UNSEEN for discussion: The Time Machine. OCR A level

Another unseen for discussion…

Others:

unseen: Delirium

unseen: Brave New World

unseen: the Road
I found this one tricky for the reason that I know the text quite well and want to apply that knowledge to the scene described. Resist this temptation! Stick to the text as written. It is a setting (locale)- rich passage. I also struggled with literary context – I’m not sure that Star Wars is really valid… ideas please!

This passage is taken from the late 19th Century and is written by a man who must be seen as the originator of the genre of science-fiction Dystopias. Written at a time when Britain was an imperial power seeking to conquer and rule new lands and to attain new wealth from hostile territories such as South and Central Africa, it is no surprise that the plot line focuses on the discovery of new worlds and of a discussion of their socio-political make-up.

Here, the initial focus is on the narrator, who has evidently just arrived on the ‘shore’ of a new world. His impressions are carefully recorded as he looks at his new setting.

Wells uses colour to help his readers to visualize the scene. The contrast seems to be between ‘scarlet’ and shades of red and the ‘inky black’ of the Northern sky. The description of the sky : ‘scarlet, where cut by the horizon’ suggests a great wound which seems to be threatened by the ‘huge hull of the sun, red and motionless’. The sun is turned metaphorically into some form of ship – the colour may suggest a warship, which is mounting guard over what lies beneath. This landscape, a scene of ‘desolation’ is a possible inspiration for Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’, which moves the idea of the desolate and pained landscape from an alien world to a ruined Earth. Aside from the ‘harsh reddish’ rocks, the only colour seen on the ground is the ‘uniform poisonous-looking green’ of the moss-like substance which is growing. The landscape in terms of colour suggests other books by McCarthy such as No Country for Old Men in which McCarthy draws on the colouring of the hostile landscapes of New Mexico as well as writings about the planet Mars, such as his own War of the Worlds. Wells draws attention both to its uniformity and its ‘intensely green’ colour possibly suggesting an unnatural origin.

All can be seen under a sky which is both ‘Indian red’ in hue and also showing a darkness, creating a sense of ‘perpetual twighlight’. The use of the adjective ‘Indian’ is redolent of the time of Empire and would allow the reader to make links in their minds between this traveller and the first colonisers and rulers of the Indian subcontinent. The whole landscape is caught in ‘twighlight’ – a sinking down of the light – not yet fully dark, suggesting the possibility of hope and/or life being present, but on the wane.

Even the stars are described as ‘pale white’ and though they shine ‘brightly and steadily’ they do little to lift the ‘wan’ sky – the colour suggesting ill health and approaching death.

The final element added is the sea. In The Road, the sea is a symbol of hope – the focus of travel, here it is sinister –an ‘oily swell’ that takes on the personified elements of a living thing – ‘rising and falling as though breathing’ – and leaving it’s salt deposits along the shore – pink in the red light of twighlight. As in the science fiction writing of Asimov, the description works best because it is so little altered from our known reality – it unsettles but is not ludicrous.

In this setting, the presumably male protagonist, typical of the genre though not given a clear pronoun here, is seen as a careful and rational character. He stopped ‘ very gently’ and when under threat simply places his ‘hand on the lever and add{ed}s another month’ between himself and the monsters which threaten him. He does not panic under stress, a man of the Empire and the period, just as the hero of Wells’ The War of the Worlds will turn out to be. He has plenty to fear: he has mistaken giant crabs for large rocks and when they move towards him he realizes his mistake. The writing develops into longer sentences in paragraphs 4&5 as the tension mounts and action begins to replace description in the narrative. The crab is a ‘sinister apparition’ suggesting otherworldliness rather in the way that John Wyndham will write about mutated nature in The Day of The Triffids or The Kraken Wakes, it crawls towards him and the slow inevitability of its movement is powerful. Wells has slipped into the second person form of address as his narrator addresses the reader directly to increase the power of the description – ‘Can you imagine a crab as large as yonder table…?’ which suddenly places the threat in the same room as the reader and uses the imagination to turn a normal piece of household furniture into a hostile killing machine. It is ‘metallic’, like Wyndham’s Kraken and Wells is careful to use similes which will be easily recognized – antennae ‘like carters’ whips, suggesting both length and potential pain.

When he is touched by one of these antennae, the narrator describes the sensation as like a ‘fly’ landing – inconsequential- but when he tries to remove the antenna it is withdrawn and the focus moves to the mouth of the creature: ‘all alive with appetite’. The mouth is the focus now: the rest is forgotten. The claws’ descending upon me’ are the personified instruments by which the mouth will be fed.

