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Friday, February 16, 2018

Standard Module B: Close Study of Literature

Some of the texts in Module B for Standard English
Prose Fiction Options
There are just two options for novel study in Standard Module B: Close Study of Literature, both of which are Young Adult focused. One is from an American author, the other from a British.


Feed by MT Anderson
What is it: In the world of the future nearly everyone is directly connected to the internet through modifications made to their brains. Titus, a typical teenager, finds his 'feed' temporarily severed after having it hacked by a anti-feed terrorist. This disconnection prompts Titus to start a relationship with Violet, a mysterious girl who begins experiencing difficulties with her feed after both her and Titus have them repaired.

Scope for Study: Written in a challenging style that mimics the constantly dense yet vapid flow of information that the protagonist is subjected to, Feed will do one of two things for all readers (students included): it will either be A) Too strange for them to engage with, or B) Both intriguing and relevant in its quirky satire of modern online culture. Feed also gives Standard English students a chance to explore the cyberpunk subgenre of science fiction, with room for drawing connections between generic tropes and a 21st century information-age context.

NESA Annotations: The 2015-2020 Annotations position Feed's relevance within the Standard Module 'Texts and Society', singling out the novel's purpose as a satire of 'teenage consumer culture and saturation advertising'. The annotations also favour MT Anderson's use of teen culture as a point of engagement for our students, with irony and context identified as key elements in the author's use of language.

Verdict: The idea that the characters in Feed will be identifiable to NSW students is, unfortunately, an idea that will date fast (if it hasn't already). Teenage lexicons are a tricky thing to pin down as they are defined in opposition to adult understanding. The moment an author like MT Anderson attempts to project teen culture into a dystopian context with such a heavy emphasis on colloquialism is a dicey proposition that may automatically turn some young readers off. As mentioned before, the novel will either be a really interesting discussion starter and an eye-opener for some students, or something that is just too bizarre for a lot of Standard English students. I actually really enjoyed reading this novel but I kind of think it might have been better pitched at an Advanced English cohort.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
What is it: Christopher, a 15 year old boy, investigates the mystery behind the murder of his neighbour's dog. In the process of his detective work Christopher begins to make certain discoveries about his own family, and must navigate a new understanding of the world that fits with his own viewpoint; a viewpoint informed by Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Scope for Study: The author Mark Haddon has made it clear in interviews that this is a book primarily about being different rather than specifically about Autism. It should be noted, however, that students will be able to engage with the way the book tells its story from a perspective that reflects Asperger's Syndrome, with Haddon experimenting with narrative and novel structure in an attempt to demonstrate Christopher's world.

NESA Annotations: Notes can be found on The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time in the 2009-2014 Annotations, a time in which the novel was also used for Close Study by Standard English. The document implies that the use of Christopher's objective viewpoint makes him an unreliable narrator, which would be an interesting concept for students to explore, considering they may not have considered this style of narration before. Generic conventions associated with detective fiction are also mentioned as apt grounds for analysis.

Verdict: It seems a little odd that both of the 'Close Study' novel options for Standard focus on first person narratives delivered by atypical protagonists. Coincidence? Probably not. That said, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a much more tightly-plotted and controlled piece than Feed, and may appeal to students more in terms of accessibility as the language allows for ideas rather than colloquialism to take centre-stage.

Poetry / Drama Options
There are four options in this section, three are from Australian authors (the other is Shakespeare), and two of the three Australian options are Indigenous-focused (though only one is an Aboriginal composer).

Coast Road by Robert Gray
  • Journey, the North Coast
  • Flames and Dangling Wire
  • Harbour Dusk
  • Byron Bay: Winter
  • Description of a Walk
  • 24 Poems
What is it: Gray is a contemporary Australian poet who grew up on the North Coast of NSW and has become renowned for his use of precise imagery in exploring a wide range of ideas and settings. In the selected suite of six poems from Coast Road Gray constructs a challenging vision of coastal Australia that combines the natural and the man-made.

Scope for Study: Teachers can examine the way that Gray uses figurative and descriptive language in service of creating imagery in the reader's mind, and the importance of the landscape in the author's psyche. There is also much that can be made of looking at the poet's use of minimalist and accessible language to allude to complex motifs, such as the clash of the human world with the environment. 

NESA Annotations: Some of Gray's poetry is written about in the 2015-2020 Annotations in relation to the Discovery Area of Study, however, only 1 of these ('Journey: the North Coast') is now in the current Module B collection of poetry. The NESA document highlights the way that Gray conveys 'minutely observed scenes' and the importance of the Australian landscape in the poet's perspective, which is still relevant to the current selection of pieces.

Verdict: Don't be deceived by the ease of Gray's crisp wordplay; the structuring of his poetry will be challenging for some Standard students as it often eschews more traditional forms of scansion in favour of building up an image of place. The brevity of this overall collection will, nonetheless, allow teachers to spend a significant amount of time exploring the language, themes, motifs, and context of the writing in some detail.

This volume of poetry is now out of print.
Oodgeroo Noonuccal poetry
  • The Past
  • China... Woman
  • Reed Flute Cave
  • Entombed Warriors
  • Visit to Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall
  • Sunrise on Huampu River
  • A Lake Within a Lake
What is it: Oodgeroo Noonuccal was an Aboriginal poet who had not written any poetry for many years, however, upon visiting China in 1984 she experienced a creative re-awakening. This suite of poetry is representative of her epiphany there, and builds upon the common themes of her career - colonialism, the barbarity and cruelty of modern culture, the rights of Indigenous Australians, and faith in cultural identity. The listed poetry can be found on the NESA website, owing to the fact that the Chinese-focused book is now out of print and unavailable.

Scope for Study: The poet's style is minimalist whilst conveying sharp imagery relating to her themes and the Chinese setting. Students will find the writing accessible and evocative but may also be challenged by how sparse the language is, particularly in regards to the way the pieces are structured. Each of the 7 poems allude to the importance of culture, and students will need an understanding of Oodgeroo's Aboriginal context in order to approach a more complete understanding of the themes that she explores.

