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I became interested in this film when reading the conclusion of Melissa Gregg’s “Work’s Intimacy” P.172-174. This American comedy-drama stars George Clooney, Vera Farmigo and Anna Kendrick and is directed by Jason Reirman (“Juno” and “Thank you for Smoking” Has anyone seen the latter film? Would you recommend it?)

This film will be ideal for my last week of teaching with Year 13 before they go on study leave. It will further allow me to emphasise HESP (Historical, Economic, Social and Political factors) a this text is firmly set in the context of the current financial crisis. Gregg comments: “The film had an eerie synergy in its content and release date in the midst of the global financial crisis”. Some film critics comments allude to the specific socio-historic context in the film:

Claudia Puig “It’s tough to capture an era while it’s still happening, yet Up in the Air does so brilliantly, with wit and humanity … capturing the nation’s anxieties and culture of resilience.”  (USA Today December 4, 2009)

Jonathan Romney “Its cynical wit almost places it in the Billy Wilder bracket: Up In The Air is as eloquent about today’s executive culture as The Apartment was about that of 1960. It is a brutal, desolate film – but also a superb existential rom-com, and the most entertaining lesson in contemporary socio-economics that you could hope for.”(The Independent, January 17, 2010)

Stephen Saito “It touches on larger themes of mass unemployment, cultural alienation and technology as a crutch. But ultimately, it’s really an expertly done character study that’s a dramatic change of pace from director Jason Reitman’s previous two films.”  (IFC September 12, 2009)

The critic Saito highlights how effectively the film captures the encroachment of technological developments and how they can diminish the need for human workers.. This is summarised by Gregg on P.173: “…the dramatic arc of Up in the Air is based on the looming introduction of a technological innovation that will transform Bingham’s life forever. A young hotshot business graduate finds favour upon joining the firm when she suggests that webcams would make job terminations easier and more cost-efficient in future. The imminent roll out of this convenient online technology threatens to put an end to Bingham’s pleasantly rootless existence as a citizen of the air.”

On further researching this film, I was very interested to find that “real” people were interviewed and used in the film to capture the “reality” of the delivery of this devastating news to the fired employee. While in St. Louis and Detroit filming, JasonReitman advertised in the newspaper: he asked if people who had recently lost a job would want to take part in filming a “documentary”. He sais the topic was job loss and specifically stated  “documentary” so that real people who had had this experience rather than actors would respond to the advert. In response, people of different ages, races, and genders showed themselves willing to speak honestly about what happened to them personally.(San Jose Mercury News, December 3 , 2009)  Reitman was amazed to receive a startling amount of responses: twenty-two made it into the film. (see Paramount end credits)


“SCAFFOLDING” by Seamus Heaney

My Year 11s are being tested on poetry in their GCSE examination tomorrow:

“Scaffolding” by Seamus Heaney

Masons, when they start upon a building,

Are careful to test out the scaffolding;

Make sure that planks won’t slip at busy points,

Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.

 And yet all this comes down when the job’s done

Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.

 So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be

Old bridges breaking between you and me

 Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall,

Confident that we have built our wall.

Youtube link to Heaney reading the poem “Scaffolding” and explaining the context that it was written to smooth over a disagreement between him and his wife: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fNYBwF7lKLA

This poem refers to scaffolding and  a bridge. This metaphorical idea is also used in the critical reading to discuss blogging: the architecture of participation, the scaffolding of the learning process, co-construction between technology / culture and the idea of layers in mediated communication. Key quotations are added below:

Meikle and Young P125 “Web 2.0 platforms have empowered creative audiences; they also, however, implicate their users within regimes of intellectual property. The Web 2.0 ‘architecture of participation’ means that we collaborate on building…” Meikle and Young P67 “architecture of participation through which users add value to the system just by using it”