The narrator calmly makes his escape but little has changed as he regards the same shore and the same crabs at a greater distance. He remains seated in or on his machine and makes no attempt to move away or to explore. There are now more crabs suggesting a greater threat and the sky remains red while the language has taken on a more apocalyptic tone – ‘desolation’, ‘Dead sea’ ‘poisonous-looking green’, ‘thin air’, ‘appalling effect’. There is a change however: a ‘curved pale line like a vast new moon’ has appeared in the Western Sky. On Earth in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun sets in the West and rises in the East. If this moon-line is an indicator of rising hope then Wells has neatly reversed the expected cyclical sequence – the moon suggests hope while the sun seems to aid the desolation of the world and the hope is rising in the West.

Wells was a life-long socialist and his views on colonization and treatment of a downtrodden workforce will not chime with the ruling establishment of Britain in 1895. His new world, an alien landscape, is one which seems to be in the thrall of powerful, unfeeling and cruel masters in the shape of the crabs, but which shows indications that there may be a weak force for the good, symbolized by the weal displays of light from the stars and the moon-line. It is a world redolent of George Lucas’ Star Wars films – evidently influenced by Wells description here – and of the landscape of Tatouine in particular.

The passage does not include any real suggestion of how the narrator will act from here on in the story.

untitled

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Jerusalem (Butterworth): An introduction for students and teachers

I am putting together an introduction to Butterworth’s play. This is the beginning s of the first draft… it is definitely work in progress, but I welcome feedback.
The play appears on the OCR set text list for AS and can be used, therefore for the coursework element at A level, yet there is no published material on the play and OCR have not produced one of their useful guides to give us a hint at what areas of a splendidly rich text they will be focused upon.
I hope some who read this will get in touch with suggestions and corrections… I am still working on it as you can see.

jerusalem-study-guide-draft-1

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Visualiser annotation

In John Tomsett’s new book This much I know… there is a lovely example of modelling annotation for a class, using a visualiser. I ran this today with my Year 10 class – a set who do not find poetry analysis or discussion easy – and I post the result.

new-doc-2017-02-10-10-42-56

This is a great way to help students who are not necessarily ready to move to annotation or discussion of a text without support. The PDF shows a page from the Edexcel IGCSE anthology which we worked on under the visualiser. When I felt I wished to annotate, they were told to copy and I explained why I was writing what I wrote. Yes this is copying, but it is much more. The discussion element broadens and deepens the understanding and the modeled annotation enables them to confidently annotate their own work. For the first time the discussion was ended by the end of the lesson with much more to say.

We discussed the poem in terms of God/Satan, symmetry of good and evil, metaphors of fire and hell, the power and omnipotence of a God who could create the Tyger, the distinction between God and Satan,. the figurative idea of the heavens watered by tears, the alliteration and the rhythmic patterns, the idea of Innocence and Experience…

So much more was covered than in many lessons.  I like this, I had forgotten it and it works.

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Unseen prep: OCR A level

This is my response to a passage from Lauren Oliver’s 2011 novel Delirium. The passage is found below the unseen.

The sound file of the lesson today in which we discussed the passage is included due top absences from the class.  It helps my Year 13 to keep up.

The passage is drawn from a 21st century novel aimed at Young Adults. Dystopia has proven to be a common genre for such writing with the exploration of totalitarian states in works such as The Hunger Games providing material for Hollywood blockbusters.

In this passage the contextual settings of era and the condition under which life is lived is clear and typical of the genre. The piece is set in a future world, one run by scientists and doctors who strive to control the emotions and feelings of the people. Such control has been a staple of this genre since works such as Zamyatin’s  We and Huxley’s Brave New World.  The passage opens with a clear statement that love has been “identified as a disease” by a ruling elite. Time is evidently important to the narrator –a teenage girl- and we are given information about the passage of “sixty four” years and also the countdown to the “ninety five days” before her maturity and the “operation”.  This narrative device – introducing a countdown to an important, yet unspecified event – is a key device in Patrick Ness’ novel The Knife of never letting go, in which the male protagonist is on the run in the days leading up to his birthday and entry to adulthood. Another typical device is the reference to the past as the “dark days”. In a Dystopian novel it is necessary for the “now” to be officially portrayed as the good times and for the “past” to be seen in a negative light.  We see this clearly in works such as Logan’s Run or Brave New World and here the narrator – a girl still in education seems to accept the official notion of a “dark” time which she is lucky to live outside. Her acceptance of the regime is signalled by her choice of “of course” as she opens paragraph Seven by seeming to accept the need for the operations to continue.

