Posts Tagged literature

Put your money where your mouth is

Stepping it up this week a bit in the ‘modelling-best-practice’ stakes…

It occured to me that as I am advocating the importance of studying texts and their traditions to…well basically, the development of human society as we know it, that I’m not doing enough of this in my own university classes.

Last week I got a real buzz relating the theoretical material in this unit to contemporary texts and practices, namely to the story of Terminator II and to the ‘Pirates vs Ninjas’ meme.  So this week I am using another text as a way to relate to theory, this time going into even more depth.

I have chosen the film Pleasantville.  I am going to use this film to explore ‘critical literacy’ and interrogate the resistance to critical reading of text in secondary English.

Yes I am.

Now, to construct the learning experiences.

In the lecture I am going to focus in on metalanguage, showing students how historical paradigms of English curriculum (skills, cultural heritage, personal growth, critical-cultural) have been revisioned in two more recent literacy frameworks that have had significant influence on contemporary English curriculum – Luke and Freebody’s ‘Four Resources’ model, and Green’s ‘Three Dimensions’ of literacy (which we have already been using at length).  I’m also going to rock their world by showing them how subject-specific pedagogy relates to more general theories of pedagogy, such as the ‘Productive Pedagogies’ that are used here in QLD, as well as to theories of learning such as Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy.

The two hour tutorial though.  Hmmm.

My message in the coming weeks will be to embrace ‘workshops’ as well as individual and group ‘project based learning’ as alternative approaches to lesson organisation.  I want them to start thinking about how we traditionally do “class” and what learning experiences are encouraged there.  As I’m electing to ‘put my money where my mouth is’ this week I suppose I should give them a taste of this too…but what to do?

Perhaps I will split the two hours into a ‘workshop’ and a ‘project’.  Will I have time for both?  I’d like to also screen the first ~20 minutes of the film in class, giving me 30 minutes for the rest of the workshop.

That leaves ~50 minutes for students to complete a seperate project.  But what?

I’ve been watching Bianca do this – I know I need to start with a driving question or challenge

…and thus I am away to make coffee and have a think about this.

Ideas welcome x

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Top 10 Searches on Shmoop

The list recently released by Literature study site Shmoop.com shows the Top 10 searches on Shmoop for the 2009-2010 school year.  It is an interesting read!  The website explains:

The list is based on number of searches conducted on the Shmoop website by teachers and students in the past school year.

While one might think that pop culture juggernauts like Twilight and Harry Potter might crack the list, we found that the classics still dominate students’ searches.

Out of this list, in the past three years of English teaching alone, I have taught Macbeth, To Kill a Mockingbird, Frankenstein and Brave New World.  Does this mean I’m on target?  (you betcha I will say it does!)

The full Top 10 list:

  1. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  2. Hamlet, by William Shakespeare
  3. Macbeth, by William Shakespeare
  4. Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
  5. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
  6. Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens
  7. 1984, by George Orwell
  8. Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad
  9. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
  10. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

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Defining ‘multimodal’

Reading the Draft Australian Curriculum for English (‘DACE’…?) I can see that confusion over the meaning of ‘multimodal’ text is about to cause English teachers some major problems.

My understanding is that when we say a text is ‘multimodal’, we mean that the audience participates in the text’s creation.  This is the definition I would say that academics and practitioners in the field of English curriculum would use; consider this explanation by Anastopoulou, Baber & Sharples:

Multimodality is based on the use of sensory modalities by which humans receive information. These modalities could be tactile, visual, auditory, etc. It also requests the use of at least two response modalities to present information (e.g. verbal, manual activity). So, for example, in a multimodal interaction a user may receive information by vision and sound and respond by voice and touch. Multimodality could be compared with ‘unimodality’, which would be based on the use of one modality only to receive or present information (e.g. watching a multimedia presentation and responding by pressing keys).

…but that’s not the definition that ACARA are going with.

The definitional confusion between terms like multimodal, multimedia and media has been around for a while, and speaks to the significant changes in what is considered core content in English brought about by the rise in visual and especially digital texts.  We are very familiar with the concept that language can be spoken, written or heard…but when it comes to texts that combine these modes, things are still a little muddled.

Please take a moment to check out, for example, the preface for the Year 7 section of the DACE (click the image below and get ready for your head to spin):

Year 7 English Content Preface

See what I mean?

In this Preface to the curriculum content descriptors multimodal texts seem to be pitted against texts that are ‘literary’ (which creates even more confusion as the definition of literary appears to change with each new use).  I can appreciate that the ACARA curriculum writers have had to avoid using the word ‘text’ because of the political beat up the term has received in recent years from certain op-ed writers in certain newspapers.  That is why this new curriculum has reverted to the more traditional term Literature – and it is because of this change that we are now supposed to say, it seems, ‘literary text’.

But now check out the etymological shenanigans that take place in the content descriptors of the Literature strand:

Year 7 - Literature

Oh brother.  The constant reference to ‘literary texts’ is supposed to be a nod to the strand content being described as ‘Literature’.  But this is ultimately VERY confusing, as ‘literary’ texts are separated from ‘non-literary’, digital’ and ‘multimodal’ texts in the Preface.  There result is that there is no sense in this strand of multimodal texts being included.

The term ‘literary’ is also conflated with ‘fiction’, and what are really language elements are referred to as literary elements.  In ‘Discussing and responding’ the term ‘text’ makes it in unscathed – which just goes to show that the word does make sense and can be used.  The term ‘text’ is highly appropriate for collectively describing all works of language art, and recognises that the works we study can be written, spoken, aural, or a combination of these.  The term ‘literary texts’ is stupidly redundant, but I’d be happy to get on with using it to placate the punters, if only it were used consistently and provided scope for the study of a broad range of texts!  Which brings me back to multimodality…

In the NSW English syllabus, students engage in what we call a range of language modes.  These are: speaking, writing, representing, listening, reading and viewing.  So ‘multimodal’ could reasonably be taken to mean ‘using more than one language mode’.  This would make film, picture books and digital stories (which use a combination of visual and written language) and many other forms of text multimodal.  OK, I can work with that.

But another thing we do in NSW English 7-12 is differentiate between the activities of composing (which involves text ‘making’ or ‘creation’, not just ‘writing’) and responding (a broader term than ‘reading’ which encompasses the ‘reception’ of all kinds of text).  These activities are viewed as always interrelated in some way, but I would say that it is only when text explicitly invites the audience to participate in the text (e.g. in video games, virtual reality, and participatory narratives such as Inanimate Alice) that the term multimodal should really be applied.  If I’m going to give up the term ‘multimodal’ to the meaning of ‘using more than one language mode’, then I’m going to need a NEW WORD that I can use when I mean ‘texts that the audience helps to construct’.

Currently this recognition of interactivity, and of the interplay between responding and composing, is severely lacking in the DACE.

[ED: Angela Thomas has helped me to clarify my thinking around this, and suggests that students could refer to the ‘cline of interactivity‘ for texts that invite participation.  My thoughts on multimodality have been developed here.  June 2010]

If you are an English teacher and haven’t yet responded to the consultation on the Draft Australian Curriculum, I implore you to log on to the ACARA site and say something about these contradictory and frankly bizarre definitions.  I can’t be the only one who feels like the curriculum writers just didn’t use a glossary!

Faced with the prospect of a shiny new curriculum that is supposed to be clarifying professional meanings and terminology for all teachers, students and parents across the nation, these definitional conflicts are something that must be sorted out before we go any further.  Agreed?

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