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Archive for the category “Cultural Oddities”

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…


Orwell’s 1984. Some Critical material

I’m following up on the ETA’s Module A day on the weekend and as promised, here’s some of the reading material I used to prepare my talk. I’ve also included some images. Here’s the Empire map!

Empire map

Now, I’ve attempted to scan these so they still work as a pdf but I may not have been completely successful. But here goes.

First off, here’s something Neal Endacott had tucked away from the 1970’s. It’s from an old Scoutline – those of a certain generation will remember Scoutlines – but it’s very quick and easy. It has a refreshing certainty to it, as well. ‘There he learnt to hate imperialism and pity the downtrodden and exploited’ – that kind of definitive statement that gives a good sense of how Orwell was perceived in a ’70’s context: Orwell Scoutline

Here’s a couple of interesting sources from on-line locations. I’ve included the url so you can track them down yourself. The first is from sfsite, one of my starting points for any sf texts. The second is from a University site. It has a very clear analysis of the ‘did Orwell predict the future?’ debate: Orwell Neil Walsh SF site

Now this is more just for interest. It’s an article from The Guardian about Orwell’s composition of 1984. Engaging and interesting: Orwell Guardian article

More stuff: here’s Ben Pimlott’s Introduction to 1984. This is the one in my edition but I know that it won’t be in everyone’s, and I particularly liked it: Orwell Intro Pimlott. And here’s some straightforward explanation of content: Orwell Storgaard

Understanding the complexities of Orwell’s politics can be a challenge, so here’s something on that:  Orwell Laurenson. Last of all, here’s an article that pushes out a few more challenging ideas: Orwell Donoghue

And just so I can show off, here’s the watch I used in the presentation. Pocket Watch

It’s my 1905 Waltham, an American movement in an English case. From the 1880’s, the US was making watch movements faster, cheaper and better than the English equivalent. If I’d thought of it, I would have included a picture of my roll-top desk from the same time – also American, because American mass production was producing faster, cheaper, better American Oak office furniture as well.

Macbeth Resources – for those who asked

I’ve had a couple of people ask about Macbeth resources recently, so I’m sharing some original stuff here. I have more on my shelves and in my bookmarks, of course. I’m particularly fond of my old copy of Brian Keyte’s Macmillan Shakespeare Macbeth but that’s been out of print for about ten years… and I never used all of it, just selected scenes and activities.

What I particularly like about it is its emphasis on stagecraft. Where should the Doctor and the Lady-in-Waiting be when they view Lady Macbeth? How can you stage this effectively? I find this to be a good way into the scenes – particularly as stagecraft choices reveal and are driven by the language.

But here’s some original resources. First off, a reader’s theatre script that I use when I’m introducing the play. Acting out Macbeth is the first part. Here’s the second half: Acting out Macbeth Part 2.

I also had fun searching various sources of images and crunched them together in this PowerPoint that follows up on the reader’s theatre. There’s a couple of activities on here – one is a ‘which scene is this?’ activity that asks students to identify from the image which part of the play has been photographed. The second is a compilation of ‘three witches’ images. There’s a huge variety of visual styles that can really drive students to think creatively about presenting Shakespeare. Macbeth in pictures! 

As usual, please acknowledge your sources if you use these activities – and if you improve upon them, please share!

Jasper Fforde fans click here

If you’re considering teaching Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair in Extension 1 from 2015, or if you’re just a fan, this article is well worth your time. It’s from Erica Hateley – I referred to another of her articles in my last post – who works at QUT. It includes some lovely details about the book I’d forgotte – I read it a while ago, after all. And I missed that Thursday Next’s experiences in the novel mirror those of Jane in Jane Eyre. D’oh. End Eyre Affair Fforde

Wuthering High? Moby Clique?

They’re both book titles. I came across a reference to them in the latest English in Australia, that’s Volume 48, Number 2, and went browsing.

What I read of Cara Lockwood’s Wuthering High was engaging and clever. Not class set engaging and clever, but fun nonetheless.  Protagonist Miranda Tate, after a series of misdemeanours involving her father’s BMW convertible, is shipped off to Bard Academy. The school advertises itself as a place where ‘our students probe the classics in a solid academic tradition.’ It turns out that many of the teachers in the school are the ghosts of authors past. Ernest Hemingway teaches PE…

What a fabulous idea for a piece of young adult literature. Here’s a school where students get in touch with the great writers of the past – literally!  The article in English in Australia puts it like this:

Miranda and her fellow students are presumed to benefit from direct contact with dead authors, whether they have read those authors’ works or not.