Her acceptance is, however , challenged by the two single sentence e paragraphs earlier in the passage. In the first she tells us that the sight of “uncureds” (reminiscent of Orwell’s manipulation of language) remind he of her “mother” and in the second that her life, however good, is marred by “pain”, whether physical or emotional is not clear,  and a possible lack of safety.  The narrator, a girl –a feature of 21st century and especially Young Adult Writing and a break from the stereotypically male protagonists in this genre from HG Wells until the emergence of writers such as Malorie Blackman in Noughts and Crosses made a conscious effort to engage a female readership, is clear in her opening statement. She presents information without embellishment and in a direct manner. Her sentences are simple and straightforward: “ Everyone else in my family has had the procedure already”. The lack of a proper noun for the “procedure” suggests the normality of the action and the level of acceptance  into everyday discourse, much as the clones in Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go refer ot element s of their treatment as ‘donations’ or ‘carers’. The build-up of the unexplained adoption of everyday terms is unsettling and helps to convey the sense of threat found in the new society. She is clear that ‘scientists’ have found a ‘cure’ for the disease ‘amor deliria nervosa’ and the language develops to present love – one of the finest and fullest emotions of a ‘normal’ contemporary world, as something to be feared and shunned.  Again, the idea of controlling emotion to ensure loyalty to a state is a feature of many texts such as 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale, Brave New World and so forth.

As she tells the reader about the process in the first paragraph her language becomes more descriptive and emotive: the list of 3 illnesses which can result and the use of a verb such as “writhing” to describe the sensation of love she currently feels suggest an emotional response which is not evident as she begins her narrative.  The descriptions of those who are diseased are graphic and unpleasant – ‘dragging their nails… their mouths dripping spit’. The reader notices first that it is only girls who are seen to be behaving in this way and may also infer that far from being uncured, these are the victims of some unspecified operation devised by ‘scientists’ devoid of feeling and emotion which has itself left the victims in this parlous state. It is reminiscent of the state in which Alex is left following his ‘cure’ in Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange.

Love is ‘cured’ and the narrator looks forward to being ‘paired with a boy’ in a world in which presumably pairing is needed for procreation but little else. She is supported by an older sister and an aunt – both given names- who seem to have convinced her that the process is a good thing. Her wedding dreams are another common convention – dreams tend to display a view of reality and the subconscious as seen in McCarthy’s The Road  – and the ‘blurs’ of the face of her husband hints at the lack of closeness that will be found between the couple.  This is accentuated by the onomatopoeic heart beat: ‘womp, womp, womp’ suggesting that there is no increase in emotion between the couple. Indeed the narrator seems proud of this fact, suggesting that he rheart does not ‘skip or jump or swirl or go faster’ – a list suggestive of happiness and freedom. This has no place in her new world.

An interesting feature of the passage is that the school system still teaches elements of the ‘old ways’.  The symbolism of the ‘dark days’ is clear – a time of threat and  a lack of clear vision, yet the narrator is aware that there was a time when love was viewed as ‘something to be celebrated or pursued’.  She drops into a second person narrative, speaking directly to the reader as though to a friend or confidant (‘It affects your mind…) and explores the problems which are contained in the ‘Book of SHHH’ and acronym derived from the tricolon title of the book outlining the rules and structure of the new world order, which suggests from its name that this is an area to be kept silent and not to be discussed.  The full title of the book, linking ‘safety’ with ‘happiness’, suggests a euphemistic approach to controlling the thought processes and practices of this society.

There are moments of the text in which the writer presents a surprising normality. I find it jarring to read of the United States, as though the geo-political order has not changed. Whilst Orwell or Zamyatin are at pains to remove the continental nomenclature familiar to their readers, writers such as Ishiguro or Steven King make no attempt to hide the location of their texts from their readers. Not only has the geopolitical system not changed, but neither has the counting of the months and years – the narrator has a birthday on ‘September 3’.  This tangible link to the world of the reader helps to make the narrative more accessible, perhaps, and creates a heightened horror when reading of the ‘invisible, sweeping tentacles’ with which a personified love is said to be ‘choking us’.  The writer uses the easily recognisable feelings associated with love: heart in the mouth, shortness of breath and so forth in a way to accentuate the negativity that has been gathered around the emotion in this passage. The descriptions of suicides – from the hyperbolic and graphic “tear their eyes out or try to impale themselves on the barbed –wire fences” ( the addition of the adjective “barbed” here raising the emotion significantly) to the girl who “dropped quickly” serve to intensify the feeling of entrapment felt by some members of this society.

