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Representation in English

James Hoffman provides teaching ideas for the concept of Representation in English K-6.

Portrait photo of James Hoffman
James Hoffman, K-6 English Advisor | Learning & Teaching – Early Learning & Primary Education

Take a moment to reflect upon how the syllabus intent is demonstrated in teaching programs, lessons and student work. Can students articulate the big ideas with a sense of confidence?

The core knowledge and ideas inherent in the NSW English K-10 syllabus have been identified by the English Textual Concepts (2016). This article draws upon the English Textual Concepts resource to investigate ‘representation'. What it is and why it’s important will be discussed, as well as suggestions for how representation can be used to enhance the teaching and learning of English in years K-6.

The English Textual Concepts clearly defines the concept of representation.

The depiction of a thing, person or idea in written, visual, performed or spoken language. In representing we make choices from the language offered by these modes. Representation may aim to reflect the natural world as realistically as possible or may aim to convey the essence of people, objects, experiences and ideas in a more abstract way. There are many different ways of seeing the world as our view is framed by context and culture. This means that representation cannot mirror actual reality but each representation offers a different construction of the world and of experience in it.

Like the way in which a sculpture or painting represents an artist’s ideas or a building represents an architect’s ideas, a text can be considered the representation of a composer’s ideas. Moon (2001) states that representations are

… textual constructions that arise from habitual ways of thinking about or acting in the world. Although they seem to refer to the ‘real world’, they actually refer to the cultural world which members of a society inhabit.

This suggests that the language, symbols and images we use to represent the world are open to interpretation and are heavily influenced by the context in which they were created. It means that students can learn to use language, symbols and images as tools to represent their own ideas and opinions and position their audience in a particular way.

By the end of Stage 5, students need to understand that

… representations are not neutral. All representations carry personal and cultural meanings and have personal and social effects. Sometimes these meanings are produced through a composer’s conscious choices of language and structure and at other times they may be unconscious reproductions of attitudes, beliefs and values in the world. This leads to the potential for different readings of texts as representations are questioned and reinterpreted. Students need to be aware of the range of choices available to them in representing people, objects, experiences and ideas as well as how cultural convention may put limits on representation, so positioning them to respond to the world in particular ways.

English Textual Concepts resource, 2016

The expectations above help teachers design learning for high intellectual quality and students’ deep understanding of representation. Developing a better understanding of the complexity and breadth of representation in the syllabus enhances teachers’ ability to devise rigorous and challenging learning experiences. The English Textual Concept progressions summarise and make explicit what is important to teach and learn. The progression statements provide a clear picture of what representation looks at each stage of learning and how student understanding develops from Early Stage 1 to Stage 5.

Building students’ understanding of representation can be easily achieved. This knowledge is powerful and transferable. Students can apply their knowledge of representation in other contexts and even other key learning areas. What follows are some practical suggestions and lesson ideas for teaching representation through quality texts.

Teaching ideas for Early Stage 1

Extract from Into the Forest

Understanding representation in Early Stage 1

By the end of Early Stage 1, students understand that aspects of the real world and of their imagination may be represented in different modes and media.

Planning to teach representation

Author Anthony Browne is considered by many as the master of representation. This page from the text could be used to create a lesson sequence. Initially, it’s important to interrogate the text and ask: ‘What representation is happening here?’ The codes and conventions, including visual literacy, used to create representation could be recorded prior to programming.

Relevant English K-10 syllabus content

ENe-8B

A student demonstrates emerging skills and knowledge of texts to read and view, and shows developing awareness of purpose, audience and subject matter.

* explore the different contribution of words and images to meaning in stories and informative texts (ACELA1786)

ENe-2A

A student composes simple texts to convey an idea or message

* experiment with basic visual, multimodal and digital processes to represent some simple ideas expressed in texts and to convey experience.

Lesson purpose

To understand how an emotion can be represented using words and images.

Scaffolding student understanding of representation

How does the boy feel?

* Explain the purpose of the lesson to students.

* Read the text Into the Forest as a whole class (the text may have already been read in a previous lesson).

* Display the page above for individuals or groups of students.

* Pose the question: How does the boy feel? Allow thinking time then take responses from across the class. Guide students in reaching consensus that the boy is sad.

How do we know the boy is sad?

* Engage students in a Think, Pair, Share using the question above. Allow adequate time for rigorous discussion.

* Take responses from across the class and record students’ ideas.

* Explain to students that we’re going to investigate the ways composer, Anthony Browne, has used words and pictures to tell us the boy is feeling sad.

How has the composer used words and pictures to tell us the boy is feeling sad?

* Model to students how Anthony Browne has represented sadness through words and images.

* Repetition of ‘come home dad’ sign reinforces the idea that the boy misses his dad.

* Framing focuses viewer’s attention on the passing of four periods of time and indicate the extent to which the boy has thought about dad.

