Introductory activities

Tapping into prior knowledge and values

It is assumed that basic knowledge of poetic forms, techniques and functions will have been addressed earlier in this course. As a way to revise these aspects of poetry and to introduce Wright’s work, ‘Five Senses’ (p.186) can be used. As a two-stanza poem of only ten lines each, it is ideal to conduct a short close reading to revise poetic techniques. Its imagining of poetry as a theme in itself offers an opportunity to become acquainted with Wright’s own perspective of a poet’s role and artistic challenges.

Activity: Artistic interpretation

Draw two pictures that represent ideas concerning the poet’s role and/or challenge using the image depicted in each of the two stanzas.

Use the pictures, with relevant references to the poem, to drive a discussion about the nature and functions of poetry.

Historical context

Many of the themes and issues that concerned Judith Wright and which are reflected in her poetry still resonate in contemporary Australian culture. Students will come to appreciate that Wright’s poetry explored some of these themes and issues before they became fashionable, relevant or even actively considered by many Australians. Of course, Wright also explored universal themes common to all poets in all times.

Activity: Prior understandings placemat

Prepare five large sheets of paper, each with ONE of the following headings and numbered one to five:

  1. Life and death
  2. Indigenous Australia
  3. The natural world/environmentalism
  4. Regional Australia
  5. The past (personal, historical).

Before the activity, ask students what major challenges Australia faces in the present and into the future. Guide students towards recognising any broader categories that the range of suggestions might fall under.

Instruct students to consider the topics given for each placemat in terms of:

  • ‘Identify any issues, events, thoughts or feelings associated with each topic.’ (This statement can be included on each placemat or written up on the whiteboard.)

Students split into five equal groups and spend some time (two to four minutes) considering the issue/theme on each placemat. Each group is numbered one to five, with Group One starting on theme one, Group Two on theme two, etc. At the end of the round, each group moves to the next theme: Group One goes to theme two . . . and Group Five goes to theme one. Continue this process until each group has visited each theme. Teachers may allow one more rotation so each group can view the completed placemat of their original theme.

Collect the placemats and discuss interesting contributions as each one is blu-tacked to the front of the room.

Extension (time permitting): Students can be asked to rank the topics in terms of urgency and/or importance for Australian society to deal with. A discussion of the different rankings can follow.

Actively listen to a lecture on Judith Wright 

Have students actively listen to a lecture on Judith Wright by Professor Lyn McCredden, broadcast on Radio National’s Poetica program.

Note: The McCredden lecture is located about half-way down the Poetica web page. The total length of the lecture is 50 minutes, but for the purposes of this activity, it is sufficient to end the lecture at 47:30.

Using the Note-taking Framework (PDF, 64KB), students will record useful information about:

  • Judith Wright’s personal history
  • significant ideas in poems related to identified themes (those that were considered in the previous placemat activity)
  • specific features of selected poems
  • comments related to Wright’s poetic craft.

Following the lecture, students should take time to compare notes and discuss the different ways Wright’s ideas and themes developed over her life.

Optional: Prior to listening to the lecture, students can be instructed to read one or more of the featured poems and attempt to identify relevant themes and ideas (independently, in pairs or in groups). The poems discussed in the lecture and page numbers are listed in the Note-taking Framework.

 

Personal response on reading the text

Students select one of the poems discussed in the lecture and create a mind-map that forms connections between different ways of reading it. If possible, it would be useful to have print-outs of the poems available to stick to a larger sheet of paper. The branches of the mind-map can then emanate from the poem, with relevant connections and annotations. An opportunity to address the Information and Communication Technology General Capability exists with this task, by allowing students to use an online mind-mapping tool.

Mind-maps can reflect upon:

  • questions and comments while reading the text
  • personal connections with students’ own experiences
  • identification with characters, places, events and issues
  • language and structural features
  • imagery
  • contextual influences (biographical, historical, literary)
  • exploration of themes, ideas.

After being given the opportunity to do this individually, it would be worthwhile to enable students who have mind-mapped the same poem to compare observations, ideas and responses. Finally, students can be instructed to write about a given number of branches from their mind-map (the number can be determined by teacher discretion).

