More non-fiction high jinx

Morning all, happy Sunday or maybe you just need commiserations and a large glass of wine.  I’ll happily provide that as well – see you in the pub in a bit.

Lots of us are tackling the Language bit of the new GCSE full on this year. I have managed to avoid it for nearly a year. But we are back to school tomorrow and what is it they say procrastination is the thief of…

Anyho – these texts are for Edexcel Language Paper 2 exams. You will recognise some of the articles from old iGCSE text. But here they are with some lovely new questions.

The Edexcel spec does have a few variances from AQA – so by all means mock up your own questions for AQA.

We are using these with year 9.  Year 10 and Year 11 ones to follow in a separate post.

Body Image – Obama girls and body image

Gender – Emma W

Marathon de Sables texts

Patagonia

Primary Proms – two information texts

South Africa texts

Have a great week

Lou x

 

Advertisements

A Minor Role – UA Fanthorpe

I love that we are getting some fresh blood through on the new GCSE and A Level syllabuses.  Well fresh-ish.  If you are teaching the Edexcel A level specification that you will have had to decide whether to go for their collection of modern poems from Poems of the Decade (Forward Press).

I love this collection.

UA Fanthorpe is one of my favourite poets – so if you are doing Edexcel – here are my lesson resources on A Minor Role.

A Minor Role lesson – LGE A Minor Role – hwk questions

A Minor Role lesson – LGE

Hope you can find them useful.

L

Studying unseen fiction (part 1)

 

garden-gnome-523380_640One of the real pleasures of teaching CIE iGCSE Literature this year was preparing students for analysis of unseen prose fiction. Unlike the Language counterpart – the prose fiction selected by Cambridge have always unusual, interesting and challenging.

The new English Language GCSE sticks unseen fiction back in the game from this September and whether you have chosen a board that does contemporary or old, it will be something to tackle.

It’s a bit different, but the same as well.

different

Prose extracts whether they are from short or long fiction provide a unique opportunity to test students independent inference and deduction skills. After all, we aren’t in the room to clarify plot, character, themes and purpose. Nor is there the typical Unit 1 shouty headline and garish picture choice to help guide understanding.  Students are presented with part of a text, rather than a whole. They are literally in medias res.

How did I work it out?

Culture of strong readers

Now is this time – more than ever before – to look at the culture of reading in your school. It is clear that students who are strong readers – whether they read extensively for pleasure or not – will be more successful than those who aren’t. I have written before about the importance of developing readers who are confident. In this new exam, we cannot risk students who stumble through sentences struggling to decode individual words at the loss of whole passage meaning.

But how, here are a few things I have tried:

  1. Talk a lot about what I read. I don’t just mean the obligatory Miss L is reading posters. I have used whole school assembly time to talk about reading, struggling with reading, about books.  I regularly start my lessons with a book review, a mini-read (the bit just before the oh-shit moment is always a good one to read), a book trailer. Talk about books a lot.
  2. Article of the week. This is something else that I have written on before. The idea from Kelly Gallagher was first implemented to build cultural knowledge – to get students to think about current issues, to help them understand the world they are growing up. For part of the year – I did this. It resulted in some of the best classroom conversations I have ever had. See here for one.
    The idea is that each week you set an article for a homework task and students respond to it with some reflective writing. This can work just as well with prose fiction extracts and in fact, although I loved the discussions that resulted from the non-fiction articles I set, I loved even more the learning that resulted from the prose extracts.

Teaching unseen prose fiction – what, how and maybe why?

The process seemed pretty simple to me, at the beginning. We need to be able to pick up any extract and say what was going on, how the writer created these goings and why.

So working out what is happening in an unseen text is the first port of call. Basic comprehension seems obvious enough. Yet we don’t often tackle it in KS3 anymore, not cold, without any surrounding prior knowledge. In terms out that actions and events are easily misinterpreted.

Here is the process we came up with (minus the exam question hoo-ha):

  1. Read the text. Read it again. Read it a third time.
  2. Write a bullet summary of the WHAT covering – characters, events, relationships.  WHAT the writer is doing.

Seems simple enough doesn’t it? I challenge you to try it – perhaps even with this CIE old exam paper. Unseen lit paper – example 1 It’s amazing what different versions of the conversation between Dr Aziz and Mrs Moore I got. Were they arguing, were they flirting, are they friends, strangers?

We spent more time than expected get good and accurate at reading the WHAT in unseen texts.  This is where my prose fiction article of the week came in useful. But also 100s of paragraph long extracts as starter tasks.

Next came how – HOW is the writer are doing the WHAT?