* The shadow cast by the boy takes up a large space creating a sense of gloominess.

* Use of the verb ‘missed’.

* The boy’s posture and body position, slumped over with head tilted down at the end of the table alone suggests he is sad and lonely.

What words and pictures could you use to represent a character as feeling sad?

* Have students experiment with using words and images to represent a different character as feeling sad.

* Share individual techniques used by particular students. Discuss whether some techniques were more/less effective than others in representing sadness.

Teaching ideas for Stage 1

Extract from Lots

Understanding representation in Stage 1

By the end of Stage 1, students understand that there may be different representations of the same objects, events, people, emotions and ideas.

They learn that differences in representation can occur

* through different contexts, modes and media or

* through different choices within these.

Planning to teach representation

This text typifies a trend of representing large amounts of information creatively and is frequently encountered by students. It marks a breaking away from traditional informative text structures that organise information and ideas in a more linear fashion, like Wikipedia. The ideas and information represented in such texts are very dense and may prove somewhat difficult for students to navigate and make meaning. The use of a graphic outline may be helpful in visualising how the composer has organised the text.

Relevant English K-10 syllabus content

EN1-8B

A student recognises that there are different kinds of texts when reading and viewing and shows an awareness of purpose, audience and subject matter.

* understand simple explanations in diagrammatic form, including flowcharts, hierarchies, life cycles

EN1-2A

A student plans, composes and reviews a small range of simple texts for a variety of purposes on familiar topics for known readers and viewers.

* create short imaginative, informative and persuasive texts using growing knowledge of text structures and language features for familiar and some less familiar audiences, selecting print and multimodal elements appropriate to the audience and purpose (ACELY1661, ACELY1671)

* compose texts supported by visual information (such as diagrams and maps) on familiar topics.

Lesson purpose

To understand how information and ideas can be represented differently using text structure, words and images.

Scaffolding student understanding of representation

How have words been used to represent information about Tokyo?

* Explain the purpose of the lesson to students.

* Read the text ‘Lots’ as a whole class (the text may have already been read in a previous lesson). Due to the way in which the text has been organised and the density of information, the reading may need to be spread over a number of lessons. It may also be useful to have students read sections of the text in small groups.

* Display the double-page spread above for individuals or groups of students.

* Pose the question: How have words been used to represent information about Tokyo?

Allow thinking time then take responses from across the class. Record student’s ideas in the left column of a t-chart under the heading ‘words’.

* Title and sub-headings

* Labels

* Listing of facts (bullets)

* Use of captions, etcetera.

* Use a graphic outline (as shown previously) to model to students how the text has been structured.

* Allow students more time to add ideas to the list.

How can drawing, writing and digital forms of communication be used together to represent information about Tokyo?

* Engage students in a Think, Pair, Share using the question: How have images been used to represent information about Tokyo?

* Record students’ responses under the right column of the t-chart under the heading ‘images’.

* Close up of trains representing different sizes

* Vending machines displayed in grid to represent variety

  • Bird’s eye view of Shibuya Crossing to represent it as the world’s busiest intersection

* Red circle in centre of page on a white to represent Japanese flag

* It may be useful to refer to the graphic outline to assist students in responding.

* Using the completed t-chart have students discuss what effect these representations have on the audience.

How might your choices of print and images to represent information about Tokyo be different to those of composer Marc Martin?

* Provide students with a list (bullet points) of facts about two topics not depicted in the text

* Sports – Sumo Wrestling

* Landmarks – Buildings

* Read through these topics and explain to students.

* Ask students to choose one topic of interest to them and experiment with representing this information using images and words.

* Share the different representations across the class and discuss the effectiveness of certain choices.

How can we represent the same objects, events, people, emotions and ideas differently?

* Display the following digital text, Interesting Facts about Tokyo for Kids’.

* Have students compare and contrast the ways in which the same information about vending machines and Shibuya Crossing have been represented. A Venn diagram may be useful in recording the ideas.

* Discuss which representation of information and ideas is more effective.

Teaching ideas for Stage 2

Extract from Voices in the park
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Understanding representation in Stage 2

By the end of Stage 2, students understand that representations are varied and reflect individual experiences and contexts.

They learn that representations

* are deliberately constructed for particular audiences and purposes and vary according to the capabilities of mode or medium

* may reflect stereotypic ideas rather than actuality

* vary because of different composers or situations.

Planning to teach representation

Four pages from this masterful text by Anthony Browne have been selected to teach a lesson on representation. The text has been organised around the ‘voices’ of four characters. Voices in the Park would also be a suitable text for exploring character.

Relevant English K-10 syllabus content

EN2-10C

A student thinks imaginatively, creatively and interpretively about information, ideas and texts when responding to and composing texts.

