Creating Texts: Stimulus Materials

mother helping her daughter with her homework

Over the past few months we’ve started to see more supporting materials make their way to the VCAA Advice for Teachers pages for the 2024 English and EAL Study Design. One of the key additions has been the “stimulus materials” for Unit 3 Outcome 2: Creating Texts.

The examples on the VCAA website – three stimulus materials for the framework of ideas Writing about Play, offer some insight into how the VCAA sees the assessment of this outcome. In this post, I’ll explore the stimulus materials and make some suggestions for suitable stimuli for other areas, including for Year 11 Unit 1 OC 2 Crafting Texts.

I’m also working on a PDF collection of stimulus materials which will be added to the VCE Hub, along with resources and videos to support Unit 3 and 4. If you’re already a member, these are included in your current membership. If you haven’t signed up yet, it’s a one-off fee with lifetime access to all of the Unit 1-4 materials, and it’s regularly updated.

As the VCAA provides more information about the new Study Design, I’ll keep adding to these posts and resources. For some of the previous posts on this area of study (and the related area Crafting Texts), check out these links:

The Stimulus Materials

Here are the stimulus material examples the VCAA provides for Writing about Play:

Writing about play

Drawing on the writing you have drafted, explored and completed over this unit of work, create a written text that explicitly incorporates one of the items of stimulus (below), for an audience of your peers in a public context. The purpose of the written text is to be determined by you.

Stimulus 1

“Play is, by definition, a safety space. If a designer or artist can make safe spaces that allow the negotiation of real-world concepts, issues, and ideas, then a game can be successful in facilitating the exploration of innovative solutions for apparently intractable problems.”

Mary Flanagan, Critical Play: Radical Game Design

Stimulus 2

“According to the pianist and essayist Stephen Nachmanovitch, play is sometimes conceived as a threat to normativity precisely because it wastes time. A game of amateur soccer or netball is measurably productive: it is good for our physical health, it develops teamwork skills. Similarly positive outcomes can be matched to more intellectual games like chess or cryptic crosswords. But if we devote too much time to this kind of play at the expense of family or work duties, we open ourselves up to criticism. I wonder about this, and about the double-edged nature of my radically altered state since play became such a large part of my everyday life. ‘Play is not the way to maintain a tightly controlled society,’ writes Nachmanovitch, ‘or a clear definition of what is good, true or beautiful.’ No, it isn’t. And that’s what makes it so delightful. That’s what makes me want to defend it.”

Julienne van Loon, ‘The play of days’,

Stimulus 3

“I went to great lengths in that environment to hide my sexuality while I was playing footy, I didn’t want any of them to figure it out. And what that looks like to give you an idea was I would second guess everything that I said or did — I wouldn’t get involved in conversations about relationships or what I was doing on the weekend out of fear that they might figure it out. And I even went to the extent of creating a separate Facebook list, so that just my teammates wouldn’t see photos I was tagged in, places I was checked into or what my relationship status was. And it probably limited the kinds of friendships and bonds that I could have developed with my teammates growing up. Cause I was always hiding a big part of my life.”  

Jason Ball, ‘I Played Better,

Rather than a detailed analysis of each of these, here is a discussion of the similarities between the stimuli to provide some insight into why the VCAA has chosen these particular examples:

  1. Each stimulus focuses on the concept of play in some form, whether it’s within the context of game design, the role of play in society, or personal experiences of play in a sports setting.
  2. They all explore the societal or personal implications of play, addressing issues such as the negotiation of real-world concepts, the balance between play and responsibilities, or the personal struggles faced while participating in a team sport.
  3. The stimuli present diverse perspectives on the concept of play, suggesting that it has multifaceted meanings and impacts on individuals and societies.
  4. Each stimulus encourages critical thinking about the role and influence of play. They prompt readers to question traditional views and expectations about play.
  5. They all contain personal insights or experiences, highlighting the unique and individualised nature of play.

These similarities make for reasonable criteria if you’re selecting your own stimuli, perhaps for revision or for Unit 1 OC2, where you choose your own key idea. You’re essentially looking for stimuli which are aligned to the key idea/framework; based in the real world; diverse; encourage critical thinking; personal and individualised.

Applying those criteria, here’s another example which could be used for play:

Play is foundational for bonding relationships and fostering tolerance. It’s where we learn to trust and where we learn about the rules of the game. Play increases creativity and resilience, and it’s all about the generation of diversity—diversity of interactions, diversity of behaviours, diversity of connections.

Isabel Behncke – What Can Bonobos Teach Us About Play? Excerpt from podcast transcript

Finding stimulus materials for your key ideas

Whether you’re looking for materials for the key idea in Year 11, or the framework in Year 12, you can use the above criteria to help identify suitable stimuli. However, for Year 11 in particular I’d advise looking for smaller quotes to use as stimulus material. These are both easier to find, and more accessible. For the key idea of Futures, for example, you could use the following quotes:

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.

Søren Kierkegaard

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.

Eleanor Roosevelt

If you want to be happy, do not dwell in the past, do not worry about the future, focus on living fully in the present.

Roy T. Bennett – The Light in the Heart​​

Using the stimulus materials

VCAA provides three examples of ways in which these stimulus materials can be used as part of the assessment:

  1. Teacher provides a set of seen/unseen stimulus materials based on the idea selected from the Framework of Ideas. Students determine the context, the audience and the purpose of their written piece and construct it over two supervised lessons.
  2. Teacher provides a set of unseen stimulus materials based on the idea selected from the Framework of Ideas and determines the audience and context for which the written text is constructed. Students develop a written text within those parameters but determine their own purpose.
  3. As a class, students develop set of stimulus materials based on the idea selected from the Framework of Ideas. These stimulus materials are shared with all members of the class. Students select from the stimulus materials and produce a written text incorporating their chosen stimulus, in consideration of an audience, a context and a purpose. Teachers determine an appropriate process of authentication for the submitted text.

If you’ve been around here for a while, you probably know that number 3 would be my choice. Giving students the ability to not only generate their own stimulus materials, but to also have the freedom to write outside of exam conditions, over time, is an important part of the writing process. The SACs are not the exam, and number 3 values that idea.

Will this be on the exam?

Although we don’t know what the examination for 2024 looks like – and we won’t, until after the 2023 exam – we can hazard a guess now that a stimulus or prompt will play a part. Back when this study design first rolled out, I had conversations speculating about the need for some sort of unseen material such as a prompt in the exam. That’s because otherwise students would be able to enter the exam with a totally preprepared response, which unfairly advantages some pupils.

Without a crystal ball, I can predict that Section B of the 2024 examination will have stimulus materials similar to the examples for the VCAA advice for teachers. I’d guess that they may be shorter than the examples on the website, perhaps more like the quotes I listed earlier, or somewhere between. They’ll have to be accessible and not contain any overly complex vocabulary, in-keeping with everything else in the exam.

Come the end of the year when we get a sample examination paper, we’ll be able to confirm these guesses.

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