Bunthorne's Blog

Stewart McGowan's blog

The Walking Dead. A Marxist Reading

Okay, a faux Marxist reading.

I was messing around with some friends on one of my favourite political sites on a slow night. I’d been talking to Year 12 about alternative readings of texts, so when someone suggested that reading The Walking Dead in bizarre ways might be fun, I chimed in. Below, written in facebook speak, is my faux Marxist reading of The Walking Dead.

God, you all sound like the conservative twats who wouldn’t know social policy if it bit them. The zombie apocalypse as portrayed in Walking Dead is a construction designed to cater to right wing thought. Survival of the fittest over social co-operation. Why is Trump so successful? Because of the fiction of the walking dead!

The zombies are constructed as a parody of the left. They represent, for rightards, the fate of those addicted to social welfare and ‘nanny state’ handouts, a shuffling unproductive mass that cruelly pillories working people. The gay abandon with which the Ayn Rand Atlas Shrugged-esque protagonists blow the crap out the Zombies is in fact a paen to the anti-Union propaganda of the nutbar libertarian right.

And don’t get me started on the denial of science inherent in the shifting ‘rules’ by which the zombies shuffle. Clearly a product placement from the denialists at Heartland.

Naturally I have only watched occasional episodes but I reckon you’d need to be brain-dead yourself not to see this as propaganda straight from the Tea Party libertarians designed to undermine Obama and all the advances of his Presidency.

If you wish to baffle a Year 12 class, feel free to borrow some of my excessive language. It led to an interesting conversation about the significance of social cohesion in TWD…

Games in the classroom meets Focus on Reading

In the last mETAphor I published an article identifying a few games that were appropriate for use in the classroom. (If you’re an ETA member you can access the article here: http://www.englishteacher.com.au/. Login and you’ll get access to the issue.)

This week I did some work incorporating one of the games into our Year 8 Horror unit. Terry Cavanagh’s game Don’t Look Back, published by Kongregate, is a deceptive, 8-bit style game that at first seems like an old-fashioned 80’s platformer. When you play it, though, you begin to realise that it is re-telling the Orpheus story. Most of my class were able to play the game through in less than a period. Don't_Look_Back

Playing a game through and relating it to the story is one thing, using the experience as part of learning in the classroom is another. So I designed a couple of lessons. I’ve also done a fair bit of work on Focus on Reading, so I decided to incorporate aspects of literacy teaching best practice into the lessons. The result is this PowerPoint. It includes the early activities where students play the game through and then the explicit literacy teaching. Horror writing 8 v2

Naturally this is available for use in classrooms but I expect that my copyright will be acknowledged. Leave my name on the slides, folks. If you are in a Focus on Reading school or you decide to modify and improve the work for your own classes, I’d love to know how this goes.

An Area of Study quickie

I’ve written about this before. At my place, we do a task where students read aloud 300 words of their own writing then relate it to ideas about Discovery and their texts.

Here’s the latest version of our task: HSC_AoS_Task_One_Asst_Notification_2016

There’s a couple of differences from our past task. Most notably, we’ve built in some concepts, some possible visual stimuli and insisted on third person writing. I’ve left this in Word so that people can make adaptations for their own context. I know that there are other people out there using other models – the viva voce, for example – but this is the one we’ve settled on here. Because it values the creative we think it’s a worthwhile addition to the course as a whole.

And would this be a good time to mention that getting rid of the Area of Study might not be the best idea in the world?

Dystopian SF revised, with activities

I’ve made some small revisions to Come Unto These Yellow Sands. The new version is here: Come unto these yellow sands revised
I also had a request for a version without f-words. Yes, I know, there were only two. But fair enough. So here’s the no f-word version: Come unto these yellow sands no fs
Lastly, just because I’m planning to use it with my Year 9, I went ahead and put together some Literature Circle activities to support group reading and responses. I’ll leave this in word rather than pdf’ing it so that it can be more easily chopped about – but please respect the copyright on this. Yellow sands activities
I’ve had some really interesting responses to the play – that’s where a couple of the changes came from – and it’s good to see it getting some use. Have fun. Let me know how it goes!

Dystopian SF. As a play? Yep!

Here’s something that I took on as a bit of a challenge: Come unto these yellow sands It’s a short play I wrote for a ‘Play in a Day’ event at Newcastle Theatre Company. I went in with ideas about writing social realism but it finished as dystopian SF!

The challenge of it appealed to me: how do you put SF on stage convincingly? My base was a story I’d written as part of some workshopping with Year 11. An isolated mountain shelter hut, night coming on, one person, alone – and there’s a knock on the door. I’ve added a few of my favourite SF tropes: the rising tide, society without controls, a world without electronics…

It’s set in a school, and it’s my school. Hunter Performing Arts really is built on a reclaimed swamp and was badly damaged in the 2007 floods. So the idea of the school being abandoned because of rising waters and bull sharks hunting in the old stormwater drains isn’t so far from my experiences as I’d like!