Neil Selwyn P77/78 “a process referred to by psychologists such as Peter Woods and Jerome Bruner as “scaffolding”…There is now considerable academic interest in the field of “computer supported collaborative learning” where individuals collaborate and learn at a distance via online tools such as wikis, blogs and other online collaborative workspaces. As Leask and Younie (2001) argue, online technologies can support access to knowledgeable others beyond the learners immediate environment and can form an important part of the “scaffolded” learning process. In this sense learning is now felt to be a technology-supported matter of a collaborative “we think” or “we all learn” rather than an individualized concern of what “I think” or “I learn” (Leadbetter 2008b, Bonk 2009)

Rettberg P47 “it is clear that technology does affect the ways in which we live, technology does not appear out of a void and is itself shaped by cultural developments. This more moderate view has been referred to as co-construction, a term that emphasizes the mutual dependencies between technologies and culture.”

Meikle and Young P19 “Benkler (2006: 383-459) argues that all mediated communication involves three layers, which he calls the physical, logical and content layers.” Physical layer: device  – computer. Logical layer: software – connectivity html/http protocols that underpin the web. Meikle and Young P20 Content layer: “the messages and ideas, the information and entertainment, the stories, songs and images that we share….Developments and possibilities are not only adopted but also adapted.”

I particularly like this idea of the three layers: almost like bricks in the construction of the “wall” that Heaney describes….fingers crossed for the examination tomorrow….

‘My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece’ by Annabel Pitcher

This wonderful book has been published as one of the Oxford University Press ‘Rollercoaster’ series and was therefore loaned to me by our school OUP rep Adam Malpas: http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/

Compelling reading is my verdict on this text. I received the book on Monday and finished it within twenty four hours. The first persona narrative voice of ten year old Jamie has the unnerving ability to naively question and raise contentious issues in our society through the eyes of a child. The issues raised include terrorism, the race and religion of his best friend Sunya, death, alcoholism, bullying, divorce, grief and a range of other difficult topics. Somehow the young protagonist has an inner resilience that keeps him going through tough times and he is lucky to have the companionship of his loyal best friend Sunya and his beloved cat Roger. I am going  to pass the book around my department so that the other staff can have a read and decide which age we would recommend the book for. There are a variety of different book covers for this text but none of those below are on my OUP version:

When you search this text on google images a picture of David Tenant comes up – Why? You may ask? Apparently he has done a reading of the text….the next shot is a picture of the writer Annabel Pitcher and this picture is the nearest to the one on my cover:


Whilst teaching my Year 13 Media girls yesterday, I realised that they were finding it hard to grasp the importance of the contemporary context of a media product. This understanding is vital when writing a response on the Mest 3 paper on Friday 15th June. We came up with a mnemonic to help the girls remember the contemporary factors to draw out: HESP. This stands for Historical, Economic, Social and Political factors. To demonstrate this point we looked at the two “Wall Street” films.

The 1987 film was directed by Oliver Stone and starred Michael Douglas and Michael Sheen. Gordon Gekko (Douglas) is represented as a wealthy, unscrupulous ‘hero’ who manipulates and persuades Bud Fox (Sheen). The young stockbroker, Fox,  is desperate to succeed and get to the top. He admires the ruthless and legendary Wall Street player, Gekko. The focus of the young man’s corruption within the narrative is on Insider Trading/Information to affect the value of stocks and shares. Ultimately Fox has to make a difficult choice. He has to choose between the future of the company “Bluestar”, a clear conscience and loyalty to his father or admiration and loyalty to the corrupt ‘anti-hero’ Gekko. This binary opposition between the two father figures as choices captures the premise of the plot. Will Fox emulate his father’s honest approach or follow Gekko’s mantra “greed, for lack of a better word, is good”?

The text captures the contemporary context of 1985  and was released in 1987. Therefore the issues and debates prevalent at the time clearly resonate and are reflected throughout this American drama. Similarly with the sequel: again directed by Stone and starring Douglas as Gekko. The plot this time is intertwined with a personal story on Gekko’s side: his estranged relationship with his daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan). The setting is firmly placed in the 2008 financial crisis and reflects the contemporary financial environment superbly. The text connotes a preoccupation with technological developments right from the opening when Gekko leaves prison and is returned his “brick” mobile phone in 2001 after a seven year sentence for Insider Trading. Winnie is involved with the internet in her career and her fiance proposes financial involvement in solar panels and fusion research.

