Archive | April, 2016

Debating in the classroom

26 Apr

A recent presentation that I made at school has got me thinking about ways to incorporate interactive debating-style activities in the classroom.  Below are the ideas that are going through my head at the moment:

  1. A traditional debate.  Here, students are provided with a high modality statement relevant to what is being studied, divided into teams, and asked to research the topic.  One team argues in favour of the proposition, the other against it.  This could be an interesting mode of formative assessment, perhaps in the early stages of an AOS unit.  After building the field, a debate could be used to test students’ knowledge of the core concept.  Potentially, this activity could be revisited at the end of the unit in order to ascertain how well students can apply their knowledge of texts studied to ‘prove’ viewpoints about the focus concept.  I think this activity would work particularly well in a strong Year 10 class, or a strong Years 11 or 12 Advanced English class.
  2. A stakeholder debate.  As in a traditional debate, students are provided with a high modality statement relevant to what is being studied in class.  However, instead of attacking the statement from TWO sides, the statement can be engaged with from the perspectives of relevant stakeholders.  Each stakeholder is allocated time to present his or her opinion.  After all key opinions have been aired, each stakeholder receives another opportunity to speak.  At this point, s/he must engage with the ideas and allegations made by other stakeholders.  For stronger classes, there is also an opportunity for stakeholders (or an audience) to ask each other questions to clarify viewpoints.  This type of activity would work particularly well in a junior class (years 7, 8 or 9) where the topic covered relates to issues of social or community importance.
  3. Ping Pong Debate.  In this debate, ideas bounce around the room like a ping pong ball does during a game.  Here, the teacher throws a potentially controversial statement to the class.  The first student standing responds to that statement, either endorsing it or refuting it.  Once that student’s allocated time expires, the next student standing gets an opportunity to respond.  This time, the student can extend the response of the previous speaker or make a counter-claim.  When I use this activity in my class, I encourage students to structure their responses using the PEEL format (Point, Example, Explanation, Link).  If I were doing this activity with weaker classes, I would write the acronym on the board and appoint a student as ‘Captain PEEL’, tasking him/her with redirecting the speaker to address any missed elements.  This debate works well as part of a building the field activity when learning about a new concept.  It can also work well at the end of a unit if students are also required to utilise their knowledge of a text studied in their responses.  My stronger Years 9 and 10 classes in the past have previously enjoyed this activity immensely.
  4. Room for debate.   In this debate, students are required to move around the class room.  The teacher provides a topic for discussion.   Upon first hearing the topic, students have to move to one of three signs which have been posted around the room: agree, disagree, not sure.  The teacher then asks one student who agrees with the statement to provide a reason for his/her position.  Encourage students to use the PEEL structure when formulating their response.  As they listen to the student’s argument, students who are convinced can leave their positions and move to the ‘agree’ group.  Repeat, this time allowing a student in the ‘disagree’ group to speak.  Then, a student in the ‘not sure’ group has the opportunity to ask a question, one student from each of the ‘agree’ and ‘disagree’ groups must respond to that question.  The ‘not sure’ student must then move to the group whose answer was most convincing.  The aim of the game is to stop students from ‘fence sitting’ and encourage them to commit to a position.

Art and advocacy

25 Apr

I recently read an article in The Huffington Post entitled ‘Yemeni Street Artist Covers the Ruins of War in Colours and Memories’.  The article details the attempts by a politically active street artist to (a) unite communities who have been scarred by war, and (b) to offer visual commentary on the continuing violence and political unrest in the region.

I think this would be a great article to show students when seeking to explain the power of artistic expression.

I also think this article has potential to inspire some interesting AOS Discovery short stories.  For example, students could write from the perspective of an ordinary citizen who comes to know a conflict through art.  In this story, each artwork would have the potential to spark meaningful and transformative discoveries.  Alternatively, students could write about one man’s desire to express his beliefs.  Here, students would need to move beyond the information in the article and explore how the protagonist tried a range of methods of expression, none of which allowed him to accurately convey his views.  Ultimately, the protagonist would discover the capacity of art to touch the hearts and mind of the populace.


24 Apr

It is Friday Fictioneers time!  Each week, bloggers are challenged to produce 100 word stories in response to a photo prompt.

For my return to Friday Fictioneers, I am trying something a little different – a poem, rather than a short story.


we lived




tick tock

was a clock,

time passing.




was a kite,

a childish game.



barbed wire was for fences

uniting the rails,

providing security,




barbed wire is for people,

flight is a drone,

tick tock is a bomb.



I rail against injustice

I plead for security.



I speak so that others know –

This is not a game.

Mine is not a childish tantrum.



our people are passing

through cities,


of belongings

of dignity,

seeking a safer future.



our people are passing




we die



REVIEW: The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl

20 Apr

I had high hopes for Melissa Kiel’s novel The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl; teenage angst, unrequited love, and the imminent demise of the world – what is not to love?

Despite my high hopes, I found that the novel began quite slowly.  I felt the introduction to the protagonist, Alba, was a bit clunky and the comic book/superhero allusions did not really make sense or seem relevant at the start of the text.

Initially, I also found the significant gap between what Alba could perceive and understand about her social world, on the one hand, and what the reader appreciated, on the other to be quite frustrating.  As the novel progressed, it became apparent that the closure of the gap would be the climax of the novel.

