Posts Tagged ‘Preliminary’

If you’re in Year 11, you can probably see the pre- and post-Trial HSC chaos around your school. If you’re in Year 11 and you’re smart, you might be thinking, “that’s going to be me in a year’s time.” If you’re in Year 11 and you’re really smart, you might be thinking, “what can I do to prepare and ensure that I’m less freaked out than the Year 12s are now?”

The answer to that last question is two-fold:

  1. READ
  2. WRITE

What you should read depends on the English course(s) you’re currently taking and what you intend to take in Year 12. Obviously the reading list for someone taking Extension 1 and 2 is going to be different from the one for someone taking Standard. Keeping this in mind, I will post separate suggestions for each course with particular ideas for different module/elective/text combinations.

The writing, though, is pretty much the same for everyone and it goes like this:

  1. Write notes in class
  2. Practise expanding and summarising your notes
  3. Write paragraphs whenever possible
  4. Write personal and analytical responses

One caveat:


I’ll say more about the value of a reading journal in a later post (or, as I often do, I’ll forget then someone will post a question, then I’ll write a post).

1. Write notes in class. Practise note taking from what you hear in class; not just what the teacher says, but interesting points that come up in discussion. Chances are you’ll have to do a listening task as part of the HSC and, in that type of assessment, to the successful note-taker go the spoils. Note taking is a skill that can be improved easily and quickly with practice. You also never know when an offhand comment by a classmate might become a kick-ass thesis for an essay.

2. Practise expanding and summarising your notes. Our Year 11s are gearing up (or should be gearing up) for their exams. One of the best ways to prepare is to make summaries of your notes. Of course, in order to make summaries, you need to have notes to begin with (see dot point 1). Before you hit the summarising stage, it is useful to go back through your notes and add to them. You can do this through annotating or rewriting. You can also work with a study buddy, filling in the gaps in each other’s notes. Summarising should pare your notes down to what you will actually use in an exam-style essay: themes/ideas, quotes, techniques, explanations. Check out earlier posts on how to summarise for specific modules to see what I mean.

3. Practise paragraphs whenever possible. A fairly typical English class may consist of a discussion followed by writing some short responses on a text. Rather than writing dot points or unconnected sentences, try writing short paragraphs. For example:

Question: What is the purpose of the prologue in Romeo and Juliet?

Answer 1:

  • outline the story
  • introduce the characters

Answer 2:

The prologue in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet acts as a Greek chorus. This dramatic technique would have been familiar to an Elizabethan audience. In the prologue the characters are introduced and their fate as “star cross’d lovers” is foreshadowed. The prologue also tells the audience the play’s message about the tragic consequences of continuing and “ancient feud.”

The second student has spent a few more minutes thinking about the question and may not have had time to check her text messages under the table when she was done. But she has also, with just a little time and effort, improved her essay writing skills. In fact, she has produced a short, but well structured, paragraph that would not be out of place in an essay on Romeo and Juliet. Every time you write a paragraph when everyone else is writing dot points, you get better at essay writing and they…well, you’re smart, you’re reading this, you work it out.

4. Write personal and analytical responses. I’ve gone over this in earlier post but writing personal responses is a really good way to start clarifying your ideas about a text. The analytical responses come next. My senior students are required to submit one extended response every two weeks, we start with personal responses and then ramp up to analytical. The students who do this consistently get feedback and get better at articulating their ideas as well as structuring their writing.

If your teacher doesn’t have a regular routine for writing and submitting extended responses, make one for yourself and ask your teacher for feedback. If your teacher can’t look at them regularly, ask a parent, a sibling, a tutor, or a study buddy for feedback, even if it’s just, “does this make sense?” Make sure you put the date on each response and file it away so when you’re freaking out this time next year you can look back and think, “yes, I am improving.”

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Many schools approach the Preliminary English Extension course in the same way: first, they select a “classic” text (anything from The Epic of Gilgamesh and Homer’s Odyssey to Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen or a play by Shakespeare); then they introduce students to the idea of “appropriation” or “adaptation” by exploring texts that are based on or inspired by the classic or core text.

For example, my old school used Homer’s Odyssey as the core text and then everything from Virgil’s Aeneid (essentially the first fanfiction) to Margaret Atwood’s feminist Penelopiad and the Cohen Brother’s delightful film, O Brother Where Art Thou? to explore how context and values influence a text.

In the final term of the course, the students are faced with the daunting Term 3 Project, in which they must select their own “classic” (pre-WWII) text and at least two appropriations, to study. They also have to journal their responses to the texts and create their own appropriation, reflecting selected values within a given context.

The first, and most difficult, step is choosing the core text. Here are some suggestions, followed by an deeper analysis of one pair of texts.

Fairytales, think Little Red Riding Hood or Cinderella. They’re easily analysed (most are explicit about their core value in the moral at the end) and have been frequently appropriated.

