Combining the creative with the critical

Often, IB teachers of the Group A Language and Lit courses regret that there is not much opportunity to do more creative work with their classes. But short exercises can be incorporated into our classes and many of us do that.  Here is one exercise which has not only produced some very lively original pieces with my students, but also raised their consciousness and refined their sense of how prose is constructed and how different effects are created. Obviously there ...

Summer Investigations(3) Works on the PLT: Cheese

For the last of these recommendations, a work composed in Dutch by a Flemish author, A.J de Ridder, writing under the pseudonym, Willem Elsschot.  To my knowledge, Cheese, has not appeared on any IB Language A: Literature syllabus, and I'd like to make the case that it might be very apt, particularly when people are looking for something to include that is not 'dark and depressing,' a request that often comes up in discussions and workshops. Originally published in 1933, this ...

‘Talk nerdy to me’: Delivering a winning IOP

The challenge of standing before your classmates and not just getting, but holding their attention,  is not a small one; in fact, that part of your audience is even more of a challenge than--yes--the attention of your teacher.  It's true that she or he is going to write down three marks, that this is your IB assessment, that it represents 15% of your overall grade.  But, let's look at it in larger terms. Here is a chance to try out your ...

Summer Investigations (2) Works on the PLT: The Thief and the Dogs

As we try to balance shorter and longer works in our hopes that students will fully read and engage with the texts in the syllabus, I think we are all inclined to look for works that work;  for works that are reasonably riveting for all of our students and that expand our sense of the complex world we live in, that foster some growth in both understanding and reading skills. People often find that Crime and Punishment, a work of considerable ...

Sound should make sense: better poetry commentaries

Sound should make sense: just as the poet uses sound to enrich the meaning as well as the emotional and pleasurable aspects of poems, so should you try to write sensibly about the linking of sound to meaning in your commentaries.  What does the poet gain by manipulating the sound possibilities of language? One of the challenges candidates face when so writing about poetry is how they can usefully address the sound effects that are both present in and intended by ...

Abstract? General? Vague?–or just not understood?

Here’s something we often find as students try to express their ideas about the literary works they’ve read, and it’s captured in statements like these: ‘The causes of the hero’s death are abstract.’ ‘The town is presented in abstract terms in the poem, rather than with particular features that give the reader a clear sense of the setting. ‘The final outcome for the married couple in the ending of the play seemed to me abstract.’ ‘The moon acts in frightening, abstract ways in Lorca’s plays.’ It’s ...

Beyond Persepolis (2): ‘The Arab of the Future’

Although this work is not on the PLT, you might just want to consider pairing it with Persepolis in Part 1, and including it in Part 4, since the two works could create a more rounded view of growing up in the Middle East.  The leading character is a charming fellow with an unforgettable profile.  The work is originally in French, by Riad Sattouf, and like Persepolis, is published in two volumes with perhaps more to come. There is a fine ...

Writing tips #3: Get to the point!

Some of us (teachers and students alike) are handicapped in delivering what we want to say in the most direct way (17 words) --or to put it another way-- we all have trouble being direct (6 words). Sometimes this weakness arises from a love of words, sometimes from being inattentive, sometimes because we don't really clearly know what we mean to say. Here are some common evasions of directness, clarity and persuasiveness that often appear in IB writing. A good exercise would ...

Writing tips #2: Conventions make readers happy. . .

. . . and a happy reader (examiner) is likely to have a friendly response to what you write.  So as your final effort for 2016, the one where you are determined to 'get better' and eliminate the nasty gremlins in your writing style, give your writing an honest look at these three matters: The convention of punctuating a work's title in your essays and responses to questions. The convention of only talking about one thing at a time, a ...

A contemporary poet for complicated times

I’d like to recommend the poetry of Daljit Nagra as an entrance into the many complex issues that we are all living with these days, the issues of identity, multicultural life, migration. Sometimes literature can open up new avenues of thinking about our place in the world, and I have to say that Nagra’s work is appealing to me on those grounds. I also think that his energy and straightforwardness as they come through in his videos and in his poetry ...