* use visual representations, including those digitally produced, to represent ideas, experience and information for different purposes and audiences

* justify interpretations of a text, including responses to characters, information and ideas, for example, ‘The main character is selfish because …’

EN2-11D

A student responds to and composes a range of texts that express viewpoints of the world similar to and different from their own.

* experiment with visual, multimodal and digital technologies to represent aspects of experience and relationships.

EN2-2A

A student plans, composes and reviews a range of texts that are more demanding in terms of topic, audience and language.

* create imaginative texts based on characters, settings and events from students’ own and other cultures using visual features, for example perspective, distance and angle (ACELT1601, ACELT1794)

* experiment with visual, multimodal and digital processes to represent ideas encountered in texts.

Lesson purpose

To understand how representations reflect individual experiences and contexts.

Scaffolding student understanding of representation

How have the two characters been represented?

* Explain the purpose of the lesson to students.

* Read the text Voices in the Park as a whole class (the text may have already been read in a previous lesson). It’s great to embellish your speech to reflect the voices of each of the four characters.

* Display the four pages above for individuals or groups of students.

* Pose the question: How have the two characters been represented? Allow thinking time then take responses from across the class.

* Explain to students that the characters have been represented coming from two distinct social classes.

What words and images have been used to represent the two characters?

* Create two AnswerGarden’s for students to generate words and ideas that come to mind when they think of the two social classes: upper class and working class. Depending on students’ prior learning, these terms may require further explanation. Take screenshots or save the resultant word clouds from each AnswerGarden. Discuss these ideas with the class.

* Divide the class into small groups. Allocate each group one of the two characters.

* Have students identify and record the words and images that have been used to represent the character.

* The first character is well-dressed with hat and scarf while the second character is dressed in paint-splattered overalls clearly representative of working class.

* The first character’s body position is upright and pretentious while the second character’s body position is slumped over representing tiredness/ defeat.

* Different fonts have been used to represent the different speech and language used by each of the characters (elaborate vs simple).

* The difference in the way the dogs have been represented also shows separation of the social classes (Victoria, our pedigree Labrador vs the dog).

* The deliberate choice of children’s names also represents the difference in social class (our son Charles vs Smudge).

* The use of bright colours has been used to represent the first character while drab and dark colours have deliberately been used to represent the second character

* Have each group report their findings back to the class. Each group can add to the ideas of the previous group.

How is the audience affected by the representation of each character?

* Using the information collected, ask students to share how the representation of each character made them feel.

* Encourage students to move beyond making meaningless statements (such as, good, bad) by providing a list of words depicting positive and negative emotions. Have students justify their responses by using a stem such as

* The representation of the _____ character made me feel _______ because _______

* Anthony Browne has used _______________ to represent __________________

* Positive: interested, satisfied, pleased, surprised, reassured, comforted, optimistic, curious

* Negative: irritated, incensed, disappointed, discouraged, upset, perplexed, unsure, frustrated.

How do we know that both characters have been represented fairly?

* Ask students to reflect upon whether both characters have been represented fairly. Share responses across the class encouraging students to justify their opinion/s.

* Have students reform the small groups in which they investigated one character. Ask them to discuss what information is unknown about that character that may have influenced or changed the composer’s decision to represent them in that way.

* Share responses across the class.

* Ask each student to choose one of the two characters and experiment with using images and words to best represent them.

* Share student-created texts across the class.

How can knowing about the composer’s context influence the way ideas are represented?

* Investigate composer Anthony Browne and his creation of the text Voices in the Park.

* Ask students to identify any elements of the composer’s context that may have influenced the way he represented characters in the text.

* Engage in whole class discussion, sharing ideas and opinions.

Teaching ideas for Stage 3

Band Aid advertisement - The Hulk

Understanding representation in Stage 3

By the end of Stage 3, students understand that representations position audiences to adopt a particular response.

They learn that

* information and ideas may be represented symbolically

* representation in each mode operates according to its own codes and conventions

* representations may be adapted for different audiences

* representations influence response.

Planning to teach representation

Advertisements are ideal for teaching representation. They make creative use of a range of multimodal elements at composers’ disposal to communicate layers of meaning.

Relevant English K-10 syllabus content

EN3-2A

A student composes, edits and presents well-structured and coherent texts

* compose increasingly complex print, visual, multimodal and digital texts, experimenting with language, design, layout and graphics.

EN3-3A

A student uses an integrated range of skills, strategies and knowledge to read, view and comprehend a wide range of texts in different media and technologies

* summarise a text and evaluate the intended message or theme.

EN3-5B

A student discusses how language is used to achieve a widening range of purposes for a widening range of audiences and contexts

* recognise the techniques used by writers to position a reader and influence their point of view

* identify and use a variety of strategies to present information and opinions across a range of texts.

EN3-7C

A student thinks imaginatively, creatively, interpretively and critically about information and ideas and identifies connections between texts when responding to and composing texts.

