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Developing Confident Responses to Literature at A Level or The Joy of Assessment Objectives and Examiners’ Reports.

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Presentation on theme: "Developing Confident Responses to Literature at A Level or The Joy of Assessment Objectives and Examiners’ Reports."— Presentation transcript:

1 Developing Confident Responses to Literature at A Level or The Joy of Assessment Objectives and Examiners’ Reports

2 Gary Snapper Till 2001, HoD in 11-18 comprehensive in Cambridge Now at Cheney School, Oxford (11-18 comprehensive, mixed and multicultural catchment) – Part-time teacher of A Level Literature (AQA B) and GCSE Re-sits National Association for the Teaching of English (NATE) – Editor of English Drama Media; Post-16 Committee Brunel University – – Research Associate (Research into Post-16 English) Freelance – Teacher training – A Level and IB Literature – PGCE and INSET – Independent – not an adviser, inspector or examiner! No drum to bang….

3 This workshop… … takes Assessment Objectives as its focus because of the diversity of specifications … is about teaching the knowledge and skills that might enable A Level students to be more confident about: – reading, analysing and interpreting texts – setting texts in various broader contexts – writing about texts – and thereby hitting Assessment Objectives

4 Sources There are few sources of official advice, apart from syllabus-specific advice from exam boards No up-to-date books on teaching A Level Literature, and little other accessible writing or research Ideas emerge from: – my own teaching of A Level and I.B. literature – my work with teachers and PGCE students – my research into Post-16 English – my involvement with QCA, exam boards etc in consultations over A Level criteria and specifications – long-established student-centred methods (e.g. English and Media Centre)

5 Focus of workshop 1. Some key issues (30 mins?) 2. Exploring Assessment Objectives (1 hr?) – What the examiners say the issues are – Experiences in the classroom – Some resources and methods to develop students’ confidence 3. Teaching beyond the set text (1 hr?)

6 Some key issues 1. A LEVEL – MOVING ON FROM GCSE Students need to be moved fast from relatively fragmented and teacher-directed work at GCSE to more sustained, independent and engaged working practices suitable for A Level and university This creates significant pressure, perhaps especially at AS Homework and classwork both key issues

7 Some key issues 2.THE MIXED ABILITY A LEVEL CLASSROOM A Level classes often more mixed ability than GCSE classes Levels of motivation, engagement and contribution often vary widely – in and out of class Success at GCSE does not guarantee success at A Level GCSE grades do not always guarantee confidence in reading or writing

8 Some key issues 3. A LEVEL – PREPARATION FOR UNIVERSITY Since A Level changes in 2000 and 2008, greater emphasis in English Literature on: – Comparative study and independent study of texts – Independent writing and responsible referencing – Multiple contexts and interpretations of texts – Formalised approaches to literary forms, structures, genres, etc – Theory, criticism and creativity Brings A Level Eng Lit into line with Eng Lang, and with University English and Arts/Humanities but increases demand at A Level – for teachers and students

9 Is Change Good? Changes are meant to modernise the study of literature at A Level, and to demystify it (the study, not the literature) by making its theoretical and analytical basis more explicit…. Less about appreciation, more about analysis Positives – a more open, accessible subject? A better preparation for further study and cultural understanding? Negatives – a more difficult subject? Less about enjoyment of reading?

10 GCSE to A Level Problems Difficulty with extended independent reading tasks – set texts and wider reading Difficulty with extended independent writing tasks – essays Difficulty engaging productively in relatively free classroom discussion environment Self-consciousness in new and mixed ability environment Difficulty grasping new concepts and understanding the purposes and parameters of the subject beyond passing the exam Moving beyond plot, character, theme – from text as ‘story’ to text as ‘cultural representation’; from ‘reading’ to ‘analysis’; etc.

11 A Level to University Problems Exactly the same problems! But NB – particular difficulty with: – Reading criticism and theory – Reading old texts and poetry – Reading range and quantity of texts – Placing texts in a range of social, political, cultural, historical, literary contexts – Understanding discourses about literary and cultural values and theories, questioning conventional views of literature – Moving from wanting to read and discuss interesting books to wanting to ‘study literature’ Hence many of the recent changes at A Level

12 So… Students need a clear, structured and systematic approach to understanding the methods, purposes, range and concerns of the subject Students need to become capable of sustained, independent approaches to reading and writing in and out of class but such approaches need to be gradually introduced and modelled

13 Assessment Objectives... If used carefully, can be a useful way for teachers to think about what they have to teach in order to develop the broad skills and knowledge needed to grasp the subject If used carefully, can be a useful way for students to think about what they have to learn in order to develop the broad skills and knowledge needed to grasp the subject But they can also deaden the subject….

14 Assessment Objectives … If the skills and knowledge required to meet the assessment objectives are taught organically as part of the syllabus, AOs should not be a problem when the assessment comes around. There is no need to mention AOs until the assessment happens – as long as the skills and knowledge required have been taught previously Focusing on AOs too soon or too often can be de- motivating and reductive – but teaching the skills and knowledge implied by them should be happening all the time

15 Examiners’ Reports… … give a crucial insight into how examiners interpret the subject / AOs, and can help inform work in class … can be shared with students when they are preparing their assessments Other exam board material – e.g., sample student responses and standardisation material, are also invaluable for both teacher and student use

16 AO1 - Writing Communicating knowledge and understanding of texts through: Relevant and coherent arguments Structured and organised writing Expressive and accurate writing Use of appropriate terminology Issues: Coursework task-setting, Answering the exam question, Structuring argument, Accuracy and clarity of expression, Presentation and terminology

17 AO2 – Structure, Form, Language, Identification of aspects of structure, form and language Critical exploration of how these shape meaning References to text to support ideas Issues: Definitions and coverage; Genre-specific understandings (novel, poetry, drama); Understanding creativity and convention; Understanding the craft of the writer; Understanding possible intended effects

18 AO3 - Interpretation Exploration of connections and comparisons between texts Engaging with different readings and interpretations of texts Issues: Comparison as more than a routine – what is it for?; Narratives as interpretations of the world – representations; Connections between AO2,3,4; Role of criticism and theory – wider reading; Own ideas and others’ ideas – assimilation, plagiarism, referencing

19 AO4 - Context Relationships between literary texts and their contexts Influence of culture, text type, literary genre, historical period on the ways in which literary texts are/were received Issues: Contexts of production and reception; Integrating context not tacking it on; Encouraging research and wider reading for context

20 AO5? Student engagement Contributing to discussion in class Being intellectually engaged in class Managing sustained reading and writing out of class Issues: Structured freedom – breaking down tasks and giving responsibility for feedback and presentation; discreet differentiation; varied approaches to group work and text work

21 Beyond the Set Text Teaching Poetry not Poems Teaching The Novel not Novels Teaching Drama not Plays – Within the time constraints and whilst maintaining a focus on set texts Engaging students in understanding and questioning what they are doing and why – meta-cognitive awareness – can have very positive effects Can we envisage a ‘knowledge about literature’ curriculum?


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