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Language and Gender related material

3 Oct

I cannot stop thinking about the different types of texts I would introduce students to as part of the ‘Language and Gender’ elective in Extension 1 English.  As such, I have started to compile a list (see below).  I plan to keep revisiting and updating this list as new ideas come to me.

  1. The Bluest Eye (novel)
  2. Beloved (novel)
  3. Americanah (novel)
  4. ‘Girl’ (short story)
  5. The visual album accompanying Beyonce’s Lemonade
  6.  Girl Rising (film)
  7. Poetry of Maya Angelou
  8. Poetry of Warsan Shire
  9. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (autobiography)
  10. Bad Feminist (collection of essays)
  11. The Twyborn Affair (novel)
  12. Annie John (novel)
  13. Quiet‘ (spoken word poem)
  14. Anzac Girls (television series)
  15. Call the Midwife (television series)
  16. The Help (film and novel)
  17. Love Child (television series)
  18. House Husbands (television series)
  19. Black Eye‘ (spoken word poem)
  20. Spear‘ (spoken word poem)
  21. I think she was a she‘ (spoken word poem)
  22. Real Men‘ (spoken word poem)
  23. She Said‘ (spoken word poem)
  24. Macbeth (play)
  25. ‘One Word’ (short story)
  26. The Color Purple (novel)
  27. Mr Selfridge (television series)
  28. Scandal (television series)
  29. Bush Mechanics (television series).

Language and Gender

2 Oct

As you have no doubt gathered as a result of reading this blog, I have a particular interest in the relationship between language, representation and gender.  For this reason, were I offered an opportunity to teach Extension 1, I would be keen to select the elective entitled ‘Language and Gender’ in the ‘Languages and Values’ module.

While the set texts have some appeal, what particularly interests me is the potential for diverse and exciting related material.  I would love, for example, to introduce my students to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah in which a woman grapples with her identity personally and through the prisms of culture and country.  I would also love to introduce students to the novels of Toni Morrison, particularly Beloved and The Bluest Eye.  In the former text a conflict in terms of the construction of gender identity is conveyed: is it written by the individual, society or by one’s master?  In The Bluest Eye, we see an exploration of beauty and the way in which gender expectation intersect with race.

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?

What is in the box?

12 Sep

I am on the lookout for ways to engage my new Year 12 students in meaningful and detailed discussion about Discovery as a concept.

One suggestion made recently was to place a collection of significant items in a box and have students to select one at random and use the item as stimulus for exploring moments of discovery.

As one can learn a lot about an individual from the things s/he owns, I also think this has potential as a way of helping students to explore characterisation (in their creative writing) without reverting to a laboured description of hair and eye colour.

Encouraging wide reading

14 Jul

The kids that I teach are awesome.  They are also, however, with a handful of exceptions,  non or occasional readers.

On a human level, this concerns me because students who do not read regularly miss out on opportunities to explore new worlds, to develop their ability to empathise with others and to see the world from different perspectives.  Indeed, there are worlds and experiences that my students are unable to access due to geography, time, or personal circumstances.  Reading would enable students to transcend time and space and engage with that which is currently out of reach.

As a teacher, my non or occasional readers cause concern because these students are disadvantaged when it comes to understanding how sentences should be structured, how images are built, how ideas are connected to create a coherent whole, and  how meaning is constructed.  They are also disadvantaged as they have less access to popular and quality literature (and yes, these are often different categories).  As such, these students have greater difficulty in evaluating the quality of their own work and that of their peers.  They also have greater difficulty in analysing texts set for study.

In light of all this, the question then becomes: How do I get my students to read?

As it turns out, my students are not overly receptive to novels.  Perhaps this is because, for many of these students, it takes ages to read a novel and, during that time, they lose track of the story line.

With this in mind, I think I am going to focus on getting students to engage with short stories.  My more motivated and competent students can read a short story in one sitting, while weaker students can read one over the course of the week.

The hitch, it seems, is figuring out how to sell this approach to my students! Any ideas?

Clues to a great short story

12 Dec

Often students who find creative writing difficult will request a magic short story formula that they can use as a scaffold for their own writing.  Such a formula does not exist.

Suggestions regarding the essential elements of any creative piece do, however, exist.   These elements are discussed at length by Andrew Stanton in the TED talk below:

For those of us who do not have time to watch the full TED talk in class, Stanton’s elements have been summarised in a TED poster.

I like this poster because it links the suggestions to elements of films that students are likely to be familiar with.  In this sense, it draws on their existing knowledge, causing them to reflect critically on familiar examples of creative composition.

To develop this critical insight, I would be inclined to ask students to create their own versions of the Stanton poster.  The basic elements of Stanton’s poster would be retained, with students tasked with including their own examples (from film/literature) and perhaps even adding another element or two which they consider to be essential to an effective narrative.

Gone Girl

5 Dec

I have recently completed reading Gillian Flynn’s acclaimed thriller Gone Girl.  In all honesty, it is not a book I would have chosen to read of my own accord.   It was suggested by a member of my book club, and narrowly won in a ‘majority rules’ contest against Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s new novel Americanah.  I am a big Adichie fan, and thus voted in favour of  Americanah.

While I am glad I read it (the whole point of book club is to read outside one’s comfort zone and expand one’s reading repertoire), I am also glad I borrowed Gone Girl  from the library rather than purchasing a copy.

Gone Girl begins as an ordinary work of crime fiction: wife goes missing on the day of her and her husband’s five year wedding anniversary, husband is presumed guilty of orchestrating her demise.  This belief in the husband’s guilt is fostered through the police’s increasing focus on the husband as their prime suspect.  The assumption that the ‘husband did it’ is so cliched, that one cannot help but root for his innocence (if only to render the plot more interesting).  One’s faith in the husband’s innocence is, however, tested.  Not only does he seem appropriately shell-shocked, but details of a crumbling marriage and his infidelity tarnish his image.  For students studying Crime Fiction as their HSC Extension 1 English Elective, this engagement with the cliches/stereotypes of the genre makes for an interesting starting point for analysis, in particular because it draws on our understanding of key television tropes to engage us in the narrative.

As the narrative progresses, we realise that the initial cliches were intended as a diversion only.  SPOILER ALERT: the husband is not the killer.  In fact, the wife is not dead.  Instead, the wife has staged the whole disappearance as an elaborate act of revenge intended to humiliate her husband.  The initial suggestion that the husband is a deranged psychopath is subverted; it is the wife who is devious and dangerous.

The wife’s meticulously planned revenge is supposed to take the reader by surprise.  It is, if you like, the first twist in the narrative.  Every year, on their wedding anniversary, the wife creates a treasure hunt; she plants clues, husband follows them and finds his gift.  The first clue is released to the husband by the police once they have processed the crime scene.  The final line reads as follows: “And this time I’ll teach you a thing or two.”  Here, the word “teach” alludes both to the husband’s occupation and as a threat of revenge.  Accordingly, by page 69 it is apparent (to the reader, although not the husband) that this is a set up.  For me, this early warning ruined a large proportion of the text as, instead of becoming invested in the story, I found myself simply getting frustrated that the husband was blind to the fact that he was walking into a trap.  Indeed, the husband had to complete the treasure hunt before he realised that his wife had framed him.

My prejudices aside, this novel would make an interesting related text for Extension One students in that it ticks so many of the boxes associated with the Crime Fiction genre.  Alongside Flynn’s engagement with genre cliches, students should comment on the effectiveness (or otherwise) of the various plot strands and the complicated relationship between perceived red herrings and clues.