A Guide to this Blog

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Using Text Chains

Text chains show the way that authors bring great books, like A Monster Calls (above), to life
Today I am lucky enough to be heading to a TeachMeet out at Camden Primary School. I love TeachMeets because they provide an opportunity for teachers to share ideas in a concise and useful fashion - each teacher is usually restricted to 7 minutes or so to keep things snappy. In the spirit of this snappiness I'm also going to keep this blog short. 

The content of the presentation can be found here: Using Text Chains.

I've written about text chains on this blog before, and these posts can be found by clicking the 'Text Chains' label attached to this post.

Anyway, I'd love to write more but, being Term 3 and all, I'm a bit pressed for time. Hope you find it useful nonetheless!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Characters of 1984

I haven't posted anything this month yet. The main reason for this is, well... there are actually lots of reasons for it, but they're mostly boring and you wouldn't care about them, O intrepid internet reader!

Anyway, here's a worksheet on the characters of 1984 - Character Analysis.

In said sheet, students explore the three main characters (Winston Smith, Julia, O'Brien) and find a corresponding quote from the text before answering a guided question for each one. The sheet also has summaries for the following supporting characters:
  • Big Brother
  • Mr Charrington
  • Syme
  • Parsons
  • Emmanuel Goldstein
After students have been taken through each of the characters, get them to synthesise their thoughts on the supporting characters in response to one of the primary themes of the novel. This can be done through this question:
George Orwell's 1984 is primarily about the effect of totalitarianism on a society. Pick two supporting characters and discuss how they demonstrate this.

On a separate but related note, I recently had the pleasure of attending the recent stage production of 1984 created by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan. This took place at the Sydney Theatre, and the visit became possible thanks to my colleague Ashlee Horton, who organised it as a school excursion for some of our Year 12 Advanced English students.

The play starts in a somewhat disorientating manner, perhaps relying a little too much on the viewer's knowledge of the novel as various elements and characters coalesce together in a metatextual opening scene that meditates on the themes as much as the plot. From here though the production took hold of just about everyone in the audience with its arresting and inventive use of lighting and sound. Without getting too much into particulars, the experience is a wholly visceral assault on the senses that immerses the viewer in Orwell's world of surveillance and control, with the play building its own way into the story; both paying tribute to the novel whilst also making the best use of the medium of the stage.

I was left breathless by the end. It was also great to hear the students similarly inflamed and provoked by the play.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Change in the Modern World: China

Option B of the Change in the Modern World module for HSC Modern History offers teachers and students a chance to engage with the volatile and intense recent history of China's Cultural Revolution, as well as the Tiananmen Square incident that threatened to change the lives of more than a billion people.

In the materials below, teachers are shown an overview of how this module can be taught. Each of the resources and ideas will help our Year 12 students to engage with Red China at its height. This new module and option gives us the chance to wrestle with an exciting period of modern history where huge ideas had a very real impact on the lives of both those at the top and the everyday people influenced by them.

Change in the Modern World: Option B overview - PowerPoint Presentation from the HTA NSW Conference 2017

Political and Social Conditions in China - cause and effect, background dot points.
Building the Field: China 1966-1969 - useful subject-specific vocabulary and historical terminology.
Sino-Soviet Split and Anti-Revisionism in the 1950s and 1960s - cause and effect, ideology, background dot points.
Significant Figures: China 1966-1989 - historical significance, overview of historical figures.
Deng and Mao: Changing Political Standing - significance and timelines in relation to dot points.
Getting to Grips with the Cultural Revolution - cause and effect, research scaffold.
Evaluating the Cultural Revolution - source analysis, historiography, perspectives.
Tiananmen Square: Ideology and Evaluation - source analysis, historiography, perspectives.
Impact of the Tiananmen Square Incident - guided comprehension of historical reading

Additional material can also be found in HTA's Teaching History journal, 2017.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Impact of the Democracy Movement on China in 1989

This iconic photo shows an unknown figure who has come to be known as 'Tank Man'. This man stood in front of the advancing CCP tanks during the protests, in his left hand is his grocery shopping.
The last dot point in the China option for Change in the Modern World states that students should give some focus to:
  • the impact of the events of Tiananmen Square in 1989 on China and its standing in the world. 
The protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989 were a distillation of the Democracy Movement that had characterised Chinese dissent throughout the late 1970s and the 1980s up until this point. Chinese artists, intellectuals, and students had gradually increased their demand for political, social, and economic reform under Deng Xiaoping's helming of Chinese leadership, which led to devastating consequences - what many refer to as a historical 'flashpoint'. Through a combination of short and long term causes, tensions built to a point where the opposing ideologies of the CCP and the protestors finally clashed.

