This British school principal has taken a Systemic Functional Lanugage approach to literacy and run with it with their primarily EALD students. Their short blog is a useful read into practical applications of SFL in education. https://whatslanguagedoinghere.wordpress.com/
The DECD Literacy Secretariat had some excellent resources which are now mostly available on the DECD Intranet. One that was particularly useful is available via DECD intranet > Educating > Numeracy and Literacy > Literacy resources > Engaging and Exploring writing in the secondary years. Sorry Non-DECD schools, these are only available for DECD employees.
If you haven’t already, every English teacher in Australia really really needs to check out the English Textual Concepts website developed by the English Teachers Association of NSW. It is basically a catalogue of the content we need to teach. Our primarily skills based subject can sometimes feel content-lite, especially to new teachers. Go here if you want to know what it is we actually need to teach and when. This is a brilliant achievement. http://englishtextualconcepts.nsw.edu.au/
Nothing is more engaging for fifteen year olds than watching bad-ass teenagers kicking authoritarian butt. I have two Year 10 English classes this year and both feature die-hard Hunger Games fans, so I decided to target teen dystopian texts for our novel and film studies. I’d been trying to figure out how I could hit the content descriptors in the Australian Year 10 English curriculum which focus on ‘value systems’, ‘social, moral and ethical positions,’ and ‘beliefs and assumptions’; dystopian texts seemed a good entry point. Also I am trying to up-skill our socio-economically-disadvantaged students in good-ol-academic skills, like literature analysis, essay writing and referencing.
Overall, this has been one of the most successful units I’ve ever completed with Year 10s. Some of the conversations we had regarding what ‘values’ are inherent in our society, and how they’re reflected in the texts we read and view, were brilliant. I wanted to share what worked well and share the resources I found useful in case there’s another Year 10 English teacher out there looking for Aussie Curric. ideas.
What can we learn about ourselves and our world from this novel?
In the first unit of work, each class read The Hunger Games and completed work with a focus on the ‘life lessons’ the novel has for teenagers. The key question throughout was ‘what can this story teach us about the real world?’
We covered a few concepts first:
‘desentisation’ to violence by TV and video games
Developed vs. Developing countries (and the terms ‘First World’ and ‘Third World’)
the good and bad of Reality TV.
social justice and economic inequality.
My opening to discussing these issues was a standard ‘Agree / Disagree / Depends’ strategy. Label one side of the class as ‘Agree’, the middle as ‘depends’ and the other as ‘Disagree’; once the teacher reads a controversial statement (Reality TV is destroying our souls!), students move to the area which represents their view. They then may be selected to explain their decision; students can move if they change their mind. When this strategy goes well, you have students running the class on their own. It’s always handy to have one or two highly opinionated students as was the case in one of my classes: we spent an entire lesson discussing these ideas.
The statements I posed were:
Reality TV is TERRIBLE: It represents the worst of society; it’s bad for us!
Watching violent movies and playing violent video games encourages teenagers to be more aggressive
It is the responsibility of wealthy countries, like Australia, to help support developing nations: we shouldn’t waste our money on giving them aid.
Every person in our society has the opportunity to be successful … if they just work hard enough!
I was quite sneaky because that last one is particularly salient for the students I work with: rural kids from a low-socio-economic background. I think a lot of Australians believe deep down that those who are in poverty somehow deserve to be in poverty, so most of the class hopped over to ‘Agree’ on that. However, I also have multiple students who come from a background of generational poverty and – given the class is quite cohesive and emotionally comfortable with each other – they stood up and said, ‘Well actually, working hard isn’t always enough.’ The next step was to make a connection between the poverty in Australia and poverty in developing nations: what opportunities for success do sweat shop workers in Bangladesh have? Later, I would make a connection between this and the situation in the Districts in The Hunger Games.
