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8 Jan

I have spent a lot of time recently looking for poetry that voices social issues.  As part of this search I happened upon CJ Bowerbird’s ‘Clicktivism‘.  This is a wonderful spoken word poem that explores the ways that society engages with issues and causes.

I would like to use this poem as part of the introduction to a unit about the poetry of social change.  I would use it as a means of triggering student discussion about how individuals can make a difference in the world.

The poem is also an interesting text to use as part of the Society & Culture course in order to help students understand how technology is changing the way we engage with our society.

REVIEW: Home and Away

19 Sep

Home and Away by John Marsden and Matt Ottley offers an accessible entry into the complexities of the experience of being a refugee.

Students could trace the protagonist’s experiences, commenting on what he discovers about himself, his family and his priorities in a new country.

There is also scope for students to supplement this discussion by reflecting upon what we, as responders, discover as a result of reading the text.

When analysing, students should note the changes in the colour of the double page spreads as the colour scheme reflects and creates mood.

REVIEW: The Mysteries of Harris Burdick

18 Sep

This text is for the English student who wishes to demonstrate sophistication in his/her understanding of discovery.

The author provides a series of pictures which function as mysteries unsolved within the bounds of the text.  Accordingly, the onus is on us, the responders, to use our imaginations and discover meaning.  The openness of the images mean that the possibilities are endless and the process of discovery is ongoing.

The illustrations within this book are beautiful, and are easily interpreted by students once students have been given a vocabulary for decoding a visual text.  More capable students will marry the visuals with the words, noting humour and tone, using the language choices to enrich their interpretations.

Discovering new related texts

17 Sep

I am on a mission to compile a list of related material for AOS Discovery that will engage my Standard English class.  My observation is that they respond better to texts they can see and hear  than they do to written ones.  Accordingly, I am focusing on short films and spoken word poetry.

Below are the examples I have identified so far and accompanying explanation:

  1. Out of Bounds‘ (animated short): This text tells the story of a man who experiences OCD and social anxiety.  As responders, we discover what life is like for people like him, and how relationships (in whatever form they take) can transform behaviour.  The man similarly discovers the power of relationships to transform behaviour, and the benefits that flow from taking risks.
  2. Origami‘ (animated short): In this story, the boy discovers within himself the transformative power of tradition and perseverance.
  3. Uri‘ (animated short): Not all discoveries are positive.  In this animation, the protagonist discovers what it is like to be lost and alone.
  4. Approved for Adoption‘ (film trailer): Discoveries about the self, others and the world.  Also canvases how these discoveries can lead to self-doubt and confusion.
  5. Brain divided‘ (animated short): Viewers gain insight into the minds of the characters, while the male character discovers the equilibrium between his two extremes of behaviour.
  6. Changing batteries‘ (animated short): Characters discover empathy and the accompanying range of emotions.

Any other suggestions for my class?

TIME to talk about gender

1 May

Better responses in Society and Culture assessments and exams are supported by real world examples.  Below are two commentaries on TIME Magazine articles which may be of use when seeking to discuss the complexities associated with gender in our society.

The first is an article by Candice Chung, which discusses responses to TIME Magazine’s decision to cover an issue with an image of Hillary Clinton’s pant suit-clad leg and a small man handing off the heel of her sensible shoes.  Particularly interesting in Chung’s article is discussion of the connotations of this image and how the cover has been interpreted.

The second article is by Effie Mann, and discusses TIME Magazine’s decision to cover a magazine about the 100 most influential people with a picture of Beyoncé in her underwear.  Here, discussion centres on the differences between how men and women are represented on the cover of TIME Magazine.


21 Dec

I have written previously about teaching Hamlet as a play, rather than a written text.  One way to get students thinking about how lines are delivered is to get them to create their own 15 second rendition of their favourite lines in one of Shakespeare’s plays.

As is evident in the student-spoken examples of Hamlet featured in the New York Times, interpretations of the play’s most iconic lines vary dramatically.  By encouraging students to perform their own interpretation, you are paving the way for a discussion about perspectives, readings and personal responses to the play.

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.

