Understanding the Syllabus Requirements
Breaking down the Rubric
Understanding the concept of belonging
Six step analysis of texts about belonging
Example of analysed related text: Freedom Writers
Possible related texts list
An Area of Study demands that you understand the concept, know your prescribed text well and have a number of related texts to write about in the HSC. The first step then must be to understand the concept.
The Prescriptions document states:
Area of Study
In the Area of Study, students explore and examine relationships between language and text, and interrelationships among texts. They examine closely the individual qualities of texts while considering the texts’ relationships to the wider context of the Area of Study. They synthesise ideas to clarify meaning and develop new meanings. They take into account whether aspects such as context, purpose and register, text structures, stylistic features, grammatical features and vocabulary are appropriate to the particular text.
English Stage 6 Prescriptions 2009-2012 Board of Studies NSW, Sydney
This Area of Study requires students to explore the ways in which the concept of belonging is represented in and through texts.
Perceptions and ideas of belonging, or of not belonging, vary. These perceptions are shaped within personal, cultural, historical and social contexts. A sense of belonging can emerge from the connections made with people, places, groups, communities and the larger world. Within this Area of Study, students may consider aspects of belonging in terms of experiences and notions of identity, relationships, acceptance and understanding.
Texts explore many aspects of belonging, including the potential of the individual to enrich or challenge a community or group. They may reflect the way attitudes to belonging are modified over time. Texts may also represent choices not to belong, or barriers which prevent belonging.
Perceptions and ideas of belonging in texts can be constructed through a variety of language modes, forms, features and structures. In engaging with the text, a responder may experience and understand the possibilities presented by a sense of belonging to, or exclusion fromthe text and the world it represents. This engagement may be influenced by the different ways perspectives are given voice in or are absent from a text.
In their responses and compositions students examine, question, and reflect and speculate on:
This is a massive amount of information to absorb in one sitting and yet it is imperative that you know and understand this rubric, especially when it comes to choosing your related texts. So let's break it down.
Now for each of these sections of the rubric, let’s take the time to explore what they mean and to complete activities that will lead to a deeper understanding of the concept.
Belonging is a perception.
Perceptions and ideas of belonging, or of not belonging, vary.
What does this mean? It means this concept is about what people perceive or think rather than a ‘truth’: the answer as to whether or not someone belongs is not found in a textbook, it differs according to the person who is thinking about the concept. For example, an outsider driving past your school may see a group of students in their school uniforms and their perception is that the group belongs: the students belong to the school and the group that are together are probably friends or of the same class or year group and therefore belong in one or more of those categories. They are not right or wrong, this is their perception of how the students belong. However, one of the students may be being bullied by the others and not feel as if they belong to that group at all. This is their perception of how they belong or not belong – and it is still valid even though it is different.
Perceptions are shaped within contexts:
When you consider contexts you are looking at what surrounds the text, or what the text is embedded in: the time it was written, the events in the life of the author, who was in their social circle, what was happening in the world and in their local town, the ethnicity or culture of the author, etc. This section of the rubric states that it is these contexts that shape our perceptions. For example, rivalry between two schools may strengthen students’ sense of belonging to their school due to the competition between the schools.
A sense of belonging can emerge from connections with:
Each person has a number of connections in their life: school, home, work, sport, performing arts, family, friends, local town, region, country, etc. This section of the rubric suggests that our sense of belonging can come from these connections.
How do texts explore belonging?
In this section of the rubric we are investigating how texts can explore the concept of belonging, looking at how individuals can enrich or challenge a community or group. For an individual to enrich a group they will add value to it, make a difference to the people involved and make the group richer or better off for their involvement. When an individual challenges a group, it can be by the ways they do not fit in with the others, or upset the norm or make the group adjust, adapt and grow in order to accommodate the ‘different’ individual.
The rubric here is reminding us that attitudes change and that these changes can be seen in various texts. Sometimes in our contemporary lives it is easy to forget that not everyone has always had the attitudes we have today. For example, there was a time when it was scandalous for a woman to reveal her ankles in public and now we have the micro-mini that reveals the entire leg. Not too many years ago men would always stand when a woman would enter a room whereas now neither men nor women expect that behaviour.
