Category Archives: coursework

Planning a coursework essay

For many, coursework is a dirty word. Whilst I am well aware that it can be seen as both a pointless exercise in which someone assists a student to produce “their” essay and also as “free marks” for some students as they approach an examination series which worries them, I believe in coursework as a vital tool for developing students’ critical faculties prior to entering the VIth form and thence to University. It is not the same as the abomination called “Controlled Assessment” which was an aberration now thankfully consigned to the refuse bin of paedagogical pointlessness.

In this Powerpoint I am trying to present to my current IGCSE sets how I might approach a task such as theirs: Explore the presentation of love in 3 poems with reference to 3 more” – catchy and typically circuitous, still that’s the nature of the task for Edexcel IGCSE LITERATURE. We have been working on a range of poets from Shakespeare to Thomas via Rossetti and Achebe. They will not be plagiarising my ideas, quite apart form anything else, I tend to recognise my own writing!

I have been formalising my approach in my mind over the years and have been focused this year an engaging yr 10 with the nature of drafting and improving. We have a little spare time in the calendar and I have been encouraging them to take the time to develop and mature prior to actually writing. All this is quite alien to a group of boys who often wish to dive into a task with little heed of where they might emerge, but it has to be done. Funnily enough, I have just begun to read John Tomsett’s This Much I Know About Love Over Fear … Creating A Culture For Truly Great Teaching a wonderful book by one of the most humane writers on education currently writing and blogging in the UK. In the book, he outlines a similar course of action – I have also stolen his Janus sentences here:  janus sentences – they make so much sense that they will appear in any discussion I have with the students – I urge anyone reading this to read his book and read his many wise ideas about great teaching and leadership.

So, here’s the Powerpoint – feel free to use it or abuse it!
essay planning

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The Forest: Butterworth’s setting for Jerusalem or “What the fuck do you think an English forest is for?”

The Forest: Butterworth’s setting for Jerusalem or “What the fuck do you think an English forest is for?”

To Shakespeare, the forest is a place of opposites and a location for clandestine activities. In his plays Midsummer Night’s Dream and As You Like it, the forest can be seen as an antidote to the “new world” of a harsher time. The fairies operate beyond the human sphere and are linked to mischief and to nature, without any of the restrictions – moral or temporal – placed upon Theseus or the lovers. Puck can defy time and space and the fairy world will survive its invasion after playing with the interlopers, who might leave a little wiser than before. In As You Like It, the forest of Arden hearks back to a “time before” – a better time in which a wiser ruler has returned to nature with his court as an echo of the brash modernism of his brother’s urban court.
Butterworth’s play seems to be a natural descendant of these forests. We have a forest clearing, which is threatened by the forces of urbanization and modernism. However, the water is muddied because of the spectacularly ambivalent reaction of an audience to Johnny, whose domain this is – the Oberon of North Wiltshire. However much one wishes to sympathise with Johnny, one is equally appalled and can understand the wish of the council to move on a drug dealer/potential paedophile. That said, ultimately Johnny wins over the audience – his personality is simply too huge and his ultimate fate at the hands of Troy is too grotesque for us to harbour hatred for the character.

The play opens with a fairy in a forest as Phaedra sings Blake’s poem, which gives the play its name (and Johnny his only weak moment when playing Trivial Pursuits). Blake’s poem is a poem of questions and a poem, which clearly locates the play in England (where the poem has become an unofficial National Anthem) and in a world which is reflecting on the past. As the word “Satanic” is sung, the hymn is replaced with thumping music and the curtain opens to reveal “Waterloo” – an old caravan in a clearing. There is some form of rave taking place, which continues until peace settles on the scene and nature establishes itself in the form of birdsong. Into this world come two outsiders who are on a mission to purify the forest and rid it of the demon who lives there. Fawcett and Parsons are apt names for these moral cleansers. The illusion of timelessness in this opening which moves seamlessly through the passage of one night is shattered by the first words uttered: “Time” (Fawcett) which establishes the opposites at work. In the forest time is not important, but to the outside world it is the measure of all things.

Which came first, Rooster or the wood?

