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Actually liking poetry

Backstory

Something I have been sharing with my students over the past few years is the story of how I became confident enough to read and teach poetry.

You see, the truth about English teachers is that not all of them like poetry. Not all of them feel like they ‘get’ poetry, either. In fact, just like there are English teachers that hate Shakespeare, or storytelling, or debating, or essay writing, there are some English teachers that HATE poetry, and avoid teaching it wherever possible.

I was never a teacher that hated poetry. But I was a teacher that saw poetry as ‘beyond’ my understanding for many years. I knew I was supposed to ‘get it’, but I had to study what I was going to teach quite intently before tackling it in class, every time.

Oh the revision I had to do when I was a beginning teacher!

Oh how useless my university units including study of poetry seemed (and still seem)!

Luckily, I did have enough positive experiences of poetry from my youth to stay engaged – as a little kid I had some illustrated poetry books that I loved to read, and as a teenager I lived up to the classic stereotype of hormonal girl by writing maaany lines of free verse about my horrible melancholic life etc. into notebooks covered with skulls and flowery tattoo sketches.

Ahh, those were the days!

In high school English I enjoyed studying poetry, and felt very clever at it. But our study was always heavily guided by a teacher – when left to my own devices to interpret an unseen poem, I always felt lost and frustrated.

As for writing poetry, well … aside from a few haikus in junior English, I don’t recall writing any.

So what changed?

My attitude changed very quickly in my first year of teaching. Tell me if you’ve ever heard this advice:

A teacher should try completing activities themselves first, before setting them for students.

I know I’ve heard that advice a few times, and of course it’s good advice though impossible to follow all the time. However, as a beginning teacher it was clear to me that my colleagues and I were setting work for students that we didn’t do ourselves about, oh … half of the time? At least??

You see, no-one in the staff room was writing poetry, or short stories, or letters to the editor, or pretty much anything in their spare time. Two teachers in postgraduate studies would have been writing essays, but the rest of the teachers sure as shoot weren’t. Yet we were teaching a curriculum that required students to spend half of their time composing texts of various kinds.

When I realised this, what changed for me was that I decided to be more of a role model for my students by attempting more personal writing.

And that included poetry.

How does writing poetry help you like poetry?

The short answer: by providing a source of intrinsic motivation.

The longer answer: I found that trying to write poetry forced me to look at other people’s poetry in a whole new light. Just try writing a poem… if you aren’t already in the habit of it, you’ll probably find it challenging! Sometimes when I try to write a poem, the limits of my own writing ability are so in-my-face that I feel driven to go and read more examples of other people’s poetry to try to get ideas about different writing styles and tricks. There are still plenty of poems that I don’t understand, but these days there aren’t really any that I’m afraid of anymore!

Maybe I’m not completely right about this – after all, if you feel too frustrated with poetry writing, maybe you won’t appreciate other people’s attempts or even want to read any. (A message for teachers might therefore be to make sure that writing at school stays fun, so that students stay motivated and encouraged to independently learn more.)

Reading contemporary Australian poetry

Now that I actually like poetry, I’ve found out that I also actually like Australian poetry!

In a workshop by the Red Room Company with Johanna Featherstone last year, my students and I were asked to name as many Australian poets as we could. The list was woefully short and mostly full of bush poets… we agreed that day had been a wake up call for us all!

Since then I have been reading some volumes of poetry and I am very happy to recommend the following, for anyone who is keen to pursue contemporary Australian poets:

Lachlan Brown - 'Limited Cities' (2012)

  Lachlan Brown – ‘Limited Cities’ (2012) 

Ross Clark (2007); Michelle Dicinoski (2011)

Ross Clark (2007); Michelle Dicinoski (2011)

Ross and Michelle are poets that I’ve met since working at QUT, and I got to know Lachlan when he visited my class as a Red Room Company poet. Knowing a little bit about these poets has helped me to engage with their work, but honestly, they are all just bloody good! Have your library order them :)

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Voices from Elsewhere…

I was recently directed to the Wheeler Centre website to take a look at the speeches and talks they had available to view and download.

Finding out about the Wheeler Centre was very interesting…did you know that Melbourne is one of UNESCO’s ‘Cities of Literature’? The Wheeler Centre was established to celebrate this:

Melbourne has a new kind of cultural institution. The Wheeler Centre – a centre dedicated to the discussion and practice of writing and ideas. Through a year-round programme of talks and lectures, readings and debates, we invite you to join the conversation.

