Archive for October, 2008

Twilight backflip

Well, it didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen.  Actually, when it happened, it did happen overnight…there I was, (un)happily hating Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight, when the book finally picked up.  And yes, I stand by every ounce of my frustration that any writer would wait until halfway into a book to get interesting – if I were a less patient reader there is no way I even would have made it to the middle of the book.  And yes, I also stand by my view that the writing is bland, and that Bella is one of the most two-dimensional protagonists this side of Neighbours.

But, when you put it that way, my sudden fandom makes a bit more sense…as an avid Neighbours watcher, I am more than comfortable in the role of loving texts for reasons other than their literary merit.  And so I am now, as my Year 9 friends would say, a ‘Twi-hard’.  Yes, I love Twilight.

So much so that although I should have written a blog post well before now about my reflections on the National Curriculum Forum in Melbourne (I’ve tried to write a post three times now, never quite finishing…), here I am instead, updating you all on Twilight!  What this says about my subconscious priorities…?

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Twilight: update

After some good reading time on the plane, am now up to chapter 14 of Twilight and can see why all the year 9 girls are passing this book around!

The writing is still seriously killing me.  There is a great part about half way through the book (so don’t read on if you don’t want to know anything about the book), where Edward is talking about having to read Jessica’s mind and he laments: “her mind isn’t very original, and it was annoying to have to stoop to that…it was all extremely irritating.”  I wondered if this is a little joke on the writers behalf, because she knows how boring it can be, reading Bella’s thoughts…

But I have to admit I am definitely caught up in the story, and although I still suspect it is trashy, I’m loving the trashiness!  Not teenage Mills and Boon after all, but perhaps teenage Jackie Collins, or Virginia Andrews…that I can live with ;)

(I also do agree with Leah’s point that one of the good things about the story is the way magic exists in the real, everyday world.  This is one of the reasons that I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I am now enjoying comparing the character of Bella to Buffy in the back of my mind!)

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Twilight

I wanted to like Twilight.  I really did.  But seven chapters in (about one third of the book) and I’m still waiting for it to give me something to like.  Anything.

I don’t know about any of you reading this blog, but at my school you can’t pry the students away from their Twilight books.  The girls especially!  Some have been banned from reading it by their parents, so are reading their contraband at school, keeping it in their friend’s lockers.  The school librarians are even making students in years 7 & 8 bring in a note before they are allowed to borrow Twilight, such is the hype around this book.

I volunteered to read Twilight, if for no other reason than to see if we really need to be getting permission notes for lending it, but also because I love a good YA fiction series.  But so far the writing is so dreadfully bland, and the plot has barely moved.  Here is a rough idea of what is covered in the first 7 chapters of the book, told through they eyes of female protagonist Isabella (Bella) Swan:

  • She has moved to live with her Dad – the town is small, boring and cold
  • There is a boy at school called Edward Cullen. He is mysterious, and very good looking
  • Many other boys like Bella. she doesn’t see why, but is happy to use them
  • Sometimes Edward talks to her, and sometimes he doesn’t…boy, he is mysterious!
  • Sometimes Edward’s eyes are black, sometimes they are ‘honey coloured’…this is a mystery
  • Sometimes Edward is at school, and sometimes he is away. This is agonising. And mysterious.
  • …did I mention that Edward is good looking, and the town is cold?

Paragraph after paragraph of this.  ARGH!  And because it’s told in first-person (and because Bella is so boring and such a bad storyteller), we aren’t finding much out about any character other than her.

It is excruciatingly like being trapped in the mind of a love crazed 16 year old girl.

It’s like Mills and Boon for teenagers.

IT IS TRASH!

(seriously…have ANY adults read and liked Twilight?  Can ANYTHING redeem seven straight chapters of tripe?)

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Jeannie Baker: Belonging exhibition

The work of Jeannie Baker, a British-Australian children’s author and artist, is well known by Australian children. In a special exhibition at Casula Powerhouse this summer, collages from her award winning picture book, Belonging, will be on display for people of all ages to enjoy. Rsvp for the opening or for more info on public programs, click here.

I just love the book Belonging by Jeannie Baker, and am really keen to go along to this exhibition of her collages – I might even try and get to a collage workshop!

Belonging

Belonging

I think this picture book, and its companion book Window would make excellent pieces of related material for the HSC Area of Study ‘Belonging’.  Has anyone else seen this book?  What do you think?  Here is a brief description of the book from Jeannie Baker’s website:

An alienating city street gradually becomes a place to call home.  Little by little, baby Tracy grows.  She and her neighbours begin to rescue their street.  Together, children and adults plant grass and trees and bushes in the empty spaces.  They paint murals over old graffiti.  They stop the cars.  Everything begins to blossom.

