This piece is based on how the first portable typewriter played an integral part in the human aspect of WW1. I found letters that had been written by soldiers from the trenches ,still maintaing a poetry, whilst the noise and horror of war surrounded them.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Wow. Just discovered this at Aniboom. I am definitely going to use this site in my teaching next year. I can imagine bringing a wonderfully enigmatic short film like 'Beton' (above) into my year 11 literature class and sharing/discussing possible readings and interpretations.
It was slightly annoying to make the move to beta only to discover that I had lost my counter, sitefeed and other funky encrypted thingies and whatsits, yes, but that wasn't difficult to remedy.
It was a good move. Now I just need to move house in January...
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
I said my goodbyes to my principal today, who is leaving the school, and he said, 'good luck with everything, nb, whatever you do, whether it's writing or teaching or academia. But I do hope you stay with teaching.'
Someone else was saying to me recently that he thought that teaching was a 'craft' and that he was glad that I was doing an MA and not an MEd for that reason. 'Teaching isn't a science or about theory,' he said, 'teachers are teachers because they either like kids or they like their subject.'
I think it's interesting when those within the teaching profession help to perpetuate, or at least believe in, incredibly narrow definitions what it is to be a 'dedicated classroom teacher'. Perhaps these definitions are remnants of a bygone era when teachers were supposed to be solitary creatures who entered a classroom, conjured mysterious learning spells in front of kiddies, and then returned to partitioned desks for more lonely lesson planning. I don't know- probably such a time never existed. I am beginning to notice however, that if you are the kind of teacher who likes to throw open your classroom windows occasionally and stick your head out to see beyond the 'immediacies' of teaching, you can make people nervous. Especially if you're a young teacher. Other teachers (esp. those in leadership positions) start shooting suspicious, sidelong glances at you, as though you're secretly plotting an escape route from the teaching profession, just because you show an interest in how your little piece of the teaching puzzle fits into the 1,000 piece jigsaw. As though they're just waiting for you to leave the classroom and go off to a university and read 'intellectual' books with those other 'academics' who simply have no idea about 'schooling'. It's the same sort of binary-thinking that underscores that tired cliche often spouted to (and sometimes spouted by) pre-service teachers: 'you don't learn anything about teaching in uni. Just wait until you get out into a school and all that stuff you heard at uni will go out the window'.
It's very strange. I don't understand it at all. But it is vital to think about and talk about what teachers mean by the label 'classroom teacher', especially when our profession is in the midst of developing standards for professional practice and putting in place processes to encourage ongoing professional renewal.
I used to 'play' with the phrase 'my professional identity' all the time, especially during my first year of teaching. It doesn't appear in my writing quite so often these days, perhaps because it doesn't seem quite as tentative and provisional to me now. I don't need to write the words so often, because my professional identity colours every word. In fact, after all this writing and thinking, 'my professional identity' has become precious to me. It feels like something that I need to protect, fiercely, in case other people try to define it for me, or even take it away from me. It has many facets, many shades, many sides, many layers, but somewhere close to the centre of this luminiscent, shimmering identity is the belief that I have a responsibility to continue to shape it and feed it. It's a responsibility that I take very seriously, and to do it right means looking beyond where I am right now.
So, next time you spot a young teacher sticking her head out the classroom window, don't ask her to shut it and get back in front of the whiteboard, where the 'real' teaching happens. Hand her a telescope, so that she can see even further.
Don't worry. She's not going anywhere.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Last day of school tomorrow. Feeling very ready for it. Colleague/friend 'L' and I over spending long days and nights on new year 11 curriculum. Happy with it, but sheesh. Over it.
Good (sometimes) to be in an organised, meticulous faculty but other times... sheesh. Over it.
No longer able to write in full sentences.
Wits: L and I crossed into hysteria at exact same time... last Friday.
New favourite words: Sheesh and putz.
New favourite food: chicken, swiss cheese, prosciutto and avocado focaccias from The Grange. Good for curriculum writing.
Other new favourite food: raspberry and lemon curd friands from Food Depot. (next door to Grange). Also very good for curriculum writing.
New realisation: writing new year 11 curriculum can cement bonds forever. The dynamic duo will live on.
Current thoughts: wondering if fab 'Kath and Kim' pic that L and I put on the front cover of the Year 11 English Handbook will survive the editing process. Yes, it's relevant. But clipart usually the status quo.
141 pages... sheesh.
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Below is roughly what I had to say about the matter. I have tried to embed my powerpoint slides in this post, which were mostly visuals that were part of the narrative that I was trying to convey.
A (failed) Guide to Indoctrination
When I am beginning to explore a new text with students, I ask them to share their initial responses- the lines that jump off the page at them, their favourite characters, the moments that surprise them, the questions that remain with them. But then, I often ask them to put on a pair of sunnies. Not literally, but metaphorically. I ask my students to ‘see’ the text through someone else’s eyes- other than their own.
This is because I want them to read consciously, rather than unconsciously. I want them to think about the way that they derive meaning from a text, and whether this process is the same for everyone, every time. I want them to read critically.
And so, for a short time, I would like to ask you to look through the eyes of an early career English teacher. (slide 2) So, put on your sunglasses! What colour are the frames? What shade are the lenses? Are they cool and funky or a fashion faux pas? Perhaps these sunglasses are familiar to you and slip on comfortably, or perhaps they’re like the pair that I unearthed from my glove box last week, clumped together with sticky mintie wrappers.
After donning this pair of metaphorical sunnies, I would like you to imagine how this ‘debate’ over critical literacy that is currently taking place in the media, political spheres and here, might engage an early career English teacher, for whom critical literacy is an important part of their pedagogy.
