English Concept Research Project (Part 2)

Central to the incorporation of English textual concepts are the

learning processes which textual concepts like ‘point of view’ aim to foster – and can foster:

  • Connecting (eg. between different modes of expression, and different types of text, and between different textual concepts, eg. ‘point of view’ and ‘intertextuality’)
  • Engaging critically (eg. with issues of gender and diversity)
  • Engaging personally (eg. with a child’s point of view)
  • Experimenting (eg. with point of view in making images or writing)
  • Understanding (eg. the fundamental role of the ‘distance’ metaphor)
  • Reflecting (eg. on differences of opinion in the community, or the differences and similarities between animals and humans)

Professor Theo van Leeuwen, August 4, 2018


The second presentation of the afternoon was delivered by Dr Mary Macken-Horarik and began with an overview of her focus for teachers participating in the research project – the following touchstones:

  • Study it: explore concept – how others have worked with it to solve problems, understand texts and theorise textuality
  • Analyse it: look closely at the concept in texts – identify forms, describe functions and explain patterns of choices – what’s there in the text? how does it work? why does it work this way?
  • Transfer the concept to new texts, different modes; problematize it
  • Have a go yourself: draft a text based on the concepts (eg. produce a narrative, a sequence of images or a short film. Then talk/write about what you wanted to do, how you did it and why
  • Get ‘up close’ to the concept: generate experiences; express intuition; establish embodied understanding of the concept

These ideas were discussed together with her ‘five resting points’:

  1. Desire is central – we have to connect with students’ experiences, interests, questions and life worlds 
  2. Diversity is a reality in students’ lifeworlds and in models of English and our rhetorics must reflect this 
  3. Discipline knowledge is important, revealing ‘what counts’ in amongst ‘what happens’ 
  4. Knowledge about language and other semiotic resources is at the heart of design awareness 
  5. Development depends on intersubjectivity and manifests in an expanded semiotic repertoire 

Mary also suggested the

(images taken from shared presentation)

before discussing textual examples from the classroom on

Voicing – Who tells? Who speaks?

Narration: Who tells the story – a narrator or a character? Is this person internal/external to events in the story? Is it in first/third person?

Dialogue: How do characters address one another – endearments. intimate or formal language or language of antagonism? Does the dialogue carry action forward? Does it reveal character? How?

Focalisation: Is the action externally focalised – from a point of view external or internal to consciousness? Internal focalisation is often indicated by verbs of thinking, feeling or seeing. External focalisation avoids use of point of view verbs like these (we do not get inside a character’s head or heart; we remain outside his or her consciousness) – an observer

Mary offered these extracts for discussion:

Albert as focalising character

Albert pulled up his socks and wiped his sweaty hands on the seat of his pants. He did up the top button of his shirt and adjusted his school tie.

Then he trudged slowly up the stairs.

He knew it, he just knew it. He couldn’t think of one thing he had done wrong but he knew Mr Brown was going to give him the strap anyway. He would find some excuse to whack Albert – he always did.

Then there is a shift to Mr Brown’s point of view as Albert knocks on Mr Brown’s door:

Inside the room Brown heard the knock. He said nothing. Let the little bugger suffer. Let the little smart alec think he was in luck. Let him think no-one was in.

Brown heard Albert’s soft footsteps going way from the door. ‘Come in. Jenkins,’ he boomed.

Note the alternating verb choices – green for doing and red for sensing

Consider this extract from Tim Winton’s short story ‘A Blow, A Kiss’ ( a handout we received):

Mary suggested that

Evaluation is the heart and soul of narrative.

  • without evaluation, narratives fall flat and remain a series of events (even with a problem) that we find it hard to care about. Evaluation can be discrete stage in a text, a splash of attitude or reaction or it can infuse a whole segment, as this one does in Fantastic Mr Fox
  • Evaluation can be direct and explicit or indirect and implicit, a slam dunk or subtle prosody. Or it can be all of these in different places in the text.

To explore this idea, we then considered an extract from Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox minus evaluative language:

  • Mr Fox asked his wife what she wanted for dinner. Mrs Fox said ‘I think I’ll have duck tonight. Bring us two ducks – one for you and me and one for the children.
  • ‘Allright’ said Mr Fox, ‘I will get a duck from Mr Bunce’s farm’
  • ‘Now do be careful’ said Mrs Fox.
  • ‘I will’, said Mr Fox, ‘I can smell those farmers a mile away’

then with evaluative language:

Mary offered

Four resources for evaluating experience:

  1. Focalisation – resources that take us ‘inside’ the mind, heart of viewpoint of a character
  2. Voicing – resources associated with what characters say in dialogues with others
  3. Attitude – resources that express feelings, judgement or appreciation of people, places and things
  4. Graduation – resources for up or down scaling the force of attitudes or making them more or less precise

I have already used some of these strategies with two junior English classes – both are currently working on narrative writing tasks.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s