Monthly Archives: January 2007

NSW school visitors, welcome back!

Yes, a new school year has just started here in NSW, my 41st since becoming a teacher!

If you go to Workshops you will see that all the workshopped essays have now moved over from Tripod, most to this site, but two to Geocities, because formatting issues prevented their being hosted here. At least on Geocities they tend to appear more quickly than they do on Tripod.

The site has been redesigned for the new year too. I hope you find it useful, and keep coming back as new content is added.

I do take requests, so if there is something you would like me to post about, let me know via comment (provided I haven’t closed it against spam), the guestbook, or email.

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Posted by on January 29, 2007 in site news


Are you here?


Click map to see full size.

That represents the last 100 visits to this site and the personal site. I never cease to be amazed by this technology. (Image from Sitemeter.)

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Posted by on January 24, 2007 in site news


Two newish resources for literary studies

If you check my personal blog under Education you will soon see where I stand on the culture wars. My first reaction, then, to Masters in Pieces by Michael Parker and Fiona Morrison (Cambridge Australia 2006) was “Oh no!” because not only does it support “the canon” but it seems to support it in its least defensible form, an “English canon” — no Tolstoy, no Dante, no Goethe… Or so I thought. In fact, it is a very good book indeed, and politically shrewd, as it will attract the conservatives while delivering more than they expect…

I have been using it for advanced English students in Years 11 and 12.


Last year I also picked up el cheapo Over 4000 Works of Literature from Nodtronics — just $9.95!

Over 4000 Works of Literature is an interactive CD ROM which contains over 4000 complete works by great authors from all over the world including Australia. There are novels, plays, poetry, short stories, sacred texts, essays, the complete King James Bible plus much more.

Also, there are many different screen options such as browsing, increasing screen font size, adding bookmarks, copying and pasting sections of text to your notepad, saving previously read books, printing sections of text or complete novels, and a very powerful search engine. Searching by author, category, or keyword makes Over 4000 Works of Literature a fast and valuable reference guide, or an easy way to enjoy the world’s most loved classics for the cost of one paperback!

The texts are searchable too. It is readable enough, but I still prefer physical books, I must say. But this could keep me up late at night for some time to come.

On Masters in Pieces I commend Life Matters: 23 January 2007 to listen to or download. There you will hear:

1. The Teacher That Inspired Me: Gideon Haigh’s Mr Keary
2. Accelerating Gifted Students
3. Masters in Pieces: The Canon and the English Curriculum
4. Nursery Rhymes
5. Mem Fox.

It is a brilliant episode of this excellent series.

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Posted by on January 24, 2007 in English studies, for teachers, HSC


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Around 500 Education blogs…

…including this one! Some of them have to be good, don’t you think? Browse away on the Blog Explosion education directory:

blog explosion

If you find one that really should be on my blog roll, let me know.

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Posted by on January 23, 2007 in esl for teachers, for teachers, pedagogy



Can you help me with paragraphing?

# Check other entries in the categories “writing” or “student help” and see “English and ESL Help” and “Student Help” on the tabs above.

Paragraphs form the basis of every type of writing. Although the purpose of the paragraph may vary the structure of the paragraph is always the same. Every paragraph should develop and support one main idea, and should lead the reader from one paragraph to the next.

Paragraph Builder is very clear and very good.
The Paragraph. Brought to you by the Purdue University Online Writing Lab.
English Writing Style – Sentence, Paragraph and Essay Writing Skills from About English as a 2nd Language. Lots of links to good things: for example, Discourse Markers – Linking Your Ideas in English. The downside: popups galore.
Paragraph Punch, an interactive paragraph writing tutorial. Requires Flash.
WRITING EFFECTIVE PARAGRAPHS is a clear account from a medical site!

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Posted by on January 22, 2007 in English language, esl for students, questions asked, student help, writing


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A voice you just can’t ignore

You’ll find Ali Alsamail in the NSW HSC All-Rounders List 2004, those with top performances across the board. I remember him as a leader in the school in sport and academia. He is of Iraqi background and arrived in Australia in 1995.

I thought of him again as I was writing a long post on my personal blog during the past twelve hours: Extended comment: On the extreme ugliness of fanatics of all kinds…. The theme there is the way we who are not Muslim conceive Islam, especially given current politics and dominant media representations.

In the course of my research I came across a couple of essays Ali had written more recently. One moved me very deeply, and I would love simply to rip it off here, but I do not have Ali’s permission. The essay is called Prisoner of Golden Chains . It went online, it appears, in November 2006. Here is the merest taste:

One day, I heard that somewhere, far away from here, people were imprisoned, then raped, tortured and dragged around on leashes like animals without any justification. The pictures I saw showed me an evil I had never imagined before. I felt pain and anger, but I knew I could change nothing, so I told the pain to go away, and told the anger to shut up. I told the sense of injustice I felt to be quiet, because that was somewhere else, far away from here — it was what we leave behind before coming here.

