Advanced Reading to Write – a sensual approach

In preparing my return to work this year, I decided to begin with the NESA sample unit for the Common Module: Reading to Write – Transition to Senior English with a focus on The Great Gatsby. This post outlines some of the resources and ideas that will be incorporated into Term 1, either in the classroom or as flipped lessons via Canvas.

I tend to begin each unit (typically after holidays) with a discussion where students respond to the question: How did I engage with language during the break? With Year 11 English Advanced, this became: How did I engage with culture? Each student will submit a 3D Reflection that demonstrates their knowledge of the five modes of English: reading, writing, speaking, listening, viewing and representing. After these are submitted and marked, we will consider the concept of ‘representation’ by completing the activities in Brian Moon’s Literary Terms. This will help consolidate ideas discussed in the video The Reality of Reality.

But to set the scene and encourage students to develop a deeper understanding of reading and the benefits of investing in cultural capital, we will explore the idea of our senses and how we experience the world. We will begin by viewing and discussing The Reality of Reality – A Tale of Five Senses from the 2019 World Science Festival. In our post-viewing discussion, I will suggest a wide definition of consciousness, informed by ideas from David Howes (editor) of The Sixth Sense Reader. The synopsis of the this text states:

“What is the sixth sense? Is it physical, mental or spiritual? Do we all possess it or is it unique to exceptional individuals? Might there be a seventh sense and an eighth sense as well? What role does culture play in determining the range of our perceptual abilities? The search for a supplementary sense has taken many directions and yielded numerous possibilities for an “additional faculty” of perception – from magnetism and movement to dreaming and clairvoyance. Stimulating reflection and debate, The Sixth Sense Reader explores the cultural contexts which give rise to such reports of “psychic” and other powers that exceed the ordinary bounds of sense. In this groundbreaking volume, leading scholars in history, anthropology and biology take the reader on a tour of the far borderlands of consciousness. From the world beneath to the world beyond the five senses, every potential avenue of sensation is opened up for investigation.”

It will be followed by Erin Fado’s article ‘Aristotle got it wrong: We have a lot more than five senses’. I aim to provoke critical thinking of bias and cultural norms. I’m also hoping to support the further development of creative writing as students broaden their understanding of sensual language usage.

Already familiar with the BBC podcast series In Our Time, I was intrigued by the episode on The Great Gatsby . Melvyn Bragg and guests – Sarah Churchwell, Professor of American Literature and Public Understanding of the Humanities at the University of London; Philip McGowan Professor of American Literature at Queen’s University, Belfast; William Blazek, Associate Professor and Reader in American Literature at Liverpool Hope University – discuss F Scott Fitzgerald’s finest novel, published in 1925, one of the great American novels of the twentieth century. Their discussion touched on a number of critical elements, such as the use of synesthesia, humour and juxtaposition, with contextual details including prohibition, class and World War One. Students will benefit from listening to this podcast and viewing episode 1, series 1 of America in Colour – the 1920s, available through EnhanceTV, before they begin reading.

While students are reading the text at home, in class we will respond to a range of texts chosen for their explicit sensual references, including

  • The Thought Fox (poem) by Ted Hughes, 1959
  • The Villain (music video) Hermitude, 2013
  • Blue (poem) by Deb Westbury, 2001
  • ‘Don’t Eat Before Reading This’ (article) by Anthony Bourdain, 1999
  • Cook, Eat, Repeat: S1, E1 (television program) by Nigella Lawson, 2020

Featured image ‘Whole Complete Human Qualities Banner’ from Pixy

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