Independent Reading

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empathy.jpgTerm 1 Narrative Empathy
cultural narrative.jpgTerm 2 Cultural Narratives
PL.jpg Term 3 Poetic License
author.jpgTerm 4 Write!

Term 1 - literary fiction, theory of mind, and narrative empathy

What Is Theory Of Mind?
Theory of mind (ToM) is the ability to understand that other people have beliefs, intentions, desires, knowledge, perspectives, and so forth and that these can be different from your own. It refers to how we develop theories about other people’s minds; what they’re thinking, feeling, and what they might do. ToM is the basis of empathy.


What Is Narrative Empathy?Narrative empathy is the ability to see things from another's perspective, to understand their feelings and point of view and to use that understanding to guide your actions, because of what you have read, viewed, or heard. Literature makes us better at empathy because we identify with characters, and simulate their experiences, emotions, and intentions to the extent that they are, in effect, ours too. If you want to know more, you could start with this journal paper. Sympathy is different because it refers to feeling for someone without matching their feelings; feeling for them rather than with them. Try taking an empathy quiz. This one tests your reading of facial expressions. empathy quiz.jpg This test works out your empathy quotient. (I scored 49.) Put your result in a discussion entry. Without narrative empathy it can be difficult to empathise with others in a deep way, as Meryl Streep explains here.


Literary Fiction and EmpathyReading fiction physically changes your brain. Watch this short video which gives a brief, clear explanation of this. One of the key points is that not all reading increases empathy. Explore this further by reading this article. In that article it was emphasised that you need to be "emotionally transported" when reading for the work of fiction to increase your empathy. Bergado is referring to a study by Psychologists David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano. Skim over this article here: . There are plenty of articles about current work on the impact of reading literary fiction on empathy. Here's another one for you to read. Find one more and put it as a discussion entry.

James-Baldwin-Quote copy.jpg
Read the quote in the above image, and write an entry in the discussion tab describing a time, when reading fiction, you discovered you were not alone in something.
'Good' Literature?mcewan quote.jpg
In the study above you'll have noted that the psychologists discuss the problem of quantifying what constitutes 'good' literature. They decided to focus on texts that had won prestigious literary awards because they thought those texts would "embody general characteristic of literature". They mention the National Book Award. What other prestigious literary award can you find? Put that in a discussion entry.

Examples Of Texts Specifically Designed To Elicit Empathy
You'll notice that texts specifically designed to elicit empathy will most commonly direct readers to focus on a character, and follow that character's journey from their point of view to put you 'in their shoes'. For example this Save The Children advertisement which marks the three year anniversary of brutal conflict in Syria which shows what would it would be like for British children if civil war erupted in the UK. Watch this advertisement and then find another example of a short text specifically designed to elicit empathy and share in a discussion entry.

1) Choose a text. According to our research, to find a novel that will increase your empathy you need to find a novel that:
  • has high levels of imagery that invites immersion,
  • emotionally transports you,
  • is well written,
  • pays attention to the psychology of the characters,
  • has characters that are complex, ambiguous, and difficult to get to know, and
  • goes into the story and character in depth.
Use prestigious literary awards, librarians, me, and recommendations from other avid readers to guide your choice of text.
2) Read it. You will get some class time and homework time. Remember to read in sustained blocks so that you can immerse yourself in the text and be emotionally transported.

3) Respond to it. You will do this in two ways, part a and part b.
Part a - read Paul Fleischmann's poem Honeybees . Mimicking the style of that poem, create a two voice poem that shows both sides of the conflict within your novel. Your sides may represent groups or individual people, as long as there are two clearly recognisable voices and the you show the similarities and differences between their lives. The characters will say some lines separately and some lines together. Here is a rough draft I made as an example (I read Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Stowe).
Part b - write a discussion (no more than 500 words) on how the novel you read developed your empathy. What you address in this discussion will be dependent on what you read, but here are some questions to get you thinking about the kind of things to discuss:
  • What role did aesthetics* play in initiating and motivating your empathy? (*Eg the attraction or appeal of the characters / story / setting. Or the underlying principle in the text.)
  • What / who were you made to feel empathy for? Why is it important to have empathy for that / them?
  • Was the novel aiming to elicit empathy on an individual level of the reader, or do you think the author is looking for cultural change and action? What is the impact of this individual empathy or what impact would this cultural change and action have if it happened?
  • In what way were you able to share the emotions and sensations of the protagonist(s)? What emotions and understandings were elicited? (Try to avoid discussing simple sensations normally elicited by narratives such as curiosity, suspense, and surprise.) Or did you have an aversive reaction, where you experienced some for of personal distress in response to the narrative that you found unpleasant which caused you to distance yourself? What impact did that have on your reception of the text?
  • What techniques did the author use to channel your empathy?
  • Despite your awareness the narrative is fictional, and thus the emotions are 'fictional', in what way(s) do you believe you have been made more empathetic (more understanding, more flexible, etc) from reading the novel?
Remember, individual readers respond differently to texts. Your experience with it will not be the same as someone else's.

Term 2 - literary fiction, creating and challenging cultural narratives
Thelma Golden, curator at the Studio Museum in Harlem, talks in her TED talk about three recent shows that explore how art examines and redefines culture. The 'post-black' artists she works with use their art to provoke a new dialogue about race and culture -- and about the meaning of art itself. Much of what she says truly defines the power of all literary texts to change the way we think about culture and ourselves. I will list a few of her key points, but use the word novel instead of art as you will be studying a novel:
  • novels have the power to understand and rewrite history, to allow us to see and understand ourselves within a larger narrative of the world;
  • novels can create a new story, a new narrative in the world;
  • novels can provide a space for dialogue, complicated dialogue with many points of entry;
  • novels can be a catalyst for dialogue;
  • novels can create / challenge powerful images that affect people's understanding of themselves and each other;
  • novels can serve as a catalyst to define and redefine culture;
  • novels can imagine the future, telling us of the possibilities that lie ahead that we can watch emerge;
  • novels offer a space to talk about beauty, to talk about power, to talk about ourselves, to talk and speak to each other.

