Posts Tagged ‘exploring connections’

A reading journal is a useful tool for all students and an essential one for student undertaking Extension 1 and Extension 2. Here are some suggestions to get you started:

Read Widely this includes reading fiction and non-fiction, newspaper and journal articles, blogs, short stories, novels, and poetry. It also includes viewing films and television, looking at paintings and photographs, and listening to music. Let each text lead you to the next one. For example, reading a Neil Gaiman novel might lead you to reading his graphic novels and picture books, you might also find the music of Amanda Palmer, his wife and, through their Twitter feeds, the novels, music, and films they admire. If you’re stuck, Amazon Lists and GoodReads might help.
Explore Form and Genre one of the complaints that I’ve heard repeatedly from the Extension 2 co-ordinators at school is that students are intending to write a short story but all they read is novels. Acknowledge that textual forms differ in their structure, not just their length. Here’s a list of short story writers I recommend: Archie Weller, Roald Dahl, Isaac Asimov, O. Henry, Saki, William Gibson, Arthur C. Clarke, Joanne Harris, Philip K. Dick, Brian Caswell, Tim Winton, Nam Le, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Angela Carter, Chinua Achebe, Graham Greene, Henry Lawson, and Susannah Clarke. Similarly, if you’re writing free form poetry or putting together a short film, make sure the form and genre within which you’re working is a focus of your reading and viewing.
Make Predictions Don’t read passively; be active. If you think you’ve worked out whodunnit, write your idea in your reading journal; if you think you know what will (or should) happen next, write it down. This is particularly important if you’re doing a genre study. Make predictions based on your knowledge of the genre and highlight texts that subvert the conventions.
Make Connections Connections between texts are at the heart of HSC English, whether they be thematic (Belonging, History and Memory, Conflicting Perspectives), chronological (Texts in Time, Exploring Connections, Romanticism, After the Bomb, Navigating the Global) or generic (Crime Fiction, Science Fiction, Life Writing). While reading, look out for connections between what you’re reading and other texts you have read or studied. Don’t limit yourself to what you’re reading for – an article about Life Writing could become a related text for History and Memory. Look out for connections between what you’re reading and your own experiences as well. Note these down.
Respond Creatively Your reading journal shouldn’t just be a series of “I read this and this is what I thought about it.” Rewrite endings, use interesting quotes as stimulus for poems, short stories, and other short pieces, draw diagrams and pictures, find images to illustrate ideas; argue with your texts, put their characters (or authors) on trial – interrogate them. Write what you feel as well as what you think. Try this exercise to get you started: choose a text then, using each of the five senses, describe it: what does it look, smell, taste, sound, feel like?
Respond Analytically Your reading journal is another opportunity to practise your structure response writing. Using the key ideas in the syllabus for your course/module/elective, compose structured integrated paragraphs using the texts you’re currently reading. Writing explications (linear explanations of techniques and meanings) is another good strategy for engaging analytically with texts.

Avoid Recounting This list was originally going to be divided into dos and don’ts but there’s really only one don’t: don’t recount the plot of what you’re reading. There are two reasons for this. The first is that it’s boring. Plot recounts are boring to write and even more boring to read. The second reason is that it’s a bad habit. If you practise recounting the plot in your journal, chances are you’ll replicate that practice in your responses and exams.



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A study of context can be arduous, particularly for students not enamoured of history; however, an understanding of a text’s context—along with its audience and purpose—is integral to developing an understanding of the text. With modern texts this is easier, the context is similar to your own, but it is much more difficult when it comes to a context that is far removed in either time or space. Elizabethan England is a particularly complex and turbulent context to study but it is also one of the most important because it’s Shakespeare’s.

There is one Shakespeare play in each module of the current Advanced English HSC Syllabus.

Area of Study: As You Like It
Module A: Richard III (with Al Pacino’s Looking For Richard)
Module B: Hamlet
Module C: Julius Caesar

Understanding the political, social and personal context surrounding the plays you study can help you in a number of ways. The texture of the world can influence the texts produced within it. As You Like It can seem simple if you don’t know that the original Rosalind would have been a boy actor, playing a girl who is pretending to be a boy. Hamlet’s delay makes more sense in the context of the religious anxiety of the Reformation. The ghosts and portents that foretell the death of Julius Caesar echo the eclipse that some believe signalled the end of Elizabeth’s reign. The demonisation of Richard III becomes a clear political move when one understands the family relationship between the Tudors and the House of Lancaster.

But how do you learn all this stuff? Enter American author Bill Bryson and his biography of William Shakespeare.

Bill Bryson’s biography of Shakespeare is a comprehensive guide to Shakespeare’s life, Shakespeare’s world and Shakespeare scholarship. Bryson shot to authorial fame with his travel writing about journeys in England, America and Australia. His Shakespeare reads like a travelogue to Elizabethan England. Bryson neatly weaves known facts, supported by historical and literary evidence, with speculation and educated guesses.

The book is structured chronologically, beginning with an introduction to the world into which William Shakespeare was born and ending with the speculation surrounding the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays.

Read this book before the Trials. It will strengthen your contextual and scholarly understanding of your Shakespeare text.

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