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Archive for the month “June, 2013”

Challenging fixed ideas

Eng in Aus 48One of the advantages of being a consultant is that sometimes you find yourself in the office for a day – and you have time to do some professional reading! It’s a luxury, especially when you’re used to the colour and movement of an English staff room.

And today, I’ve been reading the latest English in Australia. That’s this one – if you have an ETA membership, you’ll have it on your desk somewhere.

There’s an article in there by Jennifer Watson that turns a lot of the accepted ideas about how we work with classes on their heads. In it she compares ‘open approaches’ with ‘directed approaches’ to the teaching of text in English. The big question she’s looking at is how these different approaches affect engagement and comprehension for different students.

What she concludes is surprising. She turns conventional wisdom on its head and concludes that more open approaches can be more successful with less able students, while more directed approaches benefit the more capable! Given that most teachers – and I’ll include myself in this – would generally say that less able students need more ‘structured’ activities and more specific tasks if they’re going to get anything out of a text.

This is a startling idea.  And additionally, there’s a real challenge to anyone who is teaching gifted and talented students in English. Jennifer’s article maintains that more capable students achieve less well with open activities! In her words:

“…evidence that academically stronger students – rather than academically weaker students – performed at a lower level during the Open Approach, challenges much research, particularly (suggestions) that a more explicit, authoritative teaching approach is better suited to ‘students for whom a text may be more challenging'”

If, like me, you’re one of the people who has simply tabled or filed English in Australia in the past, I’d recommend having a close look at this particular number. Jennifer’s article, ‘Engagement and Autonomy…’ is on page 23.

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The Justice Game

There’s been a bit of action on the ETA facebook page recently around Geoffrey Robertson’s The Justice Game for Module C, Advanced. So this post is just about resource sharing. I’ll attach what’s in my files, with a few comments. Here’s my introductory lecture on the concept of representation that looks at the Boggs banknote, the Peters Projection world map and the Trials of Oz. Intro lecture Rep Justice Game

The PowerPoint that goes with this lecture is here. There’s some good images of Oz magazine in here if you don’t have them already. Intro Lecture Rep Justice Game

Here’s a language analysis grid, designed to focus students in on the language techniques that are central to Robertson’s construction of his conflicting perspectives: justice game lang. And here’s a detailed breakdown of Prisoner of Venda: Justice Game – The Prisoner of Venda

One of my favourite related texts for this module is Kenneth Slessor’s ‘The Vesper-Song of the Reverend Samuel Marsden’. Slessor makes his Marsden an overblown, sadistic hypocrite. (The poem is also fun if you’re fond of high-volume, stump-thumping readings…. just saying) There’s obvious content links with The justice Game but there’s also the conflict within the text (between Marsden and convict society) and within its context – what does it say about the relationship between the practitioners of law and our society? There’s a full break down of the vocabulary and a sample paragraph in the PowerPoint: Rep text Marsden lecture update 11

I’m also fond of this poem, Kelly the Murderer. Again, it benefits from high rhetorical delivery. But it’s very interesting: it was published in The Bulletin on the 6th of November, 1880 and gives a real insight into the conflicting views of Kelly and his crimes that were present at the time of his execution. The poem is so damning of Kelly, it’s shocking – there’s the very detailed imagining of his hanging, and the line ‘a bushel of quicklime is all that he’s worth!’ (Oh, bodies buried in unhallowed ground were often limed to make them decompose more quickly.) Kelly the murderer 

So there you go: I hope this is of some help to those who are teaching The Justice Game. As a final insight, I was working with a student just the other day and found that looking at how theatrical ”The Trials of Oz’ are is a great way in. Even looking at the way it’s written, with its pieces of dialogue, makes it obvious that it’s legal theatre – farcical legal theatre at that.

Good luck!

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