 

Synthesising task/activity

Students undertake a close reading of the poem, ‘For Precision’ (p.129), and compare it to ‘Five Senses’ (p.186). Both texts deal with the topic of poetry, and from this comparison:

  • Students identify various purposes, challenges and approaches to poetry.
  • They explain how two or three of these aspects are captured by one of Wright’s images or other use of language.
  • Students compose a short free verse poem that makes use of an image or other poetic technique to capture the essence of something (element of nature, feeling/emotion, object, event, etc).

Reading Judith Wright

Where time permits, students will gain a richer understanding of Wright’s poetry by exploring the following topics.

1. Details of Wright’s background and experiences:

  • Wright’s pastoral family background in Armidale, NSW
  • the places she lived – New England (NSW), Mount Tamborine (QLD) and Braidwood (QLD)
  • her consideration of women’s roles in life and society
  • her long-term relationship with novelist and philosopher, Jack McKinney, and, later, respected public servant and advocate for Indigenous rights, Nugget Coombs; an article from The Monthly magazine, ‘In the Garden: Judith Wright and Nugget Coombs‘ offers a good insight into these relationships and the links with her poetic and critical output.
  • her political awareness and engagement through World War II, the nuclear threats of the Cold War, the Vietnam War, 1960s campaigns for Indigenous self-determination and the 1967 Referendum. The dual nature of Wright as poet and activist is explored in Veronica Brady’s reflections, contained in ‘Judith Wright’s Biography: A Delicate Balance between Trespass and Honour‘.

2. The times in which she lived, including significant events and social changes:

  • the world events mentioned above, but also the new radicalism and activist activity of Western countries in the 1960s.

3. The literary traditions from which she gained inspiration and which contributed to the central concerns of her poetry:

  • romantic poets such as William Wordsworth or W.B. Yeats, whose influence is evident in Wright’s nature poetry. In her essay, ‘Romanticism and the Last Frontier’ (1958, revised 1975), Wright asserts the Romantic movement ‘enhanced not only the idea of Nature, but the idea of Man as her interpreter and as a creator in his own right, not of natural forms but of art’ (cited in Hawke, see Digital resources). In a 1963 interview on ABC television, Wright refuted the description of herself as a nature poet. Rather, she replied, ‘My real interest . . . is the question of man in nature – man as a part of nature . . . the question of nature as a symbol for one’s experience has always seemed to me to have a great deal in it’ (cited in Hawke). As a corollary to the nature focus of the Romantic tradition, Wright’s writing of urban life mirrors, to some extent, William Blake’s corrupt and destructive cities. The opening pages of Bruce Bennett’s ‘Judith Wright, Moralist‘, offers useful insights into Wright’s Romantic influences.
  • modernist poets such as T.S. Eliot and his prophetic warnings about the destruction of modernisation and industrialisation
  • Australian writers, particularly Charles Harpur, in his depiction of the natural world, and Miles Franklin in her representation of women and rural life.

4. The formal and stylistic traits of the work:

  • Wright uses a variety of forms in her poetry, from traditional forms such as sonnets to more ‘contemporary’ free verse forms in her later poetry. Her recurring symbols often attempt to convey the productive interconnectedness of humankind and the natural world; therefore, birds, animals and other aspects of the natural world can represent eternal truths that are just as relevant to human existence as to the world of nature. Wright’s efforts to develop a symbolist language that could translate the Romantic ideals to an Australian landscape are covered in detail in ‘The Moving Image: Judith Wright’s Symbolist Language‘, by John Hawke. A portion of the ABC television interview mentioned above sees Wright talking briefly about her challenges to find an Australian symbolic code and can be found on the Australian Screen website.

Activity: Comparative study

The chart below provides suggestions for examining recurrent themes in Wright’s body of work, as well as comparing contextual influences and elements of construction. By exploring multiple poems within a theme, teachers can address the Literature, Unit 2 outcome: Students compare and evaluate the form, language and content of literary texts, including the ways in which text structures, language features and stylistic choices provide a framework for audience’s expectations, responses and interpretations.
(ACELR023)

Teachers can choose poem sets based on personal and/or class preference, identified themes to focus upon, or cohort considerations. As with any poetry study, a close reading is recommended for all selected poems. This includes identifying the subject matter and ideas expressed or alluded to, as well as the tone and mood conveyed. How these aspects are conveyed and/or represented are also the focus of the initial close readings and include such poetic elements as structure, language choices, imagery, rhythm and sound. As a revision of the close reading process, and an opportunity to deliver a ‘flipped lesson‘, a YouTube video demonstrating a close reading of ‘Hunting Snake‘ can be set for students to view.

