That post on Physical journeys and Peter Skrzynecki’s poems has now had 2,743 individual visits. I thought I would share how I approach teaching this unit, keeping in mind it is not the only approach that would work.
First, I would have a study of the set poems for their own sake, almost (but not quite) ignoring the “Journey” aspect. Having looked at what they say, how they work, and how well they say it — a rather conventional critical reading of poetry — I would in that process have drawn into discussion much of the context of the poems in Australian migration history, European history, and Peter Skrzynecki’s own background. Then I would raise the question: “Looked at as journeys or documents of journeys what have these poems been offering?”
Then I would look at the Board of Studies brochure Then I would seek to refine just what “Journey” can mean. After that, I would revisit the poems to tease out the idea of physical journey, practising linking that idea both to the poems and to the Board of Studies material.
Then I would offer some examples of other texts showing how they might be deployed to support or contrast with the way journey is represented in the poems. I would almost certainly forbid use of these practice examples, encouraging students to find their own. I would ask them — and check this — to start compiling their own portfolio of journey texts, making sure they have a range of text types. I would exhort them to collect often and indeed to collect too much. I would hope they may have as many as twenty possibilities by the time the Trial HSC is approaching. That is not unrealistic — just one every week or two. And it is not hard.
This is what I say to students:
So many movies, stories, poems, songs, artworks, and so on, are really about journeys of one kind or another! There is no problem finding material, unless you leave it to the last minute. Each item collected should have basic notes saying what it is, where it came from, what it offers on the idea of “journey” and what poem/s it seems especially to link to. Later the twenty or so items can be sorted and reduced to the six best ones. That gives you plenty of choice when it comes to any exam question, as you will never actually use more than two. However, if you only know one or two you may find yourself working with material that does not quite fit the question.
There are no silver bullets, no short cuts. If, however, you are now in Term 4 starting this there is no need to panic. It really is not very hard. The less lazy you are about it, too, the easier it becomes!
What is hard is answering the question relevantly in forty minutes, deploying around five textual discussions to best advantage. Now that really takes serious practice. Use every opportunity for that your teachers give you!
Do not, I mean do not, try to learn a “perfect” answer off by heart! See How can I improve my essay grades, especially in exams, without learning “model essays” off by heart?
Amendment to English Stage 6 Syllabus: Withdrawal of stimulus booklet for HSC 2008.