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Best Books

4 Jul

I was reading Laura Randazzo‘s post entitled ‘The Best Book Ever?‘ in which she discusses America’s best-loved novels.  After reading the list included in her post, I couldn’t help but feel that there were some books which I would not have included, and others that appear to be missing.   This got me thinking: do others feel the same way?

I would like to ask this question of students in the school’s Book Club, asking them to work collaboratively to come up with a list of their top 50 books.  Perhaps, we could then work towards reviewing each of these books for the blog they are working on.  Additionally, we could use this as a way of gauging students’ interests, perhaps better tailoring our recommendations for reluctant readers.

A number of the students in Book Club are genre readers.  A spin off project could involve them compiling a list of the top 20 fantasy books, for example.  We could then combine this list with an illustration and make a collection of book marks that could be distributed to students with the next books they read in English class, thus encouraging wide reading.  In fact, students could even work on subject specific lists (sci-fi for science, books about the environment for geography etc), thus allowing other faculties to build students’ love of literature.

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King Henry IV

27 Jun

Teaching King Henry IV, Part 1?  If so, you might find this Youtube overview a good way to introduce the landscape of the text to your students!

Re-view

20 Jun

I have been reading a lot of book reviews recently.  It struck me that the point of a review is to offer enough information to entice one to read the text, but not so much information that the entire plot is explained.  This got me thinking, could I use this as a tool to trigger students’ creativity?  Could they re-view or re-imagine the original text by exploiting the gaps in the plot left when a text is reviewed? For example, could I use extracts from this review of Colm Toibin’s ‘Sleep’ to as stimulus for students’ gothic compositions?

I am excited to give this a go!

Representing Tasks

9 Jun

One of the modes typically assessed in the English classroom is representing.  Recent discussions regarding assessments at school have started me thinking about creative, engaging and meaningful ways to have students represent their understanding of texts and concepts set for study.  Some ideas are below:

  • Students select four small props or symbols representative of the key ideas in a text.  These are used as the focal point of a speech/tutorial presentation.  One prop selected by a student studying Othello, for example, might be a pair of reading glasses.  This could be used to flag discussion of Othello’s desire for “ocular proof” of his wife’s alleged infidelity, a punning allusion to Othello’s inability to ‘see’ Iago for who he truly is, and/or a link to how the omniscient audience ‘sees’ and understands Othello’s downfall.
  • Students create a poster advocating for the social change desired by the poets/authors whose texts have been studied during the unit.  Students then present their poster, explaining how the poster (a) responds to the texts and issues set for study, and (b) demonstrates their own commitment to the focus issue.
  • Students invent and pitch a product to represent their knowledge of persuasive devices and advertising techniques.
  • Students craft a metaphor or simile to explain and represent a concept set for study.  Then, they create a presentation explaining how that metaphor or simile can be used to explore their set text(s).

Thinking about ‘The Tempest’…

1 Nov

A recent discussion with a student has me thinking about The Tempest again.  We were discussing the notion that the opening scenes of The Tempest are largely about Prospero’s need to discover a version of himself that counteracts the model of weakness offered as a result of being ousted from his role as Duke of Milan.  While we both accept this proposition, we did wonder if he was overcompensating!

Prospero is, unquestionably, emasculated by the discovery that he has been duped by those he trusted.  He also, clearly, responds by exerting control over everyone and everything he encounters on the island.  Notably, he enslaves Ariel and Caliban, seeks to mould his daughter’s mind and control her actions, and even musters a tempest as a means of exacting revenge on those responsible for his emasculation and exile.  He seems to be repeating the acts of usurpation and control that humiliated him, merely ensuring that he is victor rather than victim.  The doubling and tripling of this pattern offers dramatic impact – on that we can all agree.   It may also speak volumes about Prospero’s character and the role played by events in shaping personality.

‘New Boy’

2 Sep

I have just finished reading Tracy Chevalier’s novel New Boy, it is an appropriation of Othello and part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series that also includes Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed.