You may have been as surprised as I was myself when I realised that my pedagogy placed me firmly within the ‘loony fringe’- a term used by the editors of The Australian for those who do not share their view that anything other than the ‘universal’ Western canon should be taught in English classrooms. You may also be able to appreciate the somewhat disconcerting experience of learning that the ideas I was engaging students with were “serious ideology” (as opposed to frivolous ideology, I can only assume). You might have experienced the dismay that I did when I read that by encouraging my students to engage thoughtfully and critically with texts, I was apparently denying them the opportunity to experience the “simple joys of reading".
What’s a young English teacher to do? Should I blindly accept the observations of various conservative commentators and dismiss the value of my own education, pedagogy and aspirations for my students?
My year 10’s finished formal classes for the year a couple of weeks ago. I would like to share with you the voices of these students, through extracts from their contributions to our class discussion board. We use this space to continue the conversations that begin in the classroom, and I would like to use my student voices to extend the discussion that we are having today. Sometimes my students begin the conversations on the discussion board, and sometimes I do, but our final discussion topic for the year required us to think carefully about what we had learned through our exploration of various texts.
‘Jane’, the philosopher, writes:
Nothing in life is black and white and nothing in literature or art either really. If we had learnt it just one way we wouldn’t have learnt as much and couldn’t teach our teachers.
One attack that has been levelled at critical literacy in recent times has been that it is responsible for ‘dumbing down’ our English curriculum.
Around the time that catch-phrases like these were being printed in newspapers, my students and colleagues and I were busily exploring Steinbeck’s novella Of Mice and Men. We had wide ranging discussions about friendship, loyalty, dreams and disappointments. My students laughed at the antics of Lennie as he sneakily hid his pet mouse from the grumpy George, responded in shock and sorrow at the terrible choice that George made and empathised with poor Candy for the loss of his beloved companion.
But we also delved deeper as we interacted with this text. We examined the power structures at play in the novella. How you can complete a thoughtful study of this text without examining notions of class, gender and ethnicity is beyond me, I’m afraid. (Slide 4) I used The Simpsons to get students to think critically about class distinctions and their impact on society and to develop a reading of the novella with these ideas in mind. We also looked at movie posters, like this one (slide 5), and debated whether this interpretation of Steinbeck’s work was consistent with or different from their own. We discussed the implications of images like these, the values that lie behind them, and how our 21st century eyes respond to the portrayal of Curley’s Wife.
As part of this exploration, students produced creative responses to Steinbeck’s work that brought to light riches in the text that they unearthed after much investigation and questioning. Some students gave Curley’s Wife a name, and delved into more of her history. Another re-visioned the red-feathered mules from a symbol of danger and desire into Curley’s Wife’s personal link to her lost dreams. Yet another brought to life a story from Crooks’ childhood, illuminating possible reasons for his bitterness.
As an early career teacher, I’m still developing my pedagogy. I’m constantly reflecting on my professional practice with colleagues, about what I’m doing well, what I need to improve, what I want for my students, what I think education is for and the role of English and literature in all of this. When I was exploring Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire with my Year 11 Literature students earlier this year, I asked them to think about the text as being like a kaleidoscope (slide 6): what we see depends partly on who we are, where we are, and how we turn the wheel. I like to use the same metaphor when I think about my learning process as a teacher: my vision shifts as I learn and grow. But it is clear to me that the impact of critical literacy on my pedagogy opens up opportunities for my students, rather than diminishing them.
‘Simon’, the lover of exclamation marks, has this to say:
Now I know that if I don’t look deeper and ask more questions, there is so much that I am missing out on! So many different views, that the writer was trying to show, that other people picked up, and that I might find for myself.
I can learn so much more this way, it has been fun!
It is interesting to compare Simon’s excitement with the argument that the use of critical theory in the classroom steals the joy of exploring literature from students, replacing with theories “that they find abstract, dry and empty of meaning".
I haven’t found this to be my experience.
And I’m sure it’s fairly obvious to us that good teachers use a range of strategies and approaches to foster a love of reading in their students. Teachers provide opportunities for students to respond both critically and creatively to texts, sometimes simultaneously.
‘Cam’, the film buff, writes:
It’s made me look deeper into things- especially movies. Analysing art has helped as well. But maybe sometimes we shouldn’t criticise and grade everything all the time. The world we live in these days rates everything. A new movie comes out and we rate it out of five stars. Maybe we should just accept it for what it is and not put it on a scale to see how good or bad it is?
Cam’s contribution to the discussion board made me stop and think. The question mark at the end of his response leads me to believe that he is still thinking about this, too, and grappling with what it means to develop a response to a work of art, whatever the medium. I’m glad that he is thinking about this, and even more importantly, that he felt comfortable enough to think aloud about it.
For me, one of the premises that critical literacy builds on is that there is more than one way of seeing. There is no doubt that this can be a challenging notion, for students, for teachers and for others outside the profession.
An English classroom is filled with different ‘ways of seeing’. Students bring their own values, beliefs, experiences, reading practices and questions with them, and so do teachers. Surely, it is better for students to be aware of the factors that make up their worldview than remain blind to them.
The questions that Cam is asking of himself, his classmates, and me, his teacher, reminds me of the questions that we, as teachers, ask ourselves and each other all the time. When I look around at the extraordinary wealth and diversity of experiences, practices, philosophies and contexts that are collected in this room, it makes me incredibly nervous for a start, but it also brings to mind the very reason why we must continue to seek out opportunities like this to share, critique, question and affirm what we do.
