Archive | February, 2016

Challenges of growing up

29 Feb

My Year 9 students are currently midway through a concept study about Coming of Age.  As part of this unit, I want them to understand that while the coming of age journey does not look exactly the same for everyone, there are interesting points of commonality.

One text which I want to show them is an article entitled ‘Boys Behind Bars‘.  This article touches upon the circumstances that cause children to find themselves in juvenile detention and explores, in greater depth, what it is like to grow up behind bars.  I think students will find it interesting to be exposed to (what I hope) is an unfamiliar environment, while also coming to appreciate the points of similarity and difference between the boys’ experiences and their own.

I also want my students to listen to Cyrus Bezyan’s ‘What’s in a name?‘ podcast in which he explores the way in which personal and cultural identity impacted his experience of growing up in Australia.  I have a fairly multicultural class, and I think Bezyan’s experiences will prompt some interesting reflections by my students on their own lives and experiences.

Another interesting text is Benjamin Law’s article ‘What is Cool?‘  In this text, Law reflects on his adolescence, the importance of ‘being cool’ and the changes he now sees in himself and society when he reflects from the vantage of adulthood.

Through engaging with these texts, I am hopeful that my students will come to appreciate that coming of age/growing up is associated with the gleaning of knowledge and understanding.  I am also hopeful that they will recognise that growing up involves facing and overcoming challenges.

Poetry and Fiction pairing

16 Feb

I have spent a lot of time recently reading and reviewing short stories in a bid to boost my students’ engagement with literature, help them to understand how effective short stories are constructed, and to model how to offer opinions about the work of others.

One of the short stories that I read was by Roxane Gay.  The language in this text (first seen in the title), probably makes it unsuitable for school.  However, it did get me thinking about the way in which composers convey emotion and the complexities of a migrant’s relationship with his new home.  The slur used in Gay’s text also reminded me of Wyclef Jean’s spoken word poem ‘Immigrant‘.

Pending permission from the powers that be, I think it would be really interesting to compare these two texts, exploring them as part of a suite of texts exploring the complex range of emotions and responses to re-establishing oneself in a new country, city or place.

Pinpointing the power of language

13 Feb

I am always on the lookout for new and interesting ways to get my senior students to engage creatively with language.  I am also always on the lookout for ways to help them formulate engaging short stories.

I recently discovered ‘Safety Pin Review‘, a blog chronicling the adventures of super short stories pinned to the clothing of ‘operatives’.  Although the blog has effectively ceased publication, there are numerous back issues of the review available for free online.

Below are three of the many super short stories that captured my attention and I hope will intrigue my students.

Hostage Situation‘ by Berit Ellingsen offers an unexpected insight into a family, and could be used by students as a catalyst for imagining the journey leading to this point, or the journey that begins after it.  Alternatively, students could write about what the narrator discovers, or how the narrator’s reality is discovered by someone else.

A Present From A Small Distant World‘ by Krystin Gollihue causes students to reflect upon the “small distant world,” the circumstances in which a present might be proffered by one world to another, and the nature of the present (both as in gift and here and now).

Sister‘ by Roch Strouse also triggers a number of questions;  Whose sister is she?  Why did she hit the plaster?  Who is at fault?  How old is she?  Is she dead?  Where is she now?

Fiction or future?

12 Feb

I am fascinated by dystopian fiction.  I am particularly interested in the way authors use their fictional texts to (a) shed light on possible futures, and (b) to offer uncomfortable solutions to anticipated social or environmental problems.

To begin a unit focussing on dystopian fiction, I would ask students to brainstorm existing social and environmental challenges.  I would then ask them to extend those scenarios and imagine what the world could be like 100 years in the future.  Next, I would have them work in groups to come up with ideas as to how the problems of these societies might be addressed.

After discussing these ideas as a class, I would also students to explore the possible responses to their solutions, focussing in particular on the repercussions of embracing technologies (for example) instead of simply accepting the status quo.

