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Silos.
11-26-2013, 11:10 PM (This post was last modified: 11-26-2013 11:38 PM by joeharlowe.)
Post: #1
Silos.
My apologies for the slightly disjointed and unfinished nature of this, but I figured if I didn't put it up as it was, it most likely wouldn't end up being posted.

***

One student is on her hands and knees at the front of the class. She’s a horse, apparently. Soon, she’ll become the attendant at an application counter; but for the moment, she’s definitely a horse. Another student is balancing precariously on her back. She’s a woman, coming to apply for a job in the mines in Dampier, WA. It’s 1970, or thereabouts. The third student in this group is sitting on the edge of a desk, a pen in her mouth. The pen is a cigarette. This student is playing the part of a male miner, unnamed. The desk she sits on is a fence. In just a moment, the horse will begin walking, and the student balanced on her back will struggle to stay on. The miner on the fence will greet her, question what she’s doing out here, and scoff incredulously at the idea of a woman working in the mines. Most of the dialogue will be inaudible, due to laughter from classmates, as the woman struggles to stay on the horse’s back, but the general tenor of the conversation will be clear. The scene will be over almost before it’s begun, and the students will return to their seats, and I’ll tell them I loved their idea.

This is Year 9 English in a small private school for girls, and we’ve been studying Red Dog for a few weeks now. The students have created character profiles in poster form, and spent a couple of classes looking at how the film tries to manipulate the audience’s emotions, with a close focus on cinematic techniques. They’ve done 3 minute oral presentations on a couple of different topics- how the film shows us that animals can bring people together, how it demonstrates the importance of loyalty, whether it presents an idealised view of miners and mining. Just recently, we've been talking about the stories that aren’t told in Red Dog. We’ve talked about the fact that the villains of the film are without a single redeeming feature. That there’s only one character who might be of Indigenous background in the film; that all the narrators are male, and, with the exception of the token love interest, all the main characters are too. (This is a movie that clearly fails the Bechdel test, and the fact that it’s about a dog doesn’t let it off the hook.) I raised the point that environmentalists' concerns about mining aren’t addressed in the film.

The students are sceptical whether any of this is relevant. “But you can’t criticise the film for not talking about environmental issues,” Mia says. “It’s not about that. It’s about a dog.” Someone else agrees. “Yeah, and it’s not about Indigenous Australians. It was the 1970s. Probably none of them worked in the mines. And there are a variety of the people working there… it’s really multicultural. There’s miners from Poland, or Ukraine, or wherever- the ski patrol - and Vanno’s Italian, and there’s even that Chinese guy…”
I agree that it’s pretty multicultural, but point out that most of these characters don’t have lines. “Vanno does. He has loads of lines.” I can feel my point slipping away from me, and try to get things back on course. I've been trying hard not to force my interpretation of the film down their throats, but it's important to me that they begin to consider how what's left out of a text can be important. “I’d like to hear some of these stories expanded a bit, anyway. We’re going to watch a short documentary, Keeper, next week. It’s about some Indigenous Australians who have a slightly different perspective on mining. It might be useful, to have that. And then we’re going to do some role-playing- sorry, you’re going to do some role-playing. Tell some of the stories that aren’t told, or given much space, in the film. The women’s stories, that Indigenous character’s story. Who does he go home to? What do they talk about in the evening? Would he talk to them about Red Dog? D’you think they approve of him working in the mine? Why’d he take the job? Maybe try to look at the Cribbages’ side of things, think about how they would have seen the situation, what they would have said to each other as they drove away in their caravan...”

So this is how we end up with a student on her hands and knees in front of the class, being a horse. This group is acting out the kind of reception a woman turning up for work in the mine might have received in 1970s Dampier. They’re falling short of portraying the sexual harassment female miners could well have been subjected to- still are, in some places - but clearly aware of it, and I’m wondering did they hear something on the radio about it recently, because I know I did. Maybe, being female, they’re just more aware of these things than I was, at their age.

