Why would you do that?

It was around April when a girl at my gym asked me this question. She asked it with absolute shock, disbelief, and a hint of scorn. I had clearly, in her eyes, made a stupid decision- one that I would regret, sooner probably, rather than later. And fair enough, quitting your extremely stable, reasonably well paying job at a lovely school with wonderful teachers, understanding leadership and seriously great students does sound pretty extreme… but, to be honest, extreme was what I was going for.

6 months ago, I waved goodbye to freezing cold Melbourne, Australia- home of my heart and soul- and moved to the hot, wet embrace of Chiang Mai, Thailand. I had all sorts of reasons for doing so- I needed to get out of my comfort zone, test my ability to trust God, give myself a chance to heal from my clean eating and exercise obsession, do something different, get out of Melbourne winter… the list goes on. But one of the most important driving factors which forced me to buy an (initially) one way ticket to Thailand was my passion for refugees.

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This is not the blog post for discussing the human rights abuses my government is currently committing in my name- if you want to talk with me about that, we can do so at another time- but their actions, or sometimes lack thereof, made me want to do something real related to the refugee crisis. I’ve always donated food and money to local refugee organisations, participated in online and physical protests, incorporated refugee narratives into my classes (in a remarkably unbiased manner, I’m proud to say), and voted with my feet and money by visiting and using organisations, enterprises, restaurants, businesses etc which support, educate and employ refugees who come to my beloved nation. I’ve tried to make them feel welcome, even when media rhetoric spews out bile indicating that they are not.

But it didn’t feel like enough. I wanted to do something long term, sustainable and helpful- and I still want to do this when I get home. Combine this passion with all my other reasons for flying the nest, and you come to the answer to the above question:

I couldn’t NOT do it.

But the story started much earlier than that encounter, obviously, and even earlier than I’m going to go into here (again, not the purpose of this piece), but my journey tangibly began when I first started researching what was then a mere pipe dream. I spent hours, stolen in between feverish marking, exam supervising (sorry…), workouts, brunch dates, and episodes of Masterchef and Doctor Who, googling the different opportunities there were to teach English in Thailand.

Spoiler alert: There are LOTS.

Many of them are paid jobs in either local or international schools, some of them place you as a live in tutor in a (very) rich family, some of them are more like an agency which sets you up as a substitute teacher in different schools. I decided I didn’t want a paid position- it wasn’t my purpose in coming to Thailand.

So, I narrowed my search: “volunteer English teaching in Thailand”.

Again, lots of results. All over the country. Lots of very short term placements came up, with beautifully curated websites with lots of pictures of happy children being hugged by happier westerners. These looked promising… but as I looked more into it, delving into google to try to find blogs about the experiences of people on these programs, I started to realise that these were also not the sort of organisations I wanted to support. They were often quite new, geared toward people with no teaching experience who they expected (it seemed from blog posts) to come up with lessons on the spot with no training, resulting in a lot of games being played and not a lot of learning. They were geared toward one or two week placements… not something long term like what I wanted.

So I thought about what I really wanted, where I wanted to go, prayed a lot, and found myself googling:

“volunteer english teaching + chiang mai + refugees”

And there it was. Maybe 5th or 6th on the first page of results:

“Thai Freedom House: No one is free while others are oppressed”

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I clicked. I read. I knew, instantly, this was going to be the place for me.

The volunteer information listed on the website was detailed and thorough- there was clearly a precedent for long term volunteers, and they weren’t going to mess around with just anyone. You could tell that this was a place that valued commitment and was not just a halfway house for privileged white travelers (of which I am totally one) to get their happy snaps with kids before moving on to the next party. This was a place that had existed for 12 years (10 years when I first started researching it) and was clearly doing incredible work. They also had a vegetarian (now vegan) healthy cafe and didn’t just teach English, but provided a space for Burmese (specifically but not exclusively; Shan or Tai Yai) refugees to call their own, feel safe and express themselves authentically. They  provided art, Thai, Burmese, and Shan classes so students of all ages could be creative, exist more harmoniously in the place they were currently living, be able to communicate with government officials if they ever returned to Burma, and most importantly- stay connected with their heritage and learn their mother tongue. They also had Shan dance and cultural classes. I knew I wanted to be a part of this experience.

I favourited the page, downloaded the application, and set myself a date in about 6 months for when I would complete it- roughly a year before I was intending to depart.

