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?
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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.

Monsters

21 Sep

I have recently re-read A Monster Calls and, as a result, I can’t get thoughts of monsters out my head!  In particular, I cannot stop thinking about a unit about personal, social and political monsters in which A Monster Calls keeps company with FrankensteinThe Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and maybe even ‘Monsters‘ by Poetri.

As suggested by the unit title, the unit would examine monsters in various manifestations, viewing them as vehicles for personal, social and political commentary.

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.

Reading to Write

4 Sep

I have been spending a lot of time thinking about the new stage 6 English syllabus.  In particular, I have found myself unable to stop thinking about the new Year 11 unit ‘Reading to Write’.   In this unit students are offered opportunities to “undertake the intensive and close reading of quality texts,” using these to “develop the skills and knowledge necessary to appreciate, understand, analyse and evaluate how and why texts convey complex ideas, relationships, endeavours and scenarios” (Stage-6 Advanced English syllabus document).

Below are a selection of texts which I think could offer some interesting opportunities for engagement.  I will add to the list as I come up with more ideas.

‘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.

 

‘Becoming Kirrali Lewis’

7 Aug

I have also recently read Becoming Kirrali Lewis.  I read this text, hoping to discover a great Australian text that I could use in Year 9 instead of Deadly, Unna? which is not universally adored by students.

The text explores the experiences of Kirrali Lewis, an Aboriginal girl adopted into a white family, and her experiences during her first year of law school in the city.  The raised a number of important issues about identity, conflict and relationships which I think would interest some students.  However, the scope of experiences and short length of the book meant that these issues were, at times, left unexplored or not fully developed.

While I’m not sure my current Year 9 class would love this book, it is nonetheless something I would be interested in teaching.  With this in mind, I think it would be well placed as part of a textual pairing, perhaps with Taika Waititi’s film Boy.  Both texts explore the complexities of family relationships and the impact absent and found parents have on identity.