I’ve always been a fan of Jasper Fforde’s ‘Eyre Affair’ series because of the way it plays with literature so I think I might have to give this one a read. I’d recommend the article in English in Australia, too: it’s Erica Hateley’s ‘Canon Fodder: Young Adult Literature as a Tool for Critiquing Canonicity.’ It’s an excellent summary recent thinking on the nature of the canon and its relationship to young adult literature. Wuthering High

An Unguarded Moment of On-line Panic

Troy Martin, an education writer from Educational Experience, asked me if I’d like to write something about a couple of questions:

  • What advice would you give to teachers planning to create live sites for their students to publish creative writing?
  • What challenges may teachers’ face when moving students’ learning online?

Um, er… yikes!  Okay, here’s what I wrote.

I have to admit that when I read your questions I went into a bit of a panic. ‘I don’t know anything about sharing work on-line… I don’t know if I’m doing this well…. I’ll bet my staff or someone on-line has better ideas than me…

 Yes – classic teacher-centred panic when faced with the on-line environment. So the first thing that I have to do here is get over myself. What’s the worst that can happen here? Someone could have a better idea and I might learn something.

 So here goes: this is what I think. Correspondence gladly entered into.

 Because I’m a Teacher of a Certain Age, I make sense of on-line spaces by thinking back to what I know from pre-digital times. I used to do a task with seniors where each group had to contribute a page to a class summary that would then be photocopied and distributed. Today that’s what I use a wikispace for.

 Similarly, I’ve always used anthologies, getting students to publish their works as part of a literary magazine or something similar. In the past, students would work with their peers on paper. Today that’s all digital. An edmodo group as an editing circle, graphic software to create the pages for publication, publication on a blog as well as on paper.

 This is one where I’m happy to take advice. I’ve invested a lot of time into staying up-to-date on Microsoft Publisher – but I see others using programs like Fireworks with great results. I’ve been reading a lot about ‘fan fiction’ projects, too – and I’m wondering if there’s something better than a blog for sharing these.  When I get some time, I’m planning to check out Weebly to see what’s possible there. A quick side note: I’ve just noticed that someone else I know is using weebly like a wiki as well – and it looks better than what I’ve done in the past.

 The presentation to the class, formally spoken with palm cards, is something I used frequently – last century. This century, I’ve moved towards digitally enhanced or delivered presentations. The PowerPoint, Prezi or Slideshare particularly. I’m still a fan of the live voice if we’re talking senior assessment tasks but really, I would much rather watch a well-constructed short film than an essay on legs.

 Real audiences are important in all this, too. In the past, I’ve been involved in activities where my class has written letters or exchanged work with others in a far-flung, distant land. Nebraska, for example. Skype, Adobe Connect, edmodo all make this exchange more immediate and positive.

 So there’s my thoughts. I’ll stress again that I’m not the expert. But I am going to post this on my blog and send it to someone who’s more expert. Alison Byrne, what do you reckon?

Advice on first entering into study of the science fiction genre

I was asked about teaching science fiction on the ETA facebook page by someone who was teaching it for the first time so I put together this reply. I’m thinking others might find it useful, too, so I’m publishing it here.

Dear Santhe,

I’m assuming you’ve already seen Barbara Stanners’ Exploring Genre Science Fiction book. If you haven’t, here’s the link to Phoenix Ed who publish this: http://www.phoenixeduc.com/shop/item/exploring-genre-science-fiction

 I’m a big genre fan so I read a lot of Australian Science Fiction and Crime. The SF can be a little harder to find but it’s out there. A good starting point is the Australian Science Fiction Society’s Ditmar Awards. All the winners are on Wikipedia. What can be particularly interesting here is the criticism. For example, this is the winning article from the 2013 awards: http://www.tor.com/blogs/2012/12/historically-authentic-sexism-in-fantasy-lets-unpack-that. This is Tansy Rainer Roberts’ look at ideas of history and sexism in fantasy – but the issues are very much the same for the science fiction genre.

 Here’s a good pop culture sf site that your students might enjoy exploring – I know I do: http://io9.com/tag/books. For example, there’s a very interesting article on one of the favourite talking points about science fiction – predicting the future – here: http://io9.com/how-to-measure-the-power-of-a-science-fiction-story-1334642372. This is Annalee Neewitz’s take on this. Here’s her conclusion:

 Predicting the future is a cheap parlor trick. Giving people a way to understand their lives is the true gift of the storyteller. The better we understand our world, the easier it is to think beyond the confines of the present and change the future.

 Nice. I can see an activity that involves just exploring this site and tor.com to find key contemporary ideas about genre.