    1. We would always start with dialogue for prose fiction, CIE are pretty reliable at choosing an extract with good dialogue.
      How does the dialogue reveal character, relationships?
      How does the dialogue move the action forward?
      How does the dialogue reveal history, background?
    2. Setting is another one that students can get their mitts on with relative ease – how does the writer bring the place to life?
    3. Mood is less easy if you haven’t done prior work on it. Mood in prose fiction is often connected with those awful vague adjectives like gloomy and eerie. I think mood and reader’s reaction are also sometimes confused.   This blog does a better job of explaining it –  I use the list of mood words here to study sentences and short extracts before we tackle longer ones. I have some lesson resources to share on mood shortly.
    4. Language, form and structure come more naturally – they are ingrained in our curriculum and students tend to be happy finding techniques. The above groundwork should ensure that they have something to say once they have found them.
    5. Themes and ideas can be another tricky one – while it might be possible to identify the theme of mortality or death in an extract concerning a funeral, it would be very difficult for a student to infer where the writer might be going with that idea.  We don’t have a long view.  We can hedge our bets “The writer might be suggesting” but before we go this far, we have to ask what are the expectation of analysing themes in an unseen text? It is not the same as looking at science and religion in Jekyll & Hyde.

Why – why is the writer up to all this?

To adequately look at themes and ideas, we must tackle the WHY. And if I’m honest – this was the area that I found most difficult. We are used to teaching the writer’s purpose, intention. After all every text has a message – we know that.   So tricky was the why, that it deserves it’s very own blog post. Soon, promise.

Thanks for reading

ps. You may want to ignore all of the above after results day next week.

 

A spoonful of sugar

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:

revision

Extended Reading paper:

12 Days of Revisions – Extended Reading (Word doc)

The fonts used are HelloHappyDays and HelloMummy – these are free to download.

revision 2

Directed Writing Paper (or any descriptive writing question)

12 Days of Revisions – Descriptive writing (Word doc)

Same fonts as above.

revision 3

12 Days of Revisions – Descriptive writing more (Word doc)

Same fonts as above.

Finally – here are the PDFs in case Word is a bust.

8 Days of Revisions – Descriptive writing more

12 Days of Revisions – Descriptive writing

12 Days of Revisions – Extended Reading

Do let me know if you adapt for any of the Literature texts!
As that’s next on the to-do list.

Don’t panic – 100% exam

blog 1Exam prep getting you twitchy yet?
Yeah me too.

I have a bunch of exam classes this year, one however is causing me to pause and think.

My top set year 11 English class are doing (essentially) 100% exam for Language and Literature.

The decision was taken in late September that they would take (in addition to the planned CIE iGCSE Literature qualification) the 80% exam version of CIE iGCSE Language.  The 20% being the S&L that remains with this qualification.

I don’t want to get into the whys and wherefores here.  Yet – it continues to make me pause.  Their exam schedule will go something like this:

  1. Language Extended Reading paper – 3 questions on 2 unseen texts
  2. Language Directed Writing paper – 2 questions based on unseen 1 text
  3. Literature Prose and Poetry closed text – 2 questions, 1 on Literary Heritage text and 1 on a collection of poetry
  4. Literature Drama open text – 1 question on a Shakespeare play
  5. Literature Unseen – 1 question on an unseen extract or poem.

Rather than preparing for this over two academic years, we have had just one.  In that time we have read Jekyll & Hyde, the CIE poetry collection – Songs of Ourselves and The Tempest.

As a result, being exam ready is taking on a whole new meaning for me.  The sheer volume of material to cover for the Literature means I have had to teach the Language elements implicitly whilst teaching the Literature.

Last Monday evening, I delivered a staff INSET session on practical approaches to exam readiness.   Below is a brief summary of my approach – which is inspired by Doug Lemov’s Practice Perfect (which I highly recommend).

Slide1

1. Encode success – content is king.
It would have been very easy for me to rush through the knowledge content of the course.  Knowing that you have 6 months to prepare students for 5 exams and read 3 texts, might result in a pressure kick.  Whilst I do believe in ensuring there is time for revision, I could not rush the teaching.  It took us from September through to early December to read Jekyll and Hyde.  December and January were dedicated to the 15 poems and now we re-reading The Tempest in its entirety.

Slide2

We revised and tested our knowledge as we went.  Writing essays, summarising, creating revision resources along the way.  They will be no time for in-depth revision later.

2. Analyse the game and embed the process

Slide3

Yet this is not an exercise in intelligent curiosity.  Pupils are studying for a purpose and as broad ranging as my class discussions may be, their examination answers are the end product.  We must be realistic about the hoops that examiners asks pupils to jump through.  Know them and show them.

Slide4

Within this is instilling confidence with exam questions and answer processes.

The wording of individual exam questions is predictable.  There is often a rubric used, so that the given content of a year is almost the only change.  It seems logical to share this rubric with students.  Have them sort it out, internalise it and remove the fear.  To give them an extract and have them use the rubric (aka exam question generator) write an easy exam question, a tough one, one they would love, one they would hate, the left-field one, the one even Mrs Enstone would hate.