1) Choose a text. Find a novel with a cultural focus that has the power to change the way you think about culture and yourself. This means that you need to find a novel that achieves at least one of the following:
  • explores or rewrites an aspect of history;
  • creates a new narrative (eg an unconventional perspective on an issue, a fantasy that acts as a metaphor for a current issue)
  • explores an issue through multiple perspectives;
  • explores the use / abuse of power;
  • challenges accepted knowledge / perspectives / versions of history / etc;
  • imagines / reimagines the future;
  • explores the human condition.
Use prestigious literary awards, librarians, me, and recommendations from other avid readers to guide your choice of text.
2) Read it. You will get some class time and homework time. Remember to read in sustained blocks so that you can immerse yourself in the text and be emotionally transported.

3) Respond to it. Create a podcast in which an interviewee interviews the novelist (3-5 minutes). The interview focuses on how the novel has the power to change how people think about their own, or another, culture. You can either do two voices or rope in an 'actor' to read the part of the novelist. Here are some examples to give you a sense of the style. Listen to them until you get the 'gist', you don't have to listen to the whole podcasts.
Sherman Alexie: How Storytelling Can create Social Change
NPR's interview with Mary Roach about her novel Grunt

Term 3 - poetic license, how true is 'based on a true story'?
What is poetic license? The English language has certain rules, eg a sentence must start with a capital and end with a strong punctuation mark. Poetic license is about the liberties people who write literary texts take with those rules. They play with words, phrases, grammar, punctuation, characters, events, and / or facts, to achieve particular artistic effects or purposes.

When it comes to true stories, are there any issues with poetic license?
It can impact families.
Ethical issues in appropriating others' stories.
The difficulty with claiming objectivity.
When the new bares no resemblance to the original, but still bears its name. Think World War Z.

Examples of poetic license.
The line from Julius Caesar: "Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears" omits the word "and" after "Romans" to keep the iambic pentameter.
Cartoons that draw a person in an exaggerated way to convey a message.

1) Choose a text. Find a text abased on a true story. There are some suggestions below to get you started.
Other Forms
Rabbit Proof Fence by Phillip Noyce
Room by Emma Donoghue
Making A Murderer (TV Series)
Rush by Ron Howard
First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung
Serial (Podcast)
The Social Network by David Fincher
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
Amadeus by Peter Shaffer (play)
Spotlight by Tom McCarthy
True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey
The Secret (TV Series)
The Hurt Locker by Kathryn Bigelow
Friday Night Lights: A Town, A Team, and A Dream by H. G. Bissinger

The Imitation Game by Morten Tyldum
Nanberry: Black Brother White by Jackie French

Erin Brokovich by Steven Soderbergh
The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory

12 Years A Slave by Steve McQueen

Schindler's List by Steven Spielberg

A Beautiful Mind by Ron Howard

Suffragette by Sarah Gavron

Argo by Ben Affleck

Other films students have chosen:
Narcos by Jose Padiha, Unbroken by Angelina Jolie, Neerja by Ram Madhvani, Catch Me If You Can by Steven Spielberg, The Hurricane by Norma Jewison, Eddie The Eagle by Dexter Fletcher, Lorenzo’s Oil by George Miller, The Theory of Everything by James Marsh
Other novels students have chosen:
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

2) Read / view / listen to it. You will get some class time and homework time

3) Research the 'truth' of the true story. Your aim is to compare the portrayal versus the facts. What has been omitted, changed, or added? Has there been an sensationalising, exaggerating, bias, or prejudice? What consequences have there been, and for whom, of this portrayal?

4) Make a decision as to whether you think the portrayal of the true story is either:
a) an ethical, responsible portrayal that accurately conveys the true heart of the original story and was an important and necessary story to tell
b) a damaging, inaccurate portrayal that undermines the true heart of the original story and had negative consequences.
Once you've made that decision write an evaluation of the suitability of the portrayal of the true story. Make sure that whichever angle you take you give specific reasons for your decision, and that you draw from specific evidence in both the text and your research. 500 words maximum

Term 4 - Write!
What are you writing? As there are only 6 weeks this term, and one of those will be exam revision, there is no time to complete a full independent reading assignment. Instead you are going to become the author. You will prepare an entry for one of the writing competitions below, and have it ready to enter when the competition comes up next year.

1) Choose a competition (for further details follow the links).

2) Write! Spend your independent reading lesson time doing the following:
  • Reading the competition's terms and conditions, entry requirements, past winners, etc.
  • Planning your poem / story / novella.
  • Writing your poem / story / novella.
  • Drafting your poem / story / novella (including swapping with peers to get objective constructive feedback).

3) Submit your work so far to Ms Hunt on the school due date. It won't be marked, but you will receive some constructive feedback.

4) Keep working on it after your school due date and submit it to the competition when the time comes.

Books Read In Year 10 English For 2016
Password: independentreading
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The Secret Life of Bees
Hitler's Daughter
Animal Farm
The Knife of Never Letting Go
The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard's Most Daring Sea Rescue
The Kite Runner
The Constant Princess

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