A very brief, very late in the day post from me.
Essentially to share 5 practice papers for CIE iGCSE Extended Reading Question 3 – part A.
One school day (and a bit) to go.
Good luck all.
It was Friday, lesson 5. The first week back after the holidays was a scorcher. Our rooms go from pleasantly warm to Primark sweatbox by lunchtime. Children and adults alike are ‘well-done’ by the end of the day.
Added to that Year 11 are on the big countdown. You can’t walk down a corridor without spotting a member of SLT carrying out a Year 11 intervention. I know that my Year 11 lessons are going to be ‘checked’. Not because I am a worry, but to ensure the children are taking the exam prep as seriously as us grown ups are.
Thank the good Lord that no one came into my lesson p5 yesterday.
In the world of checklists, tick boxes and interventions it would have been an epic fail. The LO was “How do I study an unseen text?”
The starter task was – can you define the following terms:
We were going to read the Emma Watson speech – analyse the persuasive techniques and look at the various responses. This is the text we were due to read that lesson. Gender – Emma W
We never made it that far. We did not get past the starter task. This year 11 class is small, 11 students, 8 boys, 3 girls. Absence is high. Motivation to succeed is also high – now. But knowledge and skills are still being developed. They are weak and slow readers. More often than not, they misunderstand what they read and they understanding is coloured by misunderstandings of the world as a whole.
This class thought that feminism was when a man dresses up in women’s clothing. So that’s where we started. Here’s what came next.
The history of gender in England – from chattels and the value of virginity, through to 1970s feminist thinking.
We talked about why women were treated differently and why it still happens. Many of the boys openly recognised their own biases, but also admitted they had never considered whether it was wrong for a newspaper to print images of topless women.
We talked about sexism in school, in the workplace and in society. And they learnt the word ‘discrimination’ which they had all heard before, but thought it meant something to do with crimes. Which, now I think about it, it kind of does.
Then we talked about the oppression – new word – of women in different countries. About FGM, which they had never heard of and were horrified by. The age of consent and inheritance via the male line. We discussed activities that are considered female and why that is.
How to tackle the problem of people’s attitudes and thoughts, when something has been that way forever. We learnt the phrase ‘status quo’.
We talked about misogyny and how it’s funny that men can have such cruel thoughts and ideas about women, and still want them sex (and cooking!).
And we asked ourselves if sometimes we have thoughts and ideas that are sexist or discriminatory. Then we talked about how unfair it is to label other people.
After watching this, we discussed whether it’s important for men to take action as well as women.
We finished with the word “they” and how it is perhaps one of the most dangerous words in the English language.
One hour later and I hadn’t helped them get ready for their Exam, but I am hoping that I helped them get a little bit more ready for life.
More revision madness – this time a handy guide to tackling unseen poetry.
Here’s the PDF: Use AMAPP to navigate unseen poetry
Revision madness hits – again. My view is that I’m lucky if the kids do any revision at all. Therefore if I can make it as painless as possible I should.
I’m not being cynical. I am imagine revision is like marking. I think I am doing it – but actually I’m searching for shoes on Amazon.
Here are this week’s revision charts:
Extended Reading paper:
12 Days of Revisions – Extended Reading (Word doc)
The fonts used are HelloHappyDays and HelloMummy – these are free to download.
Directed Writing Paper (or any descriptive writing question)
12 Days of Revisions – Descriptive writing (Word doc)
Same fonts as above.
Same fonts as above.
Finally – here are the PDFs in case Word is a bust.
Do let me know if you adapt for any of the Literature texts!
As that’s next on the to-do list.
In what way should schools be free? In the Spectator there is a fascinating interview with Roger Scruton, here’s an excerpt:
“The big battle to maintain a proper educational system which will be continuous with the old curriculum and passing on what we have while adapting to all the changes, that big battle was lost, I think.’ When? ‘Over the past 20 years. Certainly by the time that New Labour were in they didn’t have much work to do. When people first raised the question about integrating the new communities it was in a spirit of hope — that one would be able to maintain the core of what we have. It’s the other side who actually want to destroy that core. Certainly the multicultural activists in the Labour party and the universities wanted to destroy the old white Anglo-Saxon education system as they saw it, and produce something completely different…
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(Errr – don’t watch this if the sweary offends you).
I’m from a very religious family. My step-dad is a former RAF Chaplain (and served in the Falkland Islands) and is now an itinerant vicar (which is not the same as what George and Lennie were); my brother is a vicar. I grew up steeped in religious tradition – from churches were the communion wine is golden to ones where they play guitars and dance. One of my best friends from university now runs a church, in fact many of our good friends run / lead churches. My husband is somewhat of a philosophical theologian.
