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Ministry of Education.

Voices and signs: The piano

Students explore Victorian and contemporary attitudes, different approaches to the film and director Jane Campion's striking and creative use of cinematic techniques.

Learning Outcomes | Teaching and Learning | Assessment and Evaluation | Printing Version

Writer: Mark Osborne
Year level 13
Who are my learners and what do they already know? See  Planning  Using Inquiry
School curriculum outcomes How your school’s principles, values, or priorities will be developed through this unit

Learning Outcomes

 (What do my students need to learn)

Curriculum achievement objectives (AOs) for:  

Processes and strategies

Integrate sources of information, processes, and strategies purposefully, confidently, and precisely to identify, form, and express increasingly sophisticated ideas.

  • thinks critically about texts with understanding and confidence
  • creates a range of increasingly coherent, varied, and complex texts by integrating sources of information and processing strategies


Select, develop, and communicate sustained and insightful ideas on a range of topics.

  • develops, communicates, and sustains sophisticated ideas, information, and understandings

Language features

Select, integrate and sustain a range of language features appropriately for a variety of effects.

  • uses a wide range of text conventions, including grammatical and spelling conventions, appropriately, effectively, and with accuracy.


Organise texts, using a range of appropriate, coherent, and effective structures.

  • organises and develops ideas and information for a particular purpose or effect, using the characteristics and conventions of a range of text forms with control.
Achievement Standard(s) aligned to AO(s) S 90723 Respond critically to oral or visual text studied

Teaching and Learning

 (What do I need to know and do?)

1-2 related professional readings or links to relevant research

Planning  Using Inquiry

English Teaching and Learning Guide 

Learning task 1:

Learning intention(s)

Examining key character aspects

KCs/ Principles/Values focus


Thinking – explore texts

Relate to others – peer discussion

Learning task 1

  1. Ada's background
    View the opening montage. Brainstorm all the information the class can remember about Ada McGrath. Identify decisions in this information and suggest what this shows us about the nature of her character. Most of this information is summarised in the Ada profile. Complete the Ada grid.
  2. Stewart
    View the scene following the arrival of Stewart's party on the beach until the shot of the piano alone on the beach. This allows us to see some of Stewart's character.
    Pay close attention to the things he says, for example "You're small, I never thought you'd be small."
 Discuss how our ideas of this character are formed over the course of this scene. Copy each of the Stewart quotes onto separate pieces of paper, divide the class into mixed ability groups and give each group a copy of each quote.
  3. Baines
    The same scene as above. Talk about how much of our knowledge of Baines is developed through the way he is contrasted with Stewart. Stewart: "What do you think?"
Baines: "She looks tired sir."
Stewart: "She's stunted, that's one thing."

Learning task 2:

Learning intention(s)

Examining key text aspects

KCs/ Principles/Values focus KCs:
Thinking – close reading

Learning task 2


  1. Write a definition of "Motif" on the whiteboard: "Theme that is repeated and developed in an artistic, musical or literary work."
  2. View the opening montage from the film, where Ada has her hands in front of her face. Look at what areas are dark and what areas are light. Brainstorm associations and ideas of white/light and black/dark on the whiteboard. Explain the one motif from the Piano is the contrast between darkness and light and the associations that we bring to them.
  3. Divide the class into 4-5 groups and give each group a copy of the motifs. Assemble the pieces into some arrangement that makes sense. Once the pieces have been compiled, choose which four rows are the most thought provoking and write them down.

Motifs, Confinement and Fingers

Copy the confinement resource onto card and cut it up so that each sentence is on a separate piece of paper. Hand these out to the class one each or one between two. There are two broad areas under which all of their notes will fit. The class must decide amongst themselves what these areas are and each student must be able to place their piece of information under the correct heading.

Close Viewing

Divide the class into six mixed ability groups, and assign each of one particular area of the scene to look at. Each group must look at their particular area and develop a series of key points summarising the most important information. Groups can view the scene three times before beginning their notes. These are to be reported back to the rest of the class. Each group member must have a copy of the notes.

