If I were you… tackling the social, historical and cultural context. [VCE English]

Ah, the old “understanding of the social, historical and cultural context” criterion. Everyone’s favourite. I think I’ve received more questions about this point and how to include it in essays than questions about anything else in my teaching career.

And that’s because it is tricky. It’s a fine line to walk between showing you know the social, historical and cultural context of a text and accidentally changing your wonderful English essay into a historical or sociological exposition. Despite being a history teacher, I also never really enjoyed teaching this bit because I often found that I wasn’t able to go into enough depth and students would rarely do their own extra research to come to a thorough understanding of the time of place that the text was both set and produced in.

Thankfully, VCAA seems to agree and have since REMOVED this pesky requirement from the VCE English and EAL curriculum.

*cue celebration*

HOWEVER…!

Even though it’s no longer explicit part of the criteria it’s still 100% necessary to think about the time and place the text is set and produced in because of a new part of the KEY KNOWLEDGE and SKILLS for the Reading and Creating AOS and the Reading and Comparing AOS.

In these two AOS’s you are required to show an understanding of the audience, purpose and context of different texts and how these three things influence an author.

To address these aspects of the criteria and show an understanding of how they are affected by each other, and how they affect other components of the text, you still need to know those historical, social and cultural components of the text itself and when it was released.

Why?

For the following reasons:

  • To address how the audience comprehends and understands the purpose of a text, you must first know the context of that audience.
  • If a film was written/released during the Cold War, it will have very different influences to a remake of the same film filmed today. This results in different themes coming through to the audience and also, the different author/director will have a different purpose, in part, because their audience is different.

It may have similar ideas or themes, it may have similar character, quotes, shots etc but it WILL be responding to a different audience and have a different purpose. Consider the horrific remake Guess Who with Ashton Kutcher in comparison with the original Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Same basic story, vastly different purposes, vastly different audiences, vastly different worlds.

BUT, the fact remains that you need to know how to include this stuff in your essays and the KEY word in this whole messy equation is

PURPOSE.

As I’ve said many times before, you need to be aware of the authorial intent and this needs to shape your piece of work. Authorial intent should be an element of your contention and THIS is where your understanding of the audience, purpose and context can come into play.

So, if we’re wanting to be able to develop contentions with true authorial intent in mind, we need to know the context they’re writing in and for and why they’ve chosen the context they’ve set their work in to achieve their purpose.

It’s also important to know this so we can develop alternate perspectives. To a 1950s housewife, All About Eve is probably extremely feminist and counter cultural. To our eyes now, while it has feminist points and some extremely strong female leads, the final outcome for Margo suggests that the intent of Mankiewicz is not as “girl power” as we may originally think.

BUT AMY, HOW DO I ACTUALLY INCLUDE THIS STUFF IN MY ESSAYS?

Well, lovely student, you will pleased to know that if you go with the idea of the context informing the authorial intent which you are already including in your content, you’re already doing it.

Every time you infer that Perkins is presenting Mabo as a flawed by powerful leader who needs the support of those around him, in order not to glorify the man but instead, the movement you are acknowledging that in her context of 2012, Rachel Perkins is encouraging her audience to step up and be a part of said movement. You’re recognising that this film could be as much about her own father as it is about Eddie Mabo. You’re acknowledging that while Mabo is an Indigenous hero, this film is for a mainly white, middle class, reasonably well educated audience who has the power to change.

And you could include this contextual information explicitly in your introduction as the starting point (instead of starting with something that makes me want to die like “In Rachel Perkins’ 2012 biopic Mabo…”) or as a way to enter into that deeper interpretation. You should also be able to incorporate into your conclusion as you finalise your answer and broaden it out to wider significance.

Throughout your body paragraphs consider using language which leads to contextual inclusion. “Despite audience expectations of women…” “Although the film is set in the 18th century, the authorial context of Cold War paranoia…” “The original audience of the film…” “The contrast between the ancient setting and the modern audience…” “The text, while unfamiliar to a modern audience, explores universal themes- a fact made more obvious through the directors use of modern music and shooting techniques.” This technique will also help you tick the metalanguage box. Two in one! Yessss.

