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HSC English (Advanced) Course

Module B: Critical Study of Texts

Support Document

This support document has been developed to guide and support the teaching of the HSC English (Advanced) course, Module B: Critical Study of Texts.

Module B is designed to nurture enjoyment and appreciation of significant texts. The syllabus description of this module specifies that students develop a deep analytical and critical knowledge and understanding of one prescribed text, based on close study of that text. Central to the model is a detailed in-class analysis of the prescribed text in its entirety and how meaning is shaped in that text. The ideas expressed in the text are explored through an analysis of construction, content and language, and an analysis of how the features of the text contribute to textual integrity. Discussing and evaluating notions of context and the perspectives of others amplifies the exploration of the ideas in the text, enabling a deeper and richer understanding.

The following documents are provided for teachers to use in their preparation of teaching and learning programs for Module B:

Planning begins with the selection of an appropriate prescribed text within syllabus text requirements (see Section 10.8 English Stage 6 Syllabus) and determining outcomes to be targeted in teaching, learning and assessment for this module.

It is essential that significant class time is allocated to analyse the ideas and the ways these ideas are expressed in the selected text. During the study of Module B, students will revisit the prescribed text through reading, viewing or listening. Through discussion and a range of other teaching and learning activities students will develop their knowledge and understanding of the text so that they can critically analyse, evaluate and comment on the text’s distinctive qualities. They also draft, appraise and refine their own written and spoken texts. In this way, students devote the time needed for development of personal and intellectual connections with the text. These connections are central to study and enjoyment in Module B.  

Students also consider notions of context. This includes the context of the prescribed text’s composer as well as the contexts of others who have responded to the text and the social or historical circumstances which influence responses. Types of context considered will vary greatly depending on the prescribed text selected for study.

Since deep knowledge and understanding of the prescribed text is the primary aim of Module B, it must also be the primary focus in the planning and delivery of the teaching and learning program. Misplaced emphasis may lead students to rely on the views of others, rather than developing their own informed view. Exploring the perspectives of others, and discussion and evaluation of how the prescribed text has been received in different contexts should enhance rather than overshadow a student’s personal engagement with and close analysis of the prescribed text. The view students develop must continue to be supported with detailed textual reference from the prescribed text.

Students refine their interpretation by testing their perspective against the perspectives of others. During this process students consider aspects of the text that they may not have considered previously, thereby deepening their own understanding and sharpening their personal view of the text’s value and its meaning. The teacher’s careful direction of students as they refer to other perspectives will enable them to develop and demonstrate their understanding of the prescribed text.

The syllabus does not require students to engage with particular critical theories in order to generate possible ‘readings’ of the text. Exposure to specific critical theories, such as feminist theory, postcolonial theory or New Historicism, is not a requirement of the English Stage 6 Syllabus in any of the compulsory English courses and modules. A focus on ‘readings’ of a text without a student’s personal engagement with and understanding of the text does not constitute a critical study of text, as required by this module.

Engagement with others’ perspectives of the text is not an end in itself. Substantial and valid ‘other perspectives’ may include the view of a literary critic, of a fellow student, or of the student’s teacher, for instance. The judicious introduction in class of others’ perspectives is a matter of careful professional teacher judgement. The suitability of particular perspectives will depend on the prescribed text being studied and on the needs, interests and abilities of the students.

Module B deals with questions of textual integrity, significance and value. Students must engage with the prescribed novel, film, drama or nonfiction text in its entirety to develop a deep understanding and personal view of the text and to develop their understanding of questions of textual integrity. Similarly, the study of poems or speeches in Module B requires the study of all of the prescribed poems and prescribed speeches.

The syllabus defines textual integrity as:

The unity of a text; its coherent use of form and language to produce an integrated whole in terms of meaning and value. (p 100)

Evaluating a text in terms of its textual integrity requires the students to consider the features and elements of a text and the extent to which it may possess an overall unity, integrated structure and unifying concept. Students’ close analysis helps them to evaluate how these features and elements function in different ways, leading to the consideration of the text’s overall coherence and complexity. In this way, they arrive at a sense of the text’s distinctiveness and enduring, or potentially enduring, value.

The syllabus requirements for Module B suggest a possible sequence of in-class teaching and learning experiences. The suggested approach represented here is neither prescriptive nor exhaustive, but may assist teachers. Teachers may choose to integrate or revisit the phases in the sequence. However, what is indicated here is the balance and emphasis required for students to engage effectively with the requirements of the module.