While such an approach will work adequately when analysing poems in isolation, the Notes and Links column in the table below provides additional avenues for a comparative study. Teachers may nominate aspects to compare in each set, for example:

    1. The wide expanse of time covered by the poems in the Indigenous issues set lends itself to a comparison of how various contexts (personal, historical, social) affect the representation of Aboriginal people and their culture.
    2. The different subject matter and representations in the War set can be compared to identify different ideas concerning the theme of international conflict.
    3. The two poems from the same year in the Pioneers set can be compared in terms ofstylistic choices, including structure/form, language choices and rhythm, and how they convey a particular tone or mood.
Poems, themes and subject matter   Notes and links
Indigenous issues
‘Bora Ring’ (1948, p. 8)
‘Nigger’s Leap, New England’ (1946, p. 15)
‘At Coolalah’ (1955, p. 140)
‘Two Dreamtimes’ (1973, p. 315)
‘The Dark Ones’ (1976, p. 354)
The tension between Wright’s pastoral family history and her despair for the ill-treatment of Aboriginal people, the violent dispossession of their land and destruction of culture, is well documented. Wright addresses this in her book of essays, Born of the Conquerors (a title taken from a line in ‘Two Dreamtimes’, p.315). In the preface, Wright expresses the genesis of this tension and how it impacted her later responses to Aboriginal issues. To guide the reading of the preface, students can be asked to identify passages that reflect or shed light on any of the poems listed in this set.In a 1963 ABC television interview (video extract), Wright talks of ‘conquering’ ten years before the term appears in ‘Two Dreamtimes’.Compare Oodgeroo Noonuccal‘s poem ‘We are Going‘ (1970) to ‘Bora Ring’ (p.8) and ask students to comment on how their knowledge of the cultural backgrounds of the two poets influences their response to the poems.
Pioneers
‘Country Town’ (1946, p. 13)
‘Bullocky (1946,
p. 17)
Consider the way the two poems represent rural life as both a precious, almost lost thing, and also a place of complex intersections of love and suffering. Ask students to locate the aspects of love and aspects of suffering represented as part of pioneer life.
Wright’s family/pastoralist heritage 
‘South Of My Days’ (1946,
p. 20)
‘For a Pastoral Family’ (1985,
p. 406)
Wright’s views towards her New England family and forebears can be seen to shift during the period after 1946 when ‘South of My Days’ was written. Two of Wright’s prose works, The Generations of Men (1959) and The Cry for the Dead (1981) give some insight into Wright’s shifting attitudes and growing political awareness. Of course, it is impractical to look closely at these texts within a short unit of work, but the essay, ‘Judith Wright; the basis of our nation?’ explores the ideas and themes within the two books, along with a number of insightful extracts.
Humanity and the natural world
‘The Killer (1949, p. 50)
‘Hunting Snake’ (1985, p.411)
‘Trapped Dingo’ (1946, p. 9)
 A YouTube video demonstrating a close reading of ‘Hunting Snake‘ can be viewed in flipped mode.
The early poems listed in this set pre-empt some of Wright’s later activism. Students can be asked how these poems signal her later environmental concerns.
Cities
‘Metho Drinker’ (1949, p. 50)
‘The City’ (1970,
p. 274)
These poems present an opportunity for students to compare Wright’s grim representations of Australian cities to poems such as William Blake’s ‘Tyger, Tyger’ (1794), ‘London’ (1794), T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ (1920) and ‘Preludes’ (1911).
Politics
‘Australia 1970’ (1970, p. 289)
‘Brief Notes on Canberra’ (1976, p. 351)
Guide students in a discussion of the complex blend of emotional, rational and political responses to Australia in these poems.
War
‘The Company of Lovers’ (1946,
p. 7)
‘The Two Fires’ (1955, p. 119)
‘For One Dying’ (1970, p. 259)
Students may compare representations of war and/or destruction in these poems, written at different historical junctures.
Female experience
‘Woman to Man’ (1949, p. 27)
‘Woman’s Song’ (1949, p. 27)
‘Woman to Child’ (1949, p. 28)
‘Eve to Her Daughters (1966, p. 232)
While these poems represent the intimacies of female experiences, they also offer the opportunity to discuss the iconic feminist tenet, the personal as political, in direct and indirect ways. See also, the the Gender readings section in the Significance in the wider world part of this unit.

