Choices

by Dianne Wolfer

Teaching Ideas - by Alwyn Evans

The table below links the activities which follow with the English Outcomes, indicating those through which students may move towards achieving each outcome. Teachers will be aware that activities may simultaneously contribute to progress towards many other outcomes which may be general overarching outcomes, as well as those from other learning areas.

English Learning Outcomes

Activities (numbered in sections below)

1. Understanding Language

1,2,3,4,5,7,8,9,10,11,13,14,15,16,17,18

2. Attitudes and Beliefs

1,2,3,4,5,6,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18

3. Conventions

2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 14, 16

4. Processes and Strategies

3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 17, 18

5. Listening

1, 3, 6, 10, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17, 18

6. Speaking

1, 3, 6, 10, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17, 18

7. Viewing

1, 3, 7, 11, 13, 17, 18

8. Reading

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 14, 16, 17, 18

9. Writing

2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 14, 16, 17, 18

A. Synopsis

Dianne Wolfer uses her main character, Elisabeth, who is in her final year of high school, to explore two points of view which reflect two of the paths Elisabeth may choose when she finds out she is pregnant. As Libby she chooses to keep her baby, and as Beth she chooses an abortion. In tandem we share with Libby and Beth the 39 weeks of a pregnancy, and 16 weeks after the birth of a baby, to examine the effects each choice has on the life of her character, Elisabeth.

B. Interview with the author (I: Interviewer; DW: Dianne Wolfer)

I:

Dianne, your topic is one which interests every teen, but the structure of your book is quite unique. How, and why, did you come to present it this way?

DW:

I enjoy writing split storylines. My first book, Dolphin Song also has two stories that intersect. In Choices I was interested in exploring the question of fate versus free will. To what degree our lives are pre-determined. I often wonder about those moments when we make decisions, are we really choosing, or are our lives already mapped out? I’m no closer to knowing, but I find the thought fascinating.

I:

How did you research your topic?

DW:

One reference was Sheila Kitzinger’s book Pregnancy and Childbirth, which I bought in 1991 when I was pregnant with my daughter, Sophie. The book has information and pictures of foetal development and also notes detailing physical changes in the mother-to-be. That was useful in giving me both snippets, and an overview for Libby. For Beth’s story, I spoke to friends about terminations and Dr Christiane Northrup’s book Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom was also very helpful.

I:

Are the opinions, events and ideas in your book based on those of real people?

DW:

No, I have drawn on many women’s stories and this made writing the birth scene fun (but exhausting). Neither Libby nor Beth is based on a real person.

Regarding opinions, I felt that it was very important to not make value judgements. By the end of the book, both Beth and Libby feel that they have made the right decision. My personal feeling is that girls should be given clear, honest information, then be supported in whichever choice they make.

I:

You have chosen a particular religion, or faith, for your leading character - why?

DW:

One of the things writers do is give their characters conflict. Without conflict there is no story. Although I am not Catholic, I felt that Elisabeth’s ‘choice’ would be that much harder if she was part of a community that strongly disagrees with abortion. Giving my leading character and her family a firm sense of faith complicates things, adding more tension. It also reduces Elisabeth’s support network, forcing her to look within for strength.

I:

Why did you choose to focus on the point of view of the mother (and potential mother) and not the father of the child (or potential father)?

DW:

I have tried to include Darren’s point of view as much as possible. Pages 111,187 and the birth scene are a few examples of times when Darren’s reactions and feelings are explored. Ultimately though, it is Elisabeth’s body and therefore her story I was most interested in.

I:

What aspect of writing do you find hardest?

DW:

Editing!!!!!

I:

What is the most rewarding thing about it?

DW:

Holding the book, for the first time. After months/years of working on a manuscript, seeing the final product complete with cover art that enhances the story is a very special moment. I also love seeing my books in bookshops and libraries, or even better, in the hands of an engrossed reader! Receiving e-mails and positive feedback from readers is also wonderful.

I:

Have you any advice for would-be writers?

