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Category Archives: exams and assessment

Essay writing: Module C “Conflicting Perspectives” – the introduction

Any guide to essay writing will tell you what an introduction should do. For example:

What is an introduction paragraph?

The introduction paragraph is the first paragraph of your essay.

What does it do?

It introduces the main idea of your essay. A good opening paragraph captures the interest of your reader and tells why your topic is important.

How do I write one?

1. Write the thesis statement. The main idea of the essay is stated in a single sentence called the thesis statement. You must limit your entire essay to the topic you have introduced in your thesis statement.
2. Provide some background information about your topic. You can use interesting facts, quotations, or definitions of important terms you will use later in the essay.

In exams you need to analyse the question very carefully and decide what your major points are going to be. Then you can write a good introduction.

Outside exams, I have found, things may work a little differently. You still need to analyse the question. How else can you be sure your essay is relevant? On the other hand you can begin a draft anywhere – a middle section for example, if that has material you are confident about. The whole essay may grow, like a movie being made, out of order. Later you can fit it all together, edit for cohesion and flow, and write an introduction to fit what evolved. Or you might draft straight through from beginning to end. I have in the past done it both ways, or written an introduction first and then jumped to various sections. I almost invariably find myself revising the introduction very heavily as it sometimes contains more than it should, or your actual writing may have changed the order the introduction outlines.

In exams you can’t afford too many second thoughts! (Exams really are a rotten venue for good writing!)

I have been foolish enough to promise a “model essay” for Module C. Now beware of model essays. They are just what they say they are – suggestions. They are not one size fits all perfect essays, and they should never be learned off by heart. They may even, with the best intentions, be bad models. So read them critically and learn from them, but your essay must be YOUR essay, not mine!

The question

“When composers embed conflicting perspectives in their work they are simply reflecting the way we process events, personalities and situations in real life. To study how composers do this enhances our own responses.”  Has this been the case with the texts you have studied for Conflicting Perspectives?  Refer to your set text and TWO texts of your own choosing.

What a nasty question, but I have no-one to blame but myself. 😉

Intro 1: for Julius Caesar

It is often said that conflict of some kind is at the heart of every narrative, especially in the tight narratives needed in a play like Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. There are certainly conflicting perspectives on situations, events and characters in that play. Referring to three key scenes we will find how Shakespeare has created those perspectives. In a very different genre, the short story, a conflict of perspectives is at the heart of Ding Xaoxi’s “The Angry Kettle” (in Maidenhome, Melbourne 1993). This story shows that conflicting perspectives are not always matters of power or life and death but may create humour, which may also be seen in the conflicting perspectives embodied in the film Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. In all these examples studying how the perspectives are created does make the texts richer and  sharpens awareness of how such conflicts play out in life.

According to Janne Schill (Deconstructing Perspectives 2003) a perspective is “an impression that is given by viewing something from a certain position. This position, in a specific context, acts as a vantage point from which a particular issue is seen, heard, felt, or otherwise understood.” In the first scene of Julius Caesar…

Intro 2: for Ted Hughes Birthday Letters

It is often said that conflict of some kind is at the heart of every narrative, and behind and within the poems in Birthday  Letter Ted Hughes grapples with a range of conflicting perspectives, some of them internal, on the tragic outcome of his marriage to the poet Sylvia Plath. There are certainly conflicting perspectives on situations, events and characters in these poems. Referring to two poems, “Fulbright Scholars” and “Your Paris”, we will find how Hughes has created those perspectives. The movie Sylvia (2003) is especially interesting as it draws on the same situation, but the perspectives are different and the way they are created is very different. In quite another genre, the short story, a conflict of perspectives is at the heart of Ding Xaoxi’s “The Angry Kettle” (in Maidenhome, Melbourne 1993). This story shows that conflicting perspectives are not always matters of life and death but may create humour. In all these examples studying how the perspectives are created does make the texts richer and  sharpens awareness of how such conflicts play out in life.