But time’s up, and tomorrow, we’ll be looking at scripts, at the conventions and a model, and the students will start writing their own, based on these role plays, or any other ideas they might have. They’ll spend three classes working on them, finishing them before they go on camp, then return for only one week more. We’ll lose one class to a CV writing session, for business studies, and have only one more class together before the end of the year. And I’ll find myself wishing we could have done something with their scripts.

Why didn’t we plan to include performance of their scripts, or a selection of scripts, or have the students read a selection of scripts and nominate the best one to perform, after they’d written them?

Because I’m not a Drama teacher. Performance is Drama, not English, I tell myself. (A quiet but insistent voice tells me this is wrong. Tells me the divisions between subjects are artificial, that this is one of the “mythologies or theories” Boomer (1992) suggested we adopt “a consciously irreverent stance towards”. There is no English, Drama, Art, Science. There is only learning.) So more likely, it’s because I feel eminently unqualified to help students prepare a scene, or even, really, to give them much constructive feedback on it.
Sketching a brief act quickly in class, the bare bones of a performance, didn’t seem like it would be too much. The scene is set, the characters outlined; a minute of dialogue. Nothing elaborate, nothing fancy. But at times, even that much left me deeply uncomfortable. How to respond to a proffered explanation for the Cribbages refusing to allow Red Dog in the caravan park; their daughter dead on the ground before them, mauled by a dog? “Perhaps, Esther, the Cribbages are unlikely to have laughed so much while their daughter was dying?”

Ideas about learning through doing, about authentic tasks and integrated curricula are much on my mind lately. The possibility that one learns something about scriptwriting through performing a script they’ve written. I’m taken with the notion that writing a script for review by one’s peers, with a view to eventual performance, is an entirely different task from writing a script for your teacher to read. The belief that it’s when students begin to see the connections between areas of study that learning occurs. The possibility of collaborating with someone from the Drama department, to stage scenes written by students, excites me. (And the idea of having someone from the Drama department work with the students on the performance aspect relieves me.) I’ve read research that demonstrated an integrated Drama-English curriculum could have benefits not only on students’ performance in English, but also on their performance in mathematics and on their level of school engagement overall. (Tabone, Walker & Weltsek, 2011)

So as we outline the timetable for next year, I'm thinking about how we might plan for some kind of genuine performance. Maybe at the end of the year? And I'm thinking about lining up some work on poetry and short stories with a local competition; about camp, and what type of reading or writing we might do in preparation for it, or when students come back from it. And about how to involve students in this planning process.



Boomer, G., Lester, N., Onore, C., & Cook, J. (eds.), (1992). Negotiating the Curriculum: Educating for the 21st Century, (pp4-13) London: Falmer.

Walker, E., Tabone, C. & Weltsek, G. (2011). When achievement data meet drama and arts integration. Language Arts, 88(5), 365-372.
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11-27-2013, 10:00 AM
Post: #2
RE: Silos.
(11-26-2013 11:10 PM)joeharlowe Wrote:  My apologies for the slightly disjointed and unfinished nature of this, but I figured if I didn't put it up as it was, it most likely wouldn't end up being posted.

***

One student is on her hands and knees at the front of the class. She’s a horse, apparently. Soon, she’ll become the attendant at an application counter; but for the moment, she’s definitely a horse. Another student is balancing precariously on her back. She’s a woman, coming to apply for a job in the mines in Dampier, WA. It’s 1970, or thereabouts. The third student in this group is sitting on the edge of a desk, a pen in her mouth. The pen is a cigarette. This student is playing the part of a male miner, unnamed. The desk she sits on is a fence. In just a moment, the horse will begin walking, and the student balanced on her back will struggle to stay on. The miner on the fence will greet her, question what she’s doing out here, and scoff incredulously at the idea of a woman working in the mines. Most of the dialogue will be inaudible, due to laughter from classmates, as the woman struggles to stay on the horse’s back, but the general tenor of the conversation will be clear. The scene will be over almost before it’s begun, and the students will return to their seats, and I’ll tell them I loved their idea.