David Buckingham mentions that “Wall Street” film in his book “The Material Child” on P68: “Don Slater (1997) reminds us, consumer culture has a long history. Slater neatly tracks the idea of consumerism backwards through history, starting from the bullish assertions of the Gordon Gekko character in the 1990s movie Wall Street, whose famous motto “greed is good” appeared to sum up the materialistic yuppie ethos of the time.”

A strong sense of HESP is effectively conveyed through both texts. Lets hope the girls remember HESP in their forthcoming examination….



We have secured yet another work experience placement for one of our sixth form girls from St Dominic’s! What a success. The sources of these new connections have been through contacts from my Business for Breakfast meetings and also through parental contacts. We are focusing on employability skills and making sure that the girls have had sufficient work experience opportunities to enhance their CVs for university applications or job applications. Here is a taste of the links we have secured for our girls and the placements they have gone ahead and secured themselves as a consequence:

Two girls have enjoyed opportunities through Steve Cranston of Lilac Media. One girl went for work experience in October half term and the next one has booked herself in for when we break up from school in July.

Alan Griffiths the Group MD of Mail Solutions Limited has agreed to offer two of our girls work experience placements at the Telford site this summer. They are currently negotiating the weeks of their placement directly.

Carl Croft of Croft Architecture took one of our girls for an amazing work experience opportunity back in October. She has gained confidence and insight by arranging this experience and returned to school with some amazing plans and drawings as testament to this fantastic experience.

Our latest connection is with Lesley of The Brand Warehouse in Stafford. One of our girls is currently arranging some experience there in the next couple of weeks whilst she is on study leave! What a dedicated student!

We have been delighted by how willing and supportive business owners are in providing such fantastic opportunities for young people. We hope that our girls continue to secure exciting opportunities for themselves in the future!


I have been searching for stimulus for teaching AQA Mest 3 to my A Level Media students. The first part of this paper: Section A will be an unseen moving image text followed by three questions.  Section B will be on their prepared case study: the topic the girls have chosen is the representation of disability in the media.

We watched “Salt”  which I thought was fantastic! It reminded me of a female version of the Bourne films and I had the feeling at the end that it may have a sequel…..So I researched this 2010 action film directed by Phillip Noyce. It stars Angelina Jolie as the female version of Jason Bourne – even the way she runs reminds me of the Bourne trilogy (I used to teach these texts previously – can you tell???) Jolie plays the character of Evelyn Salt who is accused of being an undercover Russian agent: she goes on the run to try to clear her name with a huge number of plot turns and twists.

Originally this film was written with a male protagonist in mind: I must say that I could see that as I watched. Apparently Tom Cruise was initially secured for the lead part but then the script was rewritten  for Jolie. I find it surprising that the film has received mixed reviews. There has been praise for the immense action scenes and Jolie’s performance which I must say that I agree with:  found her performance compelling (I did not think I would be saying that). 

However, the film has been criticised for the way it has been written with reviewers finding the plot implausible and too convoluted. However, I must say that personally although it was complicated, I loved the enigmas and the twists in the plot (we had to go back and stop it once for a re watch near the beginning and my husband totally missed the spider bit….) The DVD and Blu-ray apparently features two alternate cuts providing different endings for the movie: now I am intrigued as to what they are….This would be brilliant to teach for narrative theories and character roles. I do hope they make a sequel…..anyway must not stay blogging I have to get off to the summer fayre at school. Hopefully the wet weather won’t damped people’s spirits or affect the turnout of our annual big event.