NESA Annotations: Notes on Oodgeroo can be found in the 2015-2020 Annotations, however, this previous Standard Module B: Close Study of the poet is a slightly different grouping of poetry (5 of the 7 are the same poems). These notes highlight the importance of analysing the cultural and spiritual themes of the poet's work, as well as the significance of Aboriginal oral tradition as an influence.

Verdict: Oodgeroo's poetry is a great way to get Standard students engaged with a wide variety of ideas and concepts, plus the poetry itself is highly readable and thought-provoking in the way that it deals with complex ideas. Normally I would think that 7 poems might stretch the focus of a Standard English class too far but the style, structure, and shared thematic core of this suite should allow for teachers to deal with the text holistically and in a satisfactory enough way to engage students. Plus, how many other texts would simultaneously tick both the Aboriginal and Asia-related Learning Across the Curriculum dot points?

Namatjira by Scott Rankin
What is it: In a two-man, two-act performance, this play explores the life of Albert Namatjira, the Aboriginal watercolour painter who won the favour of white society in a time when Indigenous Australians still weren't recognised as citizens of this country. Rankin, in working with the Namatjira family, has created a multi-perspective dramatic representation of a life and the politics of intercultural relations, for performance in a minimalist and semi-traditional setting.

Scope for Study: The play's connection to the tragic real life story of the eponymous celebrated painter will give teachers a strong way-in with students in terms of exploring context. The 'vignette'-styled structure will also lend itself well to chunking the text into separate pieces for analysis, performance, and further interaction. Discussion should also arise through the identification of issues relating to race and attitudes in both 1950s Australia and the modern day. 

NESA Annotations: The 2015-2020 Annotations cover Namatjira's use in Standard English Module B, highlighting the play's simultaneous exploration of two figures, Namatjira, and his artistic mentor, Rex Batterbee. Themes identified for study include; "mateship, perseverance, opportunity, exploitation and injustice". The notes also point out the play's context as part of a larger cultural project that combines traditional Aboriginal performance with Western stylistic conventions associated with drama.

Verdict: The alien-ness of the dramatic stage can be challenging for Standard English students to connect with due to their unfamiliarity with the genre, and I suspect that Namatjira's complex structure may create some difficulty in certain contexts when it comes to student engagement. There are elements of this play that will provide excellent fuel for student discussion and the themes are highly relevant to Australia's national identity, however, the style and structure will be intellectually confronting for some Standard students. 

A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare
What is it: Shakespeare's supernatural comedy concerns an Athenian love quadrangle, feuding fairy monarchs, the mischievous sprite Puck, and a troupe of tradesmen-turned-actors attempting to put on the worst play imaginable. Spurred on by Puck's magical mistakes and tricks, fay love potion prompts conflict as the lovers quarrel with one another and the already ass-like tradesman Bottom develops a donkey-like head!

Scope for Study: If students can get their heads around the complex interweaving of character relationships and the near-Herculean levels of mischief that complicate things further and further, Shakespeare's most 'magical' play has much to offer beyond its adherence to the Elizabethan comedy genre. The friction between male and female, the theme of appearance vs. reality, expectations placed on women in regards to arranged-marriage, and Bottom's misguided attempts to improve the play-within-the-play should all provide scope for discussion.

NESA Annotations: There are no annotations of A Midsummer Night's Dream covered in any of the three annotation documents provided by NESA in the last 10 years.

Verdict: I like Shakespeare, and I like that there is an option to teach Shakespeare to a Standard English class, however, I know that a fair amount of students pick Standard over Advanced nearly solely because of the apparent lack of the Bard's work in the Standard Prescriptions. With this in mind, I think it would be a brave teacher who decides to wade into this one with their class (you'd certainly need to be very passionate and energetic in regards to teaching it!). All that said, it's one of Shakespeare's more crowd-pleasing plays, isn't too long, and features several entertaining conceits that should provoke some interest - even if a lot of the plot's stickier situations are continuously 'solved' by the characters going to sleep, over and over again.
 
Nonfiction / Film / Media Options
The 'grab bag' section of the Prescriptions for Standard Module B features a non-fiction book written by an Australian, an American film directed by an Australian, and an Australian documentary.

Stasiland by Anna Funder
What is it: Australian journalist Anna Funder relocates to Berlin a few years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and explores life in former East Germany. Through interviewing the survivors of the now defunct socialist state, Funder meticulously recreates their human stories as part of a wider narrative about life under the oppressive surveillance-heavy regime of the Stasi.

Scope for Study: Funder takes the reader inside the process of constructing a narrative from non-fiction sources, connecting each person's story to the themes she wants to explore, such as the shifting state of security in a crumbling police state. The author's love of language is evident through her discussion and exploration of the German language's 'sticklebrick' nouns, and the sharp-but-economic observations she lands on the unique characters she meets. In regards to students some time will need to be spent on establishing the novel's highly specific context but, nonetheless, Funder's award-winning non-fiction book utilises language that manages to be both sophisticated and highly accessible.

NESA Annotations: Notes for Stasiland appear in the 2015-2020 Annotation document, with consideration given to Funder's blending of genres in the pursuit of truth regarding East Germany's sometimes confronting history, especially in regards to themes of "privacy, surveillance and free speech". The co-existence of opinion and fact within Funder's style will also test the ability of students to recognise subjectivity and context as driving forces behind investigative journalism.

Verdict: A brilliant and accessible piece of journalism that tells the people's story within the theatre of a grand historical event. Funder's proactive parsing of these stories in the 1990s is a perfect example of someone being in the right place at the right time, and represents her own canny understanding of how important it is to document and preserve history before it disappears forever (something that is highlighted in the last few chapters). The humanity and injustice that characterises the various stories she tells should provide something of interest for a wide variety of students, and it's great to see a historically-relevant text like this included in the Prescriptions for Standard English students to seriously get stuck into. This would probably be my pick if I were teaching Module B.

The Truman Show, directed by Peter Weir
What is it: Truman is a regular, everyday guy who has never left the small town of Seahaven. Little does he know, his entire life has been taking place within a dome where his every move has been recorded for the reality TV program 'The Truman Show'. Truman's reality begins to unravel as he pieces together various clues that lead to the truth.