 

The writer’s craft

Poetic form and structure

Wright is well-known for the various elegiac modes she explored during her career. She wrote in less formal poetic modes later in her career. For instance, ‘Bullocky’ (p.17) displays a regular metre and rhyming scheme, within which the romantic, nature-inspired imagery of a past experience signals the formal elegiac mode of the poem. In contrast, ‘The City’ (p.274) consists of an informal structure and tone, with the irregular line structure conveying the sense of corruption and disorder of the city. Students can be asked to discuss how the imagery represents its respective place/s as idyllic or unnatural.

Rhyme and sound devices – alliteration, consonance, assonance, onomatopoeia

The mournful and meditative effects achieved by long vowel sounds can be demonstrated with ‘At Cooloolah’ (p.140), with phrases such as ‘Cooloolah’s twilight’, ‘heir of lake and evening’ and ‘time past’. End rhymes/half-rhymes/alliteration emphasise the consideration of violent events and unfathomable loss that are the themes of the poem; for example, ‘wars/fears’, ‘ghost/past’, ‘spear/fear’.

Persona/voice

Wright often assumed a third-person omniscient (wise and authoritative) persona, as in the poems ‘Metho Drinker’ (p.50) and ‘Bullocky’ (p.17). Yet the persona she used could, at times, be playful (‘Magpies’, p.169) or satirical (‘Brief Notes on Canberra’, p.351). In ‘Woman’s Song’ (p.27) and ‘Woman to Child’ (p.28), the voice of the poem conveys the intense intimacy that befits a mother speaking to the child in her womb. In these poems, as in others, she addresses the subject of the poem directly and so conveys the intimacy of dialogue. Consider the responses elicited from the intimacy established in the first lines of ‘Woman’s Song’: ‘O move in me, my darling/for now the sun must rise;/the sun that will draw open/the lids upon your eyes’.

Imagery

Wright is famous for her use of rich nature imagery. This not only includes detailed, poetic descriptions of places and creatures, but also the way she often personifies the landscape to suggest the natural connection between humankind and the natural world. Consider the following lines, for example, from ‘South of my Days’ (p.20): ‘. . . part of my blood’s country,/rises that tableland, high delicate outline/of bony slopes wincing under the winter’.

Allusion

Wright often uses biblical, classical and literary allusions. In ‘Bullocky’ (p.17), for instance, consider the effect of biblical allusions in creating a mythic land/mind-scape that the bullocky inhabits with ‘fiends and angels’. Students can be guided to consider what this representation of the itinerant worker might suggest about Wright’s values and beliefs, and how this representation of a lost world is contiguous with the biblical notion of ‘The Fall’ .

Use of parallels and contrasts

This technique is nicely demonstrated in ‘Two Dreamtimes’ (p.315), by the way that the poem traces the similarities and differences between the lives of Judith Wright and fellow activist/poet, Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker). Wright asserts that the love of the land that she and Oodgeroo share make them ‘shadow sisters’, while acknowledging, ‘I am born of the conquerors, you of the persecuted’.

 

Synthesising task/activity

Following the close readings and comparisons, students are given the opportunity to articulate their observations and interpretations in a series of paragraphs. These are intended to provide experience in referencing multiple texts to support a point. Modelling expectations is recommended since students may have little prior experience in such writing and may lack confidence. An important skill to develop will be the use of linking (or transition) words and phrases such as: similarly, unlike, on the other hand, in contrast, etc.

The topics for each of the paragraphs can be in terms of (for example):

  • a comparison of poetic devices used in poems of related themes
  • a comparison of imagery dealing with similar subject matter
  • a comparison of language choices to convey mood and tone
  • comparing the ideas represented in poems with a related theme.

Ways of reading the text

Eco/environmental reading

From her earliest writing, Wright is preoccupied with nature and places, but it is useful to trace the forms that preoccupation takes. Wright depicts landscape at ‘close quarters’, repeatedly returning to write about the places where she lived, often in intimate portraits of particular locales or small creatures. In their specificity they often signify wider truths of human and natural existence. The related, more troubling side of Wright’s passion for the natural world is the poetic manifestation of her eco-activism. While only some of her poems deal directly with the destruction of nature, even the poems less overtly ‘political’ are most certainly eco-poetic in that they poeticise the innate and metaphysical value of the natural world. In the spirit of critical inquiry, students can be asked to consider whether or not they think that Wright over-simplifies the processes of industrial development and environmental conservation.

