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Category Archives: HSC

A five-finger exercise

I published this before the 2009 HSC on my personal blog. You can’t use it, because it’s my life, but it may give you some ideas…

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While my coachee slaved away on a Trial HSC English Advanced paper this morning I undertook to answer the creative writing question from our previous session: “Select one of the following quotations. Use this quotation as a catalyst for your own piece of writing on belonging.” I think I rather overdid the thematic side, but I was hoping to demonstrate how this rather artificial task may be done. It isn’t fiction, but that’s in the parameters given.

c) “My fondest childhood memories”

When you think about it there is a lot of truth in the old Catholic saying “Give me a child to the age of seven and I will show you the man.” By that age our sense of identity, which is so much shaped by our sense of belonging to family, home, town and country, are basically set – if not in stone, at least firmly enough that escape if needed is quite difficult.

In my case my grandfather rather than my father was the key influence. My father, you see, was rarely home, being overseas with the RAAF, so my family were living with my grandparents, and the one who had time for me most was my grandfather.

My grandfather was a retired teacher. I don’t know how he did it, can’t remember, but before I went to school I could already read and tell the time. This led to early alienation in Kindergarten. Invited in week one to “write” on the blackboard I wrote “Sydney Morning Herald” and the date. I gather the teacher was not amused and rang my mother to complain – strange as that may seem.

He was a mine of information, my grandfather, and I was a hyper-inquisitive child. Once he was gardening and I asked him: “What are snails for?” He stood up and took me round the garden, showing me snails, describing their life-cycle, their means of locomotion and their feeding habits and why, if we wanted our lettuces, he had to get rid of them. “Yes,” I replied with precocious analytical skills, “but what are they FOR?” Since the metaphysics of the snail was not something that had occurred to him he became uncharacteristically short with me and called out to my mother, “Get this bloody kid out of here!”

I never have found out what snails are for, but I guess they fit into the web of life. Even snails belong, don’t they?

Another thing about my grandfather was that he talked to just about everybody. He was genuinely interested in their lives and what they did. I would accompany him on his walks and get impatient as he stopped at this fence or that gate to chat to someone for what seemed like hours to me. I was not displeased though when he would climb over the railway fence to chat to the driver of the milk train when it was waiting at the siding for the express train to go through. There were steam engines in those days and I was enthralled standing on the tracks with my grandfather as the fireman and driver leaned down from the cab to share finer points of their trade.

On the other hand, so I am told, when my father at last returned from overseas my first words to him were “Get that man out of here!” (Perhaps I learned the expression from my grandfather.) To me my father was the picture on the dressing table, not this large imposter who had suddenly disrupted my life, just when I had my mother pretty much in control. What this may have done to our relationship, indeed to my father’s recovery of his belonging, I can now only guess – but it did rather colour our later lives.

You can see what a network one close relative can set up for you in those formative years. With my grandfather I explored so many aspects of my environment and he was, you could say, my map-maker. Through him were developing all those templates of background, culture and place which shape so much where “I” fits in – belongs, indeed.

There are many other stories I could tell of my grandfather. Did I mention he only had one eye? No? But that is another story.

I was 21 when my grandfather died. He had mentored me in so many ways, easing the pain of high school maths, answering my incessant questions about other countries as we browsed the atlas together, showing by example tolerance of people from other cultures, leading me (without pressure) to emulate him in my choice of career. If he were removed from my life story I wonder if I would today have the network of belongings that I now possess, modified as they may have been by other experiences and circumstances. Nonetheless, if I look for the rock on which it all has been built I need look no further than those childhood experiences with Roy C. – my grandfather.

 
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Posted by on November 13, 2009 in creativity, HSC, writing

 

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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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“Sylvia” (2004)

sylvia

star30 star30star30star30star30a  I watched this partly out of HSC-related duty, but also out of interest. I have to say I was very impressed by its accuracy and fairness. The lead review (at the moment) on IMDb pretty much sums up my reaction.

In 1998, "Hilary and Jackie" explored alleged episodes in the short life of cellist Jacqueline Du Pre and her pianist, now also conductor, husband, Daniel Barenboim. Despite very very good acting the film was largely a descent into the basement of scurrilous storytelling by relatives of the dead musician. Whatever the truth of the claim that she bedded her sister’s husband, the movie said nothing about the couple’s meteorically brilliant early careers. It was slanted voyeurism writ large.

Director Christine Wells has taken a very different and insightful tack in exploring the life of poet Sylvia Plath and her marriage to Ted Hughes, a poet with laurels garnered while Ms. Plath was still starting up a not very steady ladder to recognition.

Plath, an American, met Hughes in England. A short courtship was followed by marriage and then two children. The relationship was tumultuous and eventually it foundered because of Sylvia’s underlying emotional instability followed by her husband’s desertion to another woman…

Wells takes a sympathetic view of Ted and Sylvia, not joining in the political debate over feminism and Sylvia’s supposed maltreatment by Ted. Sylvia in this film is brilliant but also terribly brittle and her inner demons are not caused by a brutish or callous husband. As Platrow portrays her, I believe accurately, Sylvia was seriously and chronically depressed with life events worsening but in no regard initiating a downward spiral. Today she would probably thrive and be both prolific as a poet and happy as a person if successfully maintained on an effective anti-depressant.

Ted, played by Daniel Craig, is a bit transparent – loving but somewhat distanced by his own quest for fame. He hectors Sylvia to write more, annoyed that she bakes instead of composing verse while on a seaside vacation. He’s supportive but also blind to the deepening reality that he is dealing with a woman who needs help, not critical comments about non-productivity.