Shakespeare plays, think The Taming of the Shrew or Romeo and Juliet. The analysis might be a little more difficult but there’s a fair amount of scholarly writing around them already.

Arthurian Legend, think the Marriage of Gawain and Dame Ragnelle or Tristan and Isolde. These are fun and the appropriations range from retellings for children to ribald parodies.

Greek or Roman Myth, think Icarus or Oedipus. These have strong messages and have inspired lots of clever retellings, from operas to comic books.

If you’re not familiar with any of these genres, another approach might be to take a text you already like (your favourite novel, comic book, or film) and then find out if it was inspired by a classic text.

I recently read The Hunger Games and its sequel Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. The post apocalyptic society of the novel requires each District to sacrifice two young people each year to the Hunger Games, a brutal ritual somewhere between the gladiatorial games of Ancient Rome and a reality TV show.

The sending of two young people each year to be sacrificed in an arena struck a chord with me when I first picked up the novel but my growing sense of something familiar was overwhelmed by the constant allusions to Rome. The city that rules the Districts is called the Capitol. The heroine, Katniss has a team of stylists: Cinna, Flavia, Venia and Octavia, all named after prominent Romans.

But then, just as Katniss and Peeta were boarding the train for the Games, I remembered why the scene and the idea was so familiar: Theseus. In the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, each year the city state of Athens is required to send seven young men and seven young women to the island of Minos to be sacrificed to the Minotaur as punishment for the death of a Minoan prince years before. Similarly, in The Hunger Games, the Capitol uses the games to punish the Districts for their former rebellion.

The challenge when selecting texts for the project is not to be tied down by a text type or genre. A good second appropriation for a project which centred on the myth of Theseus and then branched onto The Hunger Games could be anything from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream–where Theseus is the Duke of Athens–to the video game God of War–where, according to my husband, Kratos rips off the Minotaur’s head and wears it as a jaunty hat. The texts themselves can be just about anything, it is the focus on the context and values that influenced the creation and reception of each text.

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I am currently working on a number of posts focusing on Module A: Texts in Time and Area of Study: Belonging. I am interested in the kinds of posts my readers would find useful. If I get enough votes for a particular topic I will add it to my “to write” list. You can also make suggestions in the comments for anything that’s not included (for example, Preliminary HSC topics and texts).

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All three of my texts end with a relationship being firmly established. In P&P and B&P, this relationship is a marriage and this has been the goal, if not of the female leads then at least of their mothers, all along. Bridget ends up with her Darcy but, in the modern western tradition (begun, I think in Four Weddings and a Funeral), they are not married. In fact, they have not yet reached the committed stage of “moving in”. The values portrayed by this are clear: women need men, preferably men of high social status and great intelligence and it is up to the women to somehow catch these men regardless of the obvious initial indifference of both parties.

What if we changed the ending of on of the texts? The cultural pressure in both P&P and B&P towards marriage is perhaps too great to be disregarded but I think we can work with Bridget.

‘Come on,’ said Mark Darcy.

‘What?’ I said.

‘Don’t say “what”, Bridget, say “pardon”,’ hissed Mum.

‘Mrs Jones,’ said Mark firmly, ‘I am taking Bridget away to celebrate what is left of the Baby Jesus’s birthday.’

I took a big breath and grasped Mark Darcy’s proffered hand. Then I shook it firmly. ‘Thank you for all your help Mr Darcy but I’m afraid I have other plans.’ I smiled as both Mark and Mum gaped at me in astonishment.

Outside in the snow Jude, (no-longer-Vile) Richard, Shazza and Tom were waiting by the mini. ‘Come the fuck on,’ called Tom as I squeezed into the back of the tiny car.

Tuesday December 26

9st something, alcohol units lost count at twelve, cigarettes 0 (but one fat cigar), calories outnumbered by warm festive thoughts.

10am Woke in a hotel room in Paris. Little bit hungover but secure in the knowledge that Daniel, Mark, Julio and well-meaning but interfering parents are an ocean (well, a channel) away.

11am At itty bitty bistro on Left Bank with best friends. Have finally realised the secret to happiness, and it is with deep regret, rage and an overwhelming sense of defeat that I have to put it into the most cliche words in the English language: Be yourself and surround yourself with people who love you.

Next post: how does Bridget represent all five Bennet sisters?

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During discussion in class today a student asked, “isn’t that the one where they randomly burst into song?” He was, of course, referring to one of my chosen appropriations, the Bollywood film, Bride and Prejudice (see previous post for an example of a musical number from the film). This got me thinking about the links between the cultural context of a text, the values portrayed (and questioned) in the text and the narrative and stylistic conventions of the genre. Characters randomly burst into song because it is a Bollywood film, not because it is an appropriation of a Jane Austen novel.

Similarly, Bridget Jones chronicles her weight loss and gain and smoking and drinking habits as well as the ups and downs of her love life, not because she is supposed to be a modern Elizabeth Bennett but because she a single woman of a certain age. What she shares with Lizzy (and with Bride‘s Lalita) is the pressure to marry and to marry well. In all three texts marriage equals social mobility, something that is valued across the three texts and their cultures.