Remember that your essay is ultimately an answer to a question and to truly answer that question, you need to know what has shaped your evidence and answer. If you don’t, it would be like using a scientific study to prove your point about hair removal creams being ineffective without knowing that this scientific study was performed using gorillas as test subjects.

Remember, those who forget their history are doomed to repeat VCE!

Or something like that.

Happy writing!

Amy xx

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If I were you… Reading and Creating

Howdy, howdy, howdy!

Just a quickie today!

As you begin to consider the first SAC of the year, which for most of you will be the Reading and Creating creative task, it’s important that you know the Key Skills and Knowledge which VCAA wants you to display.

Because this is a SAC and this skill isn’t actually tested in the exam, every school will have a different way of conducting this SAC, however, every school should be basing its teaching and assessing of the text on the same thing; our trusty study design.

Image result for spongebob kissing

This is an excerpt of said document from which I’ve highlighted the crucial bits for this SAC.

On completion of this unit the student should be able to produce an analytical interpretation of a selected text, and a creative response to a different selected text.

To achieve this outcome the student will draw on key knowledge and key skills outlined in Area of Study 1.

Key knowledge

  • an understanding of the world of a text and the explicit and implied values it expresses
  • the ways authors
               – create meaning and build the world of the text
               – respond to different contexts, audiences and purposes
  • the ways in which readers’ interpretations of texts differ and why
  • the features of a range of literary and other written, spoken and multimodal texts
  • the conventions of oral presentations and discussion
  • the features of analytical interpretations of literary and other texts: structure, conventions and language, including relevant metalanguage
  • the features of creative interpretations (written, spoken and multimodal), including structure, conventions and language, and how they create voice and style
  • the conventions of spelling, punctuation and syntax of Standard Australian English.

Key skills

  • explain and analyse
    how the features of a range of texts create meaning and how they influence                     interpretation 
              – the ways readers are invited to respond to texts
  • identify and analyse the explicit and implied ideas and values in texts
  • examine different interpretations of texts and consider how these resonate with or challenge their own interpretations
  • synthesise ideas and interpretations to develop an interpretation of their own
  • apply the conventions of oral presentation in the delivery of spoken texts
  • apply the conventions of discussion
  • use textual evidence appropriately to justify analytical responses
  • plan analytical interpretations of texts
  • develop, test and clarify ideas using discussion and writing
  • plan creative responses to texts by
    – analysing the text, considering opportunities to explore meaning
    – selecting key moments, characters, themes worthy of exploration
    – taking account of the purpose, context, audience in determining the selected content and approach
  • develop and sustain voice and style in creative responses
  • transform and adapt language and literary devices to generate particular responses, with consideration of the original text
  • explain and justify decisions made in the writing process and how these demonstrate understanding of the text
  • draft, review, edit and refine creative and analytical interpretations to texts for expressiveness, accuracy, fluency and coherence, and for stylistic effect
  • apply the conventions of spelling, punctuation and syntax of Standard Australian English accurately and appropriately

So… as you can see… pretty much everything in this list is relevant to you.

Today we’re just going to focus on the 3 key things you must consider before starting to write which covers the following:

  • an understanding of the world of a text and the explicit and implied values it expresses
  • the ways authors
               – create meaning and build the world of the text
               – respond to different contexts, audiences and purposes
  • the ways in which readers’ interpretations of texts differ and why

In this task, I want you to identify the following aspects of your text, whatever it might be:

What are the main themes of the text?
What is the author saying about this theme? What do they want you to think about this theme?
How do you know the author holds this view? What are the 
features of the text which demonstrate this?
How does this relate to the purpose of the author in writing the task?
Do you think your view of the themes are influenced by your own background, knowledge, understanding etc- what aspects influence the way you interpret that theme?

By doing this, you should be able to explicitly detail the authorial intent of the writer. This authorial intent should be reflected in your own work and in your Statement of Intention as it will fulfil the Key Skills of:

plan creative responses to texts by
– analysing the text, considering opportunities to explore meaning
– selecting key moments, characters, themes worthy of exploration
– taking account of the purpose, context, audience in determining the selected content       and approach

Sorry for the quick post! Hope it’s still a useful task for you as you start to tackle this relatively foreign task!