That date came quickly and I sent off my application. Emails to and from Lisa Nesser (the founder of Thai Freedom House and Free Bird Cafe) followed and we finally decided on a start date- 6 months later than I initially intended- but which ended up being perfect as it meant I was absent for the low, smokey season, but present in the busy lead up to the dry, high season. I will forever be grateful to Lisa for looking out for me in my planning.

In that time, I bought my tickets, roughly planned the other parts of my travel which I’m doing post-placement, wrapped up my school year, started another couple of jobs to tide me over and provide me with a bit more spending money, and paid my dues to TFH. I decided that I would go with the option to be hosted by them, meaning that I paid a flat rate and they would provide me with accommodation, lunch every work day, the placement, a bike, a sim card on arrival, in country orientation, pick up from the airport/train/bus station, some Thai language materials and other handy bits and pieces. I’m so glad I did this- my apartment is awesome, close to everything, has a beautiful view and I didn’t have to think about it at all, so good for me, as you sure as hell know I would over think it in a major way.

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I’ll be honest, I was a little nervous when I was arriving in Chiang Mai, as I knew Lisa was still in the States herself (our skype interview had taken place the week prior) and I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I really needn’t have worried. I was met by one of the past students and then staff of Thai Freedom House who is now studying at university in Chiang Mai! He took me first to my apartment, then took me to Free Bird Cafe where I met the staff of the cafe- all of whom welcomed me warmly and made me feel part of the Freedom House Family immediately. I was given a tour of the market, shown where a chemist, post office, and 7/11 was, along with some Thai lessons and a lesson on Thai culture and etiquette.

This feeling of family only increased when Lisa arrived. She and I sat down together to first discuss the goals of the organisation, the history of both TFH and Burma’s issues with its ethnic minorities, and her personal history which led her to this point. This orientation was so appreciated, important and worthwhile; it placed me in a headspace of respect for the work of TFH and made me place immense importance on what I do here.

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As we talked, we sorted out what needs TFH had and what I could do to meet those needs. We decided that I would work on developing a 12 week curriculum for the beginner and intermediate English classes, along with a partnering curriculum for students looking to go into further study- known as “The Pathways” curriculum. I would also help with the Hospitality Training program as both a tutor for the cafe’s amazing waitress, and a contributor to lesson plans, activities and resources. In addition to this, I would also be teaching English one night a week to a class of students ranging from 8 to adults. My hours would be 10-2 on Monday and Friday, 10-8 on Tuesday and 10-6 on Wednesday and Thursday. I would have a lunch break at 1 where I would receive the lunch the chef made for me (best. part. of. the. day) and could grab a tea in the morning when I came in.

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This structure and the obvious needs I would be fulfilling warmed my heart and continues to do so today. Lisa is so encouraging and direct about her expectations that I was always sure of what I would be doing and how it would be used- there was never a point where I felt like I was doing busy work- every thing- whether it be a lesson plan or finding the right picture for a flashcard- had a purpose and a point and this became a trend as I started completing tasks and still is, even now, with less than a week left. My time is valued by Lisa and by our students, and because of that, it’s extremely easy to value theirs and live up to the expectations set by Lisa’s example.

While my days are structured and consistent, they’re also varied and exciting! On Mondays, I teach and chat to our server about the different things she needs to know as a waitress. I’ve even had to teach some very basic maths (bye, bye comfort zone!)! After class, we have lunch together as a family- a highlight of my week, one which really emphasises the power of this organisation and the way it empowers those who pass through its doors.

Tuesday nights, I get to spend my evening with a group of crazy kids who love John Cena, Harry Potter and GOT7 and who are SO eager to learn that they come to TFH after already spending the day at school.

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Wednesdays, I get to host a lunch which invites the women of Chiang Mai- every nationality, creed, colour, religion, class, career- to meet new people, make new friends and connect in a city which could be quite isolating if you let it. I’ve met so many people through this lunch and I’m so grateful for the chance to host it and help other women find their tribe-for-a-time.

My days are never dull, never boring, never repetitive (except for that stage when I was making flashcards…) and most importantly, never worthless. I know, for certain, that the work I do here has lasting consequences, lasting impact and lasting worth.

 

Thank you to Lisa for making me feel so at home in this place and giving me so much responsibility. You are an inspiration to all who meet you and to many more who never will. Thank you for the hope that you spread, the education you freely provide (and not only to the students, but to all those who come to Free Bird Cafe), and the example that your life displays that one person can choose to make a difference- regardless of what the rest of the world thinks.