Johnny is a figure of power in this wood, he pulls the youth of Flintock to his call and also has enthralled Ginger – old enough to know better as a lieutenant – though one who seems perpetually to be let down and who will eventually have to be pushed away before Johnny’s final destructive clash with the world. In his Wood, outside power does not exist, but throughout the play the reminders of the council and the waiting forces of the police are a threat which never lifts despite his braggadocio.
The play is set on 23rd April, St George’s Day and Shakespeare’s Birth/Death day and both readings are clearly relevant in an England which can turn a “rural display” into slaughter in the car park or couple floats representing the myth of St George with others reflecting the invented fantasy world of Lord of the Rings or the rush for meaningless celebrity embodied in the X factor.
In the wood, none of this exists. It is all discussed and shown for the tawdry money making operation that it is: Wesley, when discussing his role of the “Barley Sword Bearer” is embarrassed by Johnny (“something is deeply wrong”) and hides behind the excuse that this is a “Swindon level decision”, thus evoking a larger urban authority than the parish council. In the face of such power, it is suggested, we are helpless.

But Johnny belongs to a different world. He has taken over this corner of Wiltshire and squatted in the wood for 27 years. Even his piss seems to be a marking of territory like that of some great feral beast and some form of libation to the Gods of the past (it is greeted by a choir singing off stage). His world is inhabited by losers and dropouts and by those for whom the urban world does not offer enough. He works as a force of nature and has clearly worked his way through many of the bedrooms of the town and is clearly selling drugs and alcohol to the underage children who sit on his doorstep. In a curious way he is also protecting them: the mysterious Phaedra is evidently safer with him (whatever that means) than with her predatory step-father and the others are given a chance to experiment and taste life in a relatively controlled environment. It is not Johnny who has caused Tanya Cawley to drink, but he has provided the means. He and Wesley reminisce in Act 1 saying “Of course they’re bloody drinking” when reminded of the age of the children and recalling the days when a less puritanical attitude ruled the country and the Flintock fair of 1969 was a scene of sexual license and debauchery. The suggestion is that the Puritanical outlook of the modern world has resulted in kids “sit[ting] in bus shelters, freezing their bollocks off” or being barred form Wesley’s pub or visiting Johnny as a place of safety. Nature, says Johnny, will always have its way even when outsiders try to impose a new order upon it.

Rooster’s Wood is to be bulldozed to make way for homes. Many have been built recently and the incomers are complaining about Johnny (despite or because of his effectiveness as a handy man). In the 21st century so many villages within 100 miles of London have become dormitory villages for commuters the soul of the rural life is being destroyed. The reality is that village shops close, pubs lack regulars, petrol prices make it hard for the villagers to travel around and employment is almost non-existent in many cases. In the wood, time has not moved on and Johnny is still ruler of misrule over a group of outsiders whose village is being taken over by puritanical forces who wish there to be nothing to represent nature to the natural in their new environment. The “green and pleasant land” is both less green and considerably lass pleasant in this new version.

“What the fuck do you think an English Forest is for?”

In Act 3 Johnny poses this question to Fawcett and Parsons. His time is running out and he has heard the litany of names who have signed the petition to be rid of him. He has had to stop Fawcett from reading the list. His only defense is the one cited earlier that the forest is a place of refuge and that many are safer here than at home. He cries “Bang your gavels. Bring your warrants. You can’t make the wind blow”. The suggestion is both that the law is transitory in the face of nature and also that perhaps he can do this. Indeed the end of the play with its majestic chant and curse over the giant’s drum certainly suggests forces of a higher level than Kennet and Avon Council being summoned into battle. Johnny might be delusional, but there is a clear suggestion that we should not meddle with forces we do not understand. The forest allows Johnny to be such a force. He is the product of a spectacularly mythological insemination and carries hugely rare blood (or so he says). Throughout the play the forest has been a place where fantastical stories can told as though they are truths and where a man can live who has already died twice as a result of his Dare Devil riding. Might it not survive this latest setback?

