Posts Tagged ‘ambiguous character’

WOW (The Play) – Act III of Shifting Thinking

November 4th, 2009

No liveblogs from me today until now – this was day 2 (Act III) of Shifting Thinking and I think I can unashamedly claim that it was AWESOME! (And we still have another hour and a half to go).

The day began for me at 6.55am with a phone call letting me know that one of my castmembers was unwell and hence I would have to play her role in the secret “surprise” opening to Act III – a short 15-minute play I’d written especially for the Shifting Thinking conference.

(The play, in case anyone is interested, is called “This is school: Or, Changing the Script”)

So picture this.

You are an audience member at the Shifting Thinking Conference. You arrive on time (as instructed) and file into the theatre. Onstage are four people, sitting on chairs, chatting quietly to one another, apparently oblivious to the incoming audience. You chat to the person next to you, until a message appears on the screen behind the stage: “Quiet please”

A hush comes over the crowd. And suddenly, a cellphone is ringing! A woman, in conversation on her phone, walks onstage. She is saying something about a dress rehearsal….. wait a minute! I think a play is about to unfold onstage!!

Changing the Script

Changing the Script

Click here to watch a video of the play!

This was how we began Day 2. Our 15 minute play attempted to encapsulate, with humour, some of the main tensions, challenges, quandaries, and opportunities that have threaded through the entire ST Conference. “Changing the Script” was play within a play. The main character, a director, attempts to stage a nice, simple play about school. Her actors have all come to rehearsal on time, they have their scripts in hand, but little does the director know that at today’ rehearsal, nothing is going to go as she has planned it.

The two actors playing the “teachers”, for example, don’t even seem to have read the script, and immediately they begin to suggest doing things differently (despite the director’s pleas to simply act their parts as they are written in the script).

As for the actors playing the “students”, well one of them has already figure out he’s supposed to be a so-called digital native, and he’s more interested in listening to podcasts than listening to the director. Meanwhile the other student has abandoned all interest in this silly little play – she is far more concerned with what she sees as the impending doom of environmental catastrophe. And to top it all off, people who aren’t even IN the script keep interrupting the rehearsal asking to be written into the play!

The poor director. She doesn’t know who wrote the script, but she is desperate to execute it exactly as it is written. How can she cope with all these questions and these highly uncompliant actors!

If you were at the Shifting Thinking conference, you’ll have seen what happens…

So I’m wondering, did this play make sense to you? Did it make you think?Do you think we ought to write a sequel for the next ST conference? (heheh if we ever dare stage such an ambitious conference again)

Conference: November 2009 , , ,

Malice is in the Eye of the Beholder

July 8th, 2009

We all know the story of Cinderella, the classic fairy tale of rags to riches. But I’m sure most of us have never stopped to think about why this story continues to be read to children around the world, the complexity of the characters, and the social messages that you can extrapolate from it. The illustrations alone in Cinderella: An Art Deco Love Story retold by Lynn Roberts and illustrated by David Roberts, tell a compelling story of a battle of class, gender and belief systems.

The social themes underlying the art deco version of Cinderella are important to take note of in analysing the characters, because it is the underlying socio-cultural themes that reveal their complexity. In interpreting the characters motives and actions, it becomes clear that Cinderella and her step-family are far from moral opposites because they are ultimately pursuing the same agenda by the same set of cultural rules and norms.

Briefly speaking, Cinderella: An Art Deco Love Story is set in a society in which women are objects whose value is determined by the men in their lives. They are not valued for their hard work or intelligence, but as a physical manifestation of a man’s material wealth. Therefore women are concerned with men, beauty, and fashion, as they play an important role as signs of class distinction and social status. The material objects in the illustrations are important signs of this relationship.

This thinking object evolved out of a previous thinking object based on Cinderella: An Art Deco Love Story, titled How much is Cinderella’s father to blame for her situation? which provided students with a framework to analyse the moral ambiguity of the father character.

Because of the complexity of the imagery, it makes rich material for students to analyse as an exercise in visual literacy. The resource we have developed allows them to critically explore the subjective truths we are presented within the story of Cinderella, of a narrative of good vs. evil,  by asking ” How malicious is Cinderella’s stepfamily?” and “How much is Cinderella to blame for the bad situation she finds herself in?

A framework for the analysis of the images is provided. It allows students to address these questions and look at the ambiguity of Cinderella and the stepfamily’s characters – characters whose morality is usually assumed. Life is never as simple as good vs. bad. The question is why and what makes them behave the way they do, and how is this information conveyed in the imagery and constructed through interpretation.

I’m aware that is this is a visual analysis thinking object – without the illustrations – (for some reason copyright prohibits me putting the book online). But due to the pervasiveness of the story of Cinderella I hope that it provides you with an interesting idea of how to critically analyse imagery with students, in encouraging a subjective interpretative process.

Please feel free to post any feedback you may have regarding this thinking object as a resource. And if your work at NZCER you are welcome to borrow a copy to look over with the thinking object.

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The Good, the Bad, and the Ambiguous

May 12th, 2009

For a long time I’ve been thinking about the fiction read in primary classrooms – in particular about characterisation. Overwhelmingly, if characters are morally ambiguous in any way they tend to have come right by the end of the story – “I used to think my brother was a bit of a loser but now I realise he’s kinda cool” sort of thing. But what is there to say about a character like this? The “reformed character” theme has been spelt out for the reader; there’s no work left for them to do because any indeterminacy present at the beginning has been neatly removed by the end – presumably because the writer and/or publisher thinks kids can’t handle moral ambiguity. Our research, in contrast, suggests not only can kids handle indeterminacy, but their thinking becomes deeper and more complex as a result of engaging with it.

Our research (The Lifelong Literacy project funded by the Cognition Education Research Trust) includes an exploration of kids’ meaning making of morally ambiguous characters. One of the teachers we are working with chose the father in Cinderella: An Art Deco Love Story because in this version of the story he doesn’t just have “goody” or “baddy” status – he has both. We have provided a brief outline of the teacher’s first lesson in the Thinking Object: How much is Cinderella’s father to blame for her situation? In this resource we briefly describe the support given to the teacher prior to the lesson, and the teacher’s and researchers’ thinking about why the lesson was so successful.

It’s our hope that you will take a look at the Thinking Object and leave comments about how useful you think a resource like this might be for classroom teachers and teacher educators. In effect, your comments will provide an informal review and will help us to refine the design of future resources of this type.

Click here for a pdf version of the Thinking Object.

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