I would then ask my students to read ‘Life Model‘ by Alexander Chee, identifying the dystopian elements and analysing the text to understand how it is constructed.


Friday Fictioneers: ‘The Daughter Flower’

10 Feb

It is Friday Fictioneer time again!  The challenge is to write a one hundred word story in response to a photo prompt.  Details, including the prompt, can be found on Rochelle’s blog.  The photo prompt this week clearly features a daffodil.  However, for the purposes of my narrative (see below), I have creatively re-imagined this daffodil as a sunflower.

The Daughter Flower

“Time to visit the family,” mum informs me.

We begin with Great-Gran.  Mum fusses, murmuring pleasantries that the old woman cannot hear.

Next is Great-Grandpa, Nana, and Pop.  Each receives a greeting.  She animatedly shares snippets of family scandals, leaving gaps in the conversation for the relatives to respond.

My sad smile stretches across silences.

Before leaving we visit David: her son, my brother.

It is my first time.

His grave is marked by a sunflower, now taller than him.

Beside the son-flower, sits a smaller, pinker specimen.  An unusual choice.

“A daughter flower,” whispers mum, answering my unasked question.


Building relationships between texts

8 Feb

As students move through high school, it is important that they learn to (a) engage with and analyse a range of texts and, (b) build connections between thematically and/or conceptually linked texts.

In order to help my students do this, I want to read them Doreen Rappaport’s picture book Martin’s Big Words and have them compare this text with a poem by Langston Hughes entitled ‘Dream Variations‘.  Through comparing these texts, I hope to have my students understand that texts can exist in conversation with each other.

There is also scope to connect the picture book to a range of other poems, see here.

Poetry is meant to teach…

5 Feb

There is always a risk when studying an Area of Study, that students engage literally rather than conceptually.  In order to help my Year 10 students think creatively about Power (their AOS), I want to show them two poems about the power of language and poetry.  The first poem is by TJ Dema and is entitled ‘Neon Poem‘ and discusses the notion that language only has power when it teaches something valuable and reaches the intended audience.  The second poem I want to share with my students is Steve Colman’s ‘I wanna hear a poem‘.  There, Colman engages with the notion that a place at the microphone is valuable and that all opportunities to speak/to share poetry ought to be meaningful, offer insights, and enhance understanding.


4 Feb

Last year I blogged about a Crime Fiction unit in which students engaged with a diverse range of texts and text types.  While searching for something else entirely, I found an awesome addition to the list: ‘Serial’ by TJ Dema.  In this poem, the persona reflects upon her brother who, from a young age, demonstrated a propensity for violence as evidenced through his tendency to decapitate dolls.

Geography and the heart

2 Feb

One of my favourite short stories of all time is Isabel Allende’s ‘And of Clay We Are Created’.  In that story, a young girl, stuck in the mud after a natural disaster, touches the heart and rekindles the memories of a typically detached journalist.  One of the many things I love about the story is the way that Allende revisits the language used to describe the natural disaster when discussing the unleashing of memories.  The implication, of course, is that the flow of memories is just as significant and transformative as the natural disaster.

I recently read a poem that immediately reminded me of Allende’s story.  This poem is entitled ‘After the Earthquake‘ and is by Welsh poet Mererid Puw Davies.   I think what reminded me of Allende’s story was the way Davies used the language of the earthquake to describe a woman’s reading of her partner’s face.

For my Year 10 students, a comparison of these texts might assist them with their creative writing.  For my Year 12 students, consideration of the two texts could provide an interesting way in to understanding journeys and processes of discovery.

World Poetry

1 Feb

I am on a mission this year to broaden my students’ understanding of literature.  I want them to understand that literature extends beyond the canon, is created across the globe, and is being constantly produced.

In pursuit of poetry through which to illustrate this point I happened upon an interactive poetry map.  My clicking on a continent, you can access a selection of poems composed by poets who hail from that area.  As one of the purposes of this interactive poetry map project is to preserve endangered languages, poems are provided in the original language of composition and in English translation.