Happy reading!

Amy xx

If I were you… The Statement of Intention

Two weeks ago I promised that next time, I’d talk about the Statement of Intention and what you need to include in this very important and often overlooked piece of writing.

I broke my promise. Sorry.

Image result for promise brokenI hope you can forgive me.

Let’s move on.

Today, we’re looking at what the Statement of Intention is all about. What does it want from you? What do you need to include? What is its purpose? Why do you even have to do it?

The SOI is hardly a new thing, it’s been around in some form or another since at least 2008, but instead of being attached to the oral, it was attached the old CRAP area of study (CReating And Presenting). It asked students to explain their linguistic and creative choices, detailing the links between their writing, the context and their source text. It, like the current incarnation, was all about making thinking visible and forcing students to consider what they were writing- not just pulling something out of the air. It had the added benefit of forcing them to admit that they reasons for writing the way they did and therefore, maybe so did the authors, playwrights, directors etc they were studying did too.

Image result for what the author meant
(This meme is dumb and people who believe it are dumb as evidenced by the spelling and grammar featured in this meme.) 

So, it’s likely that you’ve come across a SOI in some form before now. But it is also likely that you may have ignored it until the last minute or hashed something together in a hurry. Let’s remedy that today. Ready?

Begin.

The Statement of Intention: 

VCAA Assessment Task Description: A written statement of intention to accompany the student’s own oral presentation, articulating the intention of decisions made in the planning process, and how these demonstrate understanding of argument and persuasive language. (10 marks- 1/4 of total grade for this assessment piece) 

The suggested length of the statement of intention is approximately 300–500 words.

Top marks gained by providing: Insightful articulation of the intention of decisions related to selected content and approach made during the planning process, demonstrating complex understanding of purpose, audience and context.

You’ve probably noticed two or three things in this brief blurb of information which VCAA has provided. Firstly, this is not a long piece of writing. You don’t have to detail every sentence and why you chose every single word which you did. It is much more holistic than your average language analysis. Secondly, it’s basically a mini language analysis completed on your own work and therefore, you already know what to comment on as it is the same as what you’ve been doing in all your LA prep.

The key here is that you show your teacher (remember, you will never write one of these in the exam) your thinking processes and how they show that ultimately, you have a complex and well rounded understanding of the art of persuasion.

So, what does that involve?

At my old school, we used a helpful little acronym for our SOIs which you can utilise too!

FLAPA

Image result for flappy

F-FORM: Obviously, this is an oral presentation which brings with it a whole host of things you need to consider. How will you use and vary your voice, what props or visuals- if any- will you use, are you presenting as yourself or as a characterised stakeholder (not something I would recommend, btw). When you address your form, address any key choice you make in the presentation of your speech and why they matter. Due to length restraints you can’t include everything, but if you choose to use a certain image, it might be helpful to include the rationale behind this choice.

L-LANGUAGE: This should make up the bulk of your SOI. Your language and how you’ve shaped it is vitally important as your analysis of your own language will demonstrate that you understand how language can be used to in other works to persuade, which as we read earlier, is the whole point.

A-AUDIENCE: This is sort of a given in your case but you should mention at least one way you’ve catered to your specific audience of your peers and teachers- how have you shaped your language or form or argument to fit your audience? I would be v impressed if a student wrote about the duality of their audience and how they shaped their speech to cater to both their highly educated teachers and their peers.

P-PURPOSE: Your purpose is not to get a good grade. Nor is it to persuade your audience. LIKE YES, I KNOW that both of those things are your purpose here but get specific. Like I mentioned in the post about your speech, your purpose needs to be something like:

  • Convince my audience to sign up for the organ donation program
  • Convince my audience to donate a blanket this winter
  • Make my audience feel guilty about eating chocolate and therefore buy fair trade chocolate

And then you can discuss how your purpose fits with your audience, language, form and argument. The last example came straight from a student I watched present last year who opened her speech by offering around chocolate which nearly everyone took and ate while she systemically described the slave trade which exists to support our sugary, creamy addiction. At the end of her speech, she offered some more chocolate. The response was quite different. It was a great hook and closer and I hope she discussed it in relation to her audience and purpose in her SOI (I do not know- she was not my student, sadly)

A-ARGUMENT: The MOST important part of ANY writing you do in AOS  2 is ARGUMENT. You need to articulate the structure of your argument and how it is ultimately persuasive due to the audience and purpose you have and how you intend to further the progression of your argument in the form and the language of your speech. This is what underpins your entire speech and therefore your SOI.