Scope for Study: Peter Weir's film has a lot going on and teachers should have no trouble pulling it apart for student consumption in a variety of ways. Consider: the constructed nature of Truman's life as a satire of the way reality TV edits narratives out of raw footage, the increasing commodification and banality of Western life represented by the insidious advertising that surrounds Truman, the allegorical nature of Truman as a Biblical figure going to meet his God (named Christof!), and the careful and inspired choice of camera shots used by Peter Weir to suggest a world under surveillance.

NESA Annotations: None of the three annotation documents from the last 10 years feature The Truman Show. If there were earlier annotations prior to 2009 they may have featured some notes on the film, however, such notes don't seem to be available on the NESA website and I'm not even sure that they ever existed.

Verdict: A fantastic film in its own right rather than just as an object for study. Teaching this film has been very enjoyable for me in the past (both with English Studies and Standard English classes) and the key has been just letting the film run through first so students can absorb everything uninterrupted. The scope for discussion of a variety of techniques and themes is wide open for Standard students, and while they should have no problem identifying visual techniques used by the director to tell his story, they will also appreciate the extra depth added through discussion of symbolism, allegory, and context.

Frank Hurley: The Man Who Made History, directed by Simon Nasht
What is it: Frank Hurley, pioneering Australian photographer, is given the documentary treatment in Simon Nasht's clear overview of a complex figure. This TV documentary takes the viewer through Hurley's groundbreaking career - his early use of colour; seminal forays into the documentary genre; nailbiting adventuring through the Antarctic as part of Mawson's historic expedition; his recording of World War I; and surveys into Papua New Guinea, the Australian outback, and Libya in World War II. What emerges alongside this eventful life is the showboating nature of Hurley's 'genius' and his unquenchable thirst for innovation.

Scope for Study: Students will be able to engage with Nasht's themes, such as the problematic nature of Hurley's 'documenting' of history (many photographs were staged or created using composites) and the text's key question of whether Hurley was a 'Giant of photography, or just a conjurer with a camera'? Students can also examine the power of an image and Hurley's role in establishing photography as an art form in its own right, as well as Nasht's use of language to paint an epic tale of discovery and exploration, the questions posed about the idea of a legacy, and the use of photography to form a narrative.

NESA Annotations: Notes for Frank Hurley: The Man Who Made History can be found in the 2015-2020 Annotations, albeit pitched as part of the Discovery Area of Study rather than a Close Study text. Attention is drawn to questioning the 'validity' of Hurley's work and the way the documentary constructs a narrative of the photographer's life. The rest of the annotation is particular to Discovery though and doesn't really apply to the text's re-assignment as part of Module B.

Verdict: This is a great documentary that, thanks to its relatively brief run-time and engaging examination of a fascinating subject, shouldn't be too hard to analyse for Standard English students. One particular aspect of the film that will give the teacher a lot of mileage is the idea of Hurley as a multitude of different characters: the shameless self-promoter carefully creating an image for himself, the failed film director attempting to break new ground in a commercial industry, the 'adventurer' relentlessly looking for his next 'hit', and the jobbing scenic photographer who reinvented himself in order to support his family.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

A Monster Calls - Book Annotating


I got around purchasing an entire class' worth of little post-its (which can get expensive) by just cutting up the bigger post-its.
Mid-way through last year I attended the AATE/ALEA National English Conference in Hobart and was particularly taken with American educator Cris Tovani's work on getting students to engage with active-reading. In particular, Tovani spoke about bringing the focus back on reading during a class novel study through the use of independent annotating. She termed these as 'V.I.P.s' aka 'Very Important Points'.

In this lecture, Tovani explained that the students are given a range of coloured post-it notes, with each colour corresponding with a kind of annotation, and the examples she gave from her own teaching demonstrated a wonderful array of student-led discussion points. Inspired by this, I decided to give it a go with a novel study in one of my own classes.

The book in question was A Monster Calls, which I matched up with my mixed ability Year 10 class. Instead of leaving the annotating as homework I decided to eschew the use of comprehension questions in favour of dedicating more time to reading in class, and then letting the students annotate after each chapter was completed with the use of a pre-provided schema to guide them.

Cris Tovani, pedagogue extraordinaire
On this schema I outlined 6 different categories to correspond with the 6 different coloured post-it notes supplied. These were:
  • Connect: Note when something from the book reminds you of something from your life, or something you have seen/read, or connects to a prediction you have made about the novel. 
  • Question: Write down questions you have about the novel as you think them up while you read.
  • Infer/Predict: Flag bits where you have used examples from the text to figure out something in relation to the novel, or have made a new prediction.
  • Conflict: Note parts of the text where conflict occurs (this particular novel study was part of a larger unit on texts that deal with conflict)
  • Monitor: Highlight parts that didn't make sense to you at first, or at all, or words that were unfamiliar to you.
  • Evaluate: This can be your opinion about things happening in the story, things you like/dislike, or just general thoughts. 
The schema can be downloaded here.

A sample from class.
I was surprised (and happy) at how enthusiastically a lot of students got into this. One student seemed to take it as a challenge to see how many flags he could put into each chapter. The upshot of this, besides increased engagement with the text, is that the students were able to use their own annotations to call upon examples to use in their own independent analysis of the novel later on. 

While we're talking about novel study, here are three simple and relevant pointers I've picked up over the last 8 years in regards to teaching novels with mixed ability junior classes:
  • Keep the novels in the classroom. If the students take them home then you might not see them all again, and it becomes difficult for these students to stay on-task in lessons that require them to have the books in front of them if they've forgotten to bring them.
  • For mixed ability classes, read the entire text aloud while the students read along. This will ensure that you can stick to some kind of schedule/timeframe... a novel study can become messy if students are left to read on their own; some will finish the book in the first few days, others will never get past the first few pages. I know there are very strong arguments against this practice, however I was wholly converted last year by Steven Layne's fantastic lecture on reading aloud, which turned out to be perfect for my own Western Sydney context. 
  • Pick a novel of shorter length. The reading ages of junior students vary more the closer they get to senior school, you could have some students who would read a 900 page Game of Thrones novel and others who would need help focusing on finishing one of Roald Dahl's wonderful children's novels. You typically only have 50-70% of a term to get through a novel and the lower ability students will lose focus if they are asked to sustain engagement with an adult-length novel. By all means, extend the more literate students with extra texts that they can read on their own - chances are that they already have a love of reading if they are this literate - but it's also important not to leave the rest of the class behind and to give them every chance of appreciating what reading can offer.
There will be detractors in regards to the above, but keep in mind that there are also students who often get to Year 11 and are able to say, "I've never read a single book, not even in previous years of English when the rest of the class read the class novel". By reading aloud during class time, and ensuring that it's a novel that the whole class can get through, the aforementioned disengaged students will get to Year 11 and be able to say, "Actually, I read an entire book, along with the rest of the class".   