Our ways of seeing, understanding, and articulating, our teaching and learning are complex, intricate, colourful and multi-layered. They can’t be conveyed in a sound-bite, or a clever catch-phrase. Perhaps this could be considered problematic, when people seem so eager to speak for us, or position us, rather than allow us to speak for ourselves. But this isn’t a good enough reason to stop asking questions and exploring possibilities. If anything, critical literacy teaches us the dangers of assuming that there is such a thing as one ‘accepted’ position.
‘Sophie’, the advocate, writes:
By learning how to look at a situation from alternative views, it can also help us in society. When someone is being treated poorly, we can look at the world through their perspective. We can learn to stand in someone else’s shoes.
To be confidently literate in this world is not just about reading for comprehension or being able to follow established rules for spelling and grammar, even though these skills are important.
I want my students to be able to stand on their own two feet in this complex and intricate world, but I also want them to be able to slip on someone else’s shoes occasionally, or see through someone else’s sunnies. I will continue to look for ways to achieve this, and I will continue to pursue this in my own professional learning.
Sunday, November 05, 2006
They fell in love with these concrete poems by Dan Waber, particularly 'Arms', 'poidog' and 'HaHa'. My favourite was the strange and absorbing 'The Last Day of Betty Nkomo' by Young Hae-Chang. And 'Oh' was lots of fun to investigate, because it is interactive. I projected the poem on the electronic whiteboard, and a couple of students came up to see if they could figure out how to 'read' it.
Anyway, this had followed on from some discussions about various music videos and what the images added to the lyrics. After we had explored quite a diverse range of multimedia poetry by various poets, for assessment, students had to choose a poem (from a collection of poetry books) and create a multimedia interpretation of it. They could use MovieMaker or PowerPoint for this, and all except one group elected to use MovieMaker. On Friday, we had a 'screening' of sorts, where they introduced and explained how they had interpreted their poem and what they wanted to convey through the images, movie clips, voice overs, music, effects and animation that they had used.
I really wasn't sure what to expect, even though I had been working with them on their projects for about a week. The 'process' leading up to this 'screening' had been really enjoyable in lots of ways. Doing this for the first time- with students who had never done anything like this in an English classroom- it had felt really.... 'creative' and 'generative' and 'spontaneous' and 'freeing' and 'unruly' and... it became difficult to pin down exactly what was going on in my classroom during these past two weeks! I do know that the 'outcomes' that I had in mind when I devised the task had shifted in some ways by the time the students presented, although I couldn't tell you exactly when my expectations had shifted. And, as I watched the final versions of their multimedia poems, I realised that some of the most interesting 'learning' that had occurred in terms of what the students had produced was quite different to what I had intended- some of the more interesting things that were happening in their 'short films' had more to do with narrative than poetry per se. And I'm finding that fascinating to think about, although I haven't really come to any conclusions about it all yet. I'm not sure if it was to do with software used- Windows MovieMaker- or not. Unfortunately, I'm unable to explain all of this to you without you actually seeing the multimedia poems and filling you in about the different 'journeys' that a number of my students in particular went on. Anyway, suffice to say that that was a great start to the day, and I'm looking forward to seeing the rest of them on Friday.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
It was interesting to chat with some of the pre-service teachers afterwards who asked a range of questions, and not just about the content of my presentation. I was a little thrown by the number of questions that I got asked about technology- how I had learnt to do that... whether schools expected you to know how to do that.... what should I do to prepare for using technology with students next year...
It surprised me because when I was planning the lecture (and the task with my students) I wasn't really thinking about the 'technology aspect' at all. I was preoccupied with notions of 'writing' and challenging some students' (and teachers') somewhat entrenched notions of what 'writing in classrooms' is. Trying out some things with hypertext was just the way that I chose to do this- on this particular occasion.
After doing my best to reassure these pre-service teachers that their careers would not be in jeopardy if they didn't know how to insert a hyperlink, I wondered what I would have changed about my presentation to address their concerns. What additional 'background' should I have provided? Should I have begun with a brief lesson on 'how to' insert hyperlinks? A 'practical' lecture on elements of hypertext design? An explanation of what they can expect when they get out into schools and are required to use technology in the classroom?
Well, I have come to the conclusion that all of these options would have been fairly useless, if not a complete waste of time. A lecture on 'how to create a hypertext' would probably be about as useful (useless) as a lecture on 'how to blog' and who knows what these pre-service teachers will come across when they leave Monash and arrive at their remarkably different school environments and contexts? I wanted to give an insight into how I reflect on my teaching practices, and I think I did that. This was the most valuable skill that I took away from my dip Ed, anyway.
I find myself continuing to muse over the differences in a lecture that I gave to English method students at the beginning of 2005, and the one I gave recently. It's interesting to see how my perspectives on what I'm doing in my classroom (and profession) have shifted in some ways and developed in others (at least, I think they have). It feels good to be able to come to this conclusion.
Saturday, October 14, 2006
Sunday, September 24, 2006
Hmmm.... I wonder if anyone has told The Australian... Any volunteers?
Great, thanks. While you're at it, you might want to give the editorial staff a bit of helpful advice about editorial style.
'This is an editorial?' my students would ask, wrinkling noses. 'This is the 'voice' that this paper wants to project?'
Except this: David Freesmith's thoughtful argument stands strong against this, this and this. Talk about a multi-pronged attack... Except for the fact that they all say the same thing (and I don't just mean echoing each other's sentiments- seriously, Kenneth's Wiltshire meandering sludge splodges its way through three separate articles- impressive. Or something.)
Saturday, September 23, 2006
The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.
Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.
I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.
I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.
-Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
-Elizabeth Bishop, One Art
Saturday, September 16, 2006
I know what I would like it to be. I would like it to take the form of a kind of 'performative narrative', which is how I found myself describing my Year 11 Lit students' poetry presentations just over a week ago. They had worked in pairs to construct hypertext versions of poems from Blake's Songs, and then presented their work to the rest of the class. I was excited by the form that these presentations took. The non-linear hypertexts meant that the students were not bound/constrained by successive powerpoint slides flicking across the screen. The presentations became conversational, informal, directed by student voices as they used their hypertexts to build their discussions and readings of the poems. They made spontaneous connections to past class discussions and other student presentations. The presentations became part of the 'meaning making' process, rather than a 'report' or 'record' of this process. The presentations did not feel 'end-stopped', to use a poetic term, but meandered into each other, and past each other, and back to alternative beginnings. In many ways, the hypertext writing that my students produced stood on its own, but it was brought to life by my students' voices, and not just the voices of students who were presenting.
This was the first time that I had attempted something like this with students, and it was a rich experience, even though there is so much that I would do differently next time.
Anyway, that is what I want this 'lecture' to be like. A performative, hypertext narrative, that could go in different directions. I've had a go at constructing a hypertext to reflect on my teaching experiences before. I'd like to try something like this again, and turn it into a 'lecture' or 'perform' it. Of course, I also want it to be participatory, and I'm going to have to think of ways to do that. But this is the sort of writing that I want to keep exploring this kind of writing, on my own, and with my students.
Whenever I am poised to create something new, to 'teach' something, to 'write' something, to 'produce' something for 'others', I often find myself looking for ways to use it as an opportunity to explore my current preoccupations and interests. I'm not just thinking of my 'audience' even when it's my students. Is this wrong?
I'm not sure.
Saturday, September 09, 2006
Some interesting media bites to munch on this week.
Somewhat eerily, this opinion piece (What the PM owes to Hansonism) appeared a couple of days after a colleague and I had been bemoaning this very 'phenomenon'. I can remember listening to Hanson's harsh consonants on the radio and feeling sick and so ashamed. I can remember asking Mum as we drove to my high school in Dandenong, 'what will other countries think of us? This isn't what we're supposed to be'.
Now, Hanson tangos in orange sparkles across the telly, Oldfield plays Robinson Crusoe on Celebrity Survivor, and Howard channels Pauline's old speeches.
And now follows the cringe-worthy witch hunt of Professor Greer. I intended to write more about this but have since discovered that Tracy Hutchison (as well as a couple of intelligent letter writers) have it covered. Yeah sure, the timing is not good, but I relished seeing her swat away the extraordinarily outraged condemnations of the channel nine (??) reporter during her interview as though he was a pesky fly. How does a media report of a tragic death turn into a hysterical and prolonged attack on one of the defining minds of the 2oth century? I mean honestly, we've annointed a new Australian Saint (move over, Mary McKillop) and ousted the new 'Aussie Devil' in one fell swoop (oh, but remember, Greer's an expat now, so we can just let the Poms have her).
I was lucky enough to hear Germaine Greer speak a couple of years ago and she was completely captivating. So funny, wise, gracious and brilliant. A voice of dissent, certainly.
How shameful it is when voices like these are turned into soundbites by the media, so you can no longer hear the symphony.
Friday, September 01, 2006
Friday, August 04, 2006
Note: please excuse lack of ‘kapow’ in blogposts tonight- I’m high on cold and flu medication.
Someone commented to me today that next week we will be halfway through the term. It’s gone extremely quickly, even though it feels as if so much has happened and some days have lasted an entire year (that doesn’t mean they’ve been bad, just full).
After taking a little time to adjust to my new classes (I spent some time at the start of the term nostalgically longing for the classes I taught last year) I’m enjoying them all, most of the time. Today, for instance, I had a lot of fun with my year 10 class as they worked in groups on tasks of their choosing related to Of Mice and Men. A number of groups have elected to write songs or raps (raps? Rap songs? Am I finally showing my age or is it the meds?) about the characters in the novella, and so much merriment ensued as students reached gleefully into pockets to retrieve ipods and search for backing tracks. Good fun.
I’m loving 11 Lit, because the students are so wonderful. We sit in a circle reading Streetcar and they all read with such earnestness and fun and care for the characters that it is a joy. I sometimes stress about the time passing, but the conversations are so rich that I am letting go in some ways and seeing where it takes us. We began work on the creative response task last lesson- students are writing an additional scene or an extension of the scene. I have dreams of filming some of them further down the track in black and white like Kazan’s film, but I am keeping that to myself for the time being in case I end up having to disappoint them. I’m going to have to start on Blake soon, and attempt to do a lopsided juggling act between the two texts for a while, if we have any hope of doing everything I want us to do this semester.
The best thing about my 10 Lit class at the moment is the way they have taken to the discussion board I set up for them. I had success with this last year, but it grabbed this particular group of students’ interest immediately, and they are responding readily and thoughtfully to the topics I pose, as well as adding their own. Any topic is fair game, I’ve told them, as long as there is some tenuous link to ‘English’ and so they’re also sharing accounts of the fav movies or books that they have read recently, etc. I hope that I can keep the momentum going. I have set up a board for my year 11 Lit class as well, but they are less interested in it at the moment. I haven’t figured out exactly why yet.