This was the point where China 'decided' whether it did want to become a democracy or not. The reverberations of this violent release of pressure would colour the next decade for China both nationally and internationally, and its this examination of the effect that students will need to come to grips with in relation to the last dot point of Option B.

The document attached below offers a summary of the aftermath of the incident, and utilises a scaffolded version of the Cornell note-taking method to guide students in engaging and responding to specific parts of the text. I've found this approach quite effective with mixed ability classes who struggle to read texts of this sort - the note-taking scaffold, with its questions, is helpful because it explicitly focuses students while they read. In essence, it tells them what to look for, and students tend to appreciate this.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Tiananmen Square: Ideology and Evaluation

Picking apart the myriad reasons for what happened at Tiananmen Square in 1989 can be quite a big ask, especially in light of the conflicting information in the historical record. At the time of writing it has now been nearly 30 years since the incident occurred, however, the establishment of a national history in keeping with China's ongoing political ideology means that some degree of historiographical analysis will be required from students looking to get an overall picture of this multidimensional event. 

In other words: the official and the unofficial histories of the Tiananmen Square incident are quite different from one another. 

Before engaging with the opinions of a wide range of historians, students should examine the various causes of the event itself. 

This can be looked at in three main ways:
  1. The reasons for Deng Xiaoping's opposition to the protests.
  2. The reasons for the protestors' opposition to Deng Xiaoping.
  3. The reasons for why the protests could ultimately be interpreted as a failure.  
Here's a sheet with 14 causes that can be sorted into the three above categories. Students can colour-code, cut-and-paste, or copy into a table. Click the link below to download.

Resource: Clash of Ideologies

Following this, students can then begin looking at a variety of evaluations regarding the incident, and consider how each historian has grappled with the above three categories of reasoning. These have been gleamed from various books about 20th Century Chinese history, all of which I would recommend. They are as follows:

Alexander V. Pantsov, author of Deng Xiaoping, 2016
Despite numerous pleas to return home, the rebellious youths did not want to abandon their protests, so the leaders of the nation had to choose between employing force and making concessions. And they made their choice, turning the streets leading to Tiananmen red with blood.
Deng Xiaoping retained his firm conviction about the necessity for dictatorship in the form of the unchallengable rule of the Chinese Communist Party. When confronted by a vision of democracy, he could only see the spectre of chaos. He dug in his heels and would go no further.
Many in the Party saw the market forces of economic reforms to blame, that the modernisation of the economy had opened China up to the 'rotten West' and that this was how bourgeois liberalisation contaminated the minds of the youth. The CCP, now with a new upcoming leader in Jiang, now condemned Deng's planned reforms of the future.
Immanuel C. Y. Hsu, author of China Without Mao, 1990
Elders who enjoyed privileges in the Party wanted to hold onto these privileges at all costs, and felt the need to defend the socialist order that had made their elitism possible. Killing protestors was not a concern as they were 'anti-party counterrevolutionaries' who deserved to be eliminated. Loss of tourism and credit was of small concern compared to the survival of the Communist leadership. Deng declared that he did not fear foreign opinion for this reason.
Accurate figures of the massacre are impossible - Western sources estimated 3000 dead and 10 000 wounded. One report from the New York Times said 400-800. A Chinese government spokesman told an NBC anchorman that there were no casualties - certainly no bloodbath. The Chinese government later admitted to 23 students dying accidentally, and that 150 brave soldiers had died, with a further 5000 wounded.
 Frank Dikotter, author of The Cultural Revolution, 2016
The leaders lived in fear of their own people, constantly having to suppress their political aspirations. Deng personally ordered a military crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing, as tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square. The massacre was a display of brutal force and steely resolve, designed to send a signal that still pulsates to this day: do not query the monopoly of the one-party state.
Ezra F. Vogel, author of Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China, 2011
It's estimated that 100 000 protestors were in Tiananmen Square when the army moved in around midnight. Only several thousand were left waiting at 2 AM when the army reached the square. It's estimated that 300-2600 demonstrators were killed. Figures from Beijing hospitals show at least 478 dead and 920 wounded. Nearly 600 vehicles, including PLA trucks and armoured carriers, were damaged.
Maurice Meisner, author of Mao's China and After, 1999
Deng Xiaoping congratulated the police and the army who had crushed the 'counterrevolutionary rebellion'. And he offered condolences to the families of government soldiers who had died. He labelled the civilians as 'the dregs of society'. The government later released a figure of 300 civilian deaths which was mocked by eyewitnesses. It is estimated that 2000-7000 civilian deaths occurred. A nationwide wave of arrests occurred after the event, resulting in the incarceration of at least 1000, and the executions of 100s.
Resource: Assessment of the Tiananmen Square incident by Historians