* analyse and evaluate similarities and differences in texts on similar topics, themes or plots (ACELT1614).

EN3-8D

A student identifies and considers how different viewpoints of their world, including aspects of culture, are represented in texts.

* recognise how the use of language and visual features can depict cultural assumptions in texts.

Lesson purpose

To understand how representation can position audiences to adopt a particular response.

Scaffolding student understanding of representation

How do representations influence response?

* Explain the purpose of the lesson to students.

* Provide students with a copy of the Hulk advertisement. Alternatively, display the text on a smartboard.

* Have students work in pairs to discuss and record answers to the following questions.

* What’s happening in this text?

* What’s the message or theme?

* What affect did this text have on you?

* Was there anything specific about the way the composer used representation that affected you strongly?

* What audience has the composer targeted?

* Allow time for students to analyse the text.

* Share responses across the class.

* Provide students with a copy of ‘Winning Hurts’ advertisement.

* With the same partner, students work through the same questions then discuss their findings across the class.

* Using the findings from analysis of both texts, ask students to determine which text is most effective in persuading people to buy Band-Aids. Have them justify their decision by using evidence from the text and/or their analysis.

What techniques were used by the composers to represent their ideas through words and images?

* Have students form small groups and select one text on which to focus. Ask them to investigate and identify the specific tools and devices used by the composers in representing their ideas through words and images in the text. It may be useful to provide checklists to aid identification.

* Oral and written language (use of vocabulary and grammar), for example, phrase, clause, noun, verb, adjective

* Images, for example, colour, vectors, viewpoint

* Facial expression and body language, for example, movement, speed, stillness, body position, smile, eye contact

* Position, layout and organisation of objects in space (physical, screen), for example, proximity, direction, foreground, background.

* Have students share their responses with the class. Encourage them to discuss the resultant effects and effectiveness of both advertisements.

The Hulk

* Monochromatic colours and the band-aid on the Hulk’s finger are juxtaposed with the Band-Aid box making the product stand out. Simple for audience to grasp concept of the advertisement.

* Band-aid has been placed in the centre giving viewers no choice but to focus on it.

* Intertextuality (The Hulk is an iconic fictional character) has been used to create humour and also target children (as well as Hulk fans from all ages). It also suggests that something as indestructible as the Hulk needs something as simple as a band-aid, ergo everyone needs a band-aid from time to time.

* Creative use of lighting to illuminate the Hulk’s hand, which has a somewhat angelic glow, as if the band-aid is doing something incredible and glorifying.

Winning Hurts

* Use of soft colours and very soft focus in the background to draw viewer to the band-aid.

* The band-aid has been placed in the centre of the advertisement to draw viewer attention.

* The placement of the athlete and the bar at the top of the image (bottom-up view) indicates the level of difficulty and hints at the metaphor of reaching new heights, breaking limits, etcetera.

* Size, placement and type of font (digital stopwatch) represents the importance of results. The use of the band-aid in the time suggests that it is a necessary part of the process and that elite athletes aren’t robots and need support (in the form of band-aids).

* The use of opposites in the phrase Winning Hurts. Winning usually has positive connotations while hurting is usually negative. The two are not often associated and suggests that success can be achieved through hard work/sacrifice.

How might representations be adapted for different audiences?

* Pose the following questions then engage in whole class discussion, sharing ideas and opinions.

* What beliefs and positions are dominant and how has this been achieved?

* What beliefs and positions are silenced and how has this been achieved?

* What do I think about the way these ideas have been presented and what alternatives are there?

* Form small teams and challenge students to compose their own band-aid advertisement experimenting with language, design, layout and graphics to represent the ideas and information. Prior to starting, ensure teams have selected a target audience for their advertisement (for example, parents, children, pet owners, gardeners, book lovers, car owners, etcetera).

* Have each team share their texts and compare the audience’s response to that of the two original advertisements.

References

AnswerGarden, accessed 30 June 2017.

Browne, A. 2004, Into the forest, Walker Books, London.

Browne, A. 1998, Voices in the park, Doubleday, London.

Department of Education WA 2013, Viewing resource book: Addressing current literacy challenges, accessed 30 June 2017.

Japan Guidance 2016, Interesting facts about Tokyo for kids , accessed 30 June 2017.

Martin, M. 2016, Lots, Penguin Books Australia, Melbourne, VIC.

Moon, B. 2001, Literary terms: a practical glossary, 2nd edn, Chalkface, Cottlesloe, WA.

NSW Department of Education and English Teachers’ Association NSW 2016, English textual concepts resource, accessed 30 June 2017.

NSW Education Standards Authority. 2012, NSW English K-10 Syllabus , accessed 13 July, 2017.


How to cite this article - Hoffman, J. 2017, ‘Representation in English’, Scan, 36(3), pp. 4-13

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