However, we should not overlook the Forest as a place of potential evil. Though Shakespeare uses his forest as a critique of an overly Puritanical world, the 19th Century German forest is a place of nightmares and terrors as explored in much Gothic literature and true fairy tales. Nothing good ever comes from a visit to the hut in the woods! If Johnny is the Wolf, is he also a dragon? At the end of Act 2 the professor is left alone on stage to recount the tale of St George. The dragon lives in a “swamp” on the edge of a city and St George is serving all by clearing the city of this nuisance. Again, should we see Johnny as a dragon polluting the charm of the rural idyll? Certainly his drug taking and drinking have little to do with a pure nature which might refer back to the nymphs and shepherds of Virgil’s Eclogues. However isn’t it the case that the Forest and nature is always sanitized for the comfort of the urban elite? Real rural poverty offends – look at Tess of the D”Urbervilles – and the idea that rural dwellers are all somehow pure and fairy-like is an utter nonsense.

The forest tells us that Nature was here long before the modern obsession with the urbanization of the country seen in building projects and a need to reflect a “time before” in all celebrations of Englishness. Does anyone take Morris Dancing seriously as a link to heritage? Does anyone pause to consider what life was like in the 1940s when a Spitfire sweeps above our heads? The message I take from this play is that we have lost touch with our heritage and that the Forest setting represents an exploration of the difference between us and them – they might be uncomfortable to recognize as a rawer version of ourselves, but we need to be aware of the existence of a less sanitized and potentially less safe world that has existed and will exist again.

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Filed under coursework, OCR A level, OCR English Literature

SPAG in a mess?

Thanks to the marvellous @jabellpepper I am putting these posters around the department.  The QR codes link to his animated Tellegamis which briefly explain key points of grammar.

Students sitting IGCSE this summer need to be aware that with around 7% of their entire IGCSE mark at risk due to poor SPAG, inconsistency is not an option.  Yes it is difficult, yes it is time consuming, but yes it is vital to the clarity and definition of their finished work.  Hopefully this little poster might help.

spag poster A3

spag poster A3


Filed under CIE IGCSE, coursework, EDEXCEL IGCSE, GCSE support, Paedagogy

Frankenstein: introductory screencast

This is an introduction for AS students, based on the teaching outline I wrote earlier on this site…

I hope it is useful.


frankenstein intro  powerpoint to follow links.

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Filed under AQA LitB 4, coursework, Frankenstein, OCR A level, teacher training

Poems on Trial 2

Today Year 13 put poems on trial as part of the preparation for AQA LitB4. I blogged about the idea here:
and thought a follow up would be interesting.

Although very close to the end of the summer term and disrupted by absences, the discussion warmed up well and teaching points could be developed. The obvious ones were a tendency to generalise and a reluctance to engage with proof – assertion is not the same as developed thought. However the debate did highlight the issues around personal perspectives which the students need to understand. AQA are clear that a good essay is an essay with genuine debate. This activity has helped the students to realise that the debate that they took part in is the same thought process as the discussion they need to have in their heads when planning and writing – an awareness of alternative viewpoint and a willingness to engage with critical discussion of all viewpoints is vital to the writing of a strong piece of work. The activity helped to show this, especially in the discussion after the actual debate. There is no simple answer to any discussion of relative value of artworks – consequently the debate must be all-encompassing and the thought processes complex. The Critical Anthology has to be used to channel ideas and to provide a structure to the debate, but the ideas must be personal and independent.

If you choose to watch the attached clip, this was in no way rehearsed and is the first attempt at the activity. I hope you find it useful.

the discussion:

Intro to Arts element of the IBDP ToK unit poetry composition
poetry composition game (ToK) to develop sense of worth through practical application
TOK arts intro

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Putting a Poem on Trial: At the Cenotaph and Futility

As part of their preparation for the AQA Lit B4 Critical Essay, Year 13 are about to put two poems on trial. The format will be that of a MACE debate (2 speakers per side and comment from the floor) and a vote will be taken.
The idea is to develop their understanding of Section C of the Critical Anthology. Beauty and Value in Literature.
Each student needs to prepare both sides of the following motion: THBT At the Cenotaph is more worthy of a place in an A level anthology than is Futility.

All the argument should be based on the poems themselves and the Critical Anthology, using the passage that begins on P29 and breaks down the criteria by which value is often established. Students should remember that their own POV is vital in this task.