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Evaluating the Cultural Revolution

After students engage with some of the terrifying history of this period it will be necessary to guide them towards offering their own evaluation of events. This can be modelled through source analysis of what historians say about the Cultural Revolution. Students should read over the following opinions; assess them for their content, and usefulness and reliability, and then arrange them into an order of personal agreement.

Craig Dietrich, author of People's China, 1986
The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution took the whole world by surprise. Suddenly, China was at war with itself... Nobody could quite understand what was going on or why, partly because systematic reporting was impossible. Millions of students were on the march; entire cities were festooned with wall posters; mighty leaders were wearing dunce caps; thousands of victims were dying in pitched battles; foreign embassies were being mobbed, even burned to the ground. And always words, a Niagara of rhetoric, slogans, accusations, denials, directives, and, above all, Mao Zedong Thought. Clearly, it was a power struggle... Mao Zedong occupied the centre of this maelstrom. It was declared to be his personal revolution. Only gradually did it become clear that he had a rational purpose, albeit an audacious one.
 Richard M. Pfeffer, author of China in Ferment, 1971
The Cultural Revolution was really three things in one: an enigmatic multiple power struggle, wrapped in a crusade, and superimposed on a scattering of more or less spontaneous, more or less politicised student riots, strikes, peasant uprisings, mutinies, and palace coups.
Anne Thurston, author of Enemies of the People, 1987
The Cultural Revolution was an extreme situation characterised by loss - loss of culture, loss of spiritual values and religion, loss of status and honour, loss of career, loss of dignity, and loss of trust.
Maurice Meisner, author of Mao's China and After, 1999
Unity was to prove an elusive goal, and the nature of the victory was hard to define. The Cultural Revolution had begun with a wholesale attack on the Communist Party; it had ended with the resurrection of the Party in its orthodox Leninist form, albeit shorn of Mao's more prominent opponents. In 1966-67 a massive popular movement had flourished on the basis of the principle that 'the masses must liberate themselves'; by 1969 the mass movement had disintegrated, and selected remnants of it had been absorbed by old bureaucratic apparatuses. Much blood had been shed, but what had changed? The Cultural Revolution not only failed to produce permanent institutions of popular self-government but also failed to resolve the more immediate problems of political succession. One of the original aims of the Cultural Revolution was to 'train revolutionary successors'.
Alexander V. Pantsov, author of Deng Xiaoping, 2015
Strange to say, the nightmare that was the Cultural Revolution at least had the positive effect of restraining the potential for self-indulgence of the Chinese ruling elite.
Immanuel C. Y. Hsu, author of China Without Mao, 1990
Mao sought ideological purity through intensified class struggle and the purge of high party and government leaders and intellectuals.
Frank Dikotter, authorof The Cultural Revolution, 2016
The Cultural Revolution was about an old man settling persona scores at the end of his life. Mao had a great capacity for malice and revenge, and had little regard for loss of human life. Mao's ego meant that he saw little distinction between himself and the revolution - he was the revolution. If someone wronged him, they wronged China. Any dissatisfaction with his authority was a direct threat to the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Most of the above information can be found on the downloadable sheet below. As mentioned earlier, students should analyse and engage with the opinions by comparing and contrasting their differences and similarities, and acknowledging possible reasons for bias. It would also be useful to link the content of the sources with the identified causes for the Cultural Revolution. For example, Dikotter's opinion just above links quite neatly with the idea that Mao's personality was a primary factor behind the Cultural Revolution.

