|Some of the texts in Module B for Standard English|
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.