This is Year 9 English in a small private school for girls, and we’ve been studying Red Dog for a few weeks now. The students have created character profiles in poster form, and spent a couple of classes looking at how the film tries to manipulate the audience’s emotions, with a close focus on cinematic techniques. They’ve done 3 minute oral presentations on a couple of different topics- how the film shows us that animals can bring people together, how it demonstrates the importance of loyalty, whether it presents an idealised view of miners and mining. Just recently, we've been talking about the stories that aren’t told in Red Dog. We’ve talked about the fact that the villains of the film are without a single redeeming feature. That there’s only one character who might be of Indigenous background in the film; that all the narrators are male, and, with the exception of the token love interest, all the main characters are too. (This is a movie that clearly fails the Bechdel test, and the fact that it’s about a dog doesn’t let it off the hook.) I raised the point that environmentalists' concerns about mining aren’t addressed in the film.

The students are sceptical whether any of this is relevant. “But you can’t criticise the film for not talking about environmental issues,” Mia says. “It’s not about that. It’s about a dog.” Someone else agrees. “Yeah, and it’s not about Indigenous Australians. It was the 1970s. Probably none of them worked in the mines. And there are a variety of the people working there… it’s really multicultural. There’s miners from Poland, or Ukraine, or wherever- the ski patrol - and Vanno’s Italian, and there’s even that Chinese guy…”
I agree that it’s pretty multicultural, but point out that most of these characters don’t have lines. “Vanno does. He has loads of lines.” I can feel my point slipping away from me, and try to get things back on course. I've been trying hard not to force my interpretation of the film down their throats, but it's important to me that they begin to consider how what's left out of a text can be important. “I’d like to hear some of these stories expanded a bit, anyway. We’re going to watch a short documentary, Keeper, next week. It’s about some Indigenous Australians who have a slightly different perspective on mining. It might be useful, to have that. And then we’re going to do some role-playing- sorry, you’re going to do some role-playing. Tell some of the stories that aren’t told, or given much space, in the film. The women’s stories, that Indigenous character’s story. Who does he go home to? What do they talk about in the evening? Would he talk to them about Red Dog? D’you think they approve of him working in the mine? Why’d he take the job? Maybe try to look at the Cribbages’ side of things, think about how they would have seen the situation, what they would have said to each other as they drove away in their caravan...”

So this is how we end up with a student on her hands and knees in front of the class, being a horse. This group is acting out the kind of reception a woman turning up for work in the mine might have received in 1970s Dampier. They’re falling short of portraying the sexual harassment female miners could well have been subjected to- still are, in some places - but clearly aware of it, and I’m wondering did they hear something on the radio about it recently, because I know I did. Maybe, being female, they’re just more aware of these things than I was, at their age.

But time’s up, and tomorrow, we’ll be looking at scripts, at the conventions and a model, and the students will start writing their own, based on these role plays, or any other ideas they might have. They’ll spend three classes working on them, finishing them before they go on camp, then return for only one week more. We’ll lose one class to a CV writing session, for business studies, and have only one more class together before the end of the year. And I’ll find myself wishing we could have done something with their scripts.

Why didn’t we plan to include performance of their scripts, or a selection of scripts, or have the students read a selection of scripts and nominate the best one to perform, after they’d written them?