On a final note, I also highly recommend A Monster Calls because it's a poignant, highly engaging read that will prompt discussion and stay with the reader long after it's finished.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Intertextual Perspectives: Revision

This image from 1934 shows a depiction of the Italian dictator Mussolini surrounded by the word 'Yes'. Once I saw this image, I found it hard not to think of Orwell's Big Brother as an echo of it.
A little while back I posted a revision resource for Go Back to Where You Came From that I used with my Year 12 Advanced English class for the Discovery AOS. In this post I explained my thinking in providing modelled analysis to support students. In the spirit of this approach, here is a similar resource that can be used for the Metropolis and Nineteen Eighty-Four option for the Intertextual Perspectives Module.


Here are some additional notes I also used with my students in revising the texts. Again, I'd like to stress that these are just summarised dot points designed to provide a jumping off point for students while they prepare for the HSC.

Ways of Approaching the Rubric / Thematic Concerns of the Text/s
  • Surveillance
  • Indoctrination
  • Orthodoxy
  • Sex as a political act
  • The role of language
  • Gender
  • Class and Marxist ideology (the bourgeoisie and the proletariat)
  • Dystopia
  • Dehumanisation
  • Cognitive dissonance
  • Values of the 1920s vs. Values of the 1940s
  • Historical and Cultural context (Stalin / The Soviet Union, the Weimar Republic)
  • Governance (Oligarchy, Totalitarianism, Capitalism)
  • Methods of Control
  • Apotheosis
  • Omnipresence / Ubiquity 
  • Power
Techniques / Devices Used

1984
  • Historical Allusion
  • Allegory
  • Euphemism
  • Newspeak
  • Invented Lexicon
  • Connotation
  • Rhetorical Question
  • Embedded Clauses
  • Truncated sentences
  • Tricolon sentences
  • Visceral language
  • Olfactory imagery
  • Metaphor
  • Symbolism
  • Slogans
  • Personification
  • Contrast, juxtaposition
  • Motif
  • Irony
  • Antimetabole
Metropolis
  • Metonymy 
  • Matte Painting
  • Dutch angle
  • Montage
  • Collage / Double-exposure
  • Close-ups
  • Antithesis
  • Generic conventions
  • Mise en scene 
  • Intertitles
  • Cross-cutting 
  • Foreshadowing
  • Set design
  • Body language
  • Vignetting
  • Salience
  • Costume
  • Long shot
  • Choreography
  • Contrast / Juxtaposition
  • Symbolism
  • Religious allusion
  • Establishing shot
  • Expressionism
Something to consider when revising Module A is to ask each student which of the two texts they prefer or feel more comfortable with. It won't always be the text you expect, and this can help you guide specific students in concentrating more on the text they don't feel so comfortable with. 2018 is the last year we'll see this combination of texts in the HSC (at least for a while)... it's a great pairing so enjoy it while it's still here!

Friday, January 19, 2018

Advanced Module C: The Craft of Writing

This blog post offers an overview of the Prescribed Texts for the Advanced English 'Craft of Writing' module. In the study of this module, teachers are required to teach TWO of the Prescribed Texts. There aren't any prescribed editions for these texts, which means that they don't have to be sourced from particular anthologies or websites (NOTE: There are multiple versions of some texts, such as Tennyson's poem 'The Lady of Shallot', but the ISBNs used in the support document can be used as an indicator for the version that NESA likely used to establish the Prescriptions)


Special thanks to Kira Bryant for supplying me with the majority of these texts! I highly recommend  her excellent twitter feed: @tirisays

Prose Fiction Options
With a higher expectation that Advanced English students will be prepared to read more (not always true, I know, but it's something to aim for), there is a wider selection of prose texts here than what is found in the Standard 'Craft of Writing' list. Of the 7 texts, two are novellas, one is an extremely long short story that may as well be a novella, and the other four are short stories. The stats for this section are as follows:
  • 2 female authors, 4 male ones.
  • 2 stories from the same author in one case.
  • The 2 novellas are both from authors who have been dead for 100 years or so, whereas all the short stories are by living authors.
  • 2 of the authors are Australian (one lived in London for a time, the other is of Vietnamese heritage), 1 is American, 1 is a Jewish-German writer from what was known at the time as Bohemia (now the Czech Republic), 1 is an Indian-born Canadian, and 1 is an Irish-born New Yorker.
Due to it's short length, Kate Chopin's novella is often packaged alongside some of her short stories.
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
What is it: Edna is a disatisfied wife living in late 19th century Louisiana who begins to explore a dalliance with a younger man named Robert. As Edna moves into a greater state of self-actualisation she also starts exercising an increasing sense of independence - something that, in the context of America's turn-of-the-century South, is quite scandalous for a married woman.

Scope for Study / Verdict: My first exposure to this early feminist text was through the excellent HBO TV series Treme, in which John Goodman's literature professor poignantly recommends it to his students. In terms of reading, it's short in comparison to the other novels that Advanced students might be required to read, but also much longer than the majority of texts listed in Module C. I found it a little bit a slog at times due to my waning level of interest, however, I can appreciate the text's significance as a precursor to the modernist literature of the 20th century and as a proto-feminist tragedy steeped in metaphorical allusions to subversive sexuality. Context is key in this piece and will need to be explicitly taught in regards to the nuances of 19th century high society, the specific creole vernacular of New Orleans, and the casual racism that sees one character often referred to only as 'the quadroon'.

Page Count: 116 pages.