Compare Wright’s representations of the natural world in her poetry to the work of Western Australian poet John Kinsella, particularly in Sacre Coeur: A Salt Tragedy.

Race readings

The profound empathy behind Wright’s depiction of Indigenous Australians has inspired the admiration of many and was evidenced by many friendships Wright held with a number of Indigenous people. However, using the methods of critical reading – reading ‘against the grain of the text – one could argue that some of Wright’s earlier poems on this subject, such as ‘Half-Caste Girl’ (1946, p.19,) tend to infantilise Indigenous experience or sentimentalise/aestheticise their suffering. One might also argue that Wright, in her profound love of nature and the land, tended to ‘Indigenise’ her experience in a way that was unjustified; loving nature does not mean that one’s experience is ‘Indigenous’.

Gender readings

Judith Wright was writing poetry during a time when Australia was, as has been widely recognised, a discriminatory and sexist place. Yet Wright’s valorising of the ‘natural’ function of both child-bearing and rearing could be described as an ‘essentialist feminist’ perspective – the belief that giving birth to and raising children is inherently empowering. Wright’s own forays into the public sphere, including the act of writing poetry itself, were powerful acts of resistance to patriarchy. In a critical reading, one might consider the ways in which these two modes of Wright’s life could come into conflict.

Consider, for example, the following quote from Germain Greer’s The Female Eunuch(1970) in relation to Wright’s poems:

A housewife’s work has no results: it simply has to be done again. Bringing up children is not a real occupation, because children come up just the same, brought up or not.

Class readings

Someone from a less privileged existence than Wright’s (she was, after all, a member of the rural land-owning class with a university education) may find some of her depictions of rural life condescending. Rather than the hardship of the bush offering a spiritual or transcendent experience for poor itinerant workers, one might argue instead that they endured lives of unrelieved misery. Such considerations can affect responses to romanticised visions of the Australian pioneer such as that depicted in one of Wright’s early poems, ‘Bullocky’ (p.17), revealing to some extent Wright’s complex class position. A useful comparison can be made between Wright’s ideas about the land-owning rural class and the grimmer depiction seen in Dorothy Hewett‘s ‘Legend of the Green Country‘.

Still, it must be remembered that Wright became a committed socialist and this political commitment emerged markedly in later activity. Her later poetry and prose contributions to public discourse led her to be considered a champion of the Left. The eulogies from left-wing publications (World Socialist Web Site and Green Left Weekly) reveal the high regard the political Left had for Wright’s activism and creative output.

Reading through discrete critical ‘lenses’

The following paragraph describes some interesting features of Wright’s career and readers will notice how categories such as gender and race politics are part of an integrated discussion. While it can be a useful critical and intellectual practice to ‘read against the grain’ of a text using critical lenses, such as those above, it is worth remembering that it is artificial to separate the gender/class/race aspects of a text.

One of the most obvious facts about Wright’s work is the way that her energised political engagement cannot be separated from her poetic output. From the earliest moments in her career, many of her poems were linked to historical/political events including World War II, the nuclear attacks on Japan, the nuclear threat of the Cold War, the Indigenous Rights movement of the 1960s and the Vietnam War. Arguably, however, it is as if many of these poems didn’t find their optimum moment of reception until the rest of Australian culture ‘caught up’ with some of the key issues of Wright’s social critique some 30 or so years later. This prolonged national and pedagogical engagement with Wright’s work, spanning at least half a century, prompts us to consider the poet A.D. Hope’s reference to Wright as a ‘sybil’ in 1972. While elements of Wright’s poetry have doubtless proved prescient, it is productive to consider A. D. Hope’s famous epithet, particularly in the way that a ‘sybil’ is a term for a specifically female seer or prophet, and implies that her insights are in some sense mystic or even mystically feminine. While Wright wrote many poems that communicate the realm of the personal, the subjective and the individual, it is also clear that much of the energy, insight and virtuosic poeticism of Wright’s poetry come from processes that are keenly intellectual, erudite and analytical. While Hope may not have intended to diminish Wright’s achievement through this act of nomenclature, to represent her insights as somehow instinctual or ‘channelled’ from a divine muse not only implies a degree of sexism, but detracts from the serious knowledge that underpinned her work, including her engagement with Australian literary forebears, British Romantics, and the wealth of classical and biblical allusions that shaped much of her work. It could be claimed that Wright’s work has been the subject of study in a way that might be thought of as opportunistic, only called upon when it serves a particular purpose. Fuller studies of Wright’s complex and diverse body of work, as might customarily be performed for a male writer or artist, have been absent until more recently.