According to Janne Schill (Deconstructing Perspectives 2003) a perspective is “an impression that is given by viewing something from a certain position. This position, in a specific context, acts as a vantage point from which a particular issue is seen, heard, felt, or otherwise understood.” In “Fulbright Scholars”…

Intro 3: for Snow Falling on Cedars

It is often said that conflict of some kind is at the heart of every narrative. This is true of David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars. There are certainly conflicting perspectives on situations, events and characters in this novel. Referring to three key episodes we will find how Guterson has created those perspectives. In a tighter genre, the short story, a conflict of perspectives is at the heart of Ding Xaoxi’s “The Angry Kettle” (in Maidenhome, Melbourne 1993). This story shows that conflicting perspectives are not always matters of power or life and death but may create humour, which may also be seen in the conflicting perspectives embodied in the film Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. In all these examples studying how the perspectives are created does make the texts richer and  sharpens awareness of how such conflicts play out in life.

According to Janne Schill (Deconstructing Perspectives 2003) a perspective is “an impression that is given by viewing something from a certain position. This position, in a specific context, acts as a vantage point from which a particular issue is seen, heard, felt, or otherwise understood.” Very early in Snow Falling on Cedars Guterson sets up one of the principal conflicting perspectives in his novel. It concerns …

 

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Good academic writing source for seniors and university students

In answering a recent comment I found the following site from Monash University. It is very good.

monash

 

Looking at a visual text

This is something I prepared to help a student in Year 11 ESL, but I find it is also helpful for others. I am indebted to Paul Grover’s excellent Visual Texts (2004), part of the Australian Heinemann English Project.

sshjune

 

Writing about a text

An old way is to ask: WHO is saying WHAT to/for WHOM, WHEN, WHERE, WHY and HOW?

Here is a different version of that.

1. WHAT? – content, text type. You should mention the composer too.

2. WHO? (Could be different from the composer)

3. HOW?

4. To or for WHOM? WHY? WHEN? WHERE? – questions about the composer and responder relationship, and purpose and context.

5. AND SO…? Interpretation and evaluation.

Example: Leunig cartoon on bullying

The text is a cartoon by Michael Leunig. At the top are four lines of text in handwriting. The bottom half of the cartoon has two people. One is at a desk and the other is standing. The seated person is identified as a school principal. The other person is an angry parent.

The speaker in the cartoon is the person standing on the right. We know this because he is drawn with his mouth open and his finger pointing at the principal on the left.

The words spoken are centred at the top of the cartoon. This makes sure readers begin with the words, because the whole point of the cartoon is in these words. The speaker is using bullying language which is unlikely for a parent talking to a principal: “I’m going to drag your fat, stupid backside into court…” People are usually polite and respectful when they talk to a principal. It is ironic that someone complaining about bullying is being a bully himself.

The drawing underlines the dialogue. The principal is drawn seated behind his desk. Leunig usually suggests people’s age and job or status by caricature, and the principal is drawn with glasses and a bald head. His suit and tie are neat. The parent is drawn leaning forward with his finger jabbing. The movement of the finger is represented by a couple of curved lines. His eyes seem angry and his coat and tie are untidy.

This cartoon would not really interest children. It is for adults, possibly around the same age as the people in the drawing. A responder needs to have cultural knowledge about the way people usually behave when a parent speaks to a school principal. The humour comes because what we see is not what we usually expect in this situation. It is possible the cartoon appeared at a time when problems of school bullying were in the news.

The cartoon is about two things. First it is about bullying. It seems to be saying that adults who are themselves bullies set an example which school bullies follow. Second, it is about power relations. Usually it is the principal who has power in situations like this, and the parent who is requesting something. In both cases the role reversal shown in the cartoon makes the message humorously rather than heavily, but because the cartoon is making a serious point about a social problem it could be called a satirical cartoon. Making us smile may be a more effective way of getting us to think about the problem.

Typical HSC questions

For the Year 11 ESL course I have imagined an area study on POWER.

