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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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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)

 

Spell it like it is | spiked

Spell it like it is | spiked by Frank Furedi, author of Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone?: Confronting Twenty-First Century Philistinism (Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004), is a mix of sense and nonsense in my view. First the nonsense:

In essence, variant spelling is a true companion to the idea of variant truths. Contemporary cultural life has become estranged from the idea of Truth with a capital T. In academia, social scientists never tire of informing students that there are no ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ answers. Instead of the truth, people are exhorted to accept different perspectives as representing many truths.

The demotion of the status of truth calls into question the purpose of gaining knowledge. Celebrating variant truths, like variant spellings, is presented as a pluralistic gesture of tolerance. In fact it represents a reluctance to take education and its ideas seriously. And not surprisingly, those who do not take ideas seriously are also not very worried about how they are spelled.

Only if you like grinding axes, Frank! Talk about reading things into stuff… The question of how best to deal with errors, spelling or otherwise, has been around long before those deep cultural matters of postmodernism and relativity that so vex cultural conservatives. There are areas where pluralism is extremely appropriate, in my view — religion not least. Religious tolerance, much to be desired in the modern world, depends on such pluralism, as it not such a long step from rejecting that to deciding “You’re right and I’m wrong, so I’m afraid I have to kill you…”

But spelling?

Yes, I am in favour of people being able to spell English words correctly; always have been. But I try not to confuse issues in the manner of Frank Furedi. I do not see spelling errors as evidence of cultural rot. I do see them as inconveniences for writers and readers, and therefore to be dealt with. So I can sympathise with Frank Furedi when he complains that this is not good enough:

My principal objection to ‘variant spelling’ is that it reinforces the pernicious idea that children and young people today cannot be expected to meet the difficult challenge of learning how to use language correctly. For some time now, influential educators have asked whether it is desirable to teach children correct spelling. Some pedagogues argue that teaching spelling is a waste of time that serves no positive purpose. Others claim that an insistence in the classroom on spelling everything correctly frustrates those who suffer from learning disabilities and dyslexia.

I suspect he has never seriously considered the issues of learning disabilities and dyslexia. I have, and am perfectly able to reconcile thinking teaching spelling is far from a waste of time with adjusting my practice when dealing with those with learning difficulties.

Sorry, but Furedi really is a bit of a windbag on this matter.

Yes, you can learn about spelling on this site: I’m a poor speller. Can you help?

 

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.”

 

Indirect or reported questions

A student the other day made a series of mistakes in his writing, things like:

  • My father asked me what sport will I like…
  • I wanted to know will you go out with me…

What is happening here is that the grammar of direct questions, the actual words someone would have said, is being mixed in with a report structure.

The father in the first example would have said “What sport will/do you like?” The second example would have been “Will you go out with me?”

But when you report a question, things change. First, word order changes. Second, question words often disappear. Third, word order changes. Fourth, tense changes to suit the time frame of the report.

So our examples would become:

  • My father asked me what sport I would like…
  • I wanted to know if you would go out with me…

Reported questions are more common in rather formal registers, but they do quite frequently occur in narrative, partly for variety, and partly for focussing the narrative viewpoint in a certain way. 

Many of the rules are just the same as in Indirect or Reported Speech.

MORE INFORMATION

Indirect questions (British Council)

Questions in reported speech

Reported questions

Quiz on Indirect Questions

 

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