 

Evaluation of the text

As representative of Australian culture 

Judith Wright’s work was introduced to many Australian students in the 1970s and 1980s thanks to her omnipresence in English textbooks and anthologies, particularly through her nature poetry and her poignant lyrics concerning the passing of the patterns and rituals of Australian pastoral life. Few children would have progressed through primary and secondary schooling without reading at least some of her nature poems, such as ‘The Killer’, ‘Hunting Snake’, ‘Trapped Dingo’ or ‘Magpies’  – their combination of rich poeticism and brevity make them perfectly suited to the classroom. The much anthologised early poems ‘Bullocky’ and ‘South of My Days’ are euphonious and elegiac. Inspired by Wright’s childhood as part of a New England farming family, they combine a lament for the end of the old ways of rural existence, with a romantic homage to the authenticity of human experience gained from the pared-back starkness of rural life. With such frequent inclusions in English programs, it is as if Wright – that great lady of Australian poetry – had assumed her pre-ordained place in the English classroom textbook and the Australian Literary Canon, alongside Banjo Patterson’s romantic visions of ‘The Bush’ and Henry Lawson’s lyrical renditions of pioneering hardship.

However, the Australia of the 1990s to 2000s saw social changes that led to Wright’s work as a poet-activist come to the fore in a way that problematised the notion of Wright as the suitably apolitical ‘lady’ poet of Australian English, encouraging educators to turn to the thematically dense and conscience-pricking stuff of Wright’s collective body of work. Firstly, the 1993 Mabo decision and other key moments in Indigenous rights brought Wright’s poems of Indigenous dispossession to the fore. With the nation’s growing awareness of the longstanding abuse and exploitation of Indigenous Australians, Wright’s poems such as ‘Bora Ring’, ‘Nigger’s Leap’, ‘New England’, ‘The Ancestors’, ‘At Cooloolah’ and ‘The Dark Ones’ assumed a greater role in high school classrooms. Of particular cultural resonance was Wright’s difficult and painful assessment of her own complex part in Indigenous dispossession, particularly as she uncovered the history of her pioneer-pastoralist forebears. In a connected way, a renewed focus on environmental activism in the face of increasing evidence of global environmental devastation grew in prominence in the first decade of the 2000s, and many of Wright’s poems of nature and place, most of them published at least three decades earlier, emerged and/or re-emerged in the classroom. They remain fresh and topical in their sophisticated eco-philosophy and spatial sensitivity.

Activity: Brainstorm

What other Australian texts (novels, stories, films, songs) have dealt with similar themes?

Indigenous experience: for example, Philip Gwynne’s Deadly, Unna?, Craig Silvey’s Jasper Jones, the films Rabbit-Proof Fence, The Tracker, Samson and Delilah, Jack Davis’s short stories and plays, Archie Roach’s songs, Paul Kelly’s song ‘From little things big things grow’, the ABC television drama Redfern Now.

Other suggested categories:

  • rural life
  • Australian environmental devastation
  • Australian womanhood
  • loss of national virtue, longing for a better past.

Significance to literature/the world of texts

Mind-map the various themes of Wright’s work, linking them to non-Australian texts that deal with similar issues of environment (FernGully, Baraka, An Inconvenient Truth, Crude), Indigenous experience in the New World (Pocahontas, Dances with Wolves, The New World, The Mission, Avatar), women’s experience of the 1950s and 1960s (The Hours, Mona Lisa Smile, Far From Heaven), and experiences of disillusion with one’s own society or nation (Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, American Beauty, No Country for Old Men).

 

Rich assessment task 1

In this assessment task, students embark on a creative response to a self-selected Wright poem. This response is in the form of a video interpretation and brings together a student’s understanding of the poem’s theme/s, mood and subject matter with application of Information and Communication Technology, thereby addressing that General Capability. Also, this task addresses the Literature, Unit 2 Create imaginative texts content description: ‘transforming texts studied in one medium or genre to another for different audiences and purposes’ (ACELR035).