Texts that represent:
When we look at belonging, it is important to also look at the other side of belonging, which of course is not belonging. This section of the rubric allows us to explore how texts show us people making choices to not belong and how people experience barriers that prevent them from belonging.
This section is where you are looking at the techniques the composer has used to compose the text. It is important that for each of the texts you use for belonging you take the time to record the type of text it is, the form of the text, the structure and the features. This is the core part of your ability to show the examiner that you understand how a composer has constructed a perception of belonging, through the techniques they have used.
In engaging with a text, the responder may experience and understand possibilities presented by
When you engage with a text you enter the world of that text for a short time. The rubric suggests here that in entering this world you may then experience and understand the possibilities presented by either belonging to, or being excluded from, the text and the world the text represents. For example, the online computer game World of Warcraft allows responders to interact in a virtual world with both the computer players and real players. When playing the game you belong to the online gaming community of players, your character belongs to a guild and you can set a home base or area to which your character returns or belongs. Due to the very interactive nature of this text, it is easy to understand how you can belong to a text.
An example of not belonging can be reading a text where the composer assumes that you have knowledge of a topic, culture or religion that you do not and thus you may find it difficult to understand and experience the world of the text, perhaps experiencing a sense of exclusion from the text. A simple example of this is a person who is not an engineering student or engineer, reading a university textbook on engineering. The assumed knowledge and the jargon in the textbook would exclude all but those associated with the field.
It is possible, however, to feel a sense of belonging to a text which deals with people and worlds beyond your experience. You can use your imagination to connect with such people and worlds, and thus belong to the text. Consider the techniques used by the composer which enable you to belong to the text - or alternatively, which excludes you from the text. If you do not feel a sense of belonging to a text, reflect on whether it is your prejudices or failure to empathise which have excluded you or whether your alienation has been deliberately manipulated by the composer for a particular purpose.
Engagement is influenced by the different ways perspectives are:
How well you engage with a text is often determined by whether you feel you can relate to, or belong, to the world of the text. As we explored in the previous section of the rubric, this can be influenced by the way a text is written. This final section of the rubric reminds you that voices can be absent from a text or depicted in a particular way and that this can influence the way you engage with a text. For example, The Footy Show had an episode called ‘Women in League’, which looked at how to make Rugby League more inclusive for women. This shows that they recognised that the female voice is often absent in their text The Footy Show and the wider world of Rugby League that it represents.
The next step is to find your own related texts and analyse them. Remember that your related texts should have an aspect of belonging as expressed in the rubric and be able to be compared to your set text.
Now take some time to look at the texts that you have compiled and decide on at least three texts that will allow you to write about belonging from most of the perspectives in the rubric and will link well with your set text.
Each of these three texts should now be analysed thoroughly. It is important that you understand that your related texts have about the same value or weight when answering the HSC examination question as does the prescribed text. When you are asked to write using a related text it is expected that you will spend a substantial amount of time discussing the related text. So it is vital that you have analysed your text and understand it well.
An excellent tool for analysing related texts is the Six Step Analysis Tool. Answering this series of questions will give you a thorough analysis of your related text.
Now here is an example of a possible related text, Freedom Writers, which has been analysed using the Six Step Analysis Tool.
The movie Freedom Writers (2006) directed by Richard Lagravenese, and starring Hilary Swank, has been released to video/DVD by Paramount and MTV. The movie should be available at most video stores, or can be purchased through websites that sell videos and DVDs. It is also available for purchase in all the major department stores.
The students are clearly identified as belonging to an ethnic group, based on colour, race and ethnicity, e.g. the Cambodians, the Latinos, the African Americans and the ‘whites’. They also identify themselves as being gang members and belonging to the gang, including having territory and ‘protecting your own’. The majority of the students live in an area called the ‘projects’ and belong to the area of Longbeach. As students, they belong to Woodrow Wilson High School and by being placed in Miss Gruwell’s class they identify themselves as belonging to the ‘dumb’ class. Then, as the movie progresses, the students clearly see themselves as belonging to Miss Gruwell, the class and the classroom Room 203.