ESL Paper 1 Question 1 example 1

1. What is the purpose of this text? (1 mark)

2. Describe TWO techniques used to achieve that purpose? (2 marks)

ESL Paper 1 Question 1 example 2

1. Explain ONE idea about power in this cartoon? (1 mark)

2. How do visual features and dialogue create humour in the cartoon? (2 marks)

 

HSC English NSW Area Study Standard and Advanced: Belonging 1

In this first post I will simply look at what is in the Board of Studies Prescription for this module:

The Area of Study must be considered in the context of the Area of Study description in the syllabus, course objectives, content and outcomes. (Reread English Stage 6 Syllabus, p 32 and pp 35–38; p 50 and pp 53–56.)

AREA OF STUDY

In the Area of Study, students explore and examine relationships between language and text, and interrelationships among texts. They examine closely the individual qualities of texts while considering the texts’ relationships to the wider context of the Area of Study. They synthesise ideas to clarify meaning and develop new meanings. They take into account whether aspects such as context, purpose and register, text structures, stylistic features, grammatical features and vocabulary are appropriate to the particular text.

AREA OF STUDY: Belonging

This Area of Study requires students to explore the ways in which the concept of belonging is represented in and through texts.

Perceptions and ideas of belonging, or of not belonging, vary. These perceptions are shaped within personal, cultural, historical and social contexts. A sense of belonging can emerge from the connections made with people, places, groups, communities and the larger world. Within this Area of Study, students may consider aspects of belonging in terms of experiences and notions of identity, relationships, acceptance and understanding.

Texts explore many aspects of belonging, including the potential of the individual to enrich or challenge a community or group. They may reflect the way attitudes to belonging are modified over time. Texts may also represent choices not to belong, or barriers which prevent belonging.

Perceptions and ideas of belonging in texts can be constructed through a variety of language modes, forms, features and structures. In engaging with the text, a responder may experience and understand the possibilities presented by a sense of belonging to, or exclusion from the text and the world it represents. This engagement may be influenced by the different ways perspectives are given voice in or are absent from a text.

In their responses and compositions students examine, question, and reflect and speculate on:

  • how the concept of belonging is conveyed through the representations of people, relationships, ideas, places, events, and societies that they encounter in the prescribed text and texts of their own choosing related to the Area of Study
  • assumptions underlying various representations of the concept of belonging
  • how the composer’s choice of language modes, forms, features and structures shapes and is shaped by a sense of belonging
  • their own experiences of belonging, in a variety of contexts
  • the ways in which they perceive the world through texts
  • the ways in which exploring the concept and significance of belonging may broaden and deepen their understanding of themselves and their world.

“Belonging or NOT belonging.” Interesting. Note too the final set of points which I have introduced in red. I think there is a warning there to make sure you explore at least some significant aspect of the way in which any text you use to illustrate some aspect of belonging makes its point. Again note that we need to consider when, where and why a text came into being: in other words, CONTEXT. The second-last point is also interesting: how texts may shape what we understand about belonging.

So, I will be looking to further my understanding of what “belonging” is, what dimensions it might have, what importance it has. I will also be looking for both positive and negative consequences of the urge to belong.  After some initial brainstorming I would want to dig into whichever text is set for study in this module and really tease out what reading or viewing that text through the lens of “belonging” actually produces. This is not the same as just reading the text for its own sake, notice. Yes, you need to understand and appreciate the text, but you have to mine it for the purpose of having something intelligent to say about the set topic. You need to organise a few major issues that text throws up. Then dive into other texts to see if they complement or contrast with the set text in those issues. Be careful not to allow issues to multiply endlessly thus losing direction when you come to write essays. Be careful too not just to rabbit on about “belonging” without anchoring the discussion in the specifics of the set text and your chosen supplementary texts. With the latter, cast you net widely across contexts and text types/genres.

OK, next time* a few specific ideas… I hope. 😉

A coachee tells me there is now a Facebook group called “I hate ‘belonging’” – ironic, really, that it is a group… I do sympathise, but would also say this really is a topic worth thinking about. Further, the prescribed texts are also, in the main, of some interest – most of them of great interest. So hang in there. Organising and supporting your thoughts is where the hard work comes in.