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Following the example of Dr Shann, I have decided to begin work on the Term 3 project being undertaken by the Preliminary Extension English classes. These journal entries will chronicle my progress and, hopefully, serve as a guide to the students who are tackling the idea of a learning journal for the first time. This is an important skill as it will be one of the major assessment pieces for those undertaking the Extension 2 course. My core text for the major project will be Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, the most popular of her completed novels but not, I must confess, my favourite. At least part of the ongoing appeal of this text has to be attributed to Austen’s construction of characters through dialogue and the technique of free indirect speech (which she pioneered). The two main characters, Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett (or as I like to think of them Mr Pride and Ms Prejudice) still charm audiences with their wit two centuries after being written. This choice of text will also, of course, require me to not only reread the novel but to view the two most influential adaptations, the 1996 BBC mini series starring Colin Firth and the 2005 Keira Knightly and Matthew McFadyen effort

For my two modern appropriations I am considering the Bollywood film Bride and Prejudice and the novel by Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones’s Diary. Both are very deliberate appropriations of Austen’s novel, in terms of character and plot. Both also transpose the characters and plot of the original into interesting and different settings that come with their own culture, values and narrative traditions.

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This is a summary of the entertaining discussion which was presented to Preliminary Extension classes earlier this week. My personal favourite part was when a teacher (who shall remain nameless), postulated that every text is overtly political and a student (also nameless) replied: “that’s why I’m happier than you”. Many thanks to Rob and Will for sharing their thoughts and manifestos with us. Please feel free to respond.

1.‘The ‘Text, Culture, Values’ course is ‘simply a way for the Board of Studies, or indeed our beloved English Department, to instruct us about what meaning there is in the text, without either studying the text closely or accurately, or allowing us our own interpretations… In high school the meaning of a text is dictated by the institutions that determine the curriculum… [T]he downside is that, because you spend your essays arguing a position that the marker is already quite familiar with -because he was the one who dictated it to you – there is very little room for originality or need for precision in your argument.’

2.‘I believe that all works of art have an inherent value and meaning in and of themselves. This meaning is an absolute, invariable quality that does not alter according to context and audience. It is an eternal quality. Thus, a text has an integral value and significance in and of itself, fully realized and separated from any concerns of reader, as the author intended it.’

3.Every individual has the right to read or study the text and to form their own conclusions as to what the meaning of the text is – and, of course, everyone has the right to express their opinion on this issue. However, some of these opinions will be wrong. This is an area which is often subject to confusion; people think that everyone having the right to express their opinion is the same thing as all opinions being equal. All opinions are not equal; some opinions are wrong, some interpretations are wrong.

4.I believe that the purpose of art is to entertain. Not to deliver a message, not to express a point of view, not to provoke discussion, not to give voice to our society’s concerns. … The only valid purpose of a work literature, or indeed any art form, is to entertain its reader.

Will Haines

1.Literature is a way of thinking in and with language, mainly, though not always, about the human experience. It is not merely a code of communication, helping an artist to communicate his own feelings, but actually to create experience and give it to an audience, because in the very conception of experience within words its inherent quality is improved/given form/given meaning.

2.It is stupid, I am afraid, to claim that literature’s overwhelming purpose is to entertain, or to give a message, or to explain, or to make a comment. … Establishing the value/meaning/purpose of literature as being something outside itself is redundant and undermines the thing itself – it functions as a form of knowledge in its own right and on its own terms. Speaking about it in terms of its ‘use’… askes us to operate in a way that degrades it. Literature doesn’t (or shouldn’t) serve a utilitarian purpose – it is not itself motivated. Rather, it motivates those who create and respond to it by enabling them to think in a certain way.

3.The kind of meaning literature supplies transcends all immediate or ‘relevant’ ideologies, systems, methods, trends or issues. Such concerns eg racism, sexism, etc can be the subject without being the object. It is essentially epistemological in nature, meaning it deals with how we know things. It is interested in observing something we feel we know, and then explaining exactly what that thing is, and why we know it. Before you can know anything, you need first to identify and understand the faculties and cognitive abilities of the knower; these literature shows in operation. It is thus less about what there is in the world than it is about how we, as humans, understand what there is in the world.

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Storytelling is a socially acceptable form of lying in which the author (liar) and the reader collude in order to create a safe place for the story (or lie) to flourish. The reader, although aware of the tale’s fiction, willingly participates in its propagation, often retelling it to other willing marks. According to Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, this retelling is inevitable:

For once the disease of reading has laid upon the system, it weakens it so that it falls an easy prey to that other scourge which dwells in the inkpot and festers in the quill. The wretch takes to writing.

Although, in truth, stories are lies, they are also – through the fact of the conspiracy which exists between authors and readers – important cultural artefacts that reveal a deeper truth about the nature of culture and how it is constructed.

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