I would recommend all of the above texts are great teacher resources for anyone looking to read up on the Cultural Revolution in support of the new Modern History Stage 6 syllabus.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Cutting Edge: A Report

Plenary Hall on Day 1
I attended the AATE/ALEA Cutting Edge conference in Hobart about two weeks ago and my head is still giddy with the pedagogical possibilities I experienced there. Each morning, I stepped out into the bracing stillness of the harbour's Southern Ocean air, looked up at the looming snow-specked rockface of Mt. Wellington, and smelt the collective woodfire of the street's chimneys.

The walk to Wrest Point Convention Centre was chilly but the scenery and ambience always made up for it.
View of Mt Wellington from Wrest Point
Where does one start with a conference attended by 1100 delegates, a conference that went for four days, a conference where 260 separate teachers and educational specialists shared their knowledge and ideas with one another? Many times I felt like a kid at a music festival with multiple stages, wrestling with the agonising need to make a decision about which bands to see. Gnashing my teeth whenever I noted that two or three or even four great workshops were up against each other.

Like many other attendees, I was spoilt for choice.

Day Zero: The extended pre-conference sessions gave me a chance to engage more closely with the pedagogy of international speakers Linda Hoyt and Steven Layne, who were both such enthusiastic presenters that one couldn't help but get swept away in the positive and constructive methodology they shared. Dr Layne spoke wonderfully about using feedback and community-styled classroom environments, and modeled how this works by getting those of us who attended the session to generate creative writing pieces and accompanying feedback.

Day One: My highlight for the second day (the first day of the conference-proper) was a session in which South Australian teacher and researcher Sarah McDonald discussed the problematic stereotyping that has contributed to the timbre of boy-focused literacy initiatives in Western education. Her ongoing research was both useful and thought-provoking. Another highlight for the day was the keynote from American high school reading specialist Cris Tovani, who turned the focus back onto the teachers in the room by asking them to consider what it is that makes learning compelling for them, and then showed the lecture theatre some useful strategies to get students interrogating the texts they read for greater depth of understanding - alluding to Super Six-styled skills of connecting, monitoring, questioning, etc.

Cutting Edge talk on the 100 Story Building
Day Two: Wayne Sawyer started the day with his inspiring delivery of the Garth Boomer address on 'Low SES contexts - What could they mean for 'English'". Among the many insightful points made, Professor Sawyer highlighted the concentrations of disadvantage in those of low socio-economic status, asserting that deficiencies in performance within the subject of English are always about class. I'm not going to do justice to his keynote address in the space of a paragraph, however, the inclusion of the Motivation engagement Education (MeE) framework - and it's 'Fair Go' principles - provided a lot of intellectual grist for the audience. Later in the day, I was also fortunate to attend a session on the Seven Steps to Writing Success presented by its creator, Jen McVeity, and in the space of just 35 minutes she managed to convey enough material for several lessons' worth of creative writing instruction. It was fantastic.

Day Three: The last day of the conference was another big one, with Israeli educator Dr. Adam Lefstein sharing his research on classroom practice. Dr Lefstein made the case for repositioning Professional Learning as something that should happen on the job rather than outside it, and spoke illuminatingly about the way discourse shapes our thinking as teachers, as well as the need for educators to focus on positive practice when observing each other (rather than the usual things in the classroom that can go wrong). Dr Lefstein lectured about a lot that really spoke to me, and I can see myself blogging more about him more extensively in the future. The final day of the conference was also the one in which my colleague Kira Bryant collaborated with me on presenting our own materials on teaching explicit creative writing skills in the classroom. I enjoyed it a lot. 

Presenting on Creative Writing strategies
I had to take this photo - I couldn't help myself!
I met so many great teachers at Cutting Edge and learnt a lot of great stuff. I'd like to once again thank the Copyright Agency for granting me a 2017 Scholarship to attend the Cutting Edge conference. I blogged a few times about it, and the links can be found here:

That's Wrest Point on the right
Some links of interest related to some of the presenters can be found here as well:
Linda Hoyt - Excellence in Literacy Instruction
Steven L. Layne - Passionate about Reading
Cris Tovani - Reading Comprehension Specialist
Elizabeth Birr Moje - Dean of the School of Education at the University of Michigan
100 Story Building - Creativity and Literacy for Young People

Wayne Sawyer and Larissa McLean Davies - Investigating Literary Knowledge in English Teachers
Angela Meyer - Flash Fiction
Jen McVeity - Seven Steps to Writing Steps
Rosie Kerin - Write Me: Workshops on English and Literacy
Adam Lefstein - Some useful articles on his research around classroom management and professional learning