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Step Two: Write

The only way to get better at writing is to write. Preparatory writing for HSC English falls into four main categories: notes, personal responses, analytical responses, creative responses.

a. Notes. This includes annotations and notes on your texts (this should, ideally, be done during the second reading), summaries of chapters, poems, acts and brief records of class discussions and teacher talk. Notes can be in any form that works for you. Try lists, flow charts, mind maps, colour coding, illustrations etc.

b. Personal responses. Before you take detailed notes on the techniques in your texts or attempt an analytical response you need to clear up in your own mind what you think about the text. A personal responses is just that: personal. Try to compose personal responses in full sentences as I have often found some gems in my own personal responses which I have then been able to use in an analytical or creative response. If you’re having trouble getting started with a personal response consider the following prompts:

did you like the text? do you think you were the intended audience?

did anything in the text connect with your own life or experience?

were there any phrases or words that you found clever, funny, jarring…?

did you understand what the composer was trying to achieve?

c. Analytical responses. Practice questions abound and are easy to find online. Your teacher will no doubt also be plying you with questions to work on. If you do get stuck, google your module focus and quotes. eg. Belonging Quotes. The results can be used as inspiration for writing your own questions, theses and creative responses. They can also help you to clarify your own ideas about the focus of the module. Writing a practice analytical response doesn’t always mean sitting down and banging out a handwritten essay in a strictly timed forty minutes, although you should certainly do this as often as possible before the Trial HSC. Other useful exercises are:

write five thesis statements addressing five different questions in ten minutes.

write the introduction, making sure you attack the question explicitly, clearly state your thesis and introduce your texts in a meaningful way.

write a page in ten minutes.

write one body paragraph, attacking the question through one of your texts. Give yourself five to ten minutes to do this.

d. Creative responses. These don’t just have to be about Belonging. Composing a creative response for a module can help you to approach it from a different angle. For example, an exercise where you write a dialogue between Roy Batty from Blade Runner and Frankenstein’s Creature can help you to delve more deeply into the characters and develop empathy for them.

Some other ideas to try

put a quote about belonging (or history and memory, or conflicting perspectives) into the mouth of a character as a starting point.

recount an experience of your own that relates to one of the themes or scenes in your text.

use your shared knowledge of texts to engage the reader. eg. “No one would look at me, I felt just like Frankenstein’s creature.”

write a piece of fanfiction for one of your texts.

In the HSC your creative response needs a thesis so practice making a point in your creative writing. The best works make the reader think and reconsider their views.

When you have finished a piece of writing, creative or analytical, ask your teacher to look at it and give you some feedback, either written or during a short chat. If your teacher is swamped, ask a parent, older sibling or friend to read it. Then–now this is the hard part–take in the criticism and have another go. Your writing and your marks will love you for it.

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Commitment and the HSC

Tackling the HSC requires, above all, commitment. That is why I am making a renewed commitment to this blog. As of this week this blog will be updated every Tuesday and Friday. The focus will be on strategies and ideas for HSC Advanced English as well as general study and exam tips. As I move away from full time teaching next term I may also include more widely relevant posts for students in other years and for writers.

Check back tomorrow for New Year, New You.

Regards, Mrs L.

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Module C: The Smithsonian September 11 Website

The subtitle, “Bearing Witness to History” is interesting. It suggests, to me, that History is like a trial, where the facts need to be presented in evidence. It also suggests that History is something to be argued over and fought for; perhaps that historians are adversarial.This site certainly presents a particular view of one day in history, a view that is comfortable for us in the Western World. This day, according to the site, had its bad guys and its heroes and, in spite of the immensity of the losses, the ultimate victor is the American Spirit.

History is a story we tell ourselves about who we are.

CLICK: a black slip on sandal. I chose this image to the right of the screen because my mother wears shoes like those in summer.

The screen now presents me with four objects: a uniform, a missing person poster, a police helmet, some melted coins. All personal objects, all symbols. These tell me that people who died were from different backgrounds and that they had family and friends, just like me. Here, history is personalised.

CLICK: a portrait of a police officer.