Questions?

Yes, you can use first person (though check with your teacher first, I’ve heard some get funny about this. Generally speaking though, first person is fine and I personally prefer it IN A SOI)

No, you don’t have to follow the order of FLAPA. In fact, I’d prefer you just to make sure that you include all the components of FLAPA but beyond that, forget it exists. I do not like SOIs which are 5 dot points of: “Form: I started with an image because… Language: I used a rhetorical question…” Your SOI may not be a formal essay but it must still be “Insightful articulation”. 

Yes, your teacher will actually read it (it makes up 1/4 of your mark!!) and it will actually count. I found the SOI most helpful when ranking students as orals, in my opinion, can be notoriously hard to judge and distinguish between 3 16s or between a 27 and 29. The SOI and the care which you put into the planning and crafting of your piece can make all the difference.

Yes, you can include things which you chose not to do. Just include what you chose to do instead and why you chose to do the latter over the former.

No, you can’t hand it in after. It’s due the day of speech or first day of speeches, depending on the format of your presentations.

It’s really not that daunting and basically it’s just an opportunity to talk about how good you are. Essentially, your entire SOI is you sidling up to us and saying “see what I did there?” and sometimes, we don’t, so they’re really useful too.

Image result for see what i did there

Hope this helped you in some way and again, deepest apologies for the interruption.

Happy SOI-ing!

If I were you… Starting Year 12 well

This is likely the last Friday before you head back to school and as such, I thought it fitting to discuss not a specific aspect of the year 12 course or a particular text but instead, hand over some general advice on how to start year 12 well and in a way that establishes a pattern of success.

I’m taking my inspiration from my own experiences as a student and what I have observed as a teacher. I hope you’ll find these helpful as you come into this new year.