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If you’re considering volunteering in Chiang Mai- or anywhere, really- I urge you to find a place that will make you feel the same way. Not just for a moment, but for good.

Because that’s why we do it- that’s “why I would do that” random girl from gym…

For good.

(And if you are coming to Chiang Mai, come and visit Free Bird Cafe. If you’re looking to volunteer somewhere and want a truly worthwhile, work based volunteer placement, check out Thai Freedom House.)

 

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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

If I were you… | Where to begin?

Looking back at both my years of teaching and my years as a student, the question I either got asked the most, asked the most myself or heard the most from my peers was the question of “how do you start?”.

It’s tricky, because everyone writes in a different style, everyone has a different approach and what works brilliantly for one person could be a dismal failure for another.

That said, there are some tips which should help everyone as they come to start any essay, oral, reflective piece, short story… whatever it is that you’re writing.

The first tip is the one most people ignore and the one which makes the biggest difference between the people who do ignore it and those who don’t. You all know what it is:

PLANNING

When you go on a holiday, you don’t just jump in your car and drive aimlessly until you run out of petrol- and if you do, you’re an idiot and will one day wind up on Highway Patrol or worse still, the news when some John Jarrett lookalike finds and kills your dehydrated, petrol-less, plan-less self.

Even the most relaxed/disorganised travellers know their destination- even if it’s vague. They may not know exactly where they will sleep but they know that they want to end up in Byron Bay by the end of the week. And so, they know what roads they’ll travel down, they know what exits they will take, they know how far they should travel in day. They know they’ll get there and they know how they’ll get there. And so they will- because they have a plan.

Just like Mr Relaxed, you also need to have a plan. It doesn’t have to be immensely detailed (although this may be helpful the first few times you do it and is especially useful and I would argue essential for any creative piece) but it should include the following:

  • Starting point
  • Destination
  • Pathways
    • Important landmarks

Let’s unpack this extended metaphor, shall we?

Starting Point

Your starting point is the task at hand- the question which you’re answering or the idea you’re addressing. It might be the essay question or it might be the stimulus for the story you’re writing. If the starting point is not clear in your mind then you can’t be sure you’re actually addressing and developing it as you go about getting to your destination.

I would recommend deconstructing your starting point before doing anything else. Read the question through at least 3 times, taking note of the

  • instructive words (analyse, discuss, compare, outline, create, etc)
  • key terms (words which will form the basis of your response. Contentious descriptors which could be up for debate or discussion. Words which suggest the author’s intent about plot, character, theme, etc)
  • Characters, titles, quotes, key themes (if you don’t discuss these textual aspects in your response, you’re likely to be missing the fundamental point of the question)

and annotating said components, what they mean and what they mean for your upcoming writing.

Destination

Your destination will differ according to your form. If you’re writing a creative piece, it should be your ending and how you want your audience to feel by then. If you’re writing a persuasive piece, it should be what response you want your audience to have when they’ve finished reading your piece and what you want to persuade them of.

If it’s an analytical piece (which is the focus of this post), your destination should be your answer to the question (with a potential “and why?” added onto it)- that is, your contention.

It’s especially important that you know your contention before you start planning your points because if you don’t know your contention- your overall argument, your ultimate interpretation of the author’s purpose in writing this piece- then it may happen that your just write a list of relevant but unrelated topic sentences which all answer the question in slightly different ways- which makes your conclusion a massive pain to write.

The fact that you know your contention will mean that you will be able to ensure that each of your points will point to said contention, which will then be well backed up by evidence and explanation and will mean that everything you write will be relevant to the question at hand, not just retelling the story, and not completely off track.

Pathways and Landmarks

When you know where you’re headed, you can decide how you’re going to get there- that is, how to prove that your contention is correct. This is where you consider your points.

After you have decided upon your contention, consider all the different ways your chosen text can support that contention- how did you come to it? After all, if you think it’s correct, then you think that for a reason- what influenced that reason?

These are your pathways. For each point you come up with, write a topic sentence which links that point to your contention- how does this point demonstrate that you are correct?