I gave students the following worksheets to consolidate and record their ideas:
To tell you the truth, The Hunger Games novel is not the greatest of classroom texts. While Katniss is a well formed character, there’s some clever use of language, and there are some brilliant concepts leading to good teaching moments (black market trading, poverty, ‘salutes’ and silent protests), the pacing is clunky, the chapters are uneven (with important plot points and dramatic moments sandwiching dull descriptions of food, sulking, Avoxes and makeovers). An editor needed to cut a good proportion of the beginning to get to the much better written Part II (where Katniss competes in the Hunger Games itself). While covering Part I, I tried to read aloud those sections which were critical to the story (‘I volunteer as tribute!’, ‘the girl on fire!’, ‘Thank you for your consideration!’ and ‘she came here with me’) while setting the remainder as (effectively optional) homework reading. Part II was mostly read aloud in class: it’s marvelous seeing the most disengaged boys in the class begging to be allowed to keep reading.
When it came to basic comprehension (vocabulary, journal questions etc.) the majority of the resources I used are easily found online. I bought Tracee Orman’s ridiculously comprehensive Hunger Games package on Teachers Pay Teachers, and hand picked the ‘journal questions’ we completed as we read. I didn’t spend too much time on ‘comprehension’ type activities because the focus was on the general gist of the ideas represented.
We did complete a standard ‘Themes’ based activity at the end, just to get them thinking:
With the final assessment I wanted the students to discuss the ideas, beliefs and assumptions they had developed over the course of reading the novel. I formed these as ‘life lessons’ based on several blog entries I found. I encouraged the students to brainstorm ideas, and then we read studied some of the blog articles. The final assignment asks students to argue whether the novel should be taught next year given how valuable the ‘life lessons’ are for Australian teenagers.
Students could self-select the text which matches their literacy level to read: we use a ‘black, grey, white’ differentiation strategy in our school where black tasks target above average students, grey average and white below average. The texts were leveled using a readability analyser like Readability Score.
Finally, students completed the final assignment: a persuasive writing task where they argued whether the life lessons in the novel make it worthy of being taught as a class text:
Of course, I would do any necessary scaffolding depending on the class, such as showing how to structure paragraphs in a literary essay, how to use quotations etc. I almost always go back to Read Write Think’s Persuasion Mapto get some low literacy kids through the planning stages (yes, it’s still good for fifteen year olds).
The Giver and Divergent Comparison / Intertextuality (Connected Text) Study
We don’t have class sets of either Divergent or The Giver, and with the low levels of literacy in the class, struggling through one novel per year is enough, so I chose the film versions of both.
The Giver (2014)
80’s standby The Giver has hundreds of study guidesavailable for the novel, but few for the film. I found most are pretty useful, except in that the film emphasises the role of the Chief Elder much more, creating a stronger villain.
At this point I led a discussion regarding dystopia vs utopia, in case they were not all dystopian-obsessed teen readers and were unaware of what the terms meant. Aris Dufree’s Prezi on Dystopias is useful for this.
After viewing the film (Is this some old movie, Miss? Why is it in black and white? Hey, that’s Stu from Home and Away. That’s Taylor Swift. No it’s not! Yes it is!) we did a character comprehension check:
In instructed students to leave the Divergent column empty. This was an important step in the assignment ahead as it helped clarify some of the more obscure rules of the Community.
Before watching Divergent, I briefly explained the whole ‘Faction system’ concept and had students complete a faction aptitude test to ‘sort’ into a Faction. There are literally dozens of these tests online but I found the most interesting was the official movie page aptitude test. As this was, of course, blocked by our school’s nanny-software, I ended up using a printed version of this great one on a Divergent fan site. This site also has very good visual descriptions of each faction. Another colleague also teaching the film at the same time as I then did an activity where students could brainstorm adjectives which described the personality characteristics of each faction (sanguine! temperant!). If a student scored highly in two or more factions I told them that they were ‘divergent’ and must not let anyone know.
I also printed out badges from Living Locurto’s Divergent Party Printables. After laminating, I stuck a small safety pin to the back and gave them out. I did it as a bit of fun, but I had toyed with the idea of doing some kind of creative game activity. I found the majority of my class ended up in Dauntless with sporadic Amitys and Candors.