I did, however, enjoy the portrait of small town life provided by Kiel.  I also enjoyed her depictions of the people who flocked to Eden Valley in anticipation of the end of the world.

I also think that a number of my students would quite enjoy the adolescent angst, confusion, and indecision featured in later stages of this text.

Youth Week

16 Apr

In celebration of Youth Week, SBS recently featured a selection of short films (1 minute in length) about the experiences of young people in Australia.

One film, entitled ‘Stephanie’s Film‘, showcases the experience of a young Muslim girl as she strives to overcome negative comments and become the first Australian ballerina to wear a hijab while dancing professionally.  The juxtaposition between the ugly negatively of the comments and the beauty of her dancing is striking.

Another film, entitled ‘Taz’s Film‘ offers insights into the experiences and emotions of an Indigenous brotherboy as he discusses his struggle with gender identity.  Here, the images of him boxing provide a powerful metaphor for both his inner turmoil and strength.

These short films could be used as part of units exploring Australian literature and experience, identity, youth experiences, and/or autobiography.  They could also be utilised in an introduction to the Year 12 Standard English module on ‘Distinctive Voices’ to help students to understand the ways in which experience and representation shapes voice and the messages conveyed by distinctive voices.

Understanding Autism

15 Apr

I recently stumbled upon a short video in which a young woman tries to explain what life is like for people who live on the spectrum.  I think this would be a valuable video to show students as part of an introduction to studying Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time as it would help them to better understand how Christopher’s brain works and, by extension, how this shapes his interactions with the world.

A new perspective

14 Apr

A recent conversation with a student reminded me of the power of literature.

The student and I were discussing Mark Haddon’s novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.  I remarked that I loved the novel because it allowed me to view the world from someone else’s perspective.  The student listened politely for a little while as I rambled on, only to interrupt after a while to observe that he liked the novel because it was the first time he had read a book in which the character saw the world like he did.  His view was that everyone should read the book as, by understanding Christopher, it would help other people to understand him.

In that moment I realised that the book did far more than I had ever given it credit for.  It wasn’t simply about offering a window into another world for readers who were not on the spectrum.  It was also a way for readers on the spectrum to have their lives and their understanding of the world represented in literature and, by extension, to have those experiences validated and valued.

Poetry and social activism

13 Apr

I have written, on my previous occasions, about the role played by literature and poetry in particular in raising awareness and advocating for social change in regards to gender inequality and gendered violence.  I have also alluded to the role played by poetry in articulating individual and community discontent regarding responses to much publicised real world events, such as the Tamir Rice shooting.

When discussing with my students the idea that responses to real life events are often immortalised in poetry, thus rendering poetry a form of social commentary, many of my students expressed scepticism.  They simply could not fathom how poetry could facilitate social change or reach a sufficiently large audience to challenge perceptions.

This, of course, prompted a discussion about the power of language.  A perfect example of language being powerful is found in Bassey Ikpi’s poem ‘Diallo‘.  As suggested by the title, the poem is a response to the 1999 shooting of Amadou Diallo, an immigrant from Guinea, by the police.

In her poem, Ikpi speaks of the pain felt by mothers knowing that their children, their sons, are especially vulnerable.  She also speaks of the injustice when juries return verdicts that say “murder is justified,” and “cops win right to life when that brother is still without his.”  This sentence, in particular, is powerful in that is positions white men as entitled to rights and due process whereas black men, in contrast, are shot on sight.  Furthermore,  Ikpi strikingly juxtaposes the fates of blacks and whites, welcoming her audience “to the place where a black face asks ‘who will be next?’ and a white face answers ‘not I’.”  Here, the metonymic references to faces emphasises Ikpi’s view that individual identity is irrelevant; black men, by virtue of being black, are peculiarly vulnerable and white men, in contrast, by virtue of being white, are protected.

This text would be an interesting point of comparison to the ‘I Could Be the Next Tamir Rice’ article discussed yesterday, and also to Maxine Beneba Clark’s poem ‘104 Degrees’.


Inequality and injustice

12 Apr

One of my junior classes is currently learning about representations of racism in poetry.  As part of this unit they will be studying a poem inspired by the death of Tamir Rice.

While searching for some background on the Tamir Rice shooting to help my students understand the context, I came across this interesting opinion piece by a 13 years old activist and writer.  Entitled ‘I Could Be the Next Tamir Rice’, the young author explains how his life, and that of other boys like him, have been changed by the death of Tamir and how, by extension, there is a perception within the community that all African American boys are particularly vulnerable and endangered.  I am keen to show my students this article as a companion piece to the poem they are studying in a bid to help them to better understand how events shape public and private actions.


REVIEW: Clancy of the Undertow

11 Apr

I recently ready Christopher Currie’s Clancy of the Undertow, an Australian coming of age story that has received positive reviews online.

I purchased the novel largely because of the name.  As a play on Banjo Paterson’s ‘Clancy of the Overflow’, I was expecting a story that followed the logic of Paterson’s poem, perhaps depicting an individual who wished for an opportunity to live a different life.  As per the poem, I expected Clancy’s life to be the one that was desired.

As it turns out, only some of what I expected was delivered.  While the novel definitely dealt with desire, aspiration and reflection on the status quo, there was not always a clear delineation between what was happening to characters and what they hoped would happen to them.  I found this ‘messiness’ appealing, and definitely reflective of reality.

I also thought the text dealt sensitively with a bullying, identity, and interpersonal relationships.