Example 1 -
At the beginning of the movie we are introduced to Eva and given an understanding of what it is to belong to the Latino group. We hear it from her perspective and see both the danger and the security that comes from belonging to a gang.
Eva’s father is well-respected in the Latino world. However, he is sent to prison for a crime he did not commit when a member of a rival gang/ethnic group identifies him as the perpetrator. Eva’s father taught her to fight and to be proud to be Latino. He taught her to always ‘take care of her own’.
Eva’s father’s experience influences the family, and particularly Eva, into believing that it is more important to support your fellow gang members than to tell the truth or see justice done. It is all about the victories of the gang and not about the ‘right’ or ‘moral’ act. When Eva witnesses one of her gang members commit murder, she is encouraged to blame it on an African American boy who was also there at the scene, rather than tell the truth. She is told to protect her own and to blame the rival gang. After all, that is what happened to her father, and it is time for them to win a victory.
At first Eva is willing to do this, but as time goes on and she begins to belong more consciously and willingly to Miss Gruwell’s class, she realises that to blame someone else is not the right thing to do. The lessons she is learning in Erin Gruwell’s class are now causing an internal conflict for her as she struggles to work out what to do in court.
By the end of the movie, Eva makes the decision to do the ‘right’ thing rather than to blindly ‘protect her own’, and identifies her fellow gang-member as the murderer. Her life is then in danger from the gang she belongs to, but she belongs now even more firmly to Miss Gruwell’s class, and believes that she can make a difference and have a life better than the one she has led thus far.
Initially, her sense of belonging only extended as far as her family, her gang and her ethnic group. Ultimately, her sense of belonging expanded to include those members of her class and Miss Gruwell, and the learning that took place changed her self-concept and her world view.
Example 2 -
When Erin Gruwell arrives for class on the first day, it is clear that she does not belong to the same social class or ethnic group as her students. She is in a business suit with pearls and appears naïve and idealistic about the class she will shortly face.
The class arrives and settles into various groups within the classroom – clearly divided boundaries separate the different groups of students. Erin Gruwell belongs to none of them. Nor can she identify with them – she does not know their world or their experiences, and has no understanding of their world-view or their lives.
Erin’s father had been involved in the Civil Rights Movement and Erin had been inspired by that and wanted to make her own difference in the world. Knowing that Woodrow Wilson High School was an integrated high school, she chose to work there, hoping to be an instrument for change.
Clinging to the belief that she can make a difference, Erin proceeds to learn about her students and their lives, and to use that knowledge to make their learning relevant and worthwhile for them. In the process the students come together as one group, her class, rather than the conglomeration of separate groups in the one room that they had been in the beginning.
Over time, the students begin to feel that they belong to her, and she to them, referring to themselves no longer as just a class, but now a ‘family’. They fight to keep her as their teacher when she would normally have passed on to teaching other classes.
Once Erin has an understanding of her students and the lives they live, she is even more determined to do whatever it takes to give them a better future. She takes on two additional jobs to fund resources and excursions for the students. Erin’s understanding of the Holocaust allows her to open a new world for her students, where they grow to understand that children were persecuted and killed in another country during the Holocaust due to the same type of intolerance they themselves are perpetrating. As they begin to widen their own world-view, they change their initial sense of belonging, widening it from the restrictive narrowness of their ethnicity.
Example 3 –
The white boy in class, Ben, clearly does not belong. He is scared at having to be in the class with all the other ethnic groups and gangs. Ben does not want to be a part of them and clearly is not affiliated with any one gang or ethnic group. He is the only white student in the class. At one stage Eva declares that she hates white people, and when Miss Gruwell then asks Ben if he would like to respond to that, his only answer is ‘Can I get out of here?’
Over time, as the learning in Miss Gruwell’s class begins to overcome the clear boundaries of each ethnic group, Ben begins to become an accepted member of the class and to clearly belong with all of the students.