  1. Get to know your teachers
    So, for the last 11 years you’ve thought teachers were The. Worst. You thought they planned the assignments to fall in the busiest times of the year, that they wrote deliberately confusing instructions, that they delighted in giving you detention and that the only thing that bought them more pleasure than a full coffee cup was a full page of notes for you to copy down. While I don’t deny that at times assessments do seem to all fall in the one spot, I promise you that this is a) unintentional and b) we actively try to avoid it. (It’s even in the staff manual at my old school to try not to assign too much work all at once!). I’m going to let you in on a little secret:
    Your teachers are there to help you.
    Honest.
    And we want to know our students. There’s a reason I ask my students to introduce themselves to me in one way or another at the start of the year. I love reading about your lives and I genuinely want to connect with you as a person. If I know you as a person as opposed to just another student, I’m able to help you more. I’m able to suggest things to help you that you already have a natural interest in. I’m able to honestly give you advice on your skills and abilities. I’m able to suggest other networks which you can go to for help- but only if I know what networks you have.
    I’m not suggesting you become besties with your teacher, but I heavily recommend getting to know them, telling them a bit about yourself, letting them know where you excel and where you struggle. Ask them about their classroom and homework protocols. When and where is a good time and place to find them if you need help through the day or after school. Ask them if it’s ok to email them after hours.
    This is not only good advice for year 12 but it’s actually the BEST piece of advice I have for uni. Get to know your lecturers and tutors. In a world where you are a number out of 300, just knowing your name and face could make the difference between a lecturer caring about your personal crisis and give you an extension and a lecturer ignoring or deleting your email.
  2. Use your diary/planner
    …for more than your friend’s birthdays and curriculum days. Those things are important, yes, but if you keep track of when things are due or SACs are on the horizon, it will be a lot more manageable when it seems like all your teachers have it in for you (see above- we don’t!). Actually track how long you have to do different assignments and consider when you have time to study for/complete them. If you actually keep count of the days and know when you’re going to tackle these pieces, you’ll be in a much better place. I’m not necessarily suggesting a strict study timetable (ie. from 5-6 Monday I’ll study English) though these can be useful- especially in the lead up to exams, more just being actively aware of your schedule so you never get to school only to see all your friends cramming for the Further SAC you thought was next Tuesday.
  3. Don’t give up on your passions
    Year 12 is important but so is having a life. Please don’t become a recluse whose idea of a fun day out is spending an hour at Officeworks printing out your HHD notes. (That said, Officeworks is life.) Continue playing sport, keep going to youth, maintain your part time job, go to your friend’s 18ths, keep up your regular gym routine, don’t neglect having dinner with your family, don’t neglect the latest netflix gem. Just keep it in balance.
    Obviously, if you have 10 SACs coming up in the next two weeks, you may need to cut back a bit. But cut back, not cut out: perhaps it’s an idea to save the next three episodes of PLL for when you finish that Literature analysis or to go to your friend’s party but leaving after speeches instead of partying until 3. Maybe you do a 20 min tabata workout instead of a 2 hour weights/flexing selfie session. You could negotiate with your brother for him to do your chores after family dinner this week in return for doing his chores when you’re next a bit free-er.
    You should not see your year 12 from behind a stack of books, rather they should frame your life- provide the outline which you keep in mind when making decisions- but not the dominating view. Year 12 was one of the best years of my schooling life. It wouldn’t have been the case if I had studied 24/7
  4. Participate in school events
    As a year 12, you have the best of both worlds- the younger students look up to you and take their cue from you and you are unlikely to ever see anyone who will judge you ever again! Therefore, do the things!! Go to and participate the sporting events, dress up for Book Week, get involved in the fundraisers, go on school trips… whatever! Just do it! You’ll make memories, get loads of likes on your instagram and get to reminisce in 3 or 4 years when you’re catching up in the year of 21sts!  Only thing is- if you’re missing class, please check what you’re missing and how you can catch up. This is where step 1 comes into play. If your teacher knows this music trip is important to you they’ll be way more likely to help you out than if the only thing they know about you is your name.
  5. Develop a strong support network.
    This could include your friends, teachers (step 1), parents, doctors, pastors, grandparents, trainers, hairdressers, pets… whoever. Find people who have your best interests at heart- in lots of different areas. Find people who are going to tell you what you need to hear. You need people who are going to tell you that you need to work harder. You need people who are going to tell you that it might be time to take a break. BUT also have people in your life who are going to tell you what you want to hear at times. Sometimes you just want someone to tell you that you’re ok and on the right track and if someone tells you something else than you’re just going to break down and cry. You’re not going to want to go to your parents for everything, nor are your friends going to always be the right people to go to.
    Also, be a part of someone else’s support network. Listen as much as you talk, hold as much as you need to be held, pray as much as you request prayer. Be there for others. Nurture your relationships, they’re more important (OMG) than an arbitary number.
  6. Finally, make goals and keep them visible… but in perspective
    Actually writing down SMART* goals and keeping them in view is really helpful when you’re deciding between reading the English text and reading the latest Buzzfeed article. Suddenly finding out the 20 things you DEFINITELY remember if you’re a true 90s kid will seem less important if you keep your goal of achieving a study score of 25 or above in English in plain sight.
    That said, I don’t recommend specific number based goals because you actually don’t have much control over those. The numbers you get texted to you three days before the official date (oops) are decided by so many different factors that all you can do is your best. Consider making goals which you can control, like “I want to write chapter/scene summaries for all my English texts as I read them” or “I want to complete 5 practice Specialist Maths exams each month”. That way, you have some agency in if they are completed or not.
    However, keep these in perspective. Your mental health is vastly more important than if you read and analyse the Opinion Pages at least 3 times a week. Prioritise your goals and decide which ones should take up your time and headspace and when you’re feeling under pressure- focus on that one. Also consider making non- academic goals such as fitness, friendship, saving, work and faith related goals. This will help you keep the other goals in perspective because let’s be honest- year 12 is for one year, your faith is for eternity and your finances will decide how much smashed avo you can buy and still afford a house.

I hope you find this helpful and I pray that your year will be an unforgettable and productive time. Let me know, as always, if there’s anything specific you want me to cover!