Their slogan is ‘Books. Writing. Ideas.’

Isn’t that wonderful?

It wasn’t long before I found a resource that drew me straight in – I am a big fan of Nam Le’s collected short stories in The Boat and even set the book on our ETAQ Book Club list this year!

If you also like books, writing and ideas, please enjoy this 10 minute talk by Nam Le, on the theme ‘Voices from elsewhere’:

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Premier’s Reading Challenge QLD

I used to be on the book selection panel for the PRC in New South Wales…great to see it so well participated in in Queensland as well.

I wonder if I can get some posters for it sent to me to put up at Uni?  It’s a shame – so many great programs like this get passed over by teachers each year who just don’t get reminded of the dates!

The Premier’s Reading Challenge is on again and the aim for 2011 is to top 75,000 student participants.

Children from Prep to Year 7 are encouraged to pick up a book and get reading between May 9 and August 27, with all who complete the challenge receiving a signed certificate by the Premier.

Schools can register online until May 27. Last year, 71,000 students completed the challenge, reading more than one million books.

The challenge for students from Prep to Year 2 is to read or experience 20 books, Years 3 and 4 to read 20 books and Years 5 to 7 to read 15 books between May 9 and August 26.

Guidelines, registration details and booklists are available on the Premier’s Reading Challenge website.

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Foucault THAT.

I have a confession to make.

Lately, I’ve been cheating on my blog.  (In a good way, I promise!)

A colleague at my university, Clare O’Farrell, has an established Ning that is home to members of the Poststructuralist Theory ‘Special Interest Group’ of AARE.  Established it so well, in fact, that it is one of the few Nings I know of (along with the English Companion) that continued to have happy users after stupid-Ning made its stupid-serivce un-free.  Hmph.

Anyway, I use my space and profile on the ‘Ed Theory Ning’ to brain-vomit about (on?) theory that I don’t understand yet.

And it’s proven #very illuminating.

Increasing my activity in various groups on the Ning has also proven fruitful.  Particularly in the ‘Daily Writing Club’ (we have to do exactly as it says…!) and now also from browsing the ‘Foucault reading group’.

That’s where I was reminded to check out Clare’s actual blog, Refracted Input, which I hadn’t done for ages.  This month she is discussing a quote by Foucault about ‘race and colonialism’, and in it I can see a relationship to contemporary discourses around changing technologies.

The term ‘folklore’ is nothing but a hypocrisy of the ‘civilised’ who won’t take part in the game, and who want to hide their refusal to make contact under the mantle of respect for the picturesque…
Man is irrevocably a stranger to dawn. It needed our colonial way of thinking to believe that man could have remained faithful to his beginnings and that there was any place in the world where he could encounter the essence of the ‘primitive’. (trans. Clare O’Farrell)

Michel Foucault, (1994) [1963] ‘Veilleur de la nuit des hommes’ In Dits et Ecrits vol. I. Paris: Gallimard, p. 232.

You see, I’ve been worrying about the ethics of what could be seen as meddling with teachers or students who are comfotable in their print-material ways, trying to prod them along to explore new technologies.  I have wondered, ‘am I being selfish?’, ‘what if they have it right?’, ‘what if I’m destroying something important?’, and ‘am I wrong to advocate for my view, should I just wait and see what happens instead?’.  But then, Clare’s wise words:

One cannot buy into the romanticism of the primitive – which is assumed to be so much closer to pure truth and ‘nature’. Conversely one cannot make the colonial assumption that one civilisation or one period of history (now) is more advanced and more evolved than another.

That’s right.  I don’t need to worry about whether I’ll ‘wreck’ anything, unless I’m thinking of the people I’m meddling with as OTHER.  And I was using pronouns to construct myself in opposition to other through all those damn self-doubts.  I don’t need to do that.  FOUCAULT THAT!

*Sigh of relief*

NB: Clare also curates a website on Michel Foucault, which includes a glossary of KEY CONCEPTS and other wonderful gems (thanks Clare!).

 

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Me and my iPad: building new literacies

I have to say, after just 10 days of owning an iPad, I am noticing some significant changes to my literacy practices – and being confronted by a range of literacy challenges!