The next day, I heard that a group of kids, somewhere far away from here, were stopped at a checkpoint on their way to school. Well-trained soldiers could only communicate with these kids by pointing guns at them, so the kids had to sit on the sidewalk and have their class right there. It made me want to cry, but I told the tears to go back…

The conclusion is superb.

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Posted by on January 20, 2007 in Australian, diversity, equity/welfare, gifted education, multiculturalism, writing


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Good children’s literature site


Visit the site linked to that header*. Judith Ridge, the owner of that site, says:

Hello! Thank you for visiting the Misrule website and for taking the time to find out more about me. I’ve been involved with children’s literature in many capacities; as reader, teacher, arts program co-ordinator, editor, critic, acolyte and advocate!..

I have published reviews and critical articles about children’s literature in journals and publications such as Viewpoint: On Books for Young Adults, Magpies, The Melbourne Age, Australian Book Review, Good Reading Magazine, Australian Bookseller and Publisher and The Horn Book (USA).

I teach a class in writing for children in the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Sydney. I also tutor second year children’s literature at Macquarie University where I am currently working on completing my MA and then, hopefully, my PhD. My tutor is John Stephens and I am writing my thesis on retellings of fairy tales, particularly in YA novels.

You will find much good material here, and if you are a writer Judith also offers a manuscript assessment service for children’s authors.


That link now takes you to the new Misrule site.

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Posted by on January 17, 2007 in Australian, English studies, literature genres, works/authors


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Read Jim Belshaw on education policy

Jim Belshaw’s post for Thursday, January 11, 2007, Australia’s Universities – a personal Mea Culpa is an important contribution to the Australian education debate. If you are at all interested in the trajectory education policy and education funding have taken over the past few decades, you must read this very honest post from someone who was very deeply involved. It is better than most of what you will see in the media on the subject.

Jim spent four days writing that post. I am not surprised. Because it is such an important overview of policy changes we labour under today, because there is quite a profound set of educational values behind that overview as well as intimate knowledge of how and why policy has gone the way it has, I hope what Jim says is noticed by teachers and education administrators — and by politicians.

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Posted by on January 14, 2007 in Australian, equity/welfare, for teachers


Studying comic strips? Really!

Yes, I expect some of you out there will find this confirms all your worst fears about the “dumbing down” of the noble study of English, and ushers in the apocalypse! I don’t see it that way, given that the Year 8 students for whom I prepared the material which follows in November 2004 were also studying Shakespeare and much more besides. The unit itself was partly training in visual literacy, partly training in critical literacy. These texts exist. What is there function? How do they work? All valid enough, as far as I am concerned. The concept of “hero” was also part of this unit. All that is learned through studying the humble comics would have application later in many contexts, some of them more traditionally respected.

phantom Year 8 students exploring what values are represented in comic strips: explore the first and greatest superhero to get some examples of vintage Superman, and The Phantom: A Publishing History in the U.S.A. gives you lots of vintage covers for this strip. See also The Phantom, The Ghost Who Walks which gives some more history.

Here is a good fan site on Spiderman. Dark Knight is a wonderful Canadian site that tells you all you wanted to know about Batman. It is really beautiful, but made by someone who thinks everyone else has a really good computer. Check alternative Batman information here.

For even more links see Wikipedia. This is very good and leads you to just about all you need. Toonopedia gives an alphabetical set of links that will lead you to details of the superhero of your choice. In some cases the links are dated so you can see how the character was represented over time.

  • This is very interesting from BBC Science: The Science of Superheroes.
  • Teachers and more advanced students might be interested in this reflective essay by Kai Friese from Transitions magazine, “White Skin, Black Mask,” about reading The Phantom as a boy in India.

    Some thirty-five years ago, the Indian publishing firm of Bennett and Coleman introduced the Phantom comic books that would fill the misspent afternoons of my boyhood. The first four frames were usually given over to the terse phrases and fragments of the perennial recap that was soon consigned to memory as I raced wide-eyed through my purple-clad hero’s latest adventures: thwarting gangsters, rescuing women, keeping the jungles of Africa safe. It was a quieter, gentler time. I lived in a somnolent neighborhood of Delhi called Bengali Market (after its largest establishment, Bhimsen’s Bengal Sweets). My father drove home at noon on weekdays for a lunchtime siesta. And my friends and I belonged to a cargo cult…

  • Update 19 March 2007

    Read Hero deficit: Comic books in decline, a feature article by Brad Mackay published in the Toronto Star Mar 18, 2007.

    The superhero comics that kids once knew (and perhaps loved) are in trouble. Notwithstanding Hollywood’s recent infatuation with big-budget superhero movies, for much of the past 30 years the monthly comic book adventures of Spider-Man, Batman and their kind have been suffering from shrinking readership and slumping sales.