Source: As it was published in 1899, Kate Chopin's novel is well outside of the statute of limitation on copyright, and can therefore be found for free online in its entirety. One such link can be easily found via a Google search here. You can also buy relatively inexpensive paper copies from various publishers.
 
Harrower worked as a reviewer for the Sydney Morning Herald in the 1960s. She published four books but retired from writing altogether in 1977 after finishing (and suppressing) her fifth novel. In 2014 she was finally persuaded to allow this 'lost' novel, In Certain Circles, to be released.

'The Fun of the Fair' by Elizabeth Harrower
What is it: Janet, ten years old and resentful of being dragged along to a fun fair by her Uncle Hector, finds herself separated from her family and watching a sideshow featuring a giant and a dwarf. The depressing sideshow disturbs and awakens the young protagonist, with Janet experiencing a sense of adolescent anagnorisis.

Scope for Study / Verdict: Harrower's story is at once accessible and enigmatic, pulling focus in on the ten year old protagonist as third-person narrator. Students can gauge the story's effectiveness by examining the way Harrower both orients the reader and subverts expectations by not orienting the reader. Other features that will bear examination include Harrower's establishing and maintenance of setting, and the emotional journey taken by Janet (culminating in the mysterious ending).

Page Count: 14 pages.

Source: Elizabeth Harrower is an Australian author of international renown, and this particular short story can be found in her 2015 anthology A Few Days in the Country.


Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
What is it: Gregor Samsa, a travelling salesman, wakes up one morning to find that he has transformed into a 'monstrous verminous bug'. His family reacts in horror, attempting to feed him, and Gregor gradually loses his humanity and becomes more bug-like.

Scope for Study / Verdict: As difficult and alienating as the content can be, I love Metamorphosis and am very intrigued by the idea of teaching it. Students can be introduced to concepts and techniques such as: the idea of a text being 'Kafkaesque', the use and impact of visceral language, the challenges of translating a German text into English (see this article for further discussion), symbolism and allegory, and the syntactical wonders of anacoluthon. Kafka's infamous and absurdly disgusting tale of early 20th century dehumanisation will provoke discussion if nothing else!

Page Count: Approximately 60 pages, depending on the edition.

Source: Published in 1915, Metamorphosis can be found online for free at Project Gutenberg. The author, Franz Kafka, was a German-speaking Jew who lived in Bohemia (the western part of the Czech region). He did not find fame during his lifetime, nor did he particular want it. He died at the age of 40 in 1924 from starvation after his throat closed up as a symptom of tuberculosis. 

'Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice' by Nam Le
What is it: Nam Le reflects on the processes and purposes of writing short fiction via the persona's involvement in an Iowa-based writing workshop; a semi-fictionalised account that intertwines with the author's Vietnamese-Australian father coming to visit in America. The complex and troubled relationship between the protagonist and his father gradually takes centrestage as the author wrestles with the implications of writing an 'ethnic' story about his own cultural past.

Scope for Study / Verdict: There's a lot of subtle undertones to this story of a father, a son, writing, cultural values, and the Vietnam War. It's a story that could be easily read by Standard students, but its placement in the Advanced English 'Craft of Writing' module cannily requires a deeper and more complex understanding of Nam Le's themes. In the case of 'Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice' it will be the Advanced student's tolerance for ambiguity that sets them apart from their peers, particularly in regards to their ability to provide an independent reading of the ending and the discussion-provoking motif, "He had destroyed himself... in my name". 

Page Count: 10 pages.

Source: Nam Le is a Vietnamese-Australian author who won an array of prizes for his short story collection The Boat, published in 2008, in which 'Love and Honour...' is featured.

Fun Activity: do a Google image search on Colum McCann and count how many different images of him feature a loose, thin scarf worn in the above manner.
'Thirteen Ways of Looking' by Colum McCann
What is it: A retired New York judge, infirm and reflective, is murdered one day after lunch with his son at a restaurant. Between the protagonist's perspective leading up to the event, the detectives investigating the murder, and the examination of available CCTV footage, McCann dissects the incident into 13 separate parts.

Scope for Study: As a teacher tackling the Craft of Writing with a class of students, it would be tempting to avoid this text simply due to it's length (it's listed as short fiction within the module but it's probably more accurate to describe it as a novella). Taking his cue from the poem 'Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird' (also featured in this module), Colum McCann gleefully attempts to hold down the English language as it squirms chaotically in his fist like a fragmentary cluster of multiplying worms. The inventiveness featured in the judge's stream-of-consciousness-like narration leaves a lot of scope for discussion and analysis - in terms of structure, style, intertextuality, characterisation, narrative voice, and reflexivity.

Page Count: 142 pages.


Source: 'Thirteen Ways of Looking' is the lead story in the 4-story collection Thirteen Ways of Looking by New York-dwelling Irish expat Colum McCann. This anthology was published in 2015.

'What Time Is It Now, Where You Are?' by Colum McCann
What is it: A writer muses on a short story he has been engaged to write about New Year's Eve. He settles on the conceit of a 26 year old marine stationed on her own in the Afghan night, and the phone-call she will make home to America to talk to her teenage son. Two stories unfold in communion with one another - the author arriving at decisions on what to write and why, and the marine preparing herself for her New Year's Eve phone-call. It's the same reflexivity alluded to in McCann's 'Thirteen Ways of Looking', only this time it's an explicit part of the story.

Scope for Study / Verdict: McCann's story is very much an exercise in metatextuality - he renders himself as a third person narrator, musing on the process of creating a short story, and tells the story within this framing device. The beauty of this is that it allows the author to describe the why and the how of each element of his story, and students will be able to essentially 'watch' the writer build a story from scratch - for example, the narrator's explanation of the characters' ages in part 6 of the story and why these are important in regards to the shape and intent of his story. This can be discussed in class in terms of why each minute detail of a story needs to be justified and used to a particular end.

Page Count: 12 pages.

Source: As per 'Thirteen Ways...', this short story is also featured in McCann's anthology Thirteen Ways of Looking, published in 2015.