Update 4 January 2009

*As announced on the “sticky” post, this blog is going into hibernation. However, I propose a page on Belonging and there may also be pages on other modules in the 2009-2012 HSC added from time to time.

Update 9 January 2009

Go to Belonging pages: HSC 2009-2012. From there you will now find a “model essay”.

 

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Keyboard kids losing art of handwriting

This article by a journalist whose work I respect, having once been involved in one of his stories, highlights a real if not entirely new issue. It is not entirely new because there have always been students for whom handwriting is a problem, especially handwriting under pressure in exam conditions. What is new, of course, is the rapid spread of new technologies for writing.

MORE than 150,000 students in years 11 and 12 at schools across NSW have a problem. Almost all are skilled users of computer keyboards. Most can easily outperform their elders when it comes to text messaging on their mobile phones.

But within the next year or so all of them will have to sit 15 to 20 hours of examinations for the Higher School Certificate, and the exams will be almost entirely handwritten. Unless they have a proven disability and cannot write on the day of the exam, the only acceptable exam paper is one handed up in an individual’s handwriting.

The disjunction between the acquired skill of keyboarding and the need to handwrite exams has led some schools to incorporate handwriting lessons in years 11 and 12 as students find they have to relearn the art of using a pen and paper quickly – lost after years of using computers, laptops and mobiles…

The article goes on to tell what some schools have been doing about the issue. Read the whole story (PDF).

I have had things to say about handwriting before. See search results for “handwriting.”

 

More good educational/English Studies blogs

Just had this email:

I am a regular reader of your English/ESL–and more! blog and I have found your site to be an inspiration. I am a teacher of high school English at Katikati College in New Zealand and I have been blogging for about nine months…

So I checked them out. I suggest you do the same.

This one is for Year 13 students (New Zealand):

katikati2

This one is for other years, the majority of students at Katikati College.

katikati1

Students here will find many relevant articles and links.

 

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School’s back!

Here in NSW teachers went back today. I called in at the local and said to the Head of English: “Guess I should start seeing what we can do about the 2009 HSC!” Guess I should…

This is what is on offer: NSW Higher School Certificate English Prescriptions 2009-2012 (PDF). Do check the NSW Board of Studies Site for possible updates or modifications.

 
 

Legitimate concerns about writing rubrics

There is no doubt that some criterion-referenced assessment procedures and related documents such as the Australian ESL Scales can be extremely useful; one example of the latter in use comes from The New England (NSW) Girls School. A “cut-down” form I use myself is here, and it has proven very accurate.

However, there are legitimate concerns about the use of writing rubrics. See for example The Trouble with Rubrics by Alfie Kohn (ENGLISH JOURNAL March 2006 — vol. 95, no. 4).

Once upon a time I vaguely thought of assessment in dichotomous terms: The old approach, which consisted mostly of letter grades, was crude and uninformative, while the new approach, which included things like portfolios and rubrics, was detailed and authentic. Only much later did I look more carefully at the individual floats rolling by in the alternative assessment parade — and stop cheering…

Consistent and uniform standards are admirable, and maybe even workable, when we’re talking about, say, the manufacture of DVD players. The process of trying to gauge children’s understanding of ideas is a very different matter, however. It necessarily entails the exercise of human judgment, which is an imprecise, subjective affair. Rubrics are, above all, a tool to promote standardization, to turn teachers into grading machines or at least allow them to pretend that what they’re doing is exact and objective. Frankly, I’m amazed by the number of educators whose opposition to standardized tests and standardized curricula mysteriously fails to extend to standardized in-class assessments.