The supporting cast is fine but this is Paltrow and Craig’s film. She has a strong affinity for England and its culture (I believe she has moved there) and she gives the role deep conviction and understanding. It happens that she somewhat resembles Sylvia but the true recognition is internal and intellectual. And emotional, let’s not omit that…

"Sylvia" sets the record straight as Paltrow acts the part of a woman – mother as well as poet – who slowly loses control of her life while her husband reacts first with confusion and later with the self-protective armor of withdrawal.

Hughes went on to publish many fine poems and he became poet laureate of England, a post he definitely wanted and enjoyed (Hughes was one of the very few modern and relatively young intellectuals who was a convinced monarchist).

Not long before succumbing to cancer, Hughes published "Birthday Letters," an attempt to show through years of verse the nature of his relationship with Sylvia. Whether viewed as an apologia or a last record – and chance – to give his side, it’s an impressive work. And "Ariel’s Gift" by Erica Wagner is must reading for those who want more than a film and sometimes potted articles can provide. It analyzes the poets’ relationship through the prism of Hughes’s writings, most unpublished before "Birthday Letters." A recent book, "Her Husband: Hughes and Plath, Portrait of a Marriage," by Diane Middlebrook, is also recommended…

The movie is M15+ in Australia.

It would also perhaps be a good supplementary for “Belonging”.

Adapted from a post on my personal blog.

 

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On not seeing the wood for the trees – HSC Advanced 2009-12 Module C

People, I really have had a problem interpreting the rubric for Module C Elective 1.

This module requires students to explore various representations of events, personalities or situations. They evaluate how medium of production, textual form, perspective and choice of language influence meaning. The study develops students’ understanding of the relationships between representation and meaning…

In their responding and composing, students consider the ways in which conflicting perspectives on events, personalities or situations are represented in their prescribed text and other related texts of their own choosing. Students analyse and evaluate how acts of representation, such as the choice of textual forms, features and language, shape meaning and influence responses.

I even emailed an ex-student who is now a young (and thus up-to-date) English teacher in Sydney’s south-west.

A serious question, which I hope you respond to. I am at the moment tutoring 3 Advanced students and we have reached Module C, and I am having a problem getting my head around the implications of the rubric for "Changing Perspectives". I did not have a problem with the previous options on "Telling the Truth" and "Powerplay" — which are clearly thematic, making relevant issues and possiblities for supplementary texts straightforward enough . My life is further complicated by the fact each student has a different text: "Julius Caesar"; "Snow Falling on Cedars"; Ted Hughes.

I have seen what HSC Online offers. I have also in mind Janne Schill’s "Deconstructing Perspectives" (Sydney, Sapientia 2003) which is excellent in many ways but goes very deep into theory. (She is or was a teacher at Sydney Girls; maybe the text is in your school resources.)

Now in practice I will try to zero in on whatever approach my coachees’ teachers are taking…

But it helps if I have a clear view myself, and at the moment I don’t — at least not to my own satisfaction. (Secretly, or not so secretly, I curse the whole enterprise and wish we were just studying the texts for their own sakes; I would quite happily pursue all manner of contextual, thematic, structural and language issues then.)

Do you have any ideas? Are you doing this option? I would really like to know…

Unfortunately he isn’t currently doing this option, so I asked other practitioners and now I think I have my answer.

Two issues perplexed me:

  1. How deeply to go into the theory behind the concept of perspectives?
  2. Should “related texts of their own choosing” relate directly to the set text, or only to the concept of “conflicting perspectives”?

One Head of English saw the same problem and consulted the Board of Studies. The answer to (1) is to judge what elements of theory actually help students discuss “conflicting perspectives” but to beware of being led too far from specific, concrete discussion of text and how it works. The answer to (2) is that the additional texts do not have to relate directly to the set text.

I was also helped by the material on Mel McGuinness’s blog. Mel is “presently employed in Catholic Education as an English co-ordinator.”

 

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Someone has posted on Ted Hughes (HSC Module C)

And I am very grateful, for one. See Fulbright Scholars some notes. Thanks to Mel McGuinness, who has in turn kindly referred students to this blog for Frankenstein and Blade Runner.

melmcg

I propose to say something about Module C myself shortly.

Update 24 June

Some references I have found.

 

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I’ve had a request I can’t really answer…

For starters, I can’t really offer advice online, except for general clues as in this post. The only ones I can directly help are those I see “live” and even there I never help with assessment tasks, except to help clarify the meaning of the task. That said, here is the request:

I’m a student doing my HSC now and read your blog on Frankenstein and Blade Runner and it was really good. I have an assessment on it, which is a visual representation, to compare how the two core texts treat similar content in different ways because of the context of their composition. I have to make 2 A3 posters and compare them with each other. I really have trouble with doing this and completely clueless on how to represent a concept in different contexts…

Well, I would go looking for images, poems, quotes on such things as what the environment was like at the time each text was composed. I’d also go looking for old pics of scientific experiments for Frankenstein, or for typical Romantic and Gothic paintings. For Blade Runner I might go looking for examples of genetic engineering or cloning gone wrong…

Here are some samples of what I found. The top one is an 18th century laboratory. The middle one is an industrial landscape. The bottom one is a still from the movie Koyaanisqatsi (1982). 

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krup_industrial_revolution

koyaanisqatsi_cityscape_at_night

Those are just starters. Keep looking and thinking! 🙂

 
 

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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