'The Ghost of Firozsha Baag' by Rohinton Mistry
What is it: Jaakaylee is an old maid working for a well-off Parsi family in the Mumbai apartment building Firozsha Baag. Her job is mainly to make curry for her employers, however, the routine of her life becomes disrupted when a 'bhoot' (ghost) begins visiting her every night. When she tries to tell the other apartment residents their response is to make fun of her, which leaves her to try and figure out how to deal with the ghost on her own.

Scope for Study / Verdict: From the opening paragraphs, with the use of words like 'ayah' and 'bhoot', Mistry's short story has a strong sense of its Indian setting. This provides scope to ask students to consider how we deal with regional lexical items that are unfamiliar to us when we read. Other things to look at include the author's ellipsing of conjunctions and prepositions to establish character voice, and the way Mistry weaves characterisation, backstory, and plot together to explore themes of belief, respect, and social standing.

Page Count: 18 pages.

Source: Rohinton Mistry was born in Mumbai, India (then known as Bombay) and emigrated to Canada in his 20s to study English and Philosophy. The short story featured here is one of 11 tales set in the same fictional apartment complex, all of which can be found in Tales from Firozsha Baag, published in 1987 (Mistry's first novel).

Nonfiction Options
There are four options: three female writers, one male. Two are British, one is Australian, and one is American.

'How to Marry Your Daughters' by Helen Garner
What is it: In her reading of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Garner gains a new appreciation for the heroine's young sister, Lydia, the 'slack moll' who disrupts the plot and provides 'grit in the engine of the marriage plot'. This essay outlines Garner's reading of the classic novel and her interpretation of the events therein.

Scope for Study / Verdict: Garner is essentially modelling the process of critical engagement, exemplified in a beautifully understated fashion by the line "I sharpened a pencil and sat down at the kitchen table". This is followed up by such gems as 'Lydia Bennet, at sixteen, is a piece of trash' - a highly individualistic positioning that demonstrates the bravery and joy of an intelligent reviewer formulating an opinion on the page.

Page Count: 7 pages.

Source: This piece can be found in Everywhere I Look, Helen Garner's 2016 collection of non-fiction.

'Eight Days in a Corset' by Siri Hustvedt
What is it: Hustvedt recounts her time spent working on a film with a 19th century setting, and discusses the corset she had to wear as part of her role. Rather than tell the story of wearing this corset for the eight days of filming she instead ruminates on the idea of clothes and what they signify in our consciousness and culture.

Scope for Study / Verdict: The crux of Hustvedt's article is the idea of representation. She looks at the corset in both personal and socio-cultural terms, with attention paid to everything that it could possibly symbolise within these realms. Her confessional and candid tone illuminates the human condition in surprising ways whilst remaining tightly focused on this much-maligned and festishised item of clothing. The assignment of this text to an Advanced English class will be partially reliant on the maturity of said students in discussing adult concepts in regards to the depth of thinking, feeling, and experience that the author brings to the topic.

Page Count: 8 pages.

Source: Hustvedt is an American novelist and poet educated in Norway, is best known for the novel What I Loved. This fashion-themed article can be found in A Plea for Eros, an essay collection published in 2006.

'Politics and the English Language' by George Orwell
What is it / Verdict: Orwell unleashes his inner pedant and goes full throttle in attacking what he perceives to be the biggest sins in mismanaging the English language when writing, deconstructing the common issues in political writing and issuing advice to those seeking to write clearly.

Scope for Study: In one sense, this essay invites the reader to look at some of the most common and overlooked mistakes used in writing, however, in another sense the teacher may wish to get the student to critique Orwell himself. I found this piece to be an incredibly dry and persnickety excursion into Orwell's own personal grammatical dislikes, and students should probably be encouraged to engage with it by decoding it in parts rather than aiming for complete comprehension. Despite its deficiencies, the piece does include some really quotable sections, such as "The enemy of clear writing is insincerity" and "Our civilisation is decadent and our language must inevitably share in the general collapse". The rules at the end of the piece will also be useful.

Pages: 10 pages.

Source: First published in the 1946 journal Horizon. This essay can be readily found online or in the Penguin Modern Classics anthology Essays by George Orwell.

'That Crafty Feeling' by Zadie Smith
What is it: Via lecture, Smith outlines her ten rules for writing, carefully pointing out the subjectivity and self-consciousness of her approach, and ensuring that the audience is aware of the key differences between a writer's arbitrary ten rules and an academic's. The piece is easily-read and relatively straightforward (perhaps owing to its origin as a spoken piece) but also illuminating in giving insight into what an established and critically appraised author really thinks about their own writing.

Scope for Study / Verdict: Here's the metatextual piece for this module. In this article, Smith discusses her own personal approach to the craft of writing, and as such it becomes perfect fodder for both looking at the rubric for this part of the syllabus and looking at how a writer disseminates ideas in relation to this. Things to consider include: the distance between author and reader becoming lessened somewhat by Smith's candid tone and low modality, and the author's concept of the relationship between rhetoric and truth as being mutually exclusive motives in and of themselves. Students might also like to consider some of the meta-language used here, such as whether they're a micro-manager or a macro-planner of their own writing when composing text.

Pages: 8 pages.

Source: This piece of writing started out as a lecture that Smith delivered to students as part of a Columbia University writing program in 2008. An author-edited transcript can be found in Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays, published in 2011. Zadie Smith is a British writing professor who came to fame with the 2000 novel White Teeth.

Speech Options
There are three speech options. Two are delivered by females and one by a male; two are Australian (one of whom, Pearson, is the sole Indigenous figure on this Prescriptions List) and the other is Canadian.

'Spotty-Handed Villainesses' by Margaret Atwood
What is it: Atwood examines some of the key facets in creating a novel and the practical demands of this. After laying this thesis out, she then examines the process of writing from a feminist perspective, focusing on the roles and lack of diversity amongst female characters, and the true meaning of an egalitarian approach to characterisation - repositioning the audience to appreciate the great unsung female villains of literature as feminist icons.