It is clear that this society, whilst using television to ensure that the deaths are seen as a warning for all, cannot prevent people from taking the ultimate sanction. The feeling of being trapped in an unfeeling system is clear throughout the passage from the clinical descriptions of the ‘cure’ and the scientists by whom it will be delivered. Only at the end of the passage do we get under the cover of the emotions presented by the narrator. Her sentences become short and direct, almost desperate – ‘I’m nervous of course. … I want to get it over with’ both suggest the impending cure as a rite of passage which heralds adulthood.  Ultimately the narrator used an extremely short paragraph to draw attention to her feelings: ‘the deadliest of all deadly things: it kills you both when you have it and when you don’t’ suggests recognition of the cognitive dissonance of her situation.  She seems to crave love and yet also to crave its removal. The suggestion is of a lose/lose situation –an ideal choice for a dystopia.

delirium

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Year 9 discuss The Knife of Never Letting Go

My year 9 boys are working on Ness’s Knife of Never Letting Go. Here they discuss the text at the mid-point of study. Please feel free to use the sound files for critique of Speaking and Listening skills…

NOTE these are broadly off the cuff discussions – preparation was minimal.

 

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Year 11: exploring key passages in TKAM

Sheets created in class in 25 minutes in order to focus on aspects of context, language and plot devices in TKAM.

passages-pdf

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Symbolism in A Doll’s House and The Merchant’s Tale

A resource for my Year 13 to download – created during  a class discussion.

symbolism-work

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Year 13 Dystopia Unseen

This is another attempt at an unseen to provide discussion and critique for Y13 students studying the OCR A level (Dystopia). The passage is from Brave New World and is found beneath my attempt at writing a commentary. Again I have consciously used the SCASI layout I favour. Possibly the hardest thing to realise in an unseen is that there is no answer which will address everything.  Try to hit the mark scheme, work to a planned format and do not be afraid of your opinions, if they are supported from the text.

50 minutes.

The passage is drawn from Huxley’s 1931 novel ‘A Brave New World’. The novel deals with issues around a futuristic society which has replaced the human reproductive process with a mechanised and highly clinical process of cloning known as Bokanoskification. The novel explores ideas around determinism and scientific advances at a time when such topics were being explored in society, following the First World War.

From the outset of the passage there is a harshness to the setting. Described as ‘squat’, the building stands ‘only’ 34 stories – immediately unsettling the reader of the day for whom skyscrapers were still a rarity by the idea of such an immense building being viewed as short and fat. The sign on the faced of the building proclaims the coldness of the process being carried out – ‘hatchery and conditioning’ suggests not only the animal nature of the reproductive process but also the clinical process of preparing the embryos for their life ahead. Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, written in 2006 also deals with cloning and conditioning but the element of science fiction evident in this passage is not found in that novel which focuses more on the moral questions than on the actual process by which the embryos are created.

The ‘enormous’ room within continues to present a ‘harsh’ and sterile setting. The writing focuses attention on a cold and hostile environment: facing ‘north and with a light which ‘glared’ through the windows. The light within is described through a tricolon: ‘frozen, dead, a ghost’ which builds to the conclusion that there was once light in this place – such light is now a mere ghost of its former self. It seems as if the ‘soul’of the building, represented by the light, has been removed. This clinical coldness is perhaps derived from the buildings depicted in Zamyatin’s We (1922) rathe r than from the cosier laboratories found in HG Wells’ novels of the 19th century, such as ‘The Time Machine’.

The room is clearly built on an industrial scale and this is mirrored in the words of the Director when discussing the Bokanovskified egg-  from eight to ninety six buds, and every bud…perfectly formed embryo’. He develops the process over two stages in the writing – ‘buds’ is possibly the only remnant of the idea of beauty and wonder in the act of human fertilisation and it is here being used to describe an inhuman process, devised by an inventor with a name which is Russian in form, suggesting an awareness of the cold regimented life of the new Soviet block, as explored by both Zamyatin and by Orwell in his novel 1984 (1948).

The character of the Director – anonymous and cold, just like the setting, is presented through his speech and his description. His appearance: ‘tall, rather thin but upright, suggests a moral rectitude as well as stature and the students are clearly in awe of him – scribbling frantically as words come from the horse’s mouth. His facial description with the ‘rather prominent teeth and ‘floridly curved lips’ does seem to suggest the physiognomy of a horse -an unsettling image and also one of the few dashes of colour in the overwhelmingly pale interior of the Hatchery. He reveals the hatchery to his ‘boys’ in a manner reminiscent of a magician  –  a man whose dialogue suggests his pride in his achievements. There is none of the revulsion seen in the character of Madame in NLMG.

