulates the decisions and experiences associated with needing to flee one’s country.

This activity would also work well as an introduction to AOS Discovery for senior students.

‘Marriage is a Private Affair’

2 Nov

I recently read Chinua Achebe’s short story ‘Marriage is a Private Affair‘.  I wish I had stumbled across this earlier and had been able to show it to my Year 9 students when they studied Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet!  Achebe’s story beautifully illustrates the rifts and divisions that would, undoubtedly, have faced Romeo & Juliet had the ending of Shakespeare’s play been different.  Indeed, when ‘Marriage is a Private Affair’ is considered in partnership with Shakespeare’s play, the play becomes about family rather than merely the young lovers themselves.

Creating distinctive voices

1 Nov

Students often find it difficult to pin down exactly what it is that makes voices distinctive.  To assist in identifying the source(s) of distinctiveness, I think I would like my students to read ‘The Speechmaker: Australian Politicians Have Lost the Power of Speech‘ and discuss key ideas contained within.  Then, I will provide them with a series of political speeches and have them work in groups to analyse and isolate the source(s) of distinctiveness.  Students could then use these speeches as related material.