‘Belonging’ explores the re-greening of the city: the role of community, the empowerment of people and the significance of children, family and neighbourhood in changing their urban environment.  The streets gradually become places for safe children’s play, and community activity and places for nature and wonder.

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Proposed HSC changes

I cannot stress enough the importance of responding to the NSW Board of Studies proposed changes to HSC examinations and school assessment.

When you look at what they are proposing, it’s hard to see how they can possibly be genuine about their aim of “reducing unnecessary stress and workload for students and teachers”.

The 8-page Background Paper is an easy read, and explains the general changes that are proposed for all HSC courses:

  1. A mandated number of FOUR in-school assessment tasks for each 2 unit course
    • How the BOS thinks that running LESS assessment (making each task worth MORE) is beyond me.  Schools will get around this by making tasks bigger and more involved, perhaps by running ‘one’ task with multiple ‘parts’.
    • If you plan to have one assessment for AOS, and another three for the three Modules…where does the Trial fit?
  2. A removal of the limits of how much in-school assessment can come from test and exam tasks (!!)
    • This is OUTRAGEOUS.  It will certainly lead to schools assigning a greater weighting of marks to exam-type tasks.  At the Forums I have been to on the proposed changes, BOS reps argue (with a straight face) that they don’t think schools would want to do more exams…how naive.
  3. Each 2 unit course to have a single 3 hour exam including 10 mins reading/planning time
    • Obviously this is a big change for English.  What is going to be cut out of our exam to make it fit?  The logical answer is that creative writing (at least) will disappear entirely.
    • Why not just make the 10 mins reading time extra?  This policy is blatantly linked to a cost-cutting agenda, not to reducing student stress!
  4. Advice will be provided on expected length (number of pages etc.) of written exam responses
    • This looks oppressive, but BOS have argued this is only intended to stop those 30 page exam responses…which is OK by me as long as students aren’t heavily penalised for going a little over any prscribed length.
  5. A review of specifications to reduce the amount of time spent on major projects and performances
    • Wow!  Lucky students!  I think this is great, only…does this mean that the BOS will also be LOWERING THE STANDARDS?  Students currently work hard on major projects because the acheivement descriptors require it for students to get a Band 5 or 6.
    • What would make more sense is lowering the number of units that students had to study from 10 to 8, and giving them free periods at school for project work.
  6. School assessment to be based on clusters of outcomes, NOT on topics (e.g. Area of Study, Modules)
    • This is ridiculous.  This is clearly how they think they can get away with reducing the number of assessment tasks to FOUR.  To assess how well a student has understood an elective, you need to assess that elective.  Unless the BOS want to change the syllabus…hmm, seems they are subversively trying to do just that.
  7. Written exams to contain a mix of ‘objective response’, ‘short response’ and ‘extended response’ items
    • Multiple choice questions in Stage 6 English?  In an exam that’s worth 50% of their mark?  Of the mark they are using to try and get into Uni??  Don’t make me slap you.

The BOS has provided a feedback form for people and organisations to respond to these proposals.  The consultation period has been extended to the 28th October, and I encourage English teachers to send in their feedback!

The implications of these changes for English are huge. For those of you wondering how on earth we would fit our current two paper/four hour exam into a single three hour exam, here are the Board’s specific proposals for Advanced English (specific proposals for all of the courses can be found here).

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Back in the Saddle

Visitors to the blog may have noticed a new page addition – one for my PhD thesis.

When I created this blog, in an attempt to pin down the broad areas that I expected to post on, I added the subheading ‘teaching, research, and the rest’.  I was inspired by Darcy’s blog, which proclaimed it would be about ‘education, technology, life’, to also make my blog a place where the professional and personal, the public and the private worlds could happily overlap.  But, unsure I could commit to (the pressure of) saying anything much about ‘life’, I thought I would be better to clump anything that wasn’t related to teaching or research into a vague, and perhaps unpromising, ‘the rest’.

The teaching part was far more obvious – I’m an English teacher and I love sharing resources and reflecting on my practice.  The ‘research’ category however, has been sorely neglected.  In fact, it’s barely made a peep.  And even though I have added plenty to the blog about the Gifted and Talented education action research I was involved in at school, even this is really more about teaching than research.  The real research that I should be focussing on is my PhD thesis, which draws to a long awaited conclusion next March.

Well, after a semester away from uni I am indeed back in the saddle, and am hoping to add more to the blog about my PhD in the coming months.  For now, I’ve dusted the shelves, bought a new bottle of multi-vitamins and paid off my library fines.  Work is progressing…though not without a little procrastination, including a return to my favourite grad student comic strip, Piled Higher and Deeper:

Chores

Chores

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