The essays that are written at A2 require debate within them – there is no clear and simple answer to any question. My intention is that be externalising that debate, students will quickly see the relevance and power of “alternative viewpoints” when discussing literature. It seems obvious that there can be no clear answer to this question, thus the students will have to fall back onto the debate generated by the use of complex language, of metaphor, of complex ideas and onto the contexts of creation of both poems.

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At the cenotaph: A stimulus

Prepared for students beginning the Critical Anthology coursework element of AQA LItB4. Images and points for discussion.

at the cenotaph

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AQA Lit B4: an idea for approaching the critical anthology, Marxist element.

In Unit 4 candidates will read widely and independently. They will also be introduced to some critical theories and have an awareness that, in addition to studying set texts, theory itself can be worthy of study and can help readers to become more judicious in their own critical responses. They will also have seen critical material as a ‘model’ of academic writing.
The requirement that Stretch and Challenge is included at A2 is met by a number of requirements in
the specification. These include:
• the possibility of reading and responding to more than the minimum number of set texts
• making connections across the two units and also with work done at AS
• considerable flexibility over the choice of texts to study and the types of texts
• access to theoretical writing on key topics in the study of literature
• examination questions which are open-ended and allow scope for individual and independent thought
• a coursework unit which expects independent reading and the potential for students to devise their own supervised tasks.

(AQA Specification)

To focus discussion on several individual poems by Burns, Blake, Betjeman and possibly, Kipling and Tennyson with a view to addressing the question “How can a Marxist reading shed new light on the poem ….? This question will be varied and with Burns in particular students might focus on rescuing the Marxist thought from the heather and whiskey that surround Burns’ memory… This should provide a good range of reading.

Critical Anthology key points:
Pg 6: 1: Focus on difference between overt and covert in texts with a view to unearthing clear Marxist themes. “To a mouse” and “Red, red rose” might prove interesting here.
2: relevance of status of author to be considered, particularly with Kipling and Tennyson. “Light Brigadfe should be considered in the light of the status of Tennyson. “Slough” might also be read with the same slant.
3: Relevance of Ian Watt’s idea that the Ballad “speaks” for the rural and semi-urban working class. Quoted in section 3 from The Rise of the Novel. This is interesting in that the poems by Burns, Blake and Kipling will tend to adopt this simple form. Given this, students might wish to compare the approach seen in “A’ that” and “If-” with close regard not only to the message, but also to the background of the poets (point 2).
4: Choice of poetic medium in terms of idea that the sonnet and Iambic Pentameter might be said to represent social stability, decorum and order… this can be linked with ideas relating to Stalinist formalism in which work was not valued if the form made it difficult for the masses to understand. This can link to point 3 and also in the case of Burns to the fact that as a composer poet, writing in the vernacular he is making his work accessible for the masses, many of whom would be illiterate.
5: Marxism is closely related to the Romantic ideals and the rise of the individual as a valid voice, challenging the status quo. Burns and Blake need to be seen in this light and the links between the French Revolution and the revolution in Russia sought by followers of Marx are obvious.

The poems I will use for this activity are:

Robert Burns:

For A’ that :
To a mouse:
Red, red rose:

William Blake:

London :

John Betjeman:


Rudyard Kipling:

If- :

Alfred Lord Tennyson:

Charge of the Light Brigade:

Siegfried Sassoon:

Base Details:

These poems can be used individually or as pairs, the better to provide clear debate within the essay.


The essay for this section is suggested to be around 1200-1500 words and need not be based on more than a single poem. The question agreed between the student and teacher should focus on the application and interpretation of the critical anthology and the text chosen for study. In this case, the anthology must be used a s a”text” for the purposes of the essay and must feature throughout in the debate.

Suggested titles are:

1. Having read the critical material on whether it is possible to define the aesthetic nature of literature, explore and evaluate the aesthetic qualities of a poem of your choice.
2. Based on your reading of the critical material, write an argument for the inclusion (or exclusion) of an author of your choice into the A Level Literature canon of texts.
3 To what extent is feminist/marxist criticism helpful in opening up potential meanings in text x?
4. What potential significances can be found when studying the use of metaphors in text y?

