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‘A Long Way Gone’ and ‘Freedom Writers’

16 Nov

For a while now I have been posting text pairings on my blog.  I tend to update it once I read or watch something new, hoping that one day I can draw from the list and teach something really exciting, engaging and thought-provoking.

I wanted to take some time out from adding to the list, instead explaining why I think particular texts would work well together.  Some of these options I have tried in my own classroom, others I aspire to teach one day but have not yet had to right class with which to test them.  I hope by explaining my thought process other teachers may have the right class with which to take the leap and might be inspired to try something new.

A Long Way Gone  is the autobiography of Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier from Sierra Leone.  This book explores mature content but in a reasonably accessible way, making it the perfect choice for a mainstream Year 10 class.

Freedom Writers is a film that explores the power of relationships both within and outside of gang culture.  It highlights the role of education and strong relations to change the trajectory of lives.  Again, the content is mature but the presentation is accessible, making it a good film to pair with A Long Way Gone.

You could engage with both the texts around the idea of relationships and the forces that inspire/compel loyalty.  It would interesting to make comparisons between the experiences of child soldiers and those of gang members.  This particular comparison also enables meaningful engagement with notions of innocence and responsibility as well as charting courses towards redemption in various forms.

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Talking about death…

6 Nov

I love the novel A Monster Calls.  It is amazing!

This year I taught it in an abridged unit, using the text as stimulus for engagement with and production of a diverse range of text types.

Next year I want to teach it again, but differently.  In particular, I want to link it to a range of other stimulus material as a means of getting students to think critically at the issues and experiences flagged in the text.

I recently read ‘Five Sketches of a Story About Death‘ by Leesa Cross-Smith, and I think it would make a good addition to my new and improved A Monster Calls unit.  In this text, Cross-Smith canvasses various responses to and experiences related to death.  These vary in intensity and connection and could be used as part of a discussion about important issues in A Monster Calls, perhaps signalling to students that diverse responses are expected and accepted.

Subverting Fairy Tales

28 Oct

I have recently read Kissing the Witch (Emma Donoghue), a collection of interlinked short stories which subvert well known fairy tales.

I wish I had read this a little earlier as one of these stories would have been a good addition to a recent lesson sequence about subverting fairy tales.  Inspired by the three tales told by the monster in The Monster Calls, I decided to examine texts that incorporate some fairy tale elements but subvert or challenge others.

To illustrate the point, we engaged with a picture book retelling of The Three Little Pigs and a FANTASTIC short story entitled ‘There Was Once’ by Margaret Atwood.  After this discussing these and making connections to A Monster Calls, I asked students to select a fairy tale and subvert it.

Together we brainstormed some amazing ideas, framing our potential points of challenge or subversion as a series of interlinked questions.

  • What if the bears trespassed in the home owned by Goldilocks?  What if she was home?  What if she had a gun?  New bear skin rug?
  • What if Belle has taken the Beast from the wild?  What if the animal rights advocates found out?
  • What if Pinocchio was a real boy?  And a minority?  And he lied to the police?
  • What if Snow White’s experience of a poisoned apple prompted her to pursue an organic farming venture?
  • What if the witch in Hansel and Gretel was involved in human trafficking?
  • What if Cinderella was told from the perspective of one of the stepsisters?
  • What if Aladdin needed a visa to travel to a whole new world?
  • What if the Emperor was arrested after engaging in public nudity?
  • What if the Princess in The Princess and the Pea did not discover a pea beneath her many mattresses?  What if she discovered a handgun, or drugs?  What if she was undercover detective?

Exciting new pairings!

23 Oct

My list of suggested textual pairings now includes over 140 options!

I have tried to incorporate texts that schools may have already, pairing them with new options to renew student and teacher interest.

I have also incorporated some texts that may not be classroom staples but, in my view, should be!

If you have any additional suggestions, or have tried some of these options in your classroom, please let me know!

‘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.

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.

‘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.

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.

‘Viceroy’s House’

11 Jun

I recently watched Viceroy’s House, a film about the transition of British India to independence.  The film was beautifully made, utilising the difficulties of a love between a Hindu (Jeet Kumar) and Muslim (Aalia Noor) to represent the divisions in a nation that will need to be partitioned in order to realise dreams of independence.

I think the film could be an interesting partner for a study of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet.  This pairing would be a particularly useful way of exploring how the relationship between protagonists illuminates broader social tensions.

It would also be a good related text for Year 11 AOS Journeys or Change.  In both instances, students would be able to analyse the experiences of characters and then connect this to journeys or change on a national scale.