Like OthelloNew Boy explores jealousy, manipulation and choices that cannot be unmade.  Interestingly, New Boy sets the action in a school playground, perhaps alluding to the notion that the manipulation engineered by Ian (the Iago character) is just another childish game.  This setting also allows the easy manipulation of Oesi (the Othello character) to seem more plausible; it makes more sense to me that a child, rather than an adult soldier, may not have the resilience or savvy to withstand the tactics of a manipulator.

Another interesting choice made by the author is the title.  Unlike Shakespeare who named his text directly after his protagonist, Chevalier has chosen to title hers New Boy,  I think this raises some interesting questions:  Does using the protagonist’s name honour  the protagonist or publicly call out his conduct? Is referencing a status rather than a name a statement of universal applicability or does it buy in to the very prejudice that is described in the text?  Do these choices honour victims or name perpetrators?  Why does the manipulator not have his name or his title plastered across the front of the cover?

I think New Boy could be a really interesting text to teach alongside Othello in Year 11 Advanced, perhaps functioning as a precursor to an HSC study of The Tempest and Hag-Seed.

 

‘The Disappearing’

14 Jul

The Disappearing is an interactive website which offers a means of poetically representing places and experiences which are disappearing.  These places and experiences are sometimes disappearing due to the passage of time,  other times due to environmental factors, and sometimes due to urbanisation.

I think this would be an interesting related text to use alongside Go Back to Where You Came From for HSC AOS Discovery.   Go Back explores individuals renewed perceptions of self and world.  It takes individuals on a journey which causes them to confront their prejudices and beliefs and to potentially alter their engagement with the world as a result.  The Disappearing similarly invites individuals to reconsider their perceptions of the world they live in.  However, where discoveries in Go Back are largely emotional and social, discoveries prompted by The Disappearing relate first and foremost to man’s relationship with the natural world.

‘Hag-Seed’

28 May

I recently read Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed.

Initially, I wasn’t hugely impressed as it seemed like an unimaginative adaptation of The Tempest; like Prospero, the protagonist (Felix) was usurped and experienced a period of exile, albeit from directing plays.

However, as I continued to read I found myself getting sucked in.  Particularly interesting was Atwood’s emphasis on notions of imprisonment; Prospero is imprisoned on the island, Caliban is imprisoned by Prospero and the protagonist of Hag-Seed is imprisoned by the past.  I do think this notion was laboured a tad by setting Felix’s path as directing plays for prisoners.

I was also intrigued by Atwood’s representation of Miranda (Prospero’s daughter in the play, and Felix’s daughter in the book).  Unlike in the play, where Miranda is very much alive, in the novel she begins as a memory and them begins to assume ghostly form.  This was reasonably effective as a metaphor for representing the haunting spectre of the past, and the way in which the past informs present action.

Overall, I am not sure I loved Hag-Seed as a novel.  However, as a companion to The Tempest (as it will be in the new HSC) it does, definitely, have merit.

Comfort Zones

22 May

I recently read an article online about comfort zones.  This article sought to challenge the conventionally accepted wisdom that we should try move beyond our comfort zones.

While reading the article I couldn’t help but think of Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’.  In this poem, the persona desires to “disturb the universe” and challenge the boundaries of the unknown, but is unable to do; he is crippled by his anxiety and indecision.  In other words, he does not venture beyond his comfort zone.  For him, however, being stuck in the bubble of his comfort zone is not a good thing – when in his comfort zone he is not living to the fullest.  In fact, he is not living at all!

‘The African Doctor’

25 Mar

I recently watched The African Doctor.  This film explores the experiences of a recently arrived family of Congolese descent as they seek to find their place in a rural village in France.

Although overly simplistic at times, the text engages with ideas of tolerance, acceptance, identity and communal action.  For these reasons, I think the text has the potential to engage students.

That said, I think I would be reluctant to study this text in isolation.  I think it would work best either as part of a comparative unit, or as a related text for AOS Journey or Discovery.