The sample assessment material from the AQA web site will be used to allow students to begin to apply the mark scheme and assessment foci for themselves.

Indicative Content:
Typically candidates will:
• write in an appropriate form for the task, such as a short essay, a review, a piece of journalism
• show an informed knowledge of the critical ideas they are testing and of the literary text(s) they are applying
them to
• show how form, structure and language affect the way literary texts can be read
• make connections between the critical material and literary text(s)
• consider possible different interpretations in the light of the critical source material and other ideas including
their own
• consider and evaluate possible contexts of production and their effects comparatively across texts
• consider and evaluate possible contexts of reception and their effects comparatively across texts.

The Assessment Objectives

AO1 Articulate creative, informed and relevant responses to literary texts, using appropriate terminology and concepts, and coherent, accurate written expression
AO2 Demonstrate detailed critical understanding in analysing the ways in which structure, form and language shape meanings in literary texts
AO3 Explore connections and comparisons between different literary texts, informed by interpretations of other readers
AO4 Demonstrate understanding of the significance and influence of the contexts in which literary texts are written and received

Quality of Written Communication (QWC)

In GCE specifications which require candidates to roduce written material in English, candidates must:
• ensure that text is legible and that spelling, punctuation and grammar are accurate so that meaning is clear
• select and use a form and style of writing appropriate to purpose and to complex subject matter
• organise information clearly and coherently, using specialist vocabulary when appropriate.

In this specification QWC will be assessed in all units by means of AO1, which includes assessment of candidates’ overall competence in using language accurately and effectively in constructing well-argued responses to assessment tasks in English Literature.


Leading to preparation of a coursework essay in two drafts, students will work in pairs on pairs of poems with a view to engaging with analysis of the poems in a neutral critical manner. This will be followed by application of the “critical approach” to their findings. Using the SOLO taxonomy approach, students should move from a multistructural stage to a relational stage swiftly. The extended abstract might be the development of the final essay question. Ideally the choice of pairing should be up to the students themselves, but there are obvious links here: If/A’ that, Charge/Base details, London/Slough… other poems such as To a mouse might work well on their own.

As an example, this is how A’That might work:

Multi structural ideas:

1. 8 line, iambic tread – simple and accessible – ballad form
2. questions the reader from the opening
3. vernacular
4. repetition of phrase “for a’ that
5. linked ideas are interesting: “coward slave”, the idea of daring to be poor
6. “hamely fare” is a positive spin on poverty
7. link of knave, fool and tinsel with harsh nouns “coof” and “birkie”
8. no capital K for “king o men”
9. Use of 2nd person address
10. prays for change
11. wants all men to be brothers – Schiller echo (1785)

There may be more but a relational approach will begin to make links between ideas and the texts themselves….

1. link to Watt and study of form as representative of social background
2. Idea of Burns as our equal or as our teacher – explore background, idea of non-centralised education and education for all
3. Ease of assimilation for all, even illiterate and ill-educated
4. different interpretations of tone for each repetition
5. emotive language/sense of opposition to ruling bodies
6. focus on the home and the family rather than the state- should a Marxist look inwards in this way or is this signifying an unwillingness to lose touch with the status quo?
7. rebellion implied…links to romanticism becoming evident – which is this?
8. belittling monarch, implies all men equal
9. engages all readers
10. does not advocate direct action – is this Marxist? Acknowledges need to wait…
11. central idea of socialists, but also of Christians… clash?carries latent political message – Beethoven and onward.

Finally, as Extended Abstract, these ideas might be used to explore a question along the lines of: “To what extent should Burns’ poem “For a’that” be seen as a prescient Marxist manifesto?”

There is more to find and more to explore within all these poems – a contrast of this Burns poem with Kipling’s “If-” might bring interesting debate witrh regard to the relative socio-political backgrounds of the two poets, for example. The idea is to try to inspire studetns to explore and develop confidence in their own critical faculties.

Link to anthology in AQA secure key materials – you will need a log in for this which should be provided by the exams officer to teachers of this course:

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