Hand in hand with this goes the rubric process of answering a question.  Mark schemes don’t change year on year and as such we should be able to help pupils articulate and internalise the process of answering any question.  “Question 1 Miss? I need to do this, this and this. So first I’m going to…”

3. Isolate the skill

Slide5

The skill of memorisation cannot be championed in the classroom enough.  My students are fantastically knowledgeable about the texts we have studied.  Yet their ability to apply sophisticated technical literary terminology is still emerging. It’s only through dedicated classroom time to memorising can I ensure that this vocabulary is confidently secured early.  Linking texts and ideas to critical terminology makes sense.

blog 2

Literary terminology can be like stacking dolls – once you remember one term, they kind of unstack around you and suddenly you’ve remembered 15 clever words.

Those triggers are easy to identify and pounce on – I use bits of the examination hall as the triggers. A photo of the door, the lights, the clock.

A photo of the stage in our examination hall reminds us of: Stagecraft > Caricatures > Facades > Duplicity > Repression > Social norms > Stereotypes > Gender.

Each of these terms links to moments in the texts we have studied. Each idea can be unpacked precisely and in detail.  Each will trigger a series of single word quotations.

4. Make a P.L.A.N

Slide6

We don’t have time to create and learn different approaches to essay planning. The questions and mark schemes are too varied.  I don’t want my pupils to have to pause and search for a different plan for each question. I trust they know the content and are prepared – the PLAN strategy works for each question on every paper. P.L.A.N was suggested by the very lovely Mrs S (@HeadofEnglish) – it hasn’t failed me yet.

5. Plan with marks in mind

Planning with marks in mind means I must tackle the hard questions now – or even way before now.

Do we know how to gain full marks?
Could we write a full marks answer in exam conditions?
Is this true for every question on every paper?

My class is an A/A* group – I must be able to answer yes to these questions, otherwise what am I doing in my classroom?

Slide7

Being an examiner helps (though not in a literal sense as I don’t teach the exam board I examine for), yet it’s the research that counts. Reading examiners reports, studying exemplars, recalling papers, writing answers myself and having them marked.

6. Plan to the last minute

I’m pretty confident now with the CIE exams. I know where the strengths and weaknesses lie. Now students can play these to their advantage.

Slide8

Why not answer the questions in a different order?

If pupils have internalised all the knowledge and processes needed beforehand, the mystery and fear of the paper is removed. The last step is ask the question ‘which is my best route to full marks?’ For some this maybe answering the questions in a different order.

7. Think aloud

Slide9

You’ve probably heard of a walking/talking mock. I don’t exactly know what they are and have never used this strategy.  But I do like to do a Think Aloud answer.

This goes back to my point about being confident that I could write a full marks answer.

It’s a simple process, outlined in the picture above. The essential key is that I say aloud my every thought. As I am thinking, planning and writing – I am verbally modelling for students my thought process and how I go about writing.

Sometimes I put students in charge of listening for different AOs, writing down only key words or counting quotes etc.  They can write a P.L.A.N as I talk or just write the thesis statements.  For the language papers – they often give me the Reading marks as we go, they work out how well I am ‘using my own words’ or when I move up a Band on the writing marks.  Then it’s their turn.

As I said at the beginning, these are just a few of the key strategies I am using with year 11 this year.  I’m hoping that they are fruitful for this amazing and resilient class.

Thanks for reading.

Louisa

Article of the Week #1

matter of factI am growing more and more aware that my current repository of ‘go-to’ non-fiction is not good enough.  The selection is too narrow and too old.

Each week I am will upload a non-fiction article and accompanying questions for use in the classroom.

These articles will be aimed at Year 9 + students so will be suitable for GCSE preparation or using in new 2017 GCSE units of work.

If you spot any great non-fiction as you are reading – do tweet it to me!

Here’s the first one.

Article of the Week – January #1

Why it’s time to let it go – Guardian – 17/12/2014

Not another PEE

A couple of months ago, I met with Barbara Bleheim and Andrew MacCullum of the English & Media Centre to discuss essay writing.  As with many such meetings, I left with more questions than answers.

The key one, for me, being “what is the purpose of essay writing in school?” followed closely by “what is an essay?”

I think if we are going to be at all successful in teaching students to write good essays, then we need to answer these questions.  It is no longer good enough in my mind, to answer with “to pass their GCSEs” as there is no balance between the quality of writing and the content of the writing.

joke 2

My meeting at the English & Media Centre rightly challenged my use of confused language.  I have used “argument” writing alongside “critical” and “analytical” writing.  Each has its own meaning and in many ways different criteria, structure and thought process. This is something I have had to force myself to tackle, in my thinking, in my talk and in my classroom.