I’ve also had a go at developing a wiki with my year 10 class, which is working well- for what it is. Students worked in groups to develop a page for a class wiki, and then I dashed around to various laptops and helped them add their pages to the ‘frontpage’ that I had already developed. I was very aware of the fact that the way that I set up this task worked against the ‘wiki spirit’ in some ways- ie, it didn’t evolve naturally as students refined and built on each other’s research and ideas. What is there at the moment is pretty much as it will stay. It will be a useful resource for them in many ways, and they did experience that momentary excitement of having their own ‘web page’ out there is cyberspace, but it wasn’t anything we couldn’t have done with a shared file on the intranet or posters stuck strategically on the classroom walls. I knew this from the beginning, and it took some of the joy out of it for me, knowing that I wasn’t really making the most of it, but I needed to start somewhere, and I didn’t know these students very well and needed to have a few checks and balances in place, otherwise things could have gone pretty pear-shaped. Still, it’s a place to begin… but the excited faces over song lyrics and backing tracks have been more worthwhile…
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
The problem is that the librarian that I am filling in for has a better grasp of young adult fiction than anyone I've ever met. I don't know how she does it- she knows her library and every book in it like the back of her hand. I know that I don't have a hope of living up to that, but I want to give it my best shot. Hence wishing that one could read an entire novel by simply placing one's hand on the cover until the words unstick themselves from the pages. Hey presto, one book down- next! I've tried it- it doesn't work. I have a feeling that the Inside a Dog website and I will become very well acquainted, as I try furiously to keep up with my reading.
My list for the hols:
I'm going for the 'eclectic' approach. I'm currently reading this:
which I am enjoying, particularly the use of musical imagery in the voice of one of the narrators.
But I really want to be reading this:
and especially this
Unfortunately, the students must have beaten me to it, since I couldn't find them on the shelf. ;)
Monday, June 19, 2006
There were sea-horses and mer-men
and a flat tide-shelf,
there was a sand-dune,
and a trail of wet weed
another of weed,
burnt another colour,
and scattered seed-pods
from the sea-weed;
there was a singing snail,
(does a snail sing?)
a sort of tenuous wail
that was not the wind
nor that one gull,
perched on the half-buried
nor was it any part of translatable sound,
it might have been, of course,
another sort of reed-bird,
inland, there was a pond,
filled with water-lillies;
they opened in fresh-water
but the sea was so near,
one was afraid some inland tide,
some sudden squall,
would sweep up,
over the fresh-water pond,
down the lilies;
that is why I am afraid;
I look at you,
I think of your song,
I see the long trail of your coming,
(your nerves are almost gone)
your song is the wail
of something intangible
that I almost
but not-quite feel.
- "The Poet", H.D.
I want to write with this kind of mystery...
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Unfortunately, on the latest version of the timetable this class clashes with year 11 lit, hence picking up the wider reading program for the librarian who will be on leave. I'm really glad to be part of the wider reading program though, because what could be better than chatting to kids about what they're reading? It will give me the incentive to really broaden my knowledge of what is out there in adolescent literature at the moment, too, as this is an area of my practice that I would really like to develop.
Very excited about finally teaching year 11 lit, too, after making the wrenching decision to put this on hold to take some leave at the start of the year. They've been incredibly good to me- I'm lucky to be getting this class back, and feel badly for the teacher who is really enjoying these students and is having to pass them back to me. He will be a great support, though, and I know a few wonderful people I can/will ask for advice. I am beginning to feel the pressure of living up to the good work that has already been done, while at the same time wanting to explore some of my own ways of doing things.
So, lots to look forward to...
...teaching literature... teaching the only year 11 class, which means I can dance to the beat of my own drum... having another go at blogging in the classroom (hopefully with more success this time around)... playing/experimenting with students and some wonderfully fun social software resources, like this, this, this, this and these... chatting about 'the kindness of strangers', tygers, 'janeites', and the prodigiously wealthy... reading books on soft, plump cushions... getting the school creative writing mag up again, and hopefully satisfying my vision of turning it into a creative arts e-zine, complete with podcasts of students reciting their own poetry, recordings of school bands (established and subversive), photos of artwork, films of student media projects, short stories (yes, well, ok, this vision might take until next year- probably safer to start small)... turning this blog into something a little more dynamic that is a more complex, interesting reflection of my teaching self... and teaching again (sigh)...
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
Sunday, May 28, 2006
Anyway, I love doing the orals. I miss out on teaching this group in their final year since I am on leave this semester, so it's nice to be involved in their last year of English, albeit in a small way. They blow me away- they do an amazing job in their presentations and I can't help smiling and nodding at them the whole time, but most impressive is the way that they (without exception) support each other as audience members. So, yes, I'm enjoying myself, although I will admit to feeling a little over hearing about the dangers/potentials of nuclear energy and the growing obesity epidemic in young Australians. But that's ok- there's enough variety because they can talk about a current issue of their choice or develop a topic relating to one of the set texts (I got to see an impressive dramatic monologue based on a character in Rayson's Inheritance the other day).
I haven't yet spent much time thinking about the return to school next semester- busy stressing over my masters- but I am starting to allow small seeds of excitement to germinate. I'm feeling very happy about my load- as long as I got my wonderful year 11 lit kids back I was going to be thrilled- but year 10 lit has been a somewhat unexpected bonus, and the teasing possibility of some hours in the library delivering the wider reading program to year 7s and 8s (depending on the final shape that the timetable settles in) is like the rainbow sprinkles on a decadent chocolate cake.