Next, comes your landmarks- these are the things on your journey that prove you’re on the right track. It’s like when you think you’ve missed your turn and are totally lost but then you see the Giant Watermelon that Mick-at-the-pub said you should go right at and suddenly all is well. Your landmarks are your pieces of evidence. Quotes, film techniques, language and structural techniques; all of these things can be a landmark to demonstrate that you know where you’re headed and your backed up by good quality textual proof- you’re not just making stuff up.

This is the same for persuasive pieces- consider your contention and how you want your audience to respond- both emotionally and actively- and then consider the points which made you come to that same response. You will need to think beyond yourself, however- think about who your audience is and what needs you must therefore cater to so that they reach the same point you do. Your landmarks- proof- are even more important here, so be very aware of how you use them and where this proof is coming from.

For creative pieces, it’s a little different, but you still need to develop pathways which lead to your final destination, considering the aspects you include which will elicit the desired response from your audience while also ensuring you’re ticking all the boxes you identified in the “Starting Point” section.

~

If you create a plan, you know where it is that your heading. It may seem time consuming and annoying to do but if you don’t plan then it may be that you end up just rambling on about irrelevant and secondary information without linking it back to any overarching point. Then when you read it back, you realise you’ve totally missed the point of the task and have gone on a random tangent. You cross it all out and start over… again, without a destination in sight.

Now, that’s a waste of time.

Basically, what I’m saying is:

PLAN.

Use the roadmaps method if you want to. I find it helpful because I would NEVER go on a trip without planning and so the metaphor works for me.

Even if you don’t use it though, planning is super helpful because it forces you to consider your ideas and flesh them out prior to writing and the more practice you get planning the quicker and easier it will come to you. Likewise, the quicker and easier the ideas and contentions will come to you, because you’ve already used similar ones in other plans.

If you’re in year 12, I would aim to plan out at least one essay a week through the year- whatever type you’re focusing on in class, unless it’s the creative SAC- just use the text your focusing on and write analytically. Every two-three weeks, write an essay based on one of these plans.

When it comes to SAC time, try doing a plan a night, minimising the amount of time spent on the plan each night.

Exam season (as soon as coursework is complete): A plan a night, 3 essays a week (one of each type). Try doing one timed, two untimed/two timed, one untimed/all timed. Try doing a full practice exam at least twice before your exam, in addition to whatever school provides for you.

I hope this was helpful!!

Happy planning!

Amy xx

If I were you- Navigating the new Year 12 English Exam

The day has finally arrived! Kill the fattened calf- VCAA have released a sample English exam!

This is what English teachers around the world* have been waiting for. At last, something which will tell us what this new study design will look like in examination format.

For sometime, the school I used to teach at has been developing their unit plans with a focus on what we want students to learn by the end- that is, what we would like them to produce. Annoyingly, at least a component of that is based on the assessment they will be completing. While we have had an idea of what will be on the exam in that it will be similar to the SACs, it still wasn’t 100% set in stone.

Now, we have a sample paper. Now we can finally have some certainty in what we tell our students about the exam. That isn’t to say the exam will look identical to the sample paper, but at least we now have more of a guide.

So, this post is to highlight any changes and to let you, as students, know what you need to be keeping in mind as you speed toward October (It’s MARCH, WHAT?!)

Click HERE to see the sample exam

Section A: Text Response/ Analytical Interpretation of a Text

This section is basically a safety blanket. It wasn’t broke, so they didn’t fix it and everyone can breathe a sigh of relief. The questions are the same types that we’re used to (propositional [ie. posing a statement and asking you to discuss this idea], quotation and direct) and the texts are familiar. The only difference between the 2016/2017 exams are that in the 2016 exam students are invited to write in either an analytical or expository fashion whereas in the 2017, you must write analytically. This indicates a stronger focus on the metalanguage and the mechanics of how directors, writers, poets etc develop their intention throughout the text. There should be more how and significantly more why. 

Also important to note- if you choose a collection of short stories or poetry, it is stated that you can no longer base your text on one story or poem- at least 2 pieces from the collection must be discussed. Personally, if you were ever going to just discuss one poem/short story your essay would have been severely below average and frankly, if you only discuss two (ie do the barest of minimums), I wouldn’t be holding out much hope.

Section B: Section B – Writing in Context/Comparative analysis of texts

The new bit! How excitement! This is the bit we were all chomping at the bit for and wow- it’s a biggie.

Let’s start with the instructions:

“Section B requires students to write a comparative analysis of a selected pair of texts in response to one topic (either i. or ii.) on one pair of texts.Your response should analyse how the two texts present ideas and/or issues, and should be supported by close reference to both texts in the pair.

