Writing a personal response – Unit 1 English

As year 11 students you are the lucky ones that will be VCAA’s guinea pigs for the brand new VCE English study design. Like you, it is all new to me and I have to get my head around how to teach in a different way and ensure that you are still achieving the outcomes required for the study area. I have attended countless hours of professional learning for this new course and I am a little excited about experimenting and developing new ways of teaching texts that previously weren’t included in the old design.

The first changes to the course happen mostly in Unit 1. Both areas of study are new to us teachers and to you. Some of you may have dabbled in these areas in Year 10 as your teachers were figuring out what exactly they were doing, but overall it is a new style of writing and thinking that is being encouraged by VCAA which I think is great.

The first unit is about responding to text on a personal level. What this means is that you will study a text as you would for analysis but when you write a response to it you can include your own personal thoughts about how ideas, issues, and themes are explored. The official language from the study design is, “On completion of this unit you should be able to make personal connections with and explore the vocabulary, text structures, language features, and ideas in, a text.” What does this mean?

It means that you still have to understand how a text is constructed to create meaning but also bring in your own interpretation and personal experience to the response. There is no set way to do this and that is the whole point of this task. VCAA are moving away from set structures and specific ways of writing and they actually want you to take ownership of your writing and to be creative in how you respond. Some students are super excited about this and others need the structure, so what I want you to achieve from this post is a bit of both: guidance for some, but for others the structure that you require. Remember there is no correct way and your teachers may teach you other formats to take into consideration, so listen to them and then build on those ideas. I’m just providing you with one option and one approach.

One of the questions I had when I first started to put this new course together was, how can I expect a 16/17-year-old to write about their personal experiences to a text when they are so young and haven’t actually had that much life experience to bring to their writing? Then I realised I was looking at the idea of ‘personal’ all wrong and that I was focusing on the literal meaning, rather than a more symbolic one. Personal is how you want to write your piece but also how you bring your own understanding of the world of the text into your own writing.

To start you need to understand the text that you’re studying.

The key skills that you need to demonstrate include:

·develop strategies for inferential reading and viewing

·consider and explore:

ideas, concerns and tensions presented in a text

characters, settings and plot, and point of view and voice

how vocabulary, text structures and language features create meaning

·engage productively in small group and class discussion, including listening to others

·develop, share and clarify ideas with peers and teachers employing appropriate strategies for discussion and debate

·plan and develop personal and analytical writing about a text, including the use of appropriate metalanguage to discuss vocabulary, text structures, and language features use textual evidence, where appropriate, to support writing

What to consider whilst studying a text

Your teacher will go through the text with you and analyse its elements to ensure that you take down detailed notes and annotations on the above skills as outlined by the study design.

One way to take down notes is through a journal. I have attached a template that will help you break down the text and how consider including a personal reading of the text as well.

What is meant by the personal response?

When considering your personal connections to the text break it down into four categories

  1. Global
  2. National
  3. Local
  4. Individual
  1. Global – What events are happening on a global scale that you have an understanding of that connects to the ideas presented in the text?
  2. National – What is happening in Australia either currently or has happened in the past that relates to the content and themes within the text?
  3. Local – This is your local areas, such as Melbourne, or Victoria and the examples that you can think of that resonates with the issues of the text.
  4. Individual – If you can personally relate or know of someone who has experienced a similar situation

These are talking points in your written response to add depth to your discussion.

How do I write my response?

You don’t often hear teachers say this because for years we have been drilling TEEL and specific writing structures in your English classes, but you have the choice to write this how you want. There is no number of set paragraphs, no need to avoid using personal pronouns, and there is a lot more autonomy in YOUR writing (just as long as you adhere to and demonstrate the key skills).

Depending on how your teacher approaches this task depends on what you need to write about. I will go through how I intend to set out the requirements of the task to my Unit 1 class.

  1. Students will respond to a prompt that is a statement about one of the underlying themes presented in the text
  2. They will write an extended response that demonstrates how that theme is explored in the text with textual evidence
  3. They will also include evidence of how they have responded to these points on a personal level through one or more of the personal categories (global, national, local or individual)

I have set out a template that you can download to help with some planning and how to break down ideas from both the text and your own evidence from the personal connections that you have made. You do not need an example from every category, just the ones you feel resonate the best.

Remember that this is just a guide, you can be agile and play around with the structure if you wish. The more confidence you have as a writer, the more freedom you should take in developing your own style of writing. If you need a structure that is completely fine, use this example as one way to approach your writing.

This post is primarily for both us as teachers and you as students to understand what we are both working towards for this outcome. I may provide updates as I continue to learn and develop new resources throughout the course of this term for this area of study because it is a work in progress and nothing is ever perfect or set in stone. We are learning alongside you as we go on this crazy ride of the new study design, but I can’t wait to see what sort of work you produce.

Remember that if you have any questions, or you need me to clarify anything, please reach out in the comments or email me directly at ivaroncevic78@gmail.com or you can follow me on Instagram by searching ronnies_ramblings (the link is on the homepage).

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