SF aficionados will probably pick up on my sources. For others, I found inspiration in a variety of works. Russell Hoban’s Ridley Walker, several of the stories in Jack Dann’s collections Dreaming Down Under and Dreaming Again – particularly the references to the nuclear barges of the Traders come from here. And yes, I’ve always had a fascination with code and code breaking. The misinterpretation of messages is my favourite part of the plot.

I should say something about my decision to write pieces of it in verse. I’ve just finished a major adaptation of Robert Gott’s book, Good Murder, for the stage. The main character’s a Shakespearean actor so it made sense to write a lot of the dialogue as verse. So it was stuck in my head as a pattern while I wrote this. What really strikes me, though, is how well iambic pentameter fits with Australian rhythms and accents. Writing SF for me is about lending significance to events, the metaphorical and metonymic power of the unfamiliar. Adding verse into the dialogue adds to this sense of significance, I think.

The play is free for use in classrooms. Please respect copyright by leaving my name on it if you make copies! If you were to do a production, get in touch with me re the rights. A small donation to a favourite theatre company of mine will probably cover it!

Countdown 2015! The Improving Writing presentation

Jasper m beastI’m presenting tomorrow at the English Teachers’ Association’s Annual Conference. The presentation is an update of my work as a literacy consultant. For those who’ve seen it before, my presentation is based on a course I developed for an across KLA audience but I have adapted it several times for different KLA’s, student audiences, different contexts and different delivery timeframes.
Previously with English teachers I’ve used John Foulcher’s ‘Summer Rain’ as a related text but I’ve moved to The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello, which is better suited to discovery.
The presentation’s meant to cover a number of bases. It’s meant to in the first case provide information and strategies for teachers who are less familiar with grammar and literacy within English. It’s also meant to give teachers in schools who have to work as part of literacy committees some information that will help them move their schools away from narrow, NAPLAN-based approaches to literacy. Finally it’s designed to continue the conversation. I’ve suggested a range of practical strategies designed to improve students’ writing and outlined a framework that structures the process. But I know that others will take this in their own directions; I encourage you to do so.
The PowerPoint for Friday’s presentation is here: Improving Writing ETA Nov 14 v4
The handout I prepared included my article from last year’s mETAphor, Issue 3. Members can download this from the ETA’s website.
I also included some sample paragraphs to start the conversation. These are here: jasper morello paragraphs v5
Elsewhere on the blog you’ll find previous versions of this course should you wish. Or you can just get in touch. I’ll see a large group of you at conference tomorrow, I’m sure.

Discovery, The Speaking Task

I’ve written a few other times about speaking tasks we’ve tried with different years. This is really a follow-up. My faculty has written its new Discovery task. Here it is: HSC_AoS_Asst_Notification_2015
As you’ll see, it’s following the pattern we’ve used before. Students begin by reading 300 words of their own writing, usually an excerpt from a story. This is a story they’ve written in controlled conditions so that there’s a minimalisation of the chances for plagiarism. They are then required to link this back to their prescribed and related texts in a six minute talk with (if they wish) a visual presentation to support their work. Nearly all of them do this, of course.
I’ve left this as a word file so that others can take it and use it if they wish. As usual, please acknowledge the source of this activity in any public forum.
Enjoy!

For those who asked – The Crucible

I’ve spoken at ETA events on The Crucible a couple of times and built up a prety mean old PowerPoint on it. Here it is: Belonging Crucible Marsden lec 2013.

There’s a lot of material in here that is copyrighted, so please take care to acknowledge copyright owners if you use this with a class. My favourite part of the PowerPoint is the images of the set, from Stuart Marshall’s 1997 Belfast Lyric Theatre production. It’s built from large, moveable planks that look rough-sawn – a reflection of the Pilgrim community’s development at the time of the play – and as the world of Salem breaks down they become disorganised and chaotic. Very clever.

Blogs worth following

I’ve just started following this blog http://www.aare.edu.au/blog/?p=516 so I thought I’d share. This particular post picks up on dyslexia, language learning and recent advances in neurolinguistics but there’s other good stuff here, too. Very readable and accessible. I’ve also just read the most recent post on ability grouping and beginning teachers which challenges the practice of a number of schools.

Enjoy!

For those who asked: Ways into advertising

Have a look at the image below.

Gender in ads

I sourced this from the ‘Information Is Beautiful website’ about four years ago. It shows the frequency of words in ads for children’s toys aimed at boys; Hot Wheels, Nerf guns, Beyblades – those sort of ads. Yes, I know that wordle’s a bit old hat now but this is a good example of where it’s at its best. I started here, then asked students what they thought would be the biggest on the wordle for toys aimed at girls? If you’d like to know the answer, click here. gender in advertisements

What I then asked students to do was to choose a toy advertisers had aimed at one gender and swap it to the other. They had a choice of forms to present but a number chose video. Unfortunately the best video I have isn’t in an uploadable form! Hmm might be time for a video upgrade on this blog. But if I told you it was a skateboard aesthetic film about what boys liked, featured a lot of explosions and Zhu Zhu pets doing extreme stunts…

 

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