Isaac Ho’oopi’i, a police officer at the pentagon. The picture was taken by a fashion photographer after the attacks to be included in a Heroes series in USA Today. It was donated to the Smithsonian by the photographer. This picture seems to be less personal than the objects on the previous page. It is posed and formal, different from the images of police officers and fireman heroically doing their jobs on the day. The story that goes with it is about the object, not the person.

The objects in this site are set out very much like a multidimensional museum: each object–clearly labeled with its provenance–placed carefully within the collection. This reminds me of a mneumonic device called the Roman Room, where individual memories are stored in objects in imagined but familiar rooms. This museum exhibit is a storeroom for collective as well as individual memories.

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The Area of Study Response, also known as Section 3 of Paper 1, is a particularly strange type of essay. In it, you are asked to synthesise ideas from a range of texts with your own personal response, addressing a specific question or statement, under an umbrella concept: Belonging. It’s not an easy thing to do but here are some hints to help you:

  1. Know your texts. This knowledge is demonstrated through quotes and close references, not through vague or sweeping generalisations;
  2. Engage with the question and the concept. Don’t just talk about the texts, try to develop a personal response to the idea of Belonging. This can be done through having a two part intro, the first part addressing the question/concept/issues raised, the second part introducing the texts. Continue this engagement throughout your response, which brings me to the next point;
  3. Develop an argument. The AoS is not a persuasive piece but having an argument can help to keep your writing focussed and structured. What is your own concept of Belonging? How has this been influenced by the portrayal or Belonging in your texts?
  4. Use the magic circle. Quote – Technique – Effect. Every body paragraph should do this at least once. Make clear and distinct links between the text being discussed, the technique used in the text and how that portrays an aspect of Belonging;
  5. Write clearly. Yes, English teachers love big words and complex sentence structures, but not when they obscure meaning. You are not James Joyce. Clarity is more important than verve (if you can have both, however, go ahead). Read your work aloud to check that it makes sense.

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A colleague of mine recently mentioned that, in the race to meet a billion outcomes, we had perhaps lost some of our love of and fun with language. One of my teaching resolutions for 2009 is to spend more time on activities that inspire a love of our crazy language. Here’s an interesting start:

This is what happens when you put the complete works of Shakespeare into Wordle. It generates a cloud of the most common words, size indicating frequency. I think this would be a great tool for creating vocabulary lists that are a bit more interesting and a bit less listy.

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I have been thinking about which texts I would use for this Area of Study. I have been intermittently reading A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. Intermittently because of its heartbreaking nature. I need other texts with lighter subject matter in between bouts of pure grief and the deeper joy that comes after. It is a wonderful but also a difficult text. Dave’s interior monologues as his mother dies are pure agony to read because they are so realistic. His easy going relationship with his younger brother swings between self indulgence and intense concern. I won’t write any more about this book because I don’t think I can analyse its eclectic techniques effectively within the confines of the Area of Study.

A shorter text which I think will work well is Primo Levi’s Iron, Potassium, Nickel. It, too, is a memoir, chronicling Levi’s experiences from working at the Chemical Institute in Italy, through the exploitation of his skills by his enemies, to his seeing out the war in a concentration camp. The other text I’m thinking of is one of Shaun Tan’s picture book. The Arrival would be good, but so would The Red Tree, The Lost Thing or Tales from Outer Suburbia. The images from the Belonging WebQuest is an excellent place to get started with an analysis of Shaun Tan’s work and I’ve really enjoyed exploring it.

An unusual suggestion which came up during a search I was doing yesterday is The St Crispin’s Day Speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V. The aspect of Belonging being portrayed is shared experience, in this case; war.

Being Shakespeare, this has lots of great language techniques to analyse, which is what I’m looking for in a related text.

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The end of the semester is upon us. Now that assessment and reporting time is just about over we have a week to create and reflect. Both the year 9s and the 7s will be working on creative projects for peer assessment.

When the report arrives, if you’re wondering what to do better next time, here are some tips:

  • Read every day and think about what you read.
  • Start work on assessment tasks as soon as you get them, doing a little every day is much easier than rushing to produce something worthwhile at the last moment.
  • Take some pride in your work. If you don’t care enough to produce something that you’re proud of, you can’t expect anyone else to be impressed with it.
  • Revise and summarise regularly rather than cramming for tests, it’s more effective and you’ll even remember stuff after you’ve been assessed on it.

Most importantly, have a good break.

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