If you choose to write on a multimodal text in Section A, you must not write on a text pair that includes a multimodal text in Section B.

In the answer book, indicate which text pair you have chosen to write on and whether you have chosen to answer i. or ii.

Your response will be assessed according to the assessment criteria set out on page 14 of this book.

Section B is worth one-third of the total marks for the examination.”

Nothing too shocking but again, the focus is on analysis and developing an interpretation regarding the views being presented in the texts. You MUST engage with both texts. You MUST use high quality evidence- quotes, language, visual techniques, structural evidence- throughout. It is not an essay about one text with a paragraph thrown in on the other text at the end. It is balanced and it examines how the texts, when compared, offer the audience a richer perspective on the issues and ideas within.

Notice how they don’t even mention themes- themes are at the bottom of the triangle; too broad, too general. The issues and ideas which stem from those themes are what you need to be focusing on as that is where you will find your authorial intent hiding.

The questions themselves is what we were really interested in! What would they look like? Would they be quote based? Propositional? Direct questions? Discussion based? Explicitly structure focused?

The answer, of course, is all of the above. There are some really familiar types of questions but there are some which at first, seem particularly nasty. Sorry to any WCC kids, but the Black Diggers/Longest Memory ones seem like the examiners were having a wordy day when they wrote them. Once you scratch the surface they’re not so bad… but at first- wow.

Here are some examples:

‘It is individual courage and determination that help bring about change in society.’ Explore points of comparison in the way this issue is dealt with in the two texts.

This question is for The Crucible and Year of Wonders . It’s pretty familiar to most students. A propositional question at its most propositional, it provides an issue and asks you to analyse how the text(s) engage with the text. It’s important that you provide an interpretation- that is, what the author intends the reader to understand about this issue.

This question also specifies that it’s engaging with points of comparison rather than those of contrast- this invites discussion of similarities between the text but you can also engage with differences, certainly. They should just be less of a focus.

 “… I also know how important it is in life, not necessarily to be strong but to feel strong.” (Into the Wild)
“… you are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be.” (Tracks)
Compare how the importance of personal strength is explored in these texts.

This question is more unique though at its core are still the fundamentals of a quotation based question- quotes provided as the launch pad, with a guiding issue to engage with. You must discuss and analyse the quotes listed. If they do not feature heavily; if you do not develop your contention and interpretation without significant inclusion of these quotes then it’s going to be challenging to get anything above a 7. The assessors have chosen these quotes for a reason. Don’t ignore them. Place them in context and ENGAGE with them.

“Compare what the two texts suggest about gaining wisdom”

This direct question regarding Bombshells and The Penelopiad is as comforting in its familiarity as it is in its brevity. It is broad without being needlessly general but specific enough to direct your focus without stifling your interpretative skill. You will need to ensure that your contention for this is precise and your essay, well planned. Otherwise you could fall into listing all the parts of the texts where one gains wisdom without coming to a conclusion regarding the purpose of these sections and how they point to the author’s/playwright’s views on wisdom and how one comes to develop it.

“Memory is pain trying to resurrect itself.” (The Longest Memory)
“That’s the thing, the bits left behind, they’ll come out, they must.” (Black Diggers)
Using these quotations as a starting point for a comparison between Black Diggers and The Longest Memory, analyse how, in the texts, memory is simultaneously inescapable and unbearable.

I just wanted to highlight the importance of brevity and being concise. This question could be so much more accessible and interesting. Instead, it’s dense and just annoying to read. Break it down, look for those key words and my point about engaging with the quote is amplified 10 fold here as they specifically direct you to use them as a starting point.

Section C: Analysis of language use/Argument and persuasive language

Generally speaking this is pretty similar and if you’ve had good teachers, then you will have been doing it the way they want you to for years.

While in previous years VCAA have left the instructions at:

Section C requires students to analyse the use of written and visual language

The new exam specifically states:

Section C requires students to write an analysis of the ways in which argument and language are used to persuade others to share a point(s) of view

Notice the difference? You must engage not just with language (which you never should have been doing in the first place) but engage with language and how it works in conjunction with argument to persuade the reader. You must, therefore, engage with structure, style, language, audience, purpose, and progression. If you fail to engage with the way one argument follows another and the reason it does so then you’re not fulfilling the brief. Language refers to verbal, written, visual language- so images and graphs are fair game too.