Personal engagement This phase engages students with the text and its ideas, captures students’ interest, leads them to confront aspects of the text, introduces students to distinctive elements of the text and presents the context of composition.
Development of knowledge and understanding of the prescribed text This phase involves exploration of the ideas that are expressed in the text through detailed and close analysis of its construction, content and language, and examines how particular features of the text contribute to textual integrity. The phase includes reading and re-reading, viewing and re-viewing the prescribed text. Through discussion and a range of teaching and learning activities, students come to develop their knowledge and understanding of the text so that they can imagine, articulate, critically analyse and evaluate the text’s distinctive qualities. They also draft, appraise and refine their own written and spoken texts. 
Development of an informed response In this phase others’ perspectives of the text are explored and tested against students’ own understanding, informed by notions of context. In this phase there is an investigation and evaluation of ways of understanding the text.
Articulation of an informed personal response and understanding This phase affirms a deep individual understanding of the text through thoughtful exploration of questions of textual integrity and significance, with a heightened sense of the complex processes by which meaning is made. Students are able to argue a sustained personal response to the text, based on close textual reference.

Throughout the teaching and learning process teachers facilitate students’ development of a range of imaginative, interpretive and analytical compositions that relate to their developing view of the prescribed text. These compositions may be realised in a variety of forms and media. Wide experience of composing across all language modes will assist students in documenting and refining their developing understanding and view of the text.

In their school-based assessment of Module B, teachers set tasks that are appropriate to the texts and teaching/learning programs they have chosen and designed, and that suit the needs and interests of their students. These programs and tasks are framed in the light of the syllabus description on page 48 of the Stage 6 English Syllabus. Specific requirements concerning weightings of syllabus components and modes for the English (Advanced) course are set out in Assessment and Reporting in English (Advanced) Stage 6

Teachers prepare their students for a range of HSC examination questions as specified in the examination specifications set out in Assessment and Reporting in English (Advanced) Stage 6

Each year the Board of Studies publishes markers’ comments on student responses to the previous year’s HSC examinations on the Board’s website. The Notes from the Marking Centre for the HSC (Advanced) course from 2001–2011 have emphasised the importance of students demonstrating close knowledge and a deep and informed understanding of the prescribed text.

Examples of student responses achieving high marks in English (Advanced) Module B in the 2011 HSC examination can be seen in the appendix.

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Appendix

HSC English (Advanced) Module B: Critical Study of Text

The following is the 2011 HSC English (Advanced) Module B: Critical Study of Texts rubric, HSC examination question and a sample answer.

The sample answers provide possible approaches to examination responses.

Examination Rubric

In your answer you will be assessed on how well you:

  • demonstrate an informed understanding of the ideas expressed in the text
  • evaluate the text’s language, content and construction
  • organise, develop and express ideas using language appropriate to audience, purpose and form

2011 HSC question 4 (c):

In the context of your critical study, to what extent does your response to the closing scenes of Cloudstreet inform your judgement of this novel as a whole?

In your response, make detailed reference to Cloudstreet.

Student Response

Tim Winton’s iconic Australian novel, Cloudstreet has been valued by audiences due to its portrayal of responses to human suffering. The linear narrative follows two families, the Lambs and the Pickles, over two significant decades of 1940-60. My response to Cloudstreet has been an appreciation of Winton’s promotion of wholeness and reconciliation, be that spiritual, physical or relational. By looking at the novel through the lens of its closing scenes, rich in biblical–like descriptions of heaven with “a small congregation amassed in the light” it is possible to reflect on the novel as a whole, as a story in which all elements are on an undisputable path towards ultimate healing and reconciliation.

Winton chooses Fish, a baby caught between his spiritual and physical self after near-drowning, as the omniscient authorial voice of the text. Through Fish’s uniquely Australian voice that shifts perspectives throughout the text, Winton heightens his disapproval of hatred and longing for wholeness. Fish sees evil in metaphorical language as Dolly “drinking and hating up a storm, the shadows bulleting around the library like mullet in a barrel.” Fish’s appreciation of the presence of evil is deeply tangible as he feels, smells and sees the results of animosity and adversity. In second person he comments, “Can’t you still see the evil stink coming through the cracks…? Take your hands off your ears, Fish, and listen to it.” Fish’s deep and earnest longing for the uniting of his spiritual and physical self is evident in his repetitions of “the water”. This repetition grows in intensity towards the ending chapters of the novel as he senses his final moments at the river where he can “taste the muted glory of wholeness”.

It is not only Fish who moves towards a final destination of reconciliation, but also those with whom he lives. The character Rose responds to the adversity of her past relationships with her mother in deep hatred, in that “hating her was the best part of being alive”. This hatred is represented by Winton continually, in simile as “like steel …shiny and bitter and it shone all around like starlight,” demonstrating the destructive power of division. Interesting, the character of Oriel also, metaphorically, “grew steel in her” as she “was angry at God to the point of hatred.” Winton’s emphasis on hatred in the novel adds poignancy to its closing scenes where both Dolly and Oriel, engaged in animosity in other areas of the novel are brought together, “the little boxy woman and the big blowsy woman” demonstrating Winton’s promotion of the healing of relationships and the bringing together of people and things which were once conflicting. This strikes through his use of opposing words, “little” and “big”; boxy” and “blowsy”.