The approach and scope of the assessment will be dependent on the recording and editing facilities available to students. Those with school-supplied laptops should have basic film editing and voice recording software already installed. If this is not an available option at a teacher’s school, there are online editing tools available such as Loopster, which work on computers and mobile devices. While students may wish to film their own footage, there is also an option to source Creative Commons material for this project. Such an approach draws student attention to appropriate use of intellectual and creative properties, addressing the Organising element of ‘creating with Information and Communication Technology while applying social and ethical protocols and practices’.

Note: It is possible that some teachers may prefer a pared-down approach to this task that avoids the video production component. In such a case, many of the same objectives for the task can be achieved by having students complete the poem transformation with images presented via PowerPoint, Keynote or Prezi. In this case, the reading can either be recorded or read out directly to the class.

The task

Students select a poem from the Judith Wright anthology and transform it into a visual text that effectively conveys an appropriate mood and tone, while complementing the words with appropriate images. A restriction is that the full text of the poem is not to be displayed (students may use well-chosen key words for creative purposes). Instead, their video productions need to contain a voice recording of their reading of the selected poem.

A separate component of this assessment is to have students submit a 500-word rationale for the creative decisions they have made (that is, they should explain their choice of images, the pace (of visuals and reading of poem), choice of background music, tone of voice in reading, etc).

Synthesising core ideas

Activity: Panel discussion

Panel discussions are ideal vehicles through which students demonstrate understandings and gain experience in engaging in literary discourse. The activity presented here is not formally assessed so they gain confidence in the format (although panel discussions can be used as an effective assessment mode). It is also designed to act as a revision of major concepts and knowledge covered during the unit and takes advantage of small group discussion to explore ideas, clarify concepts and develop skills. The audience will also benefit from each panel discussion by listening to other interpretations and responses to Wright’s poetic and critical works. Since the panel discussion requires students to synthesise knowledge and skills gained over previous lessons, extensive preparation time is not required. In fact, minimal preparation time is preferred so students focus on revising what they know and avoiding having the activity distract from their formal assessments.

Teachers can follow these suggested guidelines:

  1. Divide students into groups of four or five.
  2. Each group chooses three poems that will be the central source of textual references for their debate.
  3. The time given to each panel discussion should equate to an average speaking time of three minutes per student (that is, 15 minutes for a five-member group).
  4. A simple set of prompt cards can be created to stimulate discussion and should be placed face-down near the panel. Should the panel members struggle to keep the discussion flowing, the top card can be selected to shift the discussion to that topic. These cards can read: language features, themes, ideas, context, structure/form, mood/tone, subject matter/representations and imagery.
  5. Some guidance should be given about the purposes and conventions of panel discussion; principally, it is not a debate where points are given for diminishing the contributions of others in the eyes of the audience/assessor. Rather, all members are responsible for the success of the discussion by maintaining the flow of ideas. This means coming prepared with questions to ask of each other and willingly responding to other members’ comments, whether to agree, disagree, elaborate, seek clarification, or support with other examples. A panel discussion guide (PDF, 58KB) is provided for students to be aware of conventions and expectations.

 

Rich assessment task 2

This research essay assessment allows students to demonstrate their knowledge of Wright’s culturally significant, recurrent themes and the way these are developed through poetic techniques. By not specifying a particular poem, students are encouraged to draw upon the range of poems studied to support their ideas. As a research essay, the assessment also requires students to support their argument with reference to at least two critical analyses. Doing so allows the students to address the following Literature, Unit 2 Content Description: ‘Analyse and reflect on the relationships between authors, texts and contexts including the ways in which informed reading influences interpretation of texts’. Teachers may have given students exposure to some critical analyses in the course of this unit, any of which may be drawn upon in crafting their essay. A recommended list of critical essays that will suit the topic is also provided below.
(ACELR022)

The task

Fellow poet, Robert Grey, once said of Judith Wright: ‘She fulfilled the highest role of the poet, she was the conscience of this country’. Have students write an essay in which they respond to this statement, ensuring that they:

  • Refer to at least two of Judith Wright’s poems.
  • Include discussion of techniques as well as themes.
  • Make direct reference to at least two critical essays.

The length of this essay should be 1500 words.

Recommended critical essays (refer to at least two):

As well as making relevant references to Wright’s body of work to support their discussion, students will be expected to cite critical sources and employ correct referencing conventions. Teachers will need to set clear expectations regarding the use of direct quotes and referencing of critical works based on the past exposure students have had to literature research essays.