Because I’m not a Drama teacher. Performance is Drama, not English, I tell myself. (A quiet but insistent voice tells me this is wrong. Tells me the divisions between subjects are artificial, that this is one of the “mythologies or theories” Boomer (1992) suggested we adopt “a consciously irreverent stance towards”. There is no English, Drama, Art, Science. There is only learning.) So more likely, it’s because I feel eminently unqualified to help students prepare a scene, or even, really, to give them much constructive feedback on it.
Sketching a brief act quickly in class, the bare bones of a performance, didn’t seem like it would be too much. The scene is set, the characters outlined; a minute of dialogue. Nothing elaborate, nothing fancy. But at times, even that much left me deeply uncomfortable. How to respond to a proffered explanation for the Cribbages refusing to allow Red Dog in the caravan park; their daughter dead on the ground before them, mauled by a dog? “Perhaps, Esther, the Cribbages are unlikely to have laughed so much while their daughter was dying?”

Ideas about learning through doing, about authentic tasks and integrated curricula are much on my mind lately. The possibility that one learns something about scriptwriting through performing a script they’ve written. I’m taken with the notion that writing a script for review by one’s peers, with a view to eventual performance, is an entirely different task from writing a script for your teacher to read. The belief that it’s when students begin to see the connections between areas of study that learning occurs. The possibility of collaborating with someone from the Drama department, to stage scenes written by students, excites me. (And the idea of having someone from the Drama department work with the students on the performance aspect relieves me.) I’ve read research that demonstrated an integrated Drama-English curriculum could have benefits not only on students’ performance in English, but also on their performance in mathematics and on their level of school engagement overall. (Tabone, Walker & Weltsek, 2011)

So as we outline the timetable for next year, I'm thinking about how we might plan for some kind of genuine performance. Maybe at the end of the year? And I'm thinking about lining up some work on poetry and short stories with a local competition; about camp, and what type of reading or writing we might do in preparation for it, or when students come back from it. And about how to involve students in this planning process.



Boomer, G., Lester, N., Onore, C., & Cook, J. (eds.), (1992). Negotiating the Curriculum: Educating for the 21st Century, (pp4-13) London: Falmer.

Walker, E., Tabone, C. & Weltsek, G. (2011). When achievement data meet drama and arts integration. Language Arts, 88(5), 365-372.

Hi Joe

I really enjoyed reading this! It reminded me of teaching pre-service English teachers at Monash- we divided the group into smaller groups and gave them all the same short poem, then a very short amount of time to turn it into a performance, then watched the performances. What was amazing was how different each performance was. But I remember feeling that we could have done so much more with it all if I had a better grounding in drama myself, vowed to do some reading to explore this, and have not done it yet! Why not? I wonder if I have some kind of confidence crisis with drama myself? Does it engender the same kind of fear in us as poetry? I was confronting a double fear there, with Performance Poetry! But when you are brave enough to try it, it always goes so much better than feared, or so I have found.

I wonder how the hierarchy of learning areas inherent in the order of writing the national curriculum serves to demote drama further- I have heard "they" are working on the massive omission of suggesting any possibility of links between the silos, but imagine what it would be like if we had started the procedure of creating a national curriculum with, say, Drama. That's "Drama", too, not some wishy washy thing subsumed into "The Arts". What a different world that would be, with some sort of new humanism (critical humanism?) informing education, not the idea of students as "capacity machines" developing skills for a global economy (that's Angela McRobbie). Then next maybe Art, or Health and PE, enacting the bodily turn in theory in education. And imagine if the template for each subject necessitated suggesting links to every other subject area! As a really upfront thing in the online version, flashing maybe, in bright colours! Maybe in the Rationale.

I was reading an article the other day about how medical courses in the UK are trying to include compulsory study of the humanities in their degrees, because research has shown that this creates more humane doctors. This is really ironic when humanities in schools in the UK are under threat in the Govian imaginary (Michael Gove, UK Education Secretary)! Maybe English is a kind of Farenheit 451 type repository for the humanities stuff that might get crushed out of the curriculum- "English" is up there, one of the first subjects to be national curriculumised, because it ostensibly (and arguably) "contains" Literacy. But we can keep Drama, and Media and Art etc alive (and work to reinvent and reinvigorate them) in our memories and in our classrooms behind closed doors! Then one day...
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