Andrew MacCullum reminded me of something that English teachers are intuitively aware of, yet don’t always act on – that essay writing is the form of writing that students are least confident in.  It is an expert form, requiring expert thought, understanding, processing and then expert articulation in order to succeed (and I caveat here – stating that I am reading literature that explores why students are bad at essay writing, not literature that studies whether students believe they are bad at essay writing).

Essentially students take a text that they don’t know too much about, listen carefully for what the teacher says about the text add in some thoughts from fellow students, then regurgitate this into a written form that doesn’t always marry itself to the thoughts produced. And all this, for an audience who helped them work out what to write in the first place.

keep-calm-and-do-a-pee-paragraph

Have you ever moderated coursework and come across exactly the same phrase in every essay?  Mine was “poverty led to feelings of powerlessness” about Of Mice and Men. Almost every student included it; I don’t particularly remember saying it, what knowledge or understanding have my students demonstrated in this process?

Another problem is that essays are the remit of dry academic halls.  No one reads essays for pleasure, or least, not at the age of 12 or 14.  Academic prose is obscure and unknown to students, yet we expect them to be able to write it well without much thought to the process of writing.  The dreaded PEE and even the most generic sentence stems are the only aids provided for the thought-to-paper process.   We dedicate entire schemes of work to creative writing, yet academic writing is by-product of other often content heavy schemes.  We would never dream of studying just one poem for a month in order to use it to improve essay writing.  It is unheard of.  But perhaps it shouldn’t be.

When we ask students to write persuasive or informative or descriptive texts we give them exemplars, at particular times of the year my classroom is awash with Obama’s speeches or that one Elizabeth I gave, or indeed the fabulous Kenneth Brannagh as he is about to invade Iraq.

Do we use exemplar essays? No.

We use model essays.  Either ones provided by the exam board, one written by ourselves (perhaps during lesson time) or ones written by other students.  By in large, none of these will show good academic writing.   Those of us that teach A Level are surprised when students struggle to navigate their way through a critical essay, we after all are saturated by them day in and day out.

With this in mind, I asked the question – what is the purpose of essay writing? Here are some of the responses:

  • To show understanding of the text, character, idea
  • To answer an exam question
  • To demonstrate an ability to think in depth
  • To offer different interpretations of a text
  • To discuss
  • To analyse
  • To write analysis in a logical, coherent and cohesive manner
  • To explore language, form and structure
  • To evaluate
  • To discuss how writer impact their readers
  • To explore how literature reflects society or history
  • To compare and contrast

It’s a pretty big ask.  You can see why when our students walk into the exam room and are faced with 8 mark, 10 mark, 25 mark questions we, the teachers, have felt the need to reduce this to the easiest possible strategy.

Over my next few blog posts I will be exploring essay writing and how we can do it better.  Next up: What is an essay?

Thanks for reading.

joke 1

Helping hands

Super simple strategy today, this one is a structured approach to exam questions for students who need extra support.

structured support

The idea originated from a Primary colleague (who attended the epic #TMLiteracy), Paul and his colleagues use hand templates to provide students with feedback and easy to action targets.  Students were able to self assess using them as well, as the hands could either work as a memory cue for success criteria or a review template.  I have used the template in a number of ways over the last few months (see the end of this post for ideas).

However, the most practical seems to have been for students working towards the iGCSE Core paper this summer.  Here’s an example of what students were given to memorise.

Written on the palm of the hand and each finger:

Reading Section – 1 hour

1) Highlight the key words in the question (students are drilled that this includes the line reference).

2) Read the passage.

3) Answer all the questions.

4) Do the 1 and 2 mark questions quickly.

5) If you can’t answer a question move onto the next one.

It’s a ridiculously easy set of instructions isn’t it? But for this particular group of students, they needed the memory cues to keep them working, otherwise if a question stumped them, they would just stop.  In the mocks, I would stand at the front of room and point of my little finger, then my students would mouth their way through the instructions and remember that “if you can’t answer a question move onto the next one”.  A light came on, the pen started moving again.

I want to thank @Kris_Boulton at this point, for his very useful session at #PedagooLondon on memorisation, which has prompted me to rethink the importance of recall for English.

The purpose is not to teach students a structure for answering questions, but to support them with the process of answering.

It takes a lot to be exam ready; content and skills are all very well, but if the process of working through a paper is a challenge, then we start on the back foot.

More ideas for the hand template:

1. Target setting – stapled into the front of classwork books, each time a target is met and a new one set.  I have used it for “5 steps to Level 5”.

2. Success criteria – teacher sets 3 of the criteria, students sets the last 2 individually.

3. 5 things I know – this week it was 5 things I know about Shakespeare’s Sonnets.

4. 5 sentence structures – a permanent prompt for the best writing structures. The more, more, more sentence etc.

Lot’s of possibilities…