Scope for Study / Verdict: A provocative, highly intertextual and erudite speech that should prompt a range of conversations for teachers and students. References for further exploration include the 'Angel/Whore' dichotomy and Atwood's interest (as a novelist) in 'spots', the way Atwood uses and deconstructs idioms and clich├ęs (EG. 'Flogging a dead horse') to manipulate tone and distance in relation to her audience, and Atwood's discussion of what a novel isn't. The author also builds beautifully on the contrast between the Shakespearean characters of Ophelia and Lady Macbeth (which is a bit of a shame for us teachers as Hamlet is no longer available as an Advanced English text).

Page Count: 8 pages.

Source: NESA have provided a copy of the transcript on their website. Atwood delivered this speech several times circa 1994, and it has featured as a part of the English syllabus at various points from at least earlier than 2009. The transcript originated on Atwood's (now defunct) website 'O. W. Toad'.

Brooks, pictured in her own garden.
'A Home in Fiction' by Geraldine Brooks
What is it: Brooks describes her development from journalist to novelist, and the ways in which the tools of her trade have informed her writing of historical fiction, and the ongoing search for meaning that drives her.

Scope for Study / Verdict: 'A Home in Fiction' is a highly metaphorical speech that lays out the English language like a nation, and describes the language of mathematics as a comparable realm of passion. Brooks ascribes to both disciplines the quest for truth, and gradually builds up a picture for the reader of her own relationship with the writing of fiction. The speech is very accessible and contains a multitude of highly quotable lines.

Page Count: 8 pages.

Source: A transcript of this speech can be found on NESA's site. Brooks, an Australian novelist, broadcast this lecture in 2011 as part of the Boyer Lectures on 'The Idea of Home'.

Noel Pearson delivering his eulogy for Gough Whitlam
'Eulogy for Gough Whitlam' by Noel Pearson
What is it: Beyond a eulogy for one who has just passed, Noel Pearson's powerful speech frames the death of Whitlam within a much wider discourse, as befitting Australia's most controversial Prime Minister. Pearson deals with themes relating to political legacy, the rights of Australia's Indigenous peoples, and the subtext of white privilege.

Scope for Study / Verdict: Through Noel Pearson's crisp and articulate rhetoric students should be able to engage with concepts of partisanship (or non-partisanship), intertextual motifs, the power of rhetoric itself, and the ongoing battlefield of political reform. In both the Advanced and the Standard collection of texts for the Craft of Writing it is easily the political eulogies that I would most like to engage my students with, being that they are so rich in rhetorical device in their interrelated dance between politics and vocabulary. 

Page Count: 4 pages

Source: Noel Pearson is one of this country's most respected Aboriginal rights activists. He is also a lawyer and academic, and founded the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership. The transcript of the prescribed eulogy was reprinted in the Sydney Morning Herald on November 5th, 2014. It can be found online here.

Poetry / Performance Poetry Options
There are five poetry options in the Prescriptions List. Three are male, two are female; three of the poets are now deceased; two are Australian (one of whom was born in Singapore), two are British, and the other is an American.

'Stamp Collecting' by Boey Kim Cheng
What is it: The persona muses on the demise of the British colony of 'Malaya', his place of birth, and the stamp that bears its name. He explores the meaning behind the stamp, what it meant to him as a child, and the past it represents. Eventually he comes to see it as a token of his personal history that can be passed on to his daughter.

Scope for Study / Verdict: Students can use this poem to examine the way that the writer explores notions of identity, place, belonging, displacement, history, and symbolism. To what extent can a piece of poetry be viewed as the construction of a persona vs. a representation of the author's identity? Where are the lines between these two viewpoints blurred in 'Stamp Collecting'? In extrapolating these questions into an exploration of the craft of writing, students might also be asked to create their own piece of writing that uses an object from their past as a symbol of identity and legacy.

Length: 3 stanzas.

Source: 'Stamp Collecting' is a poem by the Singaporean-Australian poet Boey Kim Cheng, who is currently an Associate Professor at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. It can be found online here, and in the 2013 anthology Contemporary Asian Australian Poets (ISBN: 9781921450655). This particular poem was first published in 2008.

'Father and Child' by Gwen Harwood
What is it: This two-part poem 'blows up' two moments divided by a great many years, expanding on each in meaningful detail to examine the relationship between father and child. The first part concerns a child forced to use a gun to put a bird out of its wounded misery, and the second is a walk in which the child-now-adult reflects on the father's advanced age and his diminishment in the face of his impending demise. 

Scope for Study / Verdict: The clarity of imagery and the deafening contrast between these two memorable visions of death will make suitable impact on the student (and teacher), and should prompt discussion on the themes of mortality and loss of innocence. Each part of the poem can be analysed on its own terms (with differences in pacing, allusion, and symbolism) despite the thematic webbing and perspective that ties them together.

Length: 3 pages; a poem in two parts.

Source: This diptych poem can currently be found in Gwen Harwood's 2001 volume of Selected Poems. From what I can gather (information online is scant in regards to which original volumes contained which specific poems), the first half of Father of Child may have first been published on its own in 1973. Garwood passed away in 1995 and was an Australian poet also known for her work in writing text for opera.

'Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird' by Wallace Stevens
What is it: Just as it says on the tin, Stevens comes at the humble blackbird in 13 different ways - describing environments, perspectives, moments in time, and feelings associated with the presence of this bird in his home state of Connecticut.

Scope for Study / Verdict: With its neatly partitioned sections, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird initially seems to lend itself to easy digestion. On closer inspection though, Stevens seeks to break the idea of an overarching narrative and subverts the reader's expectations in terms of linking the sections through any unifying theme other than the mention of blackbirds. Students should instead be asked to consider what Stevens describes as 'the sensations' that are evoked throughout the poem, the unusual haiku-influenced structure employed to draw the reader's attention to each carefully-chosen detail, and the genre of modernism as a lens through which to examine the poem's wider context.

Length: 13 stanzas, ranging from 2 to 6 lines each.

Source: First published in 1917 as part of Others: An Anthology of the New Verse, a poetry collection edited by Alfred Kreymborg. More currently it can be found in the 2011 anthology Selected Poems by Wallace Stevens. The poet was a Pulitzer Prize winner and one of the most respected modernist poets of his age.




