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Engaging the disengaged

9 Apr

I am hoping to be able to spend some time this year developing more engaging and innovative learning activities for some of my more disengaged students.  Here are some of my ideas thus far:

  • Create the pitch for a musical adaptation of the Shakespearean text we have been studying.  Which elements of the text would you retain, which would you change?  Who would you cast and why?  Write the song for a key scene in the play.  Create a storyboard outlining the plot.  Produce a costume for one of the main characters.
  • Write the next chapter of the novel we have been studying.
  • Re-write a section of the text from the perspective of a secondary character.
  • Re-imagine the poem we have studied as a narrative/conversation/feature article/persuasive speech.
  • Transform the poem we have been studying into a spoken word poem.  Justify your performance choices.

If you have any other good ideas I’d love to hear them!

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Drawing out connections between texts

8 Apr

I have just commenced a comparative study with one of my classes.  Many students in this class are a bit disengaged, preferring to have the answers given to them rather than thinking for themselves.  To address this issue, I decided to take it upon myself to build their confidence in, and capacity to, interpret texts independently.

To do this, I gave them two columns of information.  The first column included extracts from a Shakespearean text, and the second quotes from the collection of poems that was to form the comparison.  Without further information, and without the aid of Google, students had to work in pairs to read the quotes and make educated guesses about the potential points of thematic connection.

During class discussion, students them had to support their responses with evidence from the quotes.  We did this using a thinking routine called ‘what makes you say that?’  As suggested by the name, kids who gave responses unsupported by evidence where asked ‘what makes you say that?’ as a means of prompting critical and analytical engagement.

It was a really successful activity, with students teasing out all the key ideas I had planned to canvass in the unit and more.

Mapping Australian Poetry

7 Apr

I am in the process of putting together a unit of work that explores changes in the Australian voice over time.  This unit will require students to explore key examples of Australian poetry and to understand how these poems are shaped by social, political and cultural contexts.

I think it will be helpful for my students to have an understanding of Australian history (in broad and general terms).  As such, I want to show them this interactive timeline.  Hopefully students can use this as a reference point, along with specific information about the poets whose work we study, to develop their capacity to discuss the contextual frameworks that inspire and inform texts.

‘Killing Kennedy’

17 Jan

I recently stumbled upon an engaging interactive site about the life and death of JFK.  I think this text could function as a pathway to exploring JFK, his life and his presidency in the history class room.   Given the split focus on JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald (who later went on to assassinate JFK), it would also be an interesting means of introducing perspectives and showcasing how different individuals can interact within a multi-modal framework.

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!

Debating in the Classroom

22 Oct

I have been working to engage my students in meaningful learning activities when their interest in traditional reading, writing and discussion is waning.

I recently tried to engage my Year 8 students in a modified debate around issues relevant to their genre study.  It worked!

I provided students with the topic and then divided them into two teams, affirmative and negative.  Students used a scaffold to organise their information, working first individually and then coming together as a team.  They then decided on the speaking order.

The two teams faced off against one another, with each student required to rebut one point previously made and to advance one of their own.  As the debate progressed, I wrote these points on the board, crossing off the points that had been successfully demolished by the opposing team.  This helped students to focus their argument.

Although my students were not keen initially, I found that their competitive sides soon kicked in.  It was fantastic to watch stronger students supporting weaker ones and to see everyone, even reluctant public speakers, giving it a red hot go!

‘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.

The Merchant of Venice

5 Sep

I am experiencing difficulty engaging one of my junior classes.  These students don’t really want to discuss ideas raised in texts and they don’t want to write about what they have read.

To address this problem, I decided to begin my The Merchant of Venice unit with a moral dilemma, namely the trolley car problem posed by Michael Sandel in his ‘Justice’ series of lectures.  I hoped that this would get my students thinking and talking about the relationship between justice and morality, and that I could use this as foundation for understanding some of the issues in The Merchant of Venice.

Strangely enough it worked!  My kids articulated perspectives, justified their viewpoints, and proposed changes to the scenarios to make connections to real world experiences.