... I was wondering this morning what a reader who doesn't know me would make of this hodgepodge of a blog- this somewhat bizarre concoction of discordant notes that even I don't know what to make of. I lurch from one entry and/or pseudo genre to the next with no explanations, noticeable development or direction. I think I've shifted at some point or other from being preoccupied with the thought of an audience and who/what it consisted of to just letting this blog extend into whatever direction it wants to. Oh well. That's probably a good thing (or at least an interesting thing). I think that I do need to work on making these entries more 'bloggish' though, in terms of being hyperlinked and thus connected and multi-dimensional. Hypertext was one of the elements that most appealed to me about blogging to begin with, but it has slipped off my radar screen of late. Hmmm...
Monday, May 22, 2006
My mother tongue is Maeve Binchy novels and ginger fluff sponge, early morning dreamings on the back step, porcelain owls and zygo cacti
My father tongue is quartz and sandstone, toy planes fashioned from beer cans and a Stanley knife, framed photos of black and white beaches
I hear your words and I want them, desperately, but when I try to catch them and pop them in my mouth they splinter and I bleed
So it must be best to leave them in the air
Drifting past my closed lips
Your words are a tapestry; precise and intricate on the surface but turn it over and you can see the garbled mess of knots and listless strands of surplus thread…
So you frame it and nail it to the wall above the striped couch and that’s that- the Symbolic hides the semiotic.
Which should be comforting but it’s not
The semiotic is where my nan has retreated since that imp named Alzheimer’s perched on her shoulders, supping on her memories with a silver spoon. It is the ‘how tos’ and the ‘what fors’ he has crunched and slurped with particular relish- he is saving the precious faces, loving voices and faded wedding photos for last
some days that he will keep jabbing with his spoon for the chink of useless phone numbers and the clink of scone recipes (as though hunting for glinting pence in the Christmas pudding)
other days I pray that he will hurry up and finish his meal so that she can finally lose herself and return to the (M)other where it is warm and safe
these words were not supposed to arrive here
Saturday, May 20, 2006
The quality of light by which we scrutinise our lives has direct bearing upon the product which we live, and upon the changes which we hope to bring about through those lives. It is within this light that we form those ideas by which we pursue our magic and make it realised. This is poetry as illumination, for it is through poetry that we give name to those ideas which are- until the poem- nameless and formless, about to be birthed, but already felt. That distillation of experience from which true poetry springs births thought as dream births concept, as feeling births idea, as knowledge births (precedes) understanding...
At this point in time, I believe that women carry within ourselves the possibility for fusion of these two approaches so necessary for survival, and we come closest to this combination in our poetry. I speak here of poetry as a revelatory distillation of experience, not the sterile word play that, too often, the white fathers distorted the word poetry to mean- in order to cover a desperate wish for imagination without insight.
For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.
Friday, April 21, 2006
I heard what you had to say about educational stuff yesterday. And don't you worry, I didn't believe a word those nasty people said about you knocking teachers just to get the media off your back about the AWB. I believe you, mate, I know that if you said you didn't read those diplomatic cables then you didn't read them. You're a busy man, after all. And I know you'd rather spend your time reading the classics, like that chap Shakespeare's book, Julius Caesar. Or Macbeth. Or King Lear, perhaps.
Schools these days, ay? You send ya kid along to one of these places for a bit of schoolin’, and they come home spoutin’ that Communist bloke and tellin’ their own flesh and blood that they don’t need to mow the lawn no more because they’ve given away the back yard to the aborigines as a ‘reconciliatory gesture’. And, I don’t want to alarm you or nothing Johnny me ol’ mate, but they’re spreading all kinds of porky pies about you. All this stuff about kids falling off boats, workers getting sacked for coming to work, and something unmentionable about you and Indonesia’s behind.
I just thought I’d better warn you, Johnny, because the stuff schools are teachin’ these days is pretty outrageous, especially the public ones. And they’re getting organised. Yep, kids are tapping away on them new fangled mobile phones all over this sunburnt country in a secret code (most likely akin to something the Enemy used during the war, I reckon) that no one else understands. ‘Txting’, they call it. Technology and such has got a lot to answer for, if you want my opinion.
Face it, Johnny, you’ve got to get yourself prepared. Head down into that underground bunker that I know you’ve got hiding beneath Canberra somewhere and watch your back. Take your mates Pete and Nelson with you, ‘cause those crazy kids have got marks on their backs too, from what my sources tell me. Believe me, mate, they’re heading your way in droves. Rows and rows of ‘em, marching, chanting, “Marx, Marx, Marx!”. Sends shivers down my back, it does.
And you know where they’ve learnt all this ‘rubbish’, don’t you Johnny? Yep, you betcha Union Jack you do. After all, you saw it coming, didn’t you? You knew that the day those schools started thumbing their noses at ‘real’ Shakespeare and switched to studying ‘rubbish’ that it was all going to end this way. Ah, the good old days. They should have listened to you, not those ‘trendy’ postmodern professors. ‘Critical literacy’ my ass. Kids should be taught to know their place, and not run around questioning everything. They should be taught the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
Yep, you’ve hit the nail on the head, Johnny, I reckon. Those so called ‘independent’ education authorities better listen to you, if they know what’s good for ‘em. Say, maybe you oughta cut some more of their funding, just to keep them in line, you know? That’ll teach ‘em. Or, try ‘negotiating’ with them like you did with that flag thing a while back. Cut them out of the good stuff unless they hang a picture of you in every classroom. That’ll remind ‘em what real Australian values are. None of this ‘multicultural’ crap.
Yeah, you’re right Johnny, education sucks in this country. The states suck, the teachers suck, the new fangled ‘texts’ (what’s wrong with ‘books’ anyhow?) suck. Fancy those educators wanting to develop our young people into alert, interested and compassionate citizens who can place themselves in someone else’s shoes and understand that there is always more than one side to any story. What sort of country would want a citizenry like that? Yep, you’ve got the answer, Johnny. Drones all the way, I say.