The appeal of rubrics is supposed to be their high interrater reliability, finally delivered to language arts. A list of criteria for what should be awarded the highest possible score when evaluating an essay is supposed to reflect near-unanimity on the part of the people who designed the rubric and is supposed to assist all those who use it to figure out (that is, to discover rather than to decide) which essays meet those criteria…

I worry more about the success of rubrics than their failure. Just as it’s possible to raise standardized test scores as long as you’re willing to gut the curriculum and turn the school into a test-preparation factory, so it’s possible to get a bunch of people to agree on what rating to give an assignment as long as they’re willing to accept and apply someone else’s narrow criteria for what merits that rating. Once we check our judgment at the door, we can all learn to give a 4 to exactly the same things.

This attempt to deny the subjectivity of human judgment is objectionable in its own right. But it’s also harmful in a very practical sense. In an important article published in 1999, Linda Mabry, now at Washington State University, pointed out that rubrics “are designed to function as scoring guidelines, but they also serve as arbiters of quality and agents of control” over what is taught and valued. Because “agreement among scorers is more easily achieved with regard to such matters as spelling and organization,” these are the characteristics that will likely find favor in a rubricized classroom. Mabry cites research showing that “compliance with the rubric tended to yield higher scores but produced ‘vacuous’ writing.”…

Maja Wilson has written a book on the subject: Rethinking Rubrics in Writing Assessment . The fact it won a NCTE James Britton Research Award attracts me, and the chapter I downloaded looks very promising indeed. The gist of her argument may be seen here:

So if you really do want to think about what rubrics, for all their uses, might miss, and whether what they miss could after all be very important, I suggest you follow these ideas and keep thinking…

See Maja Wilson (PDF) Chapter One

RELATED

Right-wing education critique is historically inaccurate and perpetuates myths on my personal site quarrels about some relevant issues. It was written around the same time as this post. Teachers may be interested. As the title indicates, it is a bit of a rant…

 

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Email about the Educational Testing Service

This arrived this morning.

Hello,

Because you write about ESL and learning the English language, I thought you and your readers might be interested in the Educational Testing Service’s [link] new TOEFL Tips & News feed [link]. TOEFL Tips and News is a free way for students to keep updated on the latest TOEFL developments, share English learning tips, and receive helpful insights from ETS on how to pass their exam.

Here are some recent headlines from TOEFL’s Tips & News:
• What Should You Read to Build Your Reading Skills?
• How To Recognize a Pronoun Instantly
• By 2008, seats for TOEFL iBT will increase by 80% in China

You can subscribe to TOEFL Tips & News by visiting the ETS website. Please help us tell students about ETS’ newest educational tool by copying and pasting this code to your blog: Subscribe to TOEFL Tips and News from ETS.

We appreciate any help you can offer to spread the word!

On ETS see Wikipedia.

The Educational Testing Service (or ETS) is the world’s largest private educational testing and measurement organization, operating on an annual budget of approximately $1.1 billion on a proforma basis in 2007. ETS develops various standardized tests primarily in the United States for K-12 and higher education, but they also administer tests such as TOEFL and GRE internationally. Many of the assessments they develop are associated with entry to US tertiary (undergraduate) and quaternary education (graduate) institutions…

ETS has been criticized for being a “highly competitive business operation that is as much multinational monopoly as nonprofit institution”.

Due to its legal status as non-profit organization, ETS is exempt from paying federal income tax. Furthermore, it does not need to report financial information to the Securities and Exchange Commission…

It is worth looking at their free magazine Innovations.

See also Fairtest.org.

The National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest) Works to end the misuses and flaws of standardized testing and to ensure that evaluation of students, teachers and schools is fair, open, valid and educationally beneficial.

Australian connection

According to the Summer 2007 issue of Innovations, ETS produced the Adult Literacy and Life Skills survey used in Australia. I have a post on that here.

 

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Handwriting

Is this a lost art? Is it ridiculous to have HSC students — with a few exceptions for special circumstances — writing their answers by hand?

ABC Radio National’s Life Matters has recently raised these questions: listen to Death of Handwriting (MP3).

Guests: Maryanne Fahey –Writer and comic; David Loader — Technology and Education Consultant; Dr Marie-Louise Ayres — Curator of Manuscripts, National Library of Australia

Now I am going to do a bit of googling to see what I can find on this…

 

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