 Now, something specific: I worked with Denise McKinna at Dungog High on this: https://stewartmcgowandet.wordpress.com/2013/02/12/better-writing-in-extension-english/. This is the reference to my blog post where I published the results of our work. The challenge here was to take a fairly average piece of work and make it better so this is a good practical activity for later in the course.

 Anyway, there’s my thoughts. Hope this helps. If you see or find anything else that’s fabulous, please pass it on!

Towards a grammar scope and sequence

Why is it that English teachers, when they get hold of a ‘reading visual texts’ resource are happy to play with it, talk about vectors and salience and gaze, in a way that they won’t with grammar?

I mean, if I were to say that I prefer the term ‘focal point’ to ‘salient features’people might not agree with me but it’s not going to cause a ruckus. But if we move from a visual grammar like this to a grammar of English…

I think it’s about time we re-imagined grammar. There’s still too much of the old ‘what are the rules’ thinking rather than the ‘how is meaning being made here’ thinking. I had this point driven home when I was visiting my old school on Friday. We were working with the primary staff on a secondary scope and sequence that’s designed to make sure that we are up to speed on the language outcomes in the new syllabus. And I kept running into people who found the very idea of grammar frightening. A DP with an English background who’d marked NAPLAN, Primary exec, other English teachers, all looking like rabbits in the headlights at the very mention of the G word.

Time to get over it, I reckon. Time to say, ‘anytime I’m talking about how meaning is being made, that’s a part of grammar.’ Vectors and salient features? That’s a grammar of visual text. Motifs, use of performance space, taking focus? That’s a grammar of performance.

Mel Dixon’s got a great quote in one of her workshops about how we need to see grammar not as something distant and unteachable but as a resource for the creation of meaning, a metacognitive strategy that can assist our students – and us – to do what we do with text in a more considered and effective way.

I’ll be doing some more work on this during the week and I’ll post the details here. The goal is to get English teachers used to the idea that we are confident and capable users of language and that we can happily ignore any latinate nonsense that doesn’t help us understand what is is that we do. An update soon!

Kenneth Slessor’s Darlinghurst Nights

 Slessor Daringhurst Cover

Slessor Darlinghurst nights. What’s most interesting for me in this is that it shows me how little I know of Slessor‘s context. I’ve always made assumptions about him: a bit of a leftie, a bit of a radical – but this gives me a very different picture.

A couple of weeks ago I promised I’d find the other collection of Slessor’s works from Smith’s Weekly, and here it is. Darlinghurst Nights was first published in 1933 and matches Slessor’s lighter poetry with the illustrations of  Virgil Reilly.

I was hoping it was going to include some of the poems set for HSC students. It doesn’t but it’s still a window into Slessor’s world. The illustrations are curious. Apparently the streets of Darlinghurst are filled with semi-clad girls gazing wistfully from their windows. It seems that the Smith’s Weekly audience were as much entranced by the hope of a whimsical romantic encounter as by the sexy lingerie.

It’s hardly how I’d pictured Slessor or his audience. I’m curious now. Anybody out there got a better contextual handle on this?

Kenneth Slessor, Ladies’ Man.

Backless Betty

I came across a very unusual collected Kenneth Slessor recently. It’s a collection of his work from the late 20’s and early 30’s, published as ‘Backless Betty from Bondi’.

I’ve taught Slessor occasionally, and still have a couple of his poems in my repertoire. This book adds something to my understanding of him. Slessor worked as a journalist for a number of papers over his lifetime, including Smith’s Weekly.

The book re-publishes a range of Slessor’s early poetry, illustrated by the cartoonists who were a big part of the paper’s success. If you’ve ever taught ‘Wild Grapes’, the original illustration’s in here.

There’s a story somewhere in my family about a grandmother being absolutely scandalised that a copy of Smith’s Weekly had arrived in her house, which gives you a sense of tone. Whoever told me the story was implying that grandma was a bit of a wowser who should just let the men-folk get on with enjoying life.

The paper was an illustrated tabloid, sensationalist, with a mix of sport, finance and satire. It promoted the image of the laconic ‘digger’, independent, free-spirited, fond of a drink and romantically inclined.

The poems give you a good sense of its flavour. If you’re interested in the depression years, it’s a revealing piece. I’d be tempted to use this if I were teaching Slessor for English (Advanced) Module B. How would the artists in Slessor’s time have illustrated the poems set for study?

The link to the pdf of three or four selected pages is here: Slessor Backless Betty. Oh, this is Volume 2 of his illustrated poems. I have Volume 1, Darlinghurst Nights, on order. When it comes in, I’ll scan anything that’s on for the HSC and share it here.

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