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
The annual compulsory athletics carnival on the oval that nothing short of a death certificate would save you from. I remember them well. Sitting behind ropes watching people run by was not my idea of fun and all my friends were in other houses wearing respectable colours like 'red' and 'blue' not 'white' which, by the way, is not actually a colour, but try telling that to teachers, and what can you do with 'white' anyway, I mean besides wrapping your body in rolls of toilet paper which many students did in my house- the kids with the sparkly red tinsel in their hair on the other side of the flimsy rope that you couldn't cross because if you did you would be hauled back to the patch of grass where all the crazy toilet paper people were must have been laughing at us, but what else was there to do but throw toilet paper around, because if you tried to do something like, oh I don't know, READ A BOOK the school 'protocol officer' would be sure to loom above you without warning and take it from you because that wasn't showing team spirit, even if you argued that you were reading a biography of Mary MacKillop, the woman your house was named for and what could be more team spirited than that it wouldn't fly because he could read the cover and know you were actually reading Jane Eyre. And didn't anyone bother to tell the protocol officer (ex-Navy, I kid you not) that fascism is frowned on in most parts of the world these days, and what does it say about the school's philosophy if they actually think it's a good idea to hire someone for the position of 'protocol officer' (especially some guy with a buzz cut and military training) in the first place? But that's beside the point because the point is that kids whose only attempts to do a triple jump where when they accidentally tripped down the stairs had to sit there all day watching other kids run round and round and not even be allowed to reach into their backpacks to grab their discmans (it was the 90's)to add a soundtrack to the festivities or even resort to doing their homework which was also not allowed on aths day even though it was at school, and I hated it and I could actually run and even won a few ribbons (my best friend and I were fabulous at the 3 legged race, but they took the fun out of that when they cancelled novelty events from the program when I was in year 90), so if I hated it and I quite liked running, what was it like for the kids who hated athletics of any form with a passion, and besides, like I said so often back then, it's not like attending the school musical was compulsory, it's not like there was a school 'debating day' which everyone attended, or an 'art show' that everyone had to come along to, NOooo, the only compulsory activities were for the sports lovers which says quite a lot about a school's priorities if you ask me and fringe dwellers be gone, so there.
Note to reader: I am not really quite as bitter as I sound, just can't resist striving for comedic effect.
Thursday, March 30, 2006
that I had your glove,
the one I stole in fear and trembling:
then I feared
you would be harmed
by the lady who has your service;
so, friend, at once
I gave it back, because I know
I have no rightful claim.
-Castelloza, “Ia de chanter non degra aver talan”, Matilda Tomaryn Bruckner et al (trans.)
This post springs from some of the reading that I have been doing for my masters, which, as is often the case, resonates in other spaces that I occupy. I have been reading about women troubadours (trobairitz) from the Middle Ages. Only a handful of their writings survive, far less than those of male troubadours. These women write within and outside the tradition of fin’amor, in which the lowly poet begs for the love of a usually silent and distant lady, typically the wife of his lord. What I find interesting about this tradition is that it appears to put the lady in a position of power, during a time in history when you expect that women would have very little power at all. The courtly lady rejects the advances of luckless suitors from her pedestal, seemingly entirely in control. What the lyrics of love and pain obscure from the reader however, is the economic code they represent. Laura A. Finke describes fin’amor as “an ideology that smoothed over the contradictions brought about by homosocial competition to control women as resources… It represented aristocratic women as simultaneously on display and inaccessible” (Feminist theory, women’s writing, 1992). The apparently heartfelt poetry of fin’amor had more to do with economics than the love of women, in effect, the poems operated as coinage, a form of symbolic patronage between vassals and their lords. Thus, “the languages of poetry and of sexual desire existed in a dialogic relationship- entangled- with the languages of economics, warfare, and politics” (Ibid).
When women write within the codes, forms and symbols of this tradition, the results are subversive, exposing the power dynamics and struggles that the poetry was originally designed to hide. In the case of Castelloza, the trobairitz I quoted from above, she does not write from the position of a woman in power, and the effect is unsettling. She tries to write about subjects that the code of fin’amor was not designed for, and so her words, meanings and associations swell against the poem’s form, flooding the retaining wall of language.
This is important to me when I am trying to write the voice of a woman narrator who threatens the retaining walls of courtly discourse in a society where women’s speech is considered irrelevant at best. It is also interesting to think about when I am considering the value of having a voice in other conversations and spaces, particularly in spaces where the accepted discourse is somewhat inaccessible, or challenging. I find myself ‘trying on’ different discourses all the time, particularly in various teaching worlds, until they become comfortable. But then, I start to worry about why they have become comfortable, concerned that they slipped over my body like a soft, faded jumper without me noticing. I worry that I am becoming parrot-like, speaking in shared languages to make connections, even if I don’t truly understand the translation.
And so, the anxiety of mimicry leads me here, to think critically about the discourses that I hide behind, to develop my own critical understanding of them. Then, when I put them on again, I will feel at ease because although I’ll be wearing the same soft, faded jumper, I will be standing in my own doc martins.
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Into this wild abyss,
The womb of nature and perhaps her grave,
Of neither sea, nor shore, nor air, nor fire,
But all these in their pregnant causes mixed
Confusedly, and which thus must ever fight,
Unless the almighty maker them ordain
His dark materials to create more worlds...
