Bunthorne's Blog

Stewart McGowan's blog

Archive for the month “July, 2013”

Othello Resources – for those who asked

My favourite Shakespeare book is Norrie Epstein’s The Friendly Shakespeare. It’s amusing, readable, comprehensive… exactly the sort of book I wish I had at university when I was studying Shakespeare. Here’s a little sample: epstein_othello[1].

It’s a while since I taught Othello but I think that for Preliminary it’s worth going with the dramatic approach. I have trouble staying away from reader’s theatre with Shakespeare. For Macbeth I have a whole PowerPoint of production images that I’ve sourced from the net. They tell the story in pictures from a range of productions. Great for initially reinforcing plot and character but then it builds into an activity about meaning and interpretation.

I’ve always enjoyed teaching Shakespeare but I’m not a fan of the idea that he’s ‘timeless’. The explanations that take account of his very different appeals to audiences across time are more to my liking. I think I heard John Bell put it this way: ‘Shakespeare’s plays survive only if they can speak to us in ways that other plays cannot.’ That may not be the exact quote – but it’s still a good starting point!

Fun with New Prescriptions

I’d forgotten what a lot of fun it is to play with the prescribed text list, imagining possible combinations and trying out different patterns to see what happens. What if I do this? What if i do that? What do the annotations say? 

I rapidly filled up about five photocopies of the course requirements planner.

 And I was thinking: is there a better way to familiarise myself (and staff) with the new list?

 So I’ve had a go at doing just that. Here is my colour-coded New Prescriptions Mix-n-Match game: New Prescriptions mix n match. The idea is that you print this on a colour printer, laminate, slice and dice as needed – then use it in a staff meeting, or just leave it on the table in the staff room for people to play with.

 I’ve put time into this particularly because I found that my own efforts kept drifting back to ‘safe’ choices – texts I knew, units I’ve taught – and I wanted to get myself thinking in new directions with the prescriptions. Can I put together a pattern of study where I haven’t taught anything before, for example?

 I’m also aware that some staff may not have had to look at this particular piece of planning in anything except a cursory way for a while and may benefit from a ‘refresher’ on course requirements.

 Before you ask – no, I didn’t do one for Standard. Advanced took me long enough! But if any of you want to put one together and share it…

Improving Students’ Extended Writing – the Work So Far

This is largely a rehash of what I’ve written about elsewhere in the blog but it’s worth going over, mainly because I’ve had a few requests lately for resources.

A big part of my work as a consultant has been to work on later years literacy. The course I put together as part of this work is called ‘Improving Students’ Writing in your KLA’ – it’s designed to be relevant acros a range of subject areas.

It’s built around some key ideas in literacy. The really central one is that students’ writing won’t improve unless we explicitly teach writing. Sounds like a no-brainer but in the context of the HSC, with busy people intent on delivering content, it’s easy to lose sight of the need to build on what students can do and show them where to go next.

Central to the course is the idea of feedback. If you know Karen Yager’s work, or you’ve read John Hattie, you’ll know how powerful feedback is – but what does effective feedback look like? I’ve proposed a structure based around a six-point diagram that’s designed to give teachers a framework for providing feedback. I’ve borrowed from Karen the idea of feedback and ‘feed forward’ throughout. Telling students what they can already do, then where they need to go next, is a key strategy.

In short, when we’re looking at a student’s extended writing, we typically find a range of problems that we want to ‘feed forward’ to them about, including:

  • that they really don’t know the content well enough
  • that their writing is unstructured
  • that they aren’t writing enough
  • that their writing lacks complexity
  • that they’re not ‘answering the question’ in a precise way
  • that they’re not dealing with the big ideas

In the course, I suggest that these six points are points on a cycle. If we build knowledge, then structure, then elaboration, then complexity, then cohesion, then concept – then we’ve built quality writing. I came up with this approach in particular because, while everyone uses high-end work samples, there’s not to my mind much teaching about the steps on the way to composing high-end, academic, conceptual writing of the kind valued in the HSC.

Here’s the diagram that I use as the centre of the course:

The Writing Cycle

Try it out: have a look at a few work samples and see if you can ‘track’ the sample to the diagram. It’s supposed to help make the ‘feed forward’ conversation with the student easier: ‘Look, you clearly know your texts well, your essay’s well organised and you’re writing a longer response, but let’s work on your sentences to see if we can get more complex ideas into your response.’ That kind of thing.

When I’m working individually with students I often take them around this cycle in an effort to build a quality paragraph. There’s an example of this at the back of the course handout.

Now I mentioned earlier that improving writing should be explicit – and that’s what else is in the handout that you can download here: Improving Writing Support booklet. In it are a range of strategies that I’ve used in English and other KLA’s to explicitly build students’ writing skills. There’s activities that encourage students to learn about what they’re studying through writing, scaffolding proformas, suggestions for encouraging elaboration, activities on building complexity through sentence-based activities, passages that demonstrate high-level cohesion and suggestions for building complexity.

I thought of editing this all back so that it only included English examples but I’ve left the other KLA examples in there just to make the point: every KLA is responsible for the specific, subject-based literacies in their own area.

I’m hoping this is useful for the people who asked. Some of you will no doubt be sick of the mantra – ‘explicit, systematic, balanced, integrated’ – but there’s a solid, practical focus in this.

Ultimately, academic writing is no easy thing and many of our students will need help to get there. This is my model for doing that.

The Justice Game continued

I was speaking to Year 12 students at my school on Wednesday so I put together a new presentation on Representation and Text, Conflicting Perspectives, The Justice Game. Here it is: Rep text justice lecture jul 13

I’m particularly fond of the ‘Andrew Johns’ slide in here. It’s meant to solve a problem for those who study The Justice Game and relates to the way Robertson positions his audience. Putting it simply, if you pick up Andrew Johns’ autobiography, what are your expectations? (Okay, let’s leave out the one that says he probably didn’t write it himself.) Is it going to give a personal perspective about a career in football? Is it going to give us new insights into memorable characters and events? Will it present a particular version of key conflicts on and off the field?

These, then, are our expectations of this particular medium of production. Of course I’m not suggesting we use AJ’s memoirs as a related text – it’s just a way into understanding our expectations of this textual form. What this does do is get around the problem of students who think Robertson’s work is ‘biased’ because ‘it only gives us his point of view.’ And yes, I have seen more than one student write this.

A reminder that this work is my intellectual property. You are welcome to use it for instructional purposes provided you recognise my rights as the creator. Including my name on any slide you use is sufficient! It’d also be nice to know if this helps with your teaching of TJG. I’m interested in your comments.

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