Thin and Thick Tweets

I’m just reading in Meikle and Young about ‘thin’ and ‘thick’ tweets! My goodness! I’ve only just learned to tweet since starting this module! I have no idea if they are thin or thick!!! Apparently it is to do with tags and hashtags….I had no idea that hashtags (which I have never used!) according to Ch 5 p113 “can add an extra layer of information or perspective to a tweet. They are fundamental to the difference between what David Silver has termed ‘thin’ or ‘thick’ tweets (2009). In this distinction, ‘thin’ tweets offer a single piece or layer of information. These may be trivial….’Thick’ tweets in contrast, offer several layers of information in 140 characters or fewer, by for example including a link, a comment on that link, and a hash tag that complements both, while also helping to situate the tweet within a larger conversation.”
I am definitely “thin” my tweets are not “thick” I will aspire to thick ones! I will surely need the help of hubby to do this – he has had to help me change my twitter name from my personal name @flosscowley to @stdoms6form tonight!!! Apparently I will be linked to the live feed on the website…….right I’m off to bed to continue reading “The Woman in Black”.



We watched the 2011 film “Bad Teacher” at the weekend with Cameron Diaz and Justin Timberlake. Hhhhmmmmppphhh! As if the unrealistic portrayal of teachers generally in “Waterloo Road” and specifically of Becca in “Hollyoaks” wasn’t bad enough!

“Bad Teacher” professes to be a comedy……I did not find it very amusing personally…..although I must admit the car washing scene and the breast enlargement parts were amusing despite being somewhat unrealistic….I do wonder what extensive experience of teaching the Director Jake Kasdan has? Similarly the scriptwriters: Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky – a great deal of teaching expertise??? I liked the “keen” teacher Amy Squirrell and her portrayal in the first part of the film immensely. However, the second half deteriorated somewhat…….There were some interesting symbols with the apple, the dolphins (reminds me of my blog yeaterday), the Annie wig….I think I will agreed with the mixed reviews of the critics on this one ( I will not even mention the favourable review of my husband!)


It was a busy week at St Dominic’s last week. The deadline for all of the coursework was looming: GCSE English Language and Literature, AS and A2 Media, AS and A2 English Literature. It was a hectic week! However, I am pleased to report that it was all successfully completed and sent to the relevant moderators on time….sigh of relief you might think?!?! However, coupled with the coursework deadlines were the final lessons prior to the examinations in all of the above subjects. The GCSE and A Level examinations began in earnest today therefore the Year 11 and 12 girls left for study leave on Friday. The Media AS examination is tomorrow and the English Literature the day after that. I have had some one-to-one sessions with certain girls today to support their final preparations for the examinations. This has lead me to reflect on the nature of their learning. Some pupils naturally learn superficial details of the texts they are studying. This type of candidate tends to know the specification well and tend to be informed about grade boundaries and past paper questions. In contrast, other types of learners probe and delve deeply into the subject/topic/text and try to plan/ practice all of the types of questions that may come up in the examination. They need reassurance that they will be able to answer the questions whereas the others may need prompting to work productively.

 The deep learners who strive for knowledge are often concerned about the nature of the examination and whether they will be able to answer a question. I thought these pictures from our honeymoon boat trip in El Gouna captured both types perfectly. I wonder how many dolphins I will have tomorrow? More to the point am I a dolphin skimming the surface?



This link shows the current uniform for the sixth form girls at St Dominic’s at the moment….however – change is near!!!!

The sixth form girls have trialled “Dress Down Friday” since September 2011. This involved the girls wearing their own clothes on to see how they would respond to more freedom in term of attire next year. The girls have been really mature  about this privilege: they have enjoyed the freedom of choosing their own clothes yet still shown a sense of responsiblity. The girl have had an awareness of how they should present themselves to the younger girls as role models and also a conception of how they would like to portray themselves to the wider community. The two Deputy Head Girls came up with some rules for how the girls should look and these have been sensibly adhered to. Consequently we are planning to relax the uniform rules to allow “Business suits” next year. I have drafted a policy this morning ready for discussion with the new Head in my next meeting on Thursday. I am looking forward to more of this policy development and changes over the coming months as I further establish myself in my Head of sixth form role alongside the new Head and his vision for the sixth form….should be interesting…..

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