The worryingly single gender group of students are awe struck by his ‘menacing geniality’, possibly representing a society which can be kind to those who toe the line, reminiscent of so many totalitarian dystopias such as 1984, are singled out as ‘young, pink and callow. Again the colour, suggestive of beauty and fragility of youth is at odds with the harsh white surroundings in which workers pull on ‘corpse coloured’ gloves suggesting that this is what lies ahead for the youngsters – their life drained by the actions and the surroundings in which they work. The workers are ‘plunged’ into ‘scarcely breathing silence’ by the arrival of the Director suggestive of his power and the cowed nature of society, even of the society working in this kind of state sponsored (presumably) establishment.

Huxley presents the passage in a mixture of omnisicent narration and direct speech. The only voice heard is that of the Director and the narrator offers comment which seems possibly ironic when he adds a sentence to the end of one such speech: ‘Rams wrapped in thermogene beget no rams’. It is the narrator who equated the sperm donor to the process of AI in field animals and also the narrator who adds the possibly ironic ‘progress’ to the final paragraph extolling the wonders of science. This could be read as free indirect speech, suggesting the Director’s thoughts, and would be equally valid as a reading – highlighting the Director’s pride at what he does. Huxley also delivers ideas though the use of tricolon ideas such as ‘One egg,one embryo,one adult-normality’. The anaphora stresses the previous status quo – the adult normality of a single embryo from a single egg. The following passage eulogising the new world in which to live clearly stresses the idea of the Brave New World and its apparent progress.

In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Miranda’s coining of the title of this book is used when she looks on the group of dissolute drunkards who have come ashore on her isl;and. That is the irony of the title: it is not an advancement at all. A Brave New World is a mistaken utopia. Consequently as we read Huxley’s novel we carry this intertextuality in our minds. Nothing is quite a wondrous as it seems at face value. Other ideas running through the text include a suggestion of a divided and controlled society.  The Director’s suggestion that all will get a ‘general idea’ is countered by the narrators comment that all would receive ‘as little of one, if they were to be good and happy members of society, as possible’ The slightly complex syntax draws attention to this statement and suggests a society eager to control access to knowledge and by granting the ‘privelege’ of occasional ‘generalities’ the populace is prevented from accessing a clear contextual knowledge of the world around them rather in the manner of the controlled environments in which the clones live in NLMG. They are allowed contact with the outside world, but never enough to feel that they are part of it. Indeed they show no signs of ambition to be part of it, just as the boys here respond with an unquestioning acceptance of all they are told.

bnw

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On Trump: TOK and his ban…

A short activity for ToK students.  We do not offer full ToK at school – we are not an IB school- but I teach an additional studies session of ToK on a Monday. I like to mix my more hypothetical discussions with the sort of ‘real life’material which would form the basis for a presentation.

Trump’s recent ban on immigration from some Muslim countries is such an opportunity.

2-trump

trump-wall

A lively debate ensued.

 

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We are not teaching them to pass exams…

A recent post in the Guardian Secret Teacher  column focused on a school in which plagiarism was given tacet permission to take place as part of the essay writing process. 

I am not surprised by this. I have taught many students over the years who view plagiarism as a fully acceptable approach to essay writing. What is possibly worse is that that do so knowing that if the matter is raised with their parents, the response will be supportive of their position- the argument being that anything is legitimate in the thirst for high marks, as long as one is not caught.

Most  schools have a plagiarism policy which will get tough- eventually. Obviously with so much riding on assessment of outcome rather than process, nowhere is going to act as strongly as some might wish for a first offence.

My feeling is that not to act is to fail as an educator. I do not believe that I am teaching children to pass A levels as a finite action. Surely we teach to pass students to the next level. Primaries are preparing children for secondary study, not for KS2SATS; KS4 is about preparing for A Levels and KS5 is about preparing for further education. To give any suggestion that a lack of academic honesty is acceptable is to fail to provide a good education.

In the internet world, students routinely cut and paste notes, homework and essay content in many schools. Some “educators” suggest that google can and should replace knowledge. In essence this encourages the actions of such short-term practices as replacing research with plagiarism, and replacing hard work with under-considered internet browsing. 

In short, to turn a blind eye to plagiarism is to condone cheating and to condone cheating is to fatally undermine the whole point of education.

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