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

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… Choosing an issue for an oral presentation [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.

I’m notoriously indecisive. I think it’s because I like a lot of things and so I find it difficult to choose between all of the things I like. This is particularly the case when I’m asked terrible questions like:

  • What’s your favourite food?
  • What’s the best present you’ve ever received?
  • If you could go anywhere in the world right now, where would you go?

There are just SO many options and it’s overwhelming and it makes me want to retreat into my happy, non thinking place where I have no options but to do what I’m told (like a HIIT class or a meeting. One being infinitely more pleasurable than the other.)

However, having to make decisions is a part of life and, as I’ve come to realise, just because you choose one thing over another doesn’t mean that you don’t like that other thing or that it’s not worthy of your attention (I used to say sorry to inanimate objects because I felt bad for choosing one over the other). It just means that the thing you choose is right at the time of choosing.

That’s what you must focus on when choosing your issue for any oral presentation- but particularly your Year 12 SAC: What issue will most suit your needs for this oral.

Remember, you need something which will sustain a 4-6 minute speech, is serious and detailed enough to show a depth of thinking and is contentious enough that you can best utilise your persuasive language skills.

With that in mind, let’s go over the process I would take for choosing my issues.

KEEP IN MIND THAT THIS ADVICE IS FOR STUDENTS WHO ARE STARTING THEIR ORAL PREP NOW. NOT THOSE WHO ARE STARTING IT A WEEK BEFORE IT IS DUE (FOOLS). 

  • Step One: READ THE NEWS
    Subscribe to online news services such as New Matilda or Crikey, follow news blogs (both official like The Conversation, The Drum, The Guardian, The Age, Andrew Bolt and unofficial, more independent bloggers). Join twitter and follow different journalists, news sites, columnists, social commentators. I highly recommend following people who you may not necessarily agree with all the time. Yes, it may infuriate you to see people who are desperately seeking safety and shelter from their war torn homes labelled as intrusive and insidious leeches, but a good understanding- or at least, awareness- of both sides of an issue is key to success. Remember, you must know your audience.
  • Step Two: Keep a list of posts/issues which interest you
    As you are reading the news, bookmark or favourite posts which ignite something inside you. There will be posts you skim read and ones which you read deeply, all the way to the end before reading the comments. Note down the latter.
  • Step Three: Narrow down the above list to the posts/issues you keep coming back to, the ones which reappear constantly. Passion and interest is key to persuasion.
  • Step Four: Choose 2 or 3 issues and research them in detail. Read up on the background information, any research that’s been done in relation to the issue, read opinion pieces, letters to the editor and editorials about the issue. For each of these issues, note down the following:
    • The key contentions which are in opposition. There may be 2. There are probably more.
    • The evidence which each group cites. Also, highlight any evidence you think is particularly persuasive- consider what is changing or shaping your view.
  • Step Five: For each of the above issues, form your own opinion based on the research you’ve completed. Write it in a simple contention (feel free to use the words ‘I believe’ if it helps.) List the key reasons why you hold this view (aim for 3 reasons, with supporting evidence)
  • Step Six: For each issue, ask your parents, friends, teachers, neighbours, tennis coach, colleagues etc, what they think about this issue. Ask them why.
  • Step Seven: Ask yourself, for each of the issues you asked about, which made you most want to defend your position if the other party stated an opposing view to your own. Basically, which one made you the most passionate? That’s the one you should write on.
  • Step Eight: Start your in depth research. Also, ask yourself (and write this down!)
    • WHY do you care?
    • What aspects of this issue resonate with you?
    • What stories, statistics, facts, photographs, graphs, quotes etc, affected you the most and why?
    • Annotate the articles and posts you’ve collected. Focus on how they persuaded you. What techniques/information can you use in your own piece?
  • Start preparing to write your speech
    • Consider your audience (peers, teachers, possibly parents?), purpose (to convince your audience of your opinion- but it should go further. What response are you aiming for. We’ll cover this next time) and context (What cultural factors do you need to be aware of? What language, images, tone, anecdotes etc are appropriate?).

Again, I know it looks like a lot of work but most of this is just reading and taking notes, ideally about something you’re deeply passionate about.

Next week we’ll be going over a good structure for your speech itself!

Hope this was helpful! Let me know in the comments if there any specific questions you want answered or any particular aspects of the curriculum you’d like addressed throughout the year!

May your trawling through articles be productive and focused! (Don’t get hooked by click bait!)

Amy xx