The character of Quick is also inexorably linked to a movement towards healing. Through looking at his life in response to the ending chapters, I have come to appreciate Winton’s novel as a pleasing whole, in which both the physical, spiritual and human aspects of the novel unite in a single purpose. Quick is described in simile as “an old, old man wanting for something he’s been promised”, alluding to the  biblical character of Abraham and suggesting a greater purpose, even spiritual significance to his life.

Yvonne Miel comments that “love shines through Winton’s prose as the operative force by which a mystical sense of wholeness and understanding can be achieved” and this notion is significantly reflected in Quick’s life and his role as a catalyst in the healing of the house in Cloudstreet. The house, known as ‘Cloud Street’ is personified in the text as “living breathing” and “with eyes and ears”. It can also be seen as a microcosm for the Australian nation scarred by the hatred in its past of the Stolen Generation: “a stroke survivor, paralysed down one side”. This is most evident in the “windowless room” where ghosts of the past are described in the alliterative phase, “hating, hurting, hissing” demonstrating how adversity in the past still hurts in the present. Quick’s significance in the ‘healing’ of this house emerges in the closing chapters of the novel as he makes love with Rose in the windowless room, and marvels at the birth of their son, Wax Harry. In these scenes love is personified, “rattles the wallpaper” and “distorts their meatless shadows”. The resulting “freeing the house, leaving a warm clean sweet space among the living”, is therefore significant in revealing the importance of reconciliation in a broader sense, towards resolving the animosity between Rose and Dolly, or Oriel and God.

The river is a motif that runs throughout the novel, suggesting hope and the providence of a higher power. The river is significant in its movement towards wholeness, as not only is it where Fish can finally be reunited with his spiritual self, but a picnic by the river both begins and ends the novel. This picnic, like the very last chapter of the novel, is rich in imagery evocative of heaven, with endless listing of food, as in “the quiet yard where vegetables teemed in the earth and fruit hung”.

Interestingly, the river is reminiscent of the river that flowed through the garden of Eden in the book of Genesis, and Winton’s novel somewhat mirrors the construction of the beginning and ending in reconciliation and perfection. Earth is described in Cloudstreet metaphorically as “rushing down its narrow fixed course, a great river” and by looking at the closing chapters of Cloudstreet, where “yesterday there’d been a fence,” but now there is “a clean sweet space among the living, among the good and hopeful”, it is suggested that the earth is rushing towards a sense of wholeness, even spiritual wholeness.

The character of the Blackfella, a joining together of Christian tradition and Indigenous culture, embodies this journey, as he continually calls Quick to “go home to your home”. The Blackfella alludes to the character of Jesus as “the wine and bread seem inexhaustible” and “the petrol tank stays on quarter full”, his divine qualities suggesting that the journey torwards reconciliation cannot be impeded by humans means. In Winton’s Cloudstreet, all aspects of the novel come together as a unifying whole as the spiritual physical and relational elements move on an indisputable journey towards healing and reconciliation. Through observing the novel through the lens of its closing chapters, I have come to judge Winton’s  prose as a promotion of love, healing of the past, and the coming together of people, as in looking at, Cloudstreet, the final destination of the novel is just as important as the journey to get there.

Comment

This response presents a highly skilful and perceptive argument that views the novel through the ‘lens’ of the final scene. Detailed textual analysis is evident and integrated links to the closing scene are provided. The personal voice in the response is clear, providing evidence of a strong, personal engagement with the prescribed text, and the response is delivered in an articulate and concise manner. The argument is beautifully sustained and the personal judgement is sophisticated.

Examination Rubric

In your answer you will be assessed on how well you:

  • demonstrate an informed understanding of the ideas expressed in the text
  • evaluate the text’s language, content and construction
  • organise, develop and express ideas using language appropriate to audience, purpose and form

2011 HSC question 9

In the context of your critical study, to what extent does your response to the closing statements of Aung San Suu Kyi’s speech inform your judgement of this speech and the speeches set for study?

In your response, make detailed reference to Aung San Suu Kyi’s speech and at least ONE other speech set for study.

Student Response

The closing statements of Aung San Suu Kyi’s  Keynote Address at the Beijing World Conference on Women, 1995,  epitomise the message she presents in her speech. Although she addresses a specific audience and follows a specific purpose, the values she extols of tolerance, equality and peace are universal. In the opinion of this responder, it is the treatment of these fundamental human beliefs and aspirations that makes this speech so significant. As an inhabitant of a developed nation in which the spread of democracy and the importance of woman rights have significantly decreased the advent of inequality and intolerance, Suu Kyi’s ideas are all the more important. It is essential not to take for granted our fortunate and prosperous way of life – we must learn from the messages her speech provides, even if it does not appear at first glance that they apply. This too is my response to Anwar Sadat’s Speech to the Israeli Knesset, 1977.  Like Suu Kyi, Sadat addresses a specific audience with a specific purpose, and the message he conveys to put an end to the conflict and injustice is based on the key values of tolerance and peace.