We watched the film, completed a character comprehension check, and then filled in that final column in the comparison chart.
Because of the copious amounts of Aust. Curric. links regarding ‘values, assumptions and beliefs’, I then had the students consider the films in terms of what ‘values’ each society represented. Part of this involved leading students through the process of writing a comparative text analysis essay, a frequent feature of Year 11 and 12 Senior English.
I first had students determine what they believed their values to be, using various tools I found such as Mindtool’s step by step questions. It worked out best to give them a list of values – as can be seen in Step 4 of that page – and to ask them what they believed was important.
The next step was to ask the students what they thought their community valued:
It led to the one of the most interesting conversations I’d ever had in my teaching career, regarding the disparity between what they felt they valued and what they felt our small regional community valued: my students felt the pressure to play sport, play sport, play sport (in Australian rural areas it’s common for life to revolve around local football and netball clubs). I suspect Friday Night Lights (2004) might be an interesting text to cover for this class in the future.
Another interesting aspect was the lack of ‘education’ or ‘good grades’ or similar in either list (except where I added it for myself). This is very typical of Australian students in general (In my experience, I’ve found education is not as highly prized as it is in other countries) but it is particularly the case in small rural communities where getting an education is not seen as all that important (but getting a job, or working hard, is). When I do this unit of work again, I will probably head more in this direction, perhaps having the students do a creative writing task which involves imagining what happens when a value is taken to its extreme; or doing a think piece whereby students theorise which values should be more valued in our community.
I moved students through to considering what values are implied in both The Community of The Giver and the Faction System of Divergent. From there it was pretty straight forward for students to argue which of the systems represented their values the closest to complete the final assessment piece: a comparative exposition:
This task is essentially the framework which I use to complete depth studies into Medieval Europe and The Black Death in Year 8 History.
Each year at the beginning of our Year 8 History course, I ask students to create a medieval identity. The identity is referred to across our depth studies on Medieval Europe and The Black Death. Students use the identity to answer questions, complete tasks, and as a basis for the major assignments.
This has been useful for engagement and critical thinking as students are encouraged to make connections between their worlds and the world we are studying.
This idea was inspired by the Society for Creative Anachronism (the SCA): a roleplaying society who are obsessive in creating historically accurate identities. If you’re curious, check out their website: http://www.sca.org/ and their links to research on the Middle Ages: http://www.sca.org/links/misc.html
Note: I limit the research students do to 14th century England purely so their identity could be a victim of the Black Death!
Download all of the files in a single zip file over at Teachers Pay Teachers (WordPress isn’t keen on zip files these days)
2. Then I invite students to pull a ‘rank’ out of a hat (Medieval Identity Rank Cards).
There is only one royal and a limited amount of clergy (monk/nun), nobility and knights. This provides a talking point about how approximately 5% of the population were the ‘ruling classes’ while the remainder were workers.
3. Students then do the research to find the profile information (Medieval Identity Profile and Medieval Identity Research Links):
a. An appropriate name for a 14th century Englishman or women of that rank.
b. An occupation
c. A family motto
d. A family crest or shield
e. Everyday life including clothing, housing, occupation, free time etc.
8. At the end of our depth study on the Black Death, students complete another major task: Black Death Diary Assignment, whereby they write a diary from the perspective of their medieval identity. Students enjoy this as it is creative and I encourage students to ‘coffee stain’ their paper to get a medieval effect.
That’ll teach me: I should run everything via Snopes.com!
It’s quite amazing though: do a Google search on Ring-Around-The-Rosey and you’ll find more than a dozen websites which appear quite reasonable yet consider the Black Death connection as fact. Generally, I’d be happy if most of my students referenced a site like Rhymes.org.uk – it seems relatively reliable and it’s even an org!
So anyway I rewrote the beginning of my unit to include a source evaluation task: those that can’t do, teach!
It’s available now on TPT at my store, if you’re interested in an activity on Ring-around-the-rosey and source evaluation. The remainder of my Black Death unit is soon to make it there too.