-Milton, Paradise Lost, Book II, ll. 910-916
Finding yourself in a hole, at the bottom of a hole, in almost total solitude, and discovering that only writing can save you. To be without the slightest subject for a book, the slightest idea for a book, is to find yourself, once again, before a book. A vast emptiness. A possible book. Before nothing. Before something like living, naked writing, like something terrible, terrible to overcome.
-Marguerite Duras, Writing
The storyteller of the tribe puts together phrases and images: the younger son gets lost in the forest, he sees a light in the distance, he walks and walks; the fable unwinds from sentence to sentence, and where is it leading? To the point at which something not yet said, something as yet only darkly felt by presentiment, suddenly appears and seizes us and tears us to pieces, like the fangs of a man-eating witch. Through the forest of fairy-tale the vibrancy of myth passes like a shudder of wind.
-Italo Calvino, Cybernetics and Ghosts
In order to go to the School of Dreams, something must be displaced, starting with the bed. One has to get going. This is what writing is, starting off. It has to do with activity and passivity. This does not mean one will get there. Writing is not arriving; most of the time it's not arriving. One must go on foot, with the body. One has to go away, leave the self. How far must one not arrive in order to write, how far must one wander and wear out and have pleasure? One must walk as far as the night. One's own night. Walking through the self toward the dark.
-Helene Cixous, Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing
The moon had set by now, and the sky to the south was profoundly dark, though the billions of stars lay on it like diamonds on velvet. They were outshone, though, by the Aurora, outshone a hundred times. Never had Lyra seen it so brilliant and dramatic; with every twitch and shiver, new miracles of light danced across the sky. And behind the ever-changing gauze of light that other world, that sunlit sky, was clear and solid...
... And as he said that, the Aurora flickered and dimmed, like an anbaric bulb at the end of its life, and then went out altogether. In the gloom, though, Lyra sensed the presence of the Dust, for the air seemed to be full of dark intentions, like the forms of thoughts not yet born...
-Philip Pullman, Northern Lights, His Dark Materials trilogy
Saturday, March 11, 2006
I have tried to narrow it down, and this is what I am left with.
The story is about:
the life cycle of the moth.... and this quote from Cixous,
"the painter is the one who takes the model's life" and consequently...
"The Oval Portrait" by Edgar Allan Poe, and so...
If music be the food of love... and so the
'mythomania' of love... romance... dancing... dining...
talking back to Tennyson...
...journeying... on and on... and on... what happens in the time between awakenings...
Sapsorrow, the Russian folktale...
Lizzie and Dante... Enid and Gereint...
and this painting by Rossetti...
and this sketch by Lizzie...
and these words, by Margaret
You fit into me
Like a hook into an eye
A fish hook
An open eye.
See? I narrowed it down, though my jabbing pin has missed the butterfly...
You Are A Maple Tree
There's not anyone in this world quite like you.
You are full of imagination, ambition, and originality.
Shy but confident, you hunger for new experiences.
You have a good memory and learn easily.
You are sometimes nervous and always complex (especially in love).
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
I'm back in the classroom this week and it's fantastic. Ironically, I'm teaching more English classes this week while doing CRT work than I was last year with my own classes! Bizarre. My school has been really good about giving me mostly English classes, which is great for me because I get to do some real teaching and good for the students because they still get to spend time with someone who is keen to explore words with them, even though their 'real' teacher isn't there. So, I've been reading stories aloud with all the voices, teaching short story structure using The Simpsons, playing with Bruce Dawe and falling in love with "Katrina", talking with students about their favourite songs and chatting about writing folio ideas and Indiana Jones. Fun stuff.
I've spent a couple of days teaching in our new year 9 campus, a converted rope factory of all things, down the road from our senior campus. It's really beginning to grow on me, there's something wonderfully authentic about this learning space that has undergone its own metamorphosis from workplace to school ground. Industry leaving behind an empty space for learning. There are classes in magical sounding places like 'the ballroom' and students 'drop everything and read' below shady trees. It is a place of spaces, like the huge, echoing, musty hall that no one has decided what to do with yet, so at the moment the students use it to play cricket at lunchtime, hitting balls high into the rafters and sending them ricocheting from wall to wall. They couldn't possibly hurt a space like this, all they do is add to its history. I taught in the main hall, an enormous space without dividing walls, while another class carried on about 20 metres along the space. The kids were great. The walls are bright colours. The ancient wooden floorboards gleam. I like this place. It's not a fairy tale, but I like the spaces.
Saturday, February 04, 2006
John O'Neal (playwright/actor/activist- amongst other things) opened the conference with tears and laughter in his voice. He spoke of many things that stirred me, particularly about the role of art and artists in activism and social change. Our stories are far richer than our arguments, he said. They reveal to us things that we don't even know ourselves.
In the classroom (and beyond), especially over the last twelve months, I have found myself particularly focused on helping students to be critically aware of the messages that bombard them- in advertising, in online environments, in written texts, in visuals, in moving pictures. I have encouraged them to be resistant readers, and to consider texts from other points of view. To resist the accepted lure, the hook, of the art that surrounds them.
This is important.
What I haven't consciously done in a while is to consider this notion from the other side- as a producer of text/art, rather than a consumer of text/art. John O'Neal spoke of the insidious power of art- the way that it achieves its impact on us beneath the level of our logical minds. Such art can have an impact on the way we think, without us necessarily being aware of it. This is how art has the potential to change- change us, change our society.
I want to be a producer of texts that hold this insidious power. Not only that, I want my students to not only be aware of text/art's potential for change, but to be able to use it to dessiminate their own messages.
Walking back to my car beneath swaying red lanterns, I seared with the importance of this.