Suu Kyi’s landmark speech came at the end of the two waves of feminism in the Western world, however the effects of these were still not readily visible in non-democratic countries, such as Suu Kyi’s Burma. By addressing this international forum, Suu Kyi’s purpose is to speak about “peace, security, human rights and democracy” in the context of “the participation of women in politics and governance”. This intention is reflected in the final paragraph of her closing statement, reinforcing her role primarily to inspire her audience, and set the tone for the remainder of the forum. Her message is centred on the idea that the traditional roles of women “nurturing, protecting and caring for the young and the old” may be modernised and applied to politics. Her use of animal imagery and simile in “brave as lionesses defending their young” serves to emphasise their positive characteristics, reinforcing the message that if women are empowered through tolerance and equality, it “cannot fail to result in a more caring, tolerant, just and peaceful life for all”. On a personal level, Suu Kyi’s aspirations are noteworthy, but the generalisations she makes seem to misjudge the complexity of the issues.

While Suu Kyi’s address is more ideological, Sadat’s speech proposes change to a specific instance of conflict, and involves the direct confrontation of what are, in essence, political opponents. Sadat describes it as his fate beneath God Almighty and his responsibility before his people to end the conflict and suffering. At the time, military spending was having a large impact on the Egyptian people. Given the nature of the conflict and mistrust between the Arabs and Israelis, Sadat attempts to unite his audience, reflecting the necessity of unity of purpose for peace to be achieved. He unites his audience through their shared beliefs “We all, Muslims, Christians and Jews”, and hence their shared values of “love, sincerity, purity and peace”. This noble goal of unity is shown too in Suu Kyi’s closing paragraph, and the assertive language of “these, then, are our common hopes that unite us”.

Both Sadat and Suu Kyi argue that for peace and equality to be possible, the key value of tolerance must be universally upheld. Suu Kyi explains the cycle of “intolerance and insecurity” that prevents gender equality in non-democratic nations, and her point of view is given credence by quoting a higher authority, the UN, whose goals are established. Suu Kyi applies her thoughts to the cultural context of Burma, and uses the traditional proverb “The dawn rises only when the rooster crows” to stand for the fallacy of male superiority, that affects tolerance being upheld. The benefits of tolerance are revealed through the juxtaposition of the dark and the light – ‘the darkness of intolerance and hate” is contrasted by the idea that “it is not the prerogative of men alone to bring light to this world”. The concluding statement, in which Suu Kyi uses metaphor and emotive language (“As the shackles of prejudice of intolerance fall from our own limbs”) epitomises her belief.  

Likewise, the value of tolerance is extolled by Sadat, who argues that tolerance of the differences between the Arabs and Israelis, and acceptance of their natural rights can allow change to occur. This notion is expressed primarily through the metaphor of a wall of psychological warfare, fear and propaganda and “a psychological barrier” that stands between the two peoples. This is contrasted by Sadat’s counter-metaphor of an “edifice of peace that builds and does not destroy”. His use of consultation in the phrase “we must all rise above all forms of fanaticism, self-deception and obsolete theories of superiority” reinforces the importance of tolerance. Sadat’s speech was recognised almost universally as a landmark moment in the conflict in the Middle East. Real progress was made, such as the Israel-Egypt peace treaty. As a responder almost forty years later, it is frustrating to see that so little has changed, despite Sadat’s efforts. Only this year did Israeli president Netanyahu agree to revert to the 1967 borders, which is a central element of Sadat’s proposition.

To conclude, Suu Kyi’s concluding statements reflect the most significant lesson the study of these speeches has endowed me with. She extolls the values of tolerance and equality powerfully and effectively to do so, and by virtue of her treatment of deeply held ideals, her message resonates regardless of context. The same notion is evident in Sadat’s address, in which he too uses rhetoric as a vehicle for the transfer of ideas. We must continue to observe the messages of such speeches to remind us of the devastation a lack of regard for tolerance and peace can cause, leading us to embrace and value to a higher degree these beliefs on which our “lucky country” is founded.

Comment

In this response, all elements of the question are skilfully addressed. The response presents a perceptive understanding of context, language, forms and ideas. A precise understanding of context in terms of viewpoints of the authors as well as their own is evident. The response presents an integrated and sustained argument that does not lose sight of the question. Skilful analysis is supported with clear references to Suu Kyi’s closing statement. This response is fluent and articulate, with a strong personal voice.

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