Whilst my own personal beliefs have become more confused and contrary with age, I am enduringly grateful for my upbringing. Not least when it comes to teaching literature.
You see – I can spot a biblical allusion at 50 paces.
*The purpose of this introduction is to contextualise some of mild irreverence below.*
Kids these days…
Have no clue about the Bible and why should they? Yet, this absence of knowledge results in pupils often struggling to identify and understand many of deep running threads in literature.
I often describe the need for deep subject knowledge as being like a tapestry – it is complex and interwoven, creating an overarching picture with mini-scenes within. Threads are drawn upon as needed but always remain embedded in and attached to the big picture.
Yet – if this tapestry is English literature – then much of what we study (if not all) was written in a time when religion and religious ideologies were key to moral and ethical outlook, social norms, thoughts on the creation of wealth and society and the nature of life and death itself. Rightly or wrongly identity itself, for much of history, was shaped by religion.
Some may disagree – but I would argue that religion was the predominant ideology of English Literature right up until World War I.
Thus over 700 years of written literature is interwoven into a tapestry where life and religion were twisted threads.
Therefore, to study, understand and enjoy literature – knowledge of religion and the religious texts, such as the Bible, is essential.
How should we manoeuvre this camel through the needle’s eye?
It’s easy, as with all things historical context based, to bolt this knowledge onto a unit of work.
You’re teaching Great Expectations – you paraphrase the parable of the Prodigal Son.
The Lord of the Flies – well, that’s just one big Biblical allusion, although you could just summarise beginning of Genesis and then skip to the New Testament…
The Handmaid’s Tale – same.
Whilst this approach works for individual texts, it doesn’t allow students to develop an overall bank of knowledge that they can rely on. It robs them of the cultural knowledge that is part of our history, as well as our literature.
I like what ED Hirsch has to say in The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy:
No one in the English-speaking world can be considered literate without a basic knowledge of the Bible. … All educated speakers of American English need to understand what is meant when someone describes a contest as being between David and Goliath, or whether a person who has the “wisdom of Solomon” is wise or foolish, or whether saying “My cup runneth over” means the person feels fortunate or unfortunate. Those who cannot understand such allusions cannot fully participate in literate English.
Ref: See the link to the Core Knowledge website below:
But this piecemeal approach is not enough
Religious imagery (both positive and negative) pervades culture still. By only teaching what is needed to tackle one text, we are not weaving the tapestry.
My long goal is create specific units of work that study ‘allusion’ in KS3, knowledge units that study Biblical knowledge as well as mythology from Greek, Roman, English heritage. Not just studying the stories but also studying representations of these stories, characters and ideas throughout literature.
I’m awhile away from being able to do that, so here’s the stop-gap:
At the moment, I teach these as explicit, out-of-context starters in year 9. Whilst I am aware this isn’t ideal – I do feel that some knowledge is better than none, for now.
Teaching Biblical characters who have become literary “clichés”
Here’s the list of biblical characters and stories that I teach, with some examples below:
Adam and Eve
Cain and Abel
David (and Goliath)
Joseph (and his cheerful coat)
Lot and often more importantly Lot’s Wife
Noah (and the Flood)
John the Baptist
Mary (mother of Jesus)
Peter (the rock)
*The Holy Spirit*
Top Bible stories to know:
Creation – Genesis 1 and 2, Adam & Eve, the apple, the snake, the Garden of Eden etc
Cain & Abel – the first death, the first murder
The Flood – the rain, the boat, the animals, the rainbow, the dove.
Jonah and the whale – I didn’t put Jonah as a character above because his story isn’t really all that without the whale. It’s a great narrative about rebellion, trust and redemption.
The Tower of Babel – the arrogance of man and the birth of language.
Moses and the Ten Commandments – what happens at the top of the mountain and what happens when you get down again.
Job – misery loves company.
The birth of Jesus – rather than the nativity itself, I tend to focus on King Herod and the baby genocide, the astronomers and following a star and then idea of the birth of a new humanity and the age of harmony with God.
The story of John the Baptist (or ‘always the bridesmaid, never the bride)
The Good Samaritan
The resurrection of Lazarus
The Parable of the Prodigal Son
The “Let he who has no sin cast the first stone” story
The betrayal of Judas
The Crucifixion and Resurrection – tend to look at nature imagery and Christ figures.