'The Lady of Shallot' by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
What is it: The Lady of Shallot is little known by the people around her; she sits in a tower on an island and has been cursed in some way. The poem describes her mystique, her solitary life, her impression of Sir Lancelot as he rides past her on horseback in his armour, and her tragic and enigmatic attempt to reach him by boat.

Scope for Study / Verdict: This epic poem in four parts is ripe for analysis in relation to the Craft of Writing, with room for close examination of the language used in constructing a narrative steeped in myth. For example, the repeated 5th and 9th lines of each stanza provide scope for students to examine the changing meaning of these words in relation to the context provided by each stanza, and Tennyson's use of rhythm and imagery evokes the romance of Sir Lancelot's passing of the Lady in her tower. The poem's place in the wider 19th century context will also allow students (and teachers) to further explore symbolism and intertextuality - in terms of the poem as a precursor to Victorian ideals of sexual repression, its role in making Arthurian myth popular again within the British psyche, and the many works of art inspired by the mysterious Lady who sits quietly in her castle.

Length: 19 stanzas, each one in 9 lines.

Source: The English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, was 'Poet Laureate' during much of Queen Victoria's reign. The Lady of Shallot was initially published in 1833 as a 20 stanza poem, however, the more preferred version is from 1842 and has 19 stanzas. It can be found online, for free, in many places due to being well outside of the period of time allocated for copyright.

Tempest is a cockney performance artist who has released three spoken-word albums
'Picture a Vacuum', performance by Kate Tempest
What is it: The poet sermonises on a perspective of the wider universe, switching from first to second person to explore the relationship between the human and the cosmos. Some interpretations have taken an abstract approach of applying this piece to the metaphysical, whereas others have more literally identified Tempest's narrative as reflecting the perspective of someone who has taken a mind-altering drug, like LSD.

Scope for Study / Verdict: I can appreciate the inclusion of multimodal texts in the syllabus, and there is a definite need for more curriculum and resources that address the way that separate modes of communication can work together (in this case it would be Tempest's delivery of words in conjunction with the live incidental music that accompanies it). Having said that though, I can't help but feel that this piece sticks out sorely amongst so many other pieces that are focused wholly on the craft of writing in a more traditional sense. The idea of exploring multimodality needs to be distinct and not tokenistic, rather than a footnote at the end of each Craft of Writing Prescription List. There's a sense here that Tempest is either likely to be ignored by teachers or that her piece will stretch the scope of the module far beyond what the rest of the texts set out to do. Tempest's performance poetry would be better served (and of better service) within a module or unit that explores the underrepresented area of multimodality, specifically in the analysis and crafting of multimodal texts. 

Length: Roughly 3 minutes.

Source: Kate Tempest is a South East London-born poet who started out at open mic nights performing slam poetry. 'Picture a Vacuum' features on the 2016 album Let Them Eat Chaos. A video of the performance can be found here.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Lure of the Lighthouse

In our travels around the Sapphire Coast yesterday, Nicole and I skimmed past a turn off to 'Green Cape'. This point is situated several kilometres south of Eden at the tip of the next bay and, as it's been the site of several shipwrecks over the past 150 years (leading to the aptly-named 'Disaster Bay' to the south), it bears some significant connection to the local history we had already explored. Amongst theses wrecks was the tragic destruction of the Ly-ee-moon, the second worst maritime disaster known to Australia.

The view from Disaster Bay Lookout is deceptively picturesque but these inky blue waters hold the wrecks of at least 9 ships from the mid-to-late 19th and early 20th centuries. At least one of these wrecks is of an unidentified vessel from the 1850s, the remains of which may be attributed to either of two ships lost at sea in this area around this time.

Getting to Green Cape lighthouse was a mission and a half. The road was unsealed and so it took nearly an hour for Nicole and I to drive across just 20 kilometres. The journey was definitely worth it though as I have long held a deep and unexplained fascination with lighthouses. Maybe it's attached to my fear of heights, or maybe it's attached to a beloved Doctor Who serial from the 1970s in which the Doctor travels to a 1900s lighthouse and faces off against an alien jellyfish (pictured below):

You should check it out. It's great.

The Green Cape lighthouse was built in the late 19th century and is supported by several Victorian-era houses. Despite the isolation of the lighthouse keeper and his two assistants, the houses were kept separated by fences so that a class system of sorts could be kept intact. You can now stay in these houses as they have been kept on as accommodation. Note the huge solar panel at the end of the path in the picture above, which demonstrates the changing face of lighthouse-technology.

It's quite easy to imagine the damage that these rocks could do to a ship if it ran aground near here. The Ly-ee-moon was found smashed to pieces in 1886, and 71 bodies were recovered from the water nearby. The second photograph above is taken by Nicole.

While walking back inland along the headland I stopped to take a photograph of something random. Nicole quickly grabbed me and whispered urgently, "Stop! Don't move. You scare everything off". I slowly turned around to see that she had spotted an echidna snuffling around in the dirt just a few metres from us. Its only defense its spines, the echidna tucked its little legs in and wedged itself up against some nearby sticks so that all we could see was a black ball of fur and yellow spikes. Once it thought we had gone it started moving again.

As you can see from Nicole's photograph above, the echidna lifted itself up out of its little hollow once we stopped moving. Random echidna fact: the Short-Beaked Echidna (the Australian species of echidna pictured here) has one of the shortest spinal chords of any mammal, and its entire body is covered by a large muscle just beneath the skin known as the 'panniculus carnosus'. This muscle allows the echidna to change the shape of its body to minimise vulnerability when it perceives danger to be nearby.

Our travel inland on the cape was to find the Ly-ee-moon Cemetery, which is only about half a kilometre or more from the lighthouse. The bodies that were pulled from the wreck were all buried on the cape as it wasn't possible in the late 19th century to transport them back to their families from such a remote location.

The graves of the 71 recovered travellers are unmarked but a plaque of their names was erected about 30 years ago by local historians who had pulled together available records. Sadly, some names have been lost in time, with at least three of the bodies listed as being of unknown identity (one is just described on the plaque as 'a Greek man, invited onto the ship by the cook'). Equally sad is the sign back at the lighthouse that implores visitors to pay their respects to this cemetery as "the families of the victims of this tragedy would never have been able to come visit their loved ones back in the late 19th century".