His world-view changes as he begins to understand the lives his fellow-students live, and he stops being afraid of them and starts to identify himself as belonging to them. Initially Ben’s only sense of belonging to the rest of the class was that he was ‘dumb’ enough to belong in that class. Eventually he is an accepted part of the class and clearly belongs.
The composer begins with the voice-over narration of Eva, reading what turns out to be sections from her diary. We are shown a glimpse of the events she is recounting and then taken to the present day. In this way, we are encouraged to identify and empathise with Eva, and clearly understand her strong sense of belonging to the Latino group.
The music played throughout the film is usually rap, hip hop and R&B, clearly connecting the audience to the world of the youth in the film. The lyrics of the songs often reflect the events of the students’ lives, despite their youth. The use of a soundtrack that appeals to a youthful audience will draw the younger audience to watch and relate to the movie, and hopefully inspire them accordingly.
A large part of the movie is filmed within the classroom or grounds of Woodrow Wilson High School. Throughout the movie, we see the transformation of the barren environment of Room 203 into one with bright posters, functioning equipment and a welcoming atmosphere. The transformation of the set echoes the transformation of the students and their attitudes. As progress is made with the students, we see it reflected in the way the room looks. This assists the audience to see the personal growth and change that is occurring in the students, in a quick, visual way without needing lengthy explanations or dialogue.
There are a lot of close-up shots used to show the audience the students’ facial expressions. We are guided to focus on their emotions in order to truly understand what is taking place within the classroom. It is rare that we are focused on their books or the board (in fact, there are a number of continuity errors that involve the blackboard so it was clearly not designed to be our focus). In other movies about teachers and students, there is often a lot of focus on the equipment of their learning for instance in ‘Stand and Deliver’, the movie depicts the students’ struggle to learn advanced calculus and thus more camera time is spent focusing on the tools of their learning. In ‘Freedom Writers’, the learning is not primarily about English, though English is taught and learned also, and therefore the camera focuses on the faces to show us that it is in the students and their emotions and understanding of the world that the vital learning is taking place.
The text begins by showing the dangers and benefits of belonging to a gang. These gangs are based on racial groups and thus you can be clearly identified as belonging merely by the colour of your skin. By the end of the text, the responder has been shown that belonging only to one group can result in a dangerous narrowing of your worldview. The students in the text discover that belonging to a wider group, that of their class and teacher, has exposed them to greater understandings of what it is to belong to the world. The concept of belonging is represented in the text through the use of racial groups and gangs, and the teacher, Erin Gruwell, who is outside these groups, challenging the students to belong to each other, and the world, in a way that will open up a better future for them.
The responder is clearly positioned at the beginning to see the benefits of belonging to a gang, including security, affection, friendship and support. However, the composer has also shown the more dangerous side of this type of belonging, including being shot at and beaten up for belonging to a particular racial group.
The continual use of excerpts from the students’ diaries, usually narrated by the students in a voiceover and combined with a visual impression of the event, positions the responder to understand and empathise with the world of the students. We are encouraged to see the students through Erin Gruwell’s eyes – sympathetically, with an enthusiasm to affect change and a belief in the students’ ability to have a better future. The responders are encouraged to ‘belong’ to the text through their glimpses into the personal lives of the students and the teacher, as well as seeing some of their classroom experiences.
Erin Gruwell made a difference through her persistence and hard work, and the audience is positioned to see the same hope for change and promise of a better future that Erin Gruwell works towards. The movie is designed to inspire and educate, and the responder is positioned to leave the movie theatre happy and keen to make a difference in their world.
The movie ‘Freedom Writers’ is based on the true story of Erin Gruwell and her class. The movie is set in 1994 and was released in cinemas on January 12th, 2007 in the USA and 22nd March in Australia. In Longbeach, California in 1992 they experienced the Rodney King Riots and racial tensions were still high two years later.
‘Following the Rodney King Riots and the O.J. Simpson trial, the mood in our city was unsettling, and on our first day of high school, we had only three things in common: we hated school, we hated our teacher, and we hated each other.