In the grand scheme of things, not that much has changed, however it’s good to be aware of what has so you know what you’re being assessed on.

Also check out the marking guide:

Criteria Section A will be assessed against the following criteria:

  • knowledge and understanding of the text, and the ideas and issues it explores
  • development of a coherent analysis in response to the topic
  • use of textual evidence to support the interpretation
  • control and effectiveness of language use, as appropriate to the task

Section B will be assessed against the following criteria:

  • knowledge and understanding of both texts, and the ideas and issues they present
  • discussion of meaningful connections, similarities or differences between the texts, in response to the topic
  • use of textual evidence to support the comparative analysis
  • control and effectiveness of language use, as appropriate to the task

Section C will be assessed against the following criteria:

  • understanding of the argument(s) presented and point(s) of view expressed
  • analysis of ways in which language and visual features are used to present an argument and to persuade
  • control and effectiveness of language use, as appropriate to the task

Like I said, nothing majorly surprising or new- but enough of a shift to warrant a re-read.

I hope this has been helpful!

Let me know if there’s anything you want me to go over specifically!

Happy studying!

Amy xx

*Victoria

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!

5 Minute Friday

Linking up with other bloggers is one thing I’d love to do as I embark on this journey and one way I want to do that is by joining blog events such as this writing challenge hosted by Kate Motaung at Heading Home. It’s exactly what it sounds like- there’s a prompt set up and you free write (no editing, no planning, no over thinking… just WRITE) for those 5 minutes. Sounds like fun and everyone can take 5 minutes out  of their day to stimulate their thinking muscles.

Join us!

Today’s prompt was “MIDDLE”

My writing:

Summer holidays. But it’s not really holidays anymore. I’m just unemployed- but the next stage has not yet begun- I’m not in routine. I don’t have a CRT wake up call to hope for. My schedule is made up by what I, not my future tutoring students, decide to pencil in.

January. It’s between the rush of Christmas and the anticipation of back-to-school-birthday-month madness that I’ve always felt most productive and PRESENT. There were lessons to plan and people to see and places to go and now?

Now, that time of rest stretches on to the beyond and is without an end in sight.

That’s terrifying.

And that’s ok.

And I just need to embrace being in the middle of two great, big adventures and accept that this may actually  be another one all on its own.

END.

It’s been a while since I’ve done free writing and it’s so liberating and natural but goes against all my perfectionist tendencies. Maybe that’s why it’s called “free writing”.

If I were you… [Year 12 English]

Every Friday i’m going to be posting a (hopefully) helpful post on an element of the VCE English course. These will be primarily focused at Year 12 students, though that’s not to say that Year 11 and below will not also benefit from these pointers. So, look out for them, share them with your friends and family, and if you have any requests for a topic you want covered; let me know and I’ll see what I can do.

~

You’re a student. It’s a new year and with a new year comes a new year level and with that, a new set of subjects, assignments, SACs, teachers, memories, friendship groups, school events and sadly, exams.

While you may think that these summer holidays are a time to relax and completely forget about school, I must inform you that you are sadly mistaken.

While you should be taking some time to relax and refresh yourself, you also need to be preparing for the year ahead. If you’re in younger year levels this should involve reading your set texts, for anyone above year 10, you probably have some holiday homework to engage with as well as reading through the novels, plays, poetry etc that you will be studying in the year to come.

One piece of homework which the school I used to teach at always gave the incoming year 11 and 12s was:

Prepare for the oral presentation

It was a piece of advice that was oft- ignored and all too often I would see students who could have done very well in this important area of study cobble together a rushed piece of writing the night before their presentation, clearly not having time to rehearse or become confident with what they were talking about. It was always very clear who took our advice seriously and who thought they could “wing it”.

If I were you, I’d be placing the oral at the top of my to do list this holiday as it isn’t overly strenuous, it’s interesting and to do it really well takes time. The oral is also an excellent opportunity to increase your SAC scores as it is easier to do well in this SAC than it is in a written SAC and being Unit 4 (for year 12s), it’s worth quite a lot. It’s also easier to do very poorly, hence why early preparation is key.

For the next few weeks, I’ll be detailing what the oral requires of you and how I would be approaching the task. Today, we’ll be looking at the study design (available here: http://www.vcaa.vic.edu.au/Documents/vce/english/EnglishEAL-SD-2016.pdf) and what it actually means in terms of your presentation- what they, and therefore your teachers, want from you.

