Introduction to Text Response (Reading and Creating)

Lisa Tran

February 1, 2011

English & EAL

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What is Text Response?

Remember all those novels and films you watched throughout high school? You should be familiar with watching films or reading novels and then participating in class discussions about themes and characters. Each year revising and improving on TEEL, incorporating quotes and formulating lengthy essays. Well, most of that learning can be pin-pointed towards VCE’s Text Response, one out of the three parts of VCE English Coursework. Text Response, officially known as ‘Reading and Responding’, is the 1st Area of study that involves you studying texts just like you have in the past, but this time round with a few more requirements.

About Text Response

Like its name, Text Response is when you respond to a text. The most popular texts are novels and films; however plays, poetry and short stories are also common. Your response should be in the form of an essay, in which you discuss themes, ideas and characters. You might be thinking, ‘I already know this!’ Then great! Because these familiarities are only the ‘analysis of the ways in which structures and features are used by the authors of narrative texts to construct meaning’. This means that not only should you develop a

1. Critically analyse texts and the ways in which authors construct meaning;

Much of the ‘meaning’ in a novel/film comes instinctively to readers. Why is it that we can separate the protagonist from antagonist? Why is it that we know whether or not the author supports or denounces an idea? Why can we distinguish a setting in the 17th century compared with what design features the author used in their text. Here you need to start looking at

2. Analyse the social, historical and/or cultural values embodied in texts; 

Society, history and culture all shape and influence us in our beliefs and opinions. Authors use much of what they’ve obtained from the world around them and employ this knowledge to their writing. Understanding their values embodied in texts can help us as readers, identity and appreciate theme and character representations.

3. Discuss and compare possible interpretations of texts using evidence from the text;

Be open to the idea that many texts can be interpreted in many ways. Texts are rarely concrete and simple. Take The Bible, a book that is one of the most popular and famous books in history but is interpreted differently by every person. Acknowledging more than one perspective on a certain aspect of the text or acknowledging that perhaps the writer is intentionally ambiguous is a valuable skill that demonstrates you have developed a powerful insight into your text.

4. Use appropriate metalanguage to construct a supported analysis of a text;

You must discuss how the author uses the form that he/she is writing in to develop her discussion. This encompasses a huge breadth of things from metaphors to structure to language. I liked to interweave this into my essay – ‘The personification of Achilles as ‘wolf, a violator of every law of men and gods’, illustrates….’ or ‘Malouf’s constant use of the present voice and the chapter divisions allow the metaphor of time to demonstrate the futility and omnipresence of war…’ (for more information, see What is Metalanguage?).

5. Plan and revise written work for fluency and coherence;

When examiners read essays, they are expected to get through about 12-15 in an hour. This results in having around 5 minutes to read, get their head around, and grade your essay. Not much time at all. It is so vital that you don’t give the examiner an opportunity to take away marks because he has had to reread certain parts of your essay due to poor expression and grammar or double check his criteria sheet to see if you have met parts of it!

When you follow the ‘3 Cs’ - clarity, and, cohesion, it's hard for examiners to take marks away:

Clarity

Many people have a major problem with clarity and, for want of a better word, ‘crispness’ in their essays, especially at the start of the year. Instead of sharp, clear language and flow, essays are convoluted and a bore to read. A few little tips to increase clarity are:

kills Hector he is personified as a ‘jackal’-is much crisper than ‘when Achilles is killing…’

– Cut out unnecessary words. Instead of ‘not only…but also’, why not just say ‘both’.

– Many students over-quote because they don’t have a strong enough grasp or confidence to analyse and discuss the main themes and ideas of the novel. Quotes shouldn’t just be thrown in to describe, they should be used to analyse and act as a launching pad for greater discussion. 3-4 quotes per paragraph are sufficient if you use them wisely. Examiners don’t want to re-read the text in your essay; they want your interpretation and analysis of it!

