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Telling Stories

11 Feb

It is tempting to think that the storyteller has all the power, that we tell or author or construct or manufacture stories.  It is tempting to think that this power is one directional.  Rebecca Solnit suggests that it is not:

“We think we tell stories, but stories often tell us, tell us to love or hate, to see or be seen. Often, too often, stories saddle us, ride us, whip us onward, tell us what to do, and we do it without questioning. The task of learning to be free requires learning to hear them, to question them, to pause and hear silence, to name them, and then become a story-teller.”

In essence, Solnit is suggesting that stories themselves are imbued with a particular power – a power that can illuminate and obscure, resurrect and rebury, ignite and deflate.  The power is that of persuasion, of emotion, of transformation and of transportation.  Yet, to merely recognise this power is insufficient.  Solnit suggests that we must become active listeners, critical listeners.  She suggests we must question and query and interrogate until, informed and empowered, we can then reimagine stories as our own, infusing new perspectives and new understandings.

It seems to me that these principles are vital for students to understand as part of the Narratives that Shape Our World module in Year 11 Advanced English.  Indeed, it seems that these principles offer a partial response – at least – to the imperative to recreate, revisit and reimagine the narratives that have come before.

 

Reading as a gateway to empathy and solidarity

9 Oct

There is an emphasis in the new senior English syllabus on why people read and how what we read helps us to better understand the world, human experiences, and ourselves.  With this in mind, I am thinking of asking my students to read ‘How to be a good man: what I learned from a month reading the feminist classics‘.  As suggested by the title, the article explores how the reading of feminist classics can help a man to demonstrate solidarity in the era of #metoo and also begin to better understand the complexity of women’s experiences.

I think it would be an interesting activity for students to craft their own list of texts that should be read if someone wishes to better understand a particular issue, idea or group.  I would be inclined to broaden the task out, allowing students to identify (and later read) novels, short stories and poetry.  I would also be inclined to ask students to read as many texts as they can, developing a system for evaluating what they have read in order to make meaningful recommendations.

How do narratives shape our world?

30 Aug

As part of the new year 11 Advanced module ‘Narratives that shape our world’ students need to explore how and why narratives matter.

When asked ‘How do narratives shape our world?’ my students flagged a number of interesting ideas:

  • Narratives offer a way of organising and understanding the complexity of human existence; structure, cause and effect, motivation and character allow us to relive and understand significant experiences.
  • Narratives offer windows into the worlds of others.  Here, narrative devices help to develop the reader’s empathy and compassion.
  • Narratives enable us to understand how universal human experiences are re-imagined across time and space.
  • Narratives prevent us from feeling alone; by being exposed to the experiences (fictional or otherwise) of others, the perception that someone is different, ‘other’, or isolated dissolves.

 

Peer into the List of Pairs

8 Aug

My list of textual pairings now offers over 210 combinations!  I have tried to craft the list so that it offers a mix between what schools might already have in the book room and texts that could be purchased to supplement existing stock.

Telling Stories

27 Jul

In the introduction to my Penguin Books edition of Shakespeare’s Hamlet the following quotation appears:

“The telling and retelling of stories is our main means for getting some insight into and control over our circumstances.”

It seems to me that sentence could be replicated exactly in an introduction to Othello.  Indeed, that text is preoccupied with the telling of stories.  In fact, it is through the telling of stories that Iago is able to consolidate his power over Othello and a range of other characters.

It would be interesting to see whether students studying the ‘Narratives that shape our world’ unit in Year 11 Advanced feel that this statement is an accurate representation of the purpose of storytelling.

So many pairs!

22 Jul

My list of textual pairings now exceeds 200!  I am keen for suggestions of combinations that have worked in your classrooms so that I can expand my list.

What is storytelling?

21 Jul

As part of the Year 11 Advanced module ‘Narratives that shape our world’, students need to engage with notions of narrative and storytelling.  I stumbled upon an article in The Guardian about scientists and storytelling, and thought it could be used early in the unit as a means of teasing out this concept with students.

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.

Textual Interventions

24 Jun

I am looking to introduce the concept of textual interventions to my senior students.  In essence, a textual intervention is a form of tweaking or re-imagining of an element of a narrative and then critically reflecting on the choices made.  It may, for example, involve identifying a gap, silence or absence, or shifting context, genre or perspective.

As a way in, I thought I would show students this article entitled ‘Classic Horror Films Remade as Rom-Coms.’  I think this might be useful and fun way to show how a text’s core ideas can be re-imagined in new context to reveal new understandings of the world.

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!