DW:

Join a writers group or find a writing buddy who will read and critique your work. Drafting and redrafting is an essential step in discovering exactly what you are trying to say. There are heaps of story competitions around, try entering a few. Hear the advice of others, but listen most to your inner voice. Don’t listen to the demons in your head saying your writing is no good. Perhaps it just needs another edit.

C. Suggestions for studying the text

BEFORE READING

1. 2.

Write your predictions and comments about:

Then, put away your notes until after you've read the book.

3.

Research (individually or in groups), and record your findings in your journal, some issues related to, and aspects of pregnancy, and of being a young mother, which relate to your own context. For example:

DURING READING

4.

Keep a journal and record your thoughts about, and reactions to, what you are reading. You may choose to keep your responses to Libby and Beth separately, one at the front of the journal, and one at the back. Don't feel that you have to write a 'book' each time, sometimes you may simply write something like:

June 5th: I'm not ready to comment today, I'll wait to finish Part One - I'm up to 'Beth 36 weeks'.

On other occasions you might feel strongly about something and write detailed notes, in:

5.

Or, you may prefer to keep a journal about a fictitious pregnancy which follows the stages discussed in Choices. In it you could explore both what is happening physically and emotionally.

6.

At intervals, discuss with a partner, or in class, your interpretations of events and characters. Note similarities and differences, and try to figure out reasons for these … And, try to make predictions for each character. Take notes of your discussions.

7.

The book is set in Perth, you may like to copy an overview map of the metro area for your journal, and mark sites as they are mentioned (e.g. Swan River, UWA …)

AFTER READING

Choose from the suggestions below, or follow your own interests, perhaps raised in your journal entries, to explore further, issues raised in Choices.

8.

The main plot revolves around an unwanted pregnancy. Write your own synopsis of the plot to encourage others to read the book.

9.

Many sub-plots and themes are also explored. Some are:

Choose one (some) of these themes, or others you have identified, and find at least three examples in the book of where the author has explored your chosen theme(s).

Write where you found each example (Part One/Two, page number and paragraph) and explain in your own words the point of view expressed, including whose it is.

Alternatively, chapter by chapter, identify the themes which are being developed in addition to the main plot.

10.

One of many techniques Dianne Wolfer uses in Choices, is the story's structure which is clearly shaped by the two points of view from which it is told. What is interesting is that these points of view are those of the same character - depending on the life-changing choice she made. Discuss: Was this technique effective in conveying the story to you? Why do you think it worked/didn't work? What effect would it have had if Dianne had chosen to write about two different pregnant teenage girls, who each made one of the choices described?

11.

Choose an event from Choices, and rewrite it as a play script to act out with the class. Make masks for the characters to wear.

12.

Write about, and discuss things you would need to take into account if you were making Elisabeth's decision. Compare your response after reading Choices, with what you thought you'd do when you discussed this (see question 3) before you read the book.

13.

In groups: imagine Choices is to be made into a television series, and you are responsible for the music. What would you choose as theme song/music for the series? Why? Each episode will show both Beth's and Libby's point of view about a particular stage/event ... But, instead of being told as tandem stories as in the book, it will be filmed as one story showing the different points of view by cutting from one to the other. Decide on music which suits each character, and explain how this could be used to indicate to viewers whose viewpoint is being shown.

14.

Consider the two main characters, Beth and Libby, do you find them equally believable? Do you like one more than the other? Write your reasons for your answers.

15.

In your groups, discuss the secondary characters and note your opinions about each, for example: Was each believable? How well was each developed? Was this appropriate for their part in the story? How did the author give information about each? Were their words and actions consistent with their personalities as you understood them? Can you suggest other ways to develop characters? Share your group's findings with the whole class.

16.

Friendship is important to most people. Write about what it means to you. In groups, discuss what you've written, and compare similarities and differences in the viewpoints expressed. Consider what the differences mean to friendships. How far would you support a friend who does something you disagree with? Is the kind of action relevant, or does your response hold for everything?

17.

Discussion topics, these may be researched prior to discussing in class:

18.

Debating topics:

Please note: enquiries about any of the titles listed in these notes may be made by e-mail at facp@iinet.net.au or by telephone on (08) 9430 6331.