Crowdsourced research – the proposal

An update post on the current status of our “Team English Crowdsourced Research” project, here is the outline proposal that I am working with so far.  I am delighted to be meeting with the English and Media Centre this week to discuss further.  So watch this space…

Research project proposal – How can we best teach essay writing (in KS3)?

Hypothesis:

Teaching oversimplified essay writing structures (such as PQE, PEA, PEEL) at KS3 inhibits cogent and sophisticated written expression and limits opportunities for the creation of individual, detailed and powerful arguments in KS4 and KS5.

Introduction

The acquisition of academic written language is now increasingly a focus of the English classroom.  Students’ ability to express, in a cogent manner, their analysis and interpretation of literary texts remains the primary mode of assessment, both internally within school and through public examination.Yet, essay writing remains an area of low confidence for students right the way through to A Level.  Additionally, with a time-pressured curriculum, teachers often rely on essay writing as taught at KS3, to underpin analytical writing at KS4.  Students arriving into Year 7 have little experience of essay writing, having only been exposed to the formulaic devices of genre, audience and purpose within the remit of original writing.  This habitual approach to tick-box writing is carried onto KS3 analytical writing, as teachers strive for the easiest possible approach to essay writing, in addition to mastering the new skills of close analysis, contextual links and understanding the writer’s intention.

It is no surprise then that in order to provide students with the greatest opportunity for success, within what is often perceived to be a flawed assessment system, teachers have devised numerous strategies for scaffolding analytical writing.  The true purpose of ‘scaffolding’ is to provide support and structure for initial learning and demonstration of understanding, yet there comes a time, when metaphorically the scaffolding needs to be removed.  In practice it seems, however, that an over-reliance by teachers on these structures has resulted in analytical writing becoming a gap-fill exercise, rather than a well argued discussion of a literary text.

The proliferation of essay writing structures (such as PEE, PQE, PEAL), particularly as used by students sitting public examinations, has resulted in criticism by examination boards.

There are two main issues at stake:

  1. The structure of analytical writing itself, and then
  2. The skill of expressing in writing analytical thought and discussion.

It is the purpose, of this present study,to explore both of these issues.  To challenge the use of overly simplified essay structures as “a way in” to analytical writing, to explore how analytical writing should be structured and to explore approaches to written expression itself.

Methodology

In order to investigate fully the implications of teaching essay writing and its impact across students’ progression through school, it would be necessary to undertake a specific large scale case study of pupils, together with extensive field research.

Although empirical data collection maybe possible with the results of participation such data is not the purpose of this study.

The aim of this study is to be wide-ranging including participants from a number of UK secondary schools.  Currently, the expectation of participants is:

  • They teach English in UK secondary school
  • They will have two KS3 classes available from September 2014
  • They will be prepared to provide data, evidence and analysis at some point before January 2015.
  • They have been granted permission to collect data by their schools.
  • They will be prepared to use at least eight lessons with each class to participate in this research.

Participants will gather evidence and data through observation and assessment using the following methods:

Class 1: PEE/PQE – the control group

Participants will deliver a series of structured lessons based on a named literary text, students will use their own in-house essay structure to write an analytical response.  These responses will then be gathered and compared against responses gathered from the test group.

The rationale of the control group is to allow validation of the success and usefulness of simplified essay structures.

Class 2: the test group

Participants will deliver a series of structured lessons based on a named literary text, as part of these lessons students will be untaught their own in-house essay structure and will explore approaches to writing sophisticating and cogent analysis.

These responses will then be gathered and compared against responses gathered from the control group.

Interested in joining in?

Please add your details here.

Previous posts:

Crowdsourced research are you game?

 

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