Well, this is a list too far. I really like the list of characters, stories and phrases gathered by the Core Knowledge team. It can be found here along with some wisdom on why we should teach Biblical knowledge.
Also because Biblical allusion among other things is tested under the AP Literature curriculum – there are loads of fabulous sites that have lists of biblical phrases etc. This is one is quite good for common Biblical phrases and I like this PDF because it has a bunch of useful literary, biblical and historical allusions.
What to test your knowledge of Biblical reference and allusion? Have a go at this BBC quiz!
I’d love to hear how you teach Biblical knowledge and allusion, please do let me know.
Thanks for reading.
Are inferred meanings and implied meanings the same thing?
On face of it, these two definitions are pretty similar (or in fact, the same). It’s the old “read between the lines” mantra we use so much in English.
But perhaps they aren’t exactly the same.
An inferred meaning is a conjuncture or a theory – it could be that more than one idea is inferred. We use deduction from the evidence available to draw a conclusion. We may disagree. We may be wrong. Or right.
One of the problems with inference in literature is that most of the writers we study are dead and so we can’t ask them if our deductions are accurate or not.
Take Curley’s Wife for example:
Steinbeck describes her as ‘a girl’ – the different theories about what can inferred from this include her innocence and contrastingly her immaturity. Our choice of which theory is correct is shaped by our own person bias.
Depending on our reading of the rest of the paragraph (or novel) we may create conclusions and stick with them.
We don’t know for a fact what John Steinbeck was implying. We can infer an idea. We cannot state a truth.
Implication seems a little more solid than inference. Implication hints of facts and truths, of rights and wrongs.
Take Henry James’ novella, The Turn of the Screw. It often prompts much debate. Is the governess mad or are the ghosts real? If you’re looking for a text that is ripe for inference – look no further than this crooked tale.
Yet, when asked about the different theories, James himself only ever referred to the story as ‘a nice little potboiler’. He never outright declared allegiance to either side, but the truth is implied by this statement – he needed to make money, and quickly after the disaster of Guy Domville, The Turn of the Screw served its purpose. The implication being that James did not consciously take the time and thought needed to design a complex psychological tale.
That’s one of the reasons why I love him – his genius was as repressed as the rest of him.
Back to inference and implication – it’s not trick of fate that my example for implication was real-life. Implication – being intrinsically linked to fact – is more likely to be needed with real-world texts.
As I tackle more and more non-fiction in my classroom, I find myself asking “what is the implication here?” not “what is inferred?”.
Yet I don’t, or least wasn’t, teaching it.
When reading and studying non-fiction texts we often read them at surface level for fact alone and skip forward to spotting rhetorical techniques.
Take this example from the CIE Paper 3 in June last year.
The Directed Writing paper expects top band students to be able to tackle the facts of the article and its implied meanings.
The facts presented here are clear – extinction of some species is expected, and it can be avoided, in part, by protecting these species in zoos and safari parks.
What are the implied meanings here?
This is a little more tricky – the writer mentions sabre-toothed tigers and woolly mammoths which became extinct due to the Quaternary extinction event, not caused by humans. Actually I’m not sure that’s what happened to sabre-toothed tigers – but I’m in an exam hall and can hardly google it.
One implication could be that in the past animals have become extinct due to natural causes (survival of the fittest), whereas today, the increasing demands of the human population are causing early or unnecessary extinction events (survival of the fittest mark 2).
In addition to that, the comparison between the protection of species in zoos and visiting them in their natural habitats again seems open to us drawing some kind of conclusion. Perhaps that the suggestion within the text seems to be wholly focussed on the human experience and does not value the needs to wild animals to live in the wild.
You can see how hard these conclusions are to draw. Particularly in one hour in an exam room and on a subject that you have little or no knowledge of.
So, how do we teach students to find the implied meanings in non-fictions texts?
There is no magic bullet, there doesn’t need to be. As soon as this became a conscious need – it shaped my questioning and the quality of tasks that I set.
Yet the outcomes were immense, a quality of understanding and interpretation of non-fiction that exceeded basic factual knowledge. A thoroughness of thought.
The pace of my lessons reduced though. This is the kind of thinking that hurts the first few times. Hurts a lot. But that’s good.
Here are some of the ways we look for implied meanings in my classroom:
Ok, here’s your homework. Implied meanings?
It turns out the sometimes semantics can make you a better teacher.
I will upload some of my starters after the weekend.
Thank you for reading.