I was chatting with Tanya, my good friend and head teacher of English at my old school (and super amazing clever human), last Friday night about the word ‘technique’ to cover ALL literary devices known to man. We were hanging out and geeking out about the new HSC English syllabuses – which we are both equally stoked with, but more on that in another post – and as we were chatting I mentioned that the new syllabuses, just like the old ones, never once refer to the term ‘techniques’. It’s not in the glossary, it’s not in the rationale, it’s not in the objectives, outcomes or content, it’s not in the module descriptors. Odd, considering it is the go-to word for English teachers when discussing textual analysis. Or, is it? Tanya has all but banned the word. She’s always hated it – preferring to refer to use the language of the syllabuses – language forms and features. This really struck me as an important, um, stylistic choice? Given that last year her year 12 class blitzed the HSC (she will hate me saying this) in a school were historically few students get top English results.
As we chatted we tried to identify when the word ‘technique’ crept into the English teacher lexicon – I feel it was earlyish in my teaching career – maybe a couple of years in, around 2007? Maybe it was the introduction of the words ‘texts’ and ‘composers’ as nondescript references in the last HSC syllabus? Maybe we didn’t feel confident with the phrase ‘language forms and features’ (even now as I type it I’m sure I’ve got it wrong)? I do know that it has become super problematic in the way I teach texts. Students are always asking me ‘What technique is in this quote?’ and I blame myself because I am the one creating formulas and acronyms (ITEE, STEEL, STEW etc) for essays and sentences that require the dreaded T – techniques.
In our chat we both realised the time we first really focused on techniques as mandatory for all essay paragraphs was at the HSC marking centre. We thought it amusing, and kind of weird, that our marker colleagues (including our SMs) constantly referred to techniques – how many, the quality, how well they were discussed/analysed – and yet the marking criteria we were using, didn’t refer to the word ‘technique’. Well, maybe it did sometimes like ‘dramatic techniques’? Even then kids still referred to metaphors – and not metaphor as the BIG type, the small ‘put your finger on the metaphor’ type. Teachers (me included) refer to language techniques, persuasive techniques, dramatic techniques, poetry techniques, film techniques, etc. so it makes sense we would use ‘techniques’ as an all-encompassing term, BUT the problem is when (teacher like me) tell students that every sentence in their body paragraphs must have a technique in it – that you can’t have a quote unless you analyse it – we really start to experience the tyranny of the technique. The essay becomes boring, like a shopping list of single-use ‘techniques’ that doesn’t allow an idea to develop or a personal voice to be heard. We can blame the HSC, but really the expectations set THERE are set by US, I truly believe that.
So, having spoken with my lovely friend, and hearing how she has not only banned the word technique, but also banned essay formulas, it makes me question my own practice. Given the fact that we have the opportunity to liberate ourselves from the tyranny of the technique AND the formulaic essay, with this new (awesome) HSC with its incredible focus on creativity, authenticity, and genuine engagement with literature, I wonder if we will. Will you?