– Don’t use big words when you don’t know what they mean. This is a catastrophic and all too common mistake. Build up a bank of words that you are comfortable with using and use them in every essay.

Criteria

Familiarise yourself with the specific criteria of each task as they are a few additions to general Year 11 criteria. When examiners are marking they have the criteria in front of them and give marks when you satisfy each part of it. For example, students generally don’t address stylistic features/devices (Point 4 - Metalanguage, as mentioned above) as they haven’t really come across them before. 

Cohesion

It is vital to have a sound structure to your essay. Your essay, for all three forms, should act as a development of an interpretation. Rather than have three totally different arguments as your body paragraphs, each paragraph should grow and build on the previous one. For example, if we look at a general theme of war:

– the abyss of war

– the consequences

– how characters react differently

– what makes humanity so inclined to fight

Here, we see how identifying the major idea can act as a launching pad for an essay. Many students do one paragraph on war, one on love, one on personal growth and one on a character regardless of the topic. This approach doesn’t allow any cohesion or sophisticated and deep analysis. However, it is important to note that all these other notions such as love and peace can be discussed within the realms of points above. So, begin using essay topics and the major idea that they bring forth as a platform to grow a detailed response and interpretation. By doing this, your essay will have a much greater flow and structure which also displays higher order thinking.

6. Use the conventions of spelling, punctuation and syntax of Standard Australian English.

School Assessed Coursework (SAC) and Allocated Marks

Reading and Creating is assessed in Unit 3. The number of allocated marks are:

  • Unit 3 English – 30 marks
  • Unit 3 EAL – 40 marks

Exactly when Text Response is assessed within each unit is dependent on each school; some schools at the start of the unit, others at the end. The time allocated to your SAC is also school-based. Often schools use one or more periods combined, depending on how long each of your periods last. Teachers can ask you to write anywhere from 800 to 1000 words for your essay (keep in mind that it’s about quality, not quantity!) Often, teachers will provide you with a list of prompts to practice before your SAC. Some teachers can be kind enough to hint you in the direction of a particular prompt that may be on the SAC. For your preparation, make sure you make use of the practice prompts! If your teacher hasn’t distributed any, don’t be afraid to ask. For more preparation ideas, see below on how to prepare for your Text Response SAC!

Note: Keep in mind that Text Response is an important foundation for Reading and Comparing, a SAC completed in Unit 4. To find our more on Reading and Comparing, click here.

How to prepare for your Text Response SAC

Preparation is a vital component in how you perform in your SACs so it’s always a good idea to find out what is your best way to approach assessments. This is just to get you thinking on the different study methods you can try before a SAC. So here’s some of my top tips for Text Response:

  • Re-read your book (or film). After all the learning and discussion you’ve had with your teacher and peers, you should have now developed a solid foundation of knowledge. With this new knowledge, your second (or third…) read before a SAC can definitely help you stand out from others who have learnt the exact same information you have. This is because you can apply your understanding and discover important new passages and quotes that no one else has mentioned in class. It also allows you to further solidify your knowledge by revising what you’ve learnt, allowing you to have a greater insight into your texts.
  • Write essays. Sad but it’s a fact. Writers only get better by actually writing. Even if you just tackle a couple of essays then at least you will have started to develop a thinking process that will help you to set out arguments logically, utilise important quotes and time yourself against the clock. It will help you write faster as well – something that is a major problem for many students.
  • Investigate some prompts. Your teacher should have given you some practice prompts at this stage. If not, have a look online, including VCE Study Guides to find some handy prompts. I believe it’s best to write at least a couple of essays and for other prompts – brainstorm and write plans.  Brainstorming will help you consolidate ideas and see which ones work best with particular prompts. Furthermore, there are only so many different prompts that can be written for a text, so it also gives you a good indication of what to expect in your SAC. Then go on to write plans. Plans will help with your essay structure – a vital component to a good essay. This is an extremely time-efficient way to approach SACs.

What's next? Go to How to prepare for a Analysing Argument SAC!

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