I’ve solved the ‘where is Word’? problem – you can download apps, such as Pages, which costs about $10. I haven’t bought that yet because I want to try and do as much on free apps as I can before I get frustrated and am forced to buy (that’s what a school teacher on a tight budget would have to do).

Literacy lesson #1: There are no obvious ‘windows’ in this operating system. There is also no obvious place where you can see a directory of all your ‘files’. There are apps that are always on and you can look in on them any time.

But…how do I ‘save’ my work then? –> LITERACY OF STORING/SAVING AND BACKING UP DATA IN DIFFERENT PLATFORMS/OPERATING SYSTEMS?

Literacy lesson #2: Google docs can be used as a free word processing tool. I just open it in the web browser (Safari) and work from there.

But…when I’m not online I can’t access Google Docs. –> LITERACY OF ENSURING YOU CAN ACCESS YOUR MATERIALS AT POINT OF NEED?

Literacy lesson #3: I am LOVING using ‘Notes’. It’s an app that comes with the iPad. It works even when you are not online. The ‘what should I use to take notes in class/meetings?’ problem to me is solved with this. And because the only formatting available is the ability to leave empty lines and use capital letters, all of my focus is going into getting the ideas onto the page. None (at least much, much less) of my energy is going into design considerations. I never realised until formatting was taken away from me just how much thought I give to the design of a word document.

So…is that the difference between ‘writing’ and ‘word processing’? Or between ‘scribing’ and ‘writing’? or ‘notes’ and ‘documentation’? –> LITERACY OF WRITING FOR YOURSELF VERSUS FOR OTHERS? LITERACY OF FIRST DRAFTS (maybe “no Mary Jane, you can’t just do your draft in Word, because that’s your publishing platform and I don’t want you thinking about formatting your writing yet”. hmmm…)

Food for thought.

I should say, I have also wondered how much of this thinking is coming from using th iPad per se, or if it is the cumulation of being exposed to many new tools recently – a notebook computer, my Playstation and my Kindle had already got me thinking, but now it’s just all come to a head.

I’m thinking about this faster than I can write in-depth posts about it, but I hope these ideas and questions can launch some discussion!

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Books in the In-Tray

My pre-end-of-tax-year book orders from the bookdepository.com have now all arrived and are awaiting my reading and attention!

(Does anyone out there have a strategy for making sure you factor reading into your work day?)

Photo L-R:

  • Pedagogical Encounters, edited by Bronwyn Davies & Susanne Gannon (2009)
  • Understanding Media: The extensions of man, Marshall McLuhan (1964)
  • Meeting the universe halfway: Quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning, Karan Barad (2007)

My recent trip to Melbourne also led me to collect this stunning book combo:

This collection is the result of walking through a weekend book fair in the Atrium of the NGV in Melbourne.  I’ve started my reading with the Marquez…I didn’t like Love in the time of cholera, but I hope I like this.  I would like to like his writing.  As for the others?  Well, I’ll get to them eventually!

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The medium is the message

The medium is the message” is a phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan meaning that the form of a medium embeds itself in the message, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived. (from Wikipedia)

The more I think about this issue of medium, the more unsatisfied I am with the way that medium of production is dealt with in the English curriculum.

While English teachers continue to be led by debate over the definition and role of Literature in English, and over the best way to teach language, questions of medium have been significantly sidelined.

      iTeach Inanimate Alice

It also seems clearer to me now why subjects like Drama and Media (content areas that technically sit under the umbrella of English, if you accept that English is a study of how meaning is made through language and texts) go off and take up their own space in many curriculum.  It’s not just because those fields have their own traditions and pedagogies that need space, or because they have industries that create an economic drive for the subjects to continue.  It’s also because those field require keen attention to production elements, including issues of medium.

Little wonder that Drama, which often deals with live performance of language, dies a slow death in English classrooms where the curriculum is still dominated by print literacy.

Little wonder that we still can reconcile the gulf between ‘literary’ and ‘digital/electronic’ texts in the Australian curriculum (medium is not a genre!)

To move anywhere with this line of thinking will require some careful thought about the overlap between the words:

  • media as-in-the-artisitic-means-of-production and
  • Media as-in-the-field-of-media-studies.

Thanks to carolyn for stimulating my thinking on this.  Connecting the concept of medium back to the concept of narrative helped the penny drop today!

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