Whether it was official or not, we all knew that we had been written off. Low test scores, juvenile hall, alienation, and racial hostility helped us fit the labels the educational system placed on us: “unteachable,” “below average,” and “delinquents.” Somehow, Ms. G recognized our similarities, and used them to unite us. She gave us books written by teenagers that we could relate to, and it was through these books that we began to realize that if we could relate to a little girl who lived on the other side the world, fifty years before we did, we could certainly relate to each other.’
The class produced a book entitled The Freedom Writers Diary, and the Freedom Writers official website (http://www.freedomwritersfoundation.org ) gives information about the context of the book and the movie, and goes on to tell of the experiences of the group after the events in the movie.
This excerpt from the website provides more information about the context of the film:
‘The Freedom Writers Diary is the amazing true story of strength, courage, and achievement in the face of adversity. In the fall of 1994, in Room 203 at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, California, an idealistic twenty-four-year-old teacher named Erin Gruwell faced her first group of students, dubbed by the administration as "unteachable, at-risk" teenagers. This group was unlike any she had ever interacted with.
The kids took bets on how long their new teacher would last in their classroom. Then a pivotal event changed their lives forever: when a racial caricature of one of the African American students circulated the classroom, Erin angrily intercepted the drawing and compared it to a Nazi exaggeration of Jews during the Holocaust. To her amazement, the students responded with puzzled looks. Erin was appalled to discover that not one child in her class knew of the Holocaust and its unspeakable horrors. When asked how many had been shot at, however, all raised their hands, and a battle-scar show-and-tell began that shocked Erin even more.
Erin Gruwell had touched a nerve, and she ran with it. Knowing that her students were all too familiar with violence, she introduced them to Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Sarajevo. Reluctant at first to read the strange texts, the students of Room 203 soon paralleled their lives to those of Anne and Zlata- teenagers also surrounded by violence- and could not believe their intense connections to the stories. Each student began to keep his or her own anonymous diary, recording tormenting stories of drug use, struggles with physical and mental abuse, reaction to Erin and her unconventional teaching methods. The results were the foundation of a life-changing, spiritually enriching journey that began with a symbolic "toast for change," and has not stopped since.
From the moment they named themselves the "Freedom Writers," the students of Room 203 changed from a group of apathetic delinquents to a closely knit, motivated family with Erin Gruwell as their guide. The Freedom Writers worked extremely hard to bring their first influences off the page and into their lives, with funds raised from a "Read-a-thon for Tolerance" set up by Erin, as well as endless moonlighting jobs that Erin worked, they arranged for Miep Gies, the courageous Dutch woman who sheltered the Frank family, to visit them in California. Soon after, Zlata Filipovic responded to the Freedom Writers' many letters inviting her to Long Beach, and she spent five days with them, allowing the Freedom Writers to compare notes with her. This reinforced to the Freedom Writers that voices are heard, change is possible, and a difference can be made in people through the power of words.
The Freedom Writers have since continued to spread their story and message throughout the world. In 1997 they held an "Echoes of the Soul" fund-raising concert to help pay for a trip to Washington, D.C., where they toured the Holocaust Museum and presented their diary to Secretary of Education Richard Riley. This trip also allowed them to emulate their heroes, the Freedom Riders, by holding a peace march and prayer vigil for victims of intolerance at the Washington Monument. In 1998 they won the Spirit of Anne Frank Award- the Freedom Writers traveled to New York to accept the award. Most recently, in the summer of 1999, one of their most far-reaching goals was achieved. The Freedom Writers and Erin visited Anne Frank's house in Amsterdam; the concentration camps Auschwitz, Birkenau, and Chelmno in Poland; and visited Zlata in Sarajevo, Bosnia. Most important all 150 Freedom Writers have graduated from High School and are attending college.’
Sometimes, it can be difficult to start thinking about related texts, so to help the thought processes start flowing, here is a list of possible related texts for Belonging. Please note that this list is meant to be the beginning of your search for related texts and is by no means offered as an exhaustive list.
Here is a series of essay questions that will help you to more thoroughly explore the connections between belonging, your prescribed text and your related texts.