    For example, during the heyday of the late 1970s, a bestseller from DC or Marvel Comics, two of the biggest publishers, could expect to sell 300,000 copies. These days a similar title would be fortunate to move more than 50,000.

    For an industry famous for tales packed full of muscles and melodrama, the situation has prompted an unusual amount of soul searching. The would-be villains are many. Some have blamed the sales slide on cultural upstarts, like video games, manga and the ever-present Internet. Others point to the increased popularity of bookstore-friendly graphic novels, sales of which have recently surpassed traditional comics.

    But there are those who have begun to ask more complex questions, like how characters that are 40, or even 70, years old can remain relevant in an increasingly diverse society. This raises one of the oldest and most uncomfortable truths about the superhero genre: its surprising dearth of non-white heroes, particularly black ones…

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    Posted by on January 13, 2007 in literature genres, Media/Film studies, questions asked, student help


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    Cross-cultural issues are part of an ESL teacher’s business

    There are times when this aspect of ESL teaching and support leads down paths some might see as controversial, but I have found most ESL teachers find themselves travelling together on this. On the old Tripod blog there were a number of entries that arose in my own practice. Most were also published as articles in High Notes, the SBHS newsletter. They were all read by the Principal before publication and addressed ongoing issues in our very multicultural community.

    Today I am posting the most recent one, written Monday, 6 February 2006 and thus not in High Notes. There are links there to other entries; these will still work, as when I come to trim that old blog I will leave those entries untouched, or perhaps cross-link them here.

    Here is that post:

    Schoolchildren cast judgements on Muslims – National –

    This is very unhealthy indeed, I would say.

    MORE than half of Victorian schoolchildren view Muslims as terrorists, and two out of five agree that Muslims “are unclean”, a survey has revealed. Just over 50 per cent believe Muslims “behave strangely”, while 45 per cent say Australians do not have positive feelings about Muslims.

    These are the preliminary findings of the survey, which aims to measure student attitudes towards the Muslim community. The research was conducted in the second half of 2005 and is based on responses from 551 year 10 and 11 students in Victoria…

    One of the researchers, Abe Ata, of the Australian Catholic University, said the findings showed a need for educators to develop new ways of promoting multiculturalism among children. “There are very strong signals that there is a chasm between mainstream students and Muslim students,” said Dr Ata, a senior fellow at the university’s Institute for the Advancement of Research. “Educationalists and policymakers in education should take proactive steps to help create more racial harmony in the classroom and outside it.”

    Waleed Aly, a member of the Islamic Council of Victoria, said the results were troubling. “What it demonstrates is that Muslims are being viewed in a way that is really subhuman,” he said. “The only way you can combat this kind of prejudice is on a personal level. It’s much harder to hate people when you know someone in that social group.”

    Phong Nguyen, the chairman of the Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria, described the survey’s findings as “a wake-up call”. “We cannot assume that our children who grow up in a multicultural setting will automatically be accepting of each other,” he said. “Adults need to do things to make sure that our impressionable young children have a growing, mature understanding of the world and other people.” Learning about other faiths and cultures was just as important to a child’s education as studying subjects such as maths or physics, Mr Nguyen said.

    The Victorian Government’s draft new education laws explicitly permits the teaching of comparative religion in public schools, and enshrines values of “openness and tolerance”. However, according to the Australian Education Union, while some schools discussed issues involving Muslims within the curriculum, others are more hesitant to do so.

    “Sometimes schools do shy away from such controversial issues because of the sensitivities,” said the union’s branch president, Mary Bluett. “There’s always the thought that you might fall foul of politicians or parents.”

    But Andrew Blair, the president of the Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals, said schools had a social responsibility to discuss such sensitive issues with students. “Just because it’s tough, you shouldn’t turn your back on it,” he said, adding that the task of helping young people learn about other cultures lay not only with schools, but also with parents. “The lack of understanding and generosity out of these (survey) results is incredibly disappointing,” Mr Blair said.

    The survey results are not merely unfortunate; they reveal one element in a situation that actually makes our world a more dangerous place: the persistence of ignorance and prejudice. So of course I support the various statements in the article above, particularly the one I have highlighted.

    You will know if you are a regular on my sites that I have been worrying away at this for years. For example, on my Lines from a Floating Life blog (now archived on WordPress), see Deadly Identities – Amin Maalouf (brilliant book that) and Tabsir: Insight on Islam and the Middle East. That’s just two from November 2005! See my category there on Islam and also the search for “Islam” on Lines from a Floating Life.

    All of us have to come to terms with living in a pluralist world — because we do and at the moment do not have any other planet to live on.

  • See also my entry for 5 February 2006.
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    Posted by on January 12, 2007 in Australian, diversity, multiculturalism


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