Left Neglected

11 Dec

Lisa Genova’s Left Neglected is a story about disruption and adaptation.

Sarah is a high-powered career woman and a mum.  Organisation and multi-tasking guide her day, enabling her to exceed the demands of her job while also attending to her three young children.

On her way to work one day, Sarah checks her phone while driving.  The lapse in concentration leads to an accident.  The accident results in damage to Sarah’s brain.  She is diagnosed with Left Neglect, a condition which causes her to lose awareness of everything on the left.  The aftermath of the accident causes Sarah to re-examine her relationships and priorities.

This novel is a suitable related text for Area of Studies Belonging and Discovery.  In fact, these concepts play out hand in hand as Sarah’s discoveries about herself, her capabilities, her resilience and that of her family are made in the context of supportive relationships of belonging.

Calico Joe

9 Dec

Let me begin by saying I am a John Grisham fan.  I have been a fan of his legal thrillers for more than half my life.  I also really liked his novel Playing for Pizza, which was sport rather than legal themed.  Accordingly, I came to his baseball themed novel Calico Joe with an open mind.  I don’t know much about baseball, but, using Playing for Pizza as my model, I assumed that sporting knowledge was not a prerequisite to appreciating the text.

As it turned out, understanding baseball for the purposes of Calico Joe was much more important than understanding football for the purposes of Playing for Pizza.  However, after reading Grisham’s introductory explanation twice I had enough of a handle on the terminology to imagine (albeit perhaps not 100% accurately) what was happening in the long sections of baseball-related description.

Thankfully, as with Playing for Pizza, there was more to Calico Joe than simply a homage to a sport that I knew nothing about.  In essence, Calico Joe is a narrative about responding to and confronting the past, mending bridges, and discovering the truth.

The baseball aspect of the story: As injuries beset a major league baseball team, the team is forced to include a relative amateur in the line up.  That amateur is Joe Castle (later nicknamed Calico Joe), and he proves to be a star.  However, Joe’s promising career is cut short when he is hit on the head by Warren Tracey.  Warren’s son is watching in the stands as his father’s fastball changes all their lives forever.

The human relationships aspect of the story: Warren Tracey is dying, and his son Paul wants him to apologise to Joe Castle before it is too late.  The narrative tracks Warren’s initial intransigence, Paul’s attempts to uncover the truth, and the twists and turns associated with clarifying and addressing what happened on that day on the diamond when everything changed.

Why is this relevant to English?  This book has potential as a related text for AOS Discovery; it is about discovering the truth, discovering true character and discovering the motivations for action.

Paper Towns

6 Dec

A paper town is a town that exists only on paper, created by cartographers as a copyright trap.  In theory, a person knows that copyright of his/her map has been breached when the paper town created for one map appears on subsequent maps produced by other companies/people.

However, as John Green explains in the beginning of his TED Talk below, theory is not always the same as reality.  In Green’s example, enough people visited the place marked by the paper town that a real town was built.

This idea, argues Green, is an “irresistible metaphor,” not least of all because it signals that “how we map the world, changes the world.”

It is this concept that inspired Green’s novel Paper Towns.

Paper Towns is, in essence, a story about discovery; discovering new friends, discovering clues, discovering love, discovering independence and discovering identity.  To return to the map metaphor, it is about discovering how the ways we  map/see the world can determine our stories.  A more detailed summary can be found here.

The other lovely thing about Green’s novel is that it helps the reader to discover the power of language in plotting our paths. Green’s novels are always rich in intextual allusion, imagery and metaphor.  Paper Towns is no different.  Alongside the aforementioned overriding metaphor associated with cartography, Green introduces us to the completing metaphors of strings and grass as a means of understanding the self and others.  The explanatory quote is taken from near the end of the book (Green, 2008, p. 349):

“If you choose the strings, then you’re imagining a world in which you can become irreparably broken.  If you choose the grass, you’re saying that we are all infinitely interconnected, that we can use these root systems not only to understand one another but to become one another.” 

Through this distinction, Green makes clear that “metaphors have implications” for how we perceive ourselves and our relationships.   The message is thus that careful selection of “which metaphor you choose… matters.”