Image result for year 12 english meme

It’s a lie. The rules are SET.

Let’s begin.

The study design sets out that in Unit 4 (second half of year 12) students must complete an oral presentation designed to influence an audience in response to their chosen issue. However, before we look at what VCAA has laid out for the SAC itself, let us look at the rationale and skills they want you to display throughout the entire 4 units, remembering that you, in Unit 4 should be at your most competent in these areas. Let’s see how the oral will test these things

The focus of the VCE English course is ensuring that students understand how language is used to create meaning- that is that language isn’t just a string of letters and sounds but that it has power and worth. In your oral presentation, you will be demonstrating the power of the spoken word and the way it influences those who listen. 

The course is designed to increase your critical thinking. In your oral, you will demonstrate that you’ve considered an multifaceted issue, coming to your own conclusion after looking at evidence on both sides.

The course asks you to create and analyse texts, to improve your critical analysis, reflection and interpretation.  In this SAC, you will need to analyse the evidence you read critically- not taking everything at face value. You will also need to analyse and reflect upon your own writing. This will be evidenced in your Statement of Intention accompanying your spoken piece, but also in the development of your piece as you refine it.

The course wants to produce students who are confident, articulate and critically aware of their sense of self, their world and their place within it. You will demonstrate that you have engaged in this world, critically and intellectually, through this oral.

Finally, VCAA desires to equip students to participate in democratic society and global community. Obviously, engaging in a real life issue will help you feel able to do this.

More specifically, the outline for Unit 4, Area of Study 2, Outcome 2: Presenting Argument also sets some very clear expectations which you should be aware of when preparing for this SAC.

The oral is designed to build your understanding  of the analysis and construction of texts which attempt to influence an audience. In order to show this understanding, you will use your knowledge of how argument and persuasive language work in unison to create persuasive texts.

This means that you can’t just rely on passionate, emotive speaking or amazing use of appeals; it forces you to consider how you are presenting your argument, what sub arguments you are using to support it and the language in which you encasing it in.

The oral is designed to show that you understand that persuasive texts are specifically designed and shaped with a clear audience, purpose and context in mind- one which the argument and language is targeted directly to.

This means that you know why you’re speaking and your audience. It means you know their social, cultural and historical context and what arguments will and will not work for them. It means knowing what language will be effective and what language choices will miss the point.

The content of your oral will be formed through discussion and research. Your viewpoint, arguments and supporting evidence will be gathered deliberately and considered in relation to your audience purpose and context. 

It’s a process. It’s discovering new ideas and potentially changing your mind about old ones. It’s certainly not overnight. It’s DELIBERATE and DECISIVE.

The oral will show that you have considered the conventions of speaking, appropriate approaches in your language, presentation and arguments for both your issue and your audience and that you can critically reflect on these elements of your presentation.

The oral isn’t just a static written piece. You need to show that you can speak confidently. This comes through practice. It’s not something that happens overnight. That’s why you’ve been doing oral presentations for years. It also means that you need to consider what is appropriate for your piece and style. What will work for your best friend may not necessarily work for you. The generic advice you read on the internet about How to Write a Good Speech will not necessarily be appropriate… please don’t start with a joke in a speech about rape or deaths in custody.

This is also looking at your Statement of Intention and if you’re aware of and can articulate the power and significance of your language and argument in relation to your audience, purpose and context.

~

So, it’s big task. Bigger than you may think. And you need to start it now if you’re going to be like this meme-tastic baby (how old is this kid now and do you think he knows how famous he is?).

Image result for year 12 english meme

Next Friday, I’ll be going over the process I’d go through to choose my issue (if your school lets you choose- some schools have set issues) and start to develop my speech.

Your homework is to start watching or reading the news- especially the opinion pages. Find out what the issues in your world are and which ones you care about. What makes you mad or sad or jubilant?

Ensure you remember what an issue is: A topic of importance which has two debatable sides which has been in the media. Your issue needs to have been covered in the Australian media and needs to be relatively recent (in the news since Sept 1st, 2016). Don’t decide to do your speech on whether murder should be legalised or if cats are better than dogs (they’re not).

That will do us for this week. Go outside, enjoy the sunshine and read the letters to the editor. I promise it’s not that hard, and it’ll pay off in the long run. See you next Friday!!

Amy xx