Reporting back

Each group allocates a scribe to write the notes on the whiteboard for each of the other groups to copy down. Discuss findings.

Other Eyes: A Post Colonial View of the Piano

Discuss the idea of the impact of the colonial experience on New Zealand. Divide the class into four even groups and give each group one of the mutual dictation sheets.

When combined, these handouts form a set of notes. Start with the group who has the first word on the page. (In this case Group 2) Somebody reads this word, which is copied down by the whole class. This is followed by the group that has the second word, and so on. Once somebody has read a word, they must pass the page to the person beside them. This ensures that everyone keeps up with the notes and that the groups are not dominated by one or two people. It sounds chaotic, but it works well. (It is not until the end of the exercise that the class actually realises they have written an entire page of notes.)

Learning task 3:

Learning intention(s)

Drafting and polishing writing.

KCs/ Principles/Values focus


Use language, symbols and texts – structure and express understandings about texts

Learning task 3

Developing an essay

  1. You now have information and notes based around the following areas:
    • Character development (and associated techniques): Ada, Stewart and Baines
    • Setting
    • Film techniques
    • Motifs (Light/Dark, Fingers and Confinement)
    • Post Colonial issues
  2. Begin to mould the information about the film that you now have into more of a compact form. Work in small groups to construct one essay, and construct one essay on your own.
  3. As formative work for AS 90723 Respond critically to oral or visual text studied, develop an essay on a topic linked to an aspect above. In selecting a topic, it is vital that you select one suited to your understandings about it. As a first step in making a selection, consider the topics set in previous exam papers. Talk with your teacher about the most appropriate topic for the learning completed. In selecting a topic, give preference to a topic in a paper from the last few years.
  4. Look at the 2008 AS90723 exemplars. Additional exemplars are also available for this achievement standard by ordering the NZATE exemplar resource.
  5. Look over the Assessment Reports for AS 90723. As identified in the report, an excellence level response:
    • sustained a cogent argument/discussion of the question
    • displayed maturity and insight of critical response
    • displayed judicious and/or insightful personal response and judgement
    • integrated liberal, detailed relevant evidence and reference to texts to support ideas, throughout the essay
    • explained and explored with insight and perception, the relevance of teacher notes, critics’ comments, reviews etc to the topic and to the candidate’s own position as viewer
    • structured a lucid, focused essay, using sophisticated expression and language
    • wrote accurately and expressed ideas confidently in academic writing
  6. Having selected a topic, develop an essay. Write at least 400 words. Support your ideas with specific details from your work in earlier learning tasks.
  7. After completing a first draft, read your piece aloud to help identify parts of the writing that require reworking. Before writing a final version of your piece, proof-read it to improve on technical accuracy. Prior to writing the final draft, you should return to the exemplars to help reflect on whether any changes or additions are needed in your own final draft. You should also refer to the Assessment Schedule for AS 90723.

Preparing for AS90723 at the end of the year

 Look back at the essay you developed earlier and use it to help prepare for the external standard. Don’t rote learn this essay then attempt to somehow adapt a learnt essay to a topic in the exam. You will be much better prepared if you familiarise yourself again with the text as well as its ideas and supporting evidence, then adapt your understandings and supporting evidence to fit the requirements of the topics set.

Learning task 4:

Learning intention(s)

Extending learning

KCs/ Principles/Values focus KCs: Thinking – explore texts

Learning task 4 – Additional Resources

Assessment and Evaluation

 (What is the impact of my teaching and learning?)

Formative and/or Summative assessment task(s), including how will feedback be provided AS 90723 Respond critically to oral or visual text studied

Provision for identifying next learning steps for students who need:

  • further learning opportunities
  • increased challenge

This piece of writing should be an integrated part of the year’s writing programme. Refer to

English Teaching and Learning Guide 

 for more details.

Tools or ideas which, for example might be used to evaluate:

  • progress of the class and groups within it
  • student engagement

leading to :

  • changes to the sequence
  • addressing teacher learning needs
See  Planning  Using Inquiry

Printing this unit:

If you are not able to access the zipped files, please download the following individual files.

Published on: 12 Dec 2010