Category Archives: Paedagogy

Research Ed. A reflection on #rEDlang

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I was driving to Oxford for Research Ed: Language brochure on Saturday and was trying to recall when and why I joined Twitter.
I failed.
But at some point in around 2010 I joined Twitter as  teacher – @mrpeel – and a new world opened. At that time, there was a relatively small group of paedagogues online. I read @David Didau (in his @learningspy incarnation) and watched as someone called @oldandrew seemed to disagree with everyone else. I discovered that I could not only follow Geoff Barton, but could occasionally interact with him. Authors such as Patrick Ness and Catherine Johnson welcomed my posts of work completed by my classes – and responded by liking and re-tweeting examples of children’s work, much to the pride of the creators.
Not only that, but I became aware of the growing trend of teachmeets and T&L conferences which were initially publicised through the Twitter forum. And thus begins the journey of last Saturday.  In previous years I had attended Nick Dennis’ wonderful and ground breaking #TLAB conferences in Berkhamsted and realised that we could all take part in discussion and debate around teaching – at this stage I came across Daisy Christodoulou, before Seven Myths was a ‘thing’- and I was stimulated by all I heard – my teaching developed as did my cynicism as a well-intentioned member of SLT led a session on Brain Gym or VAK learning at an interminable September INSET.
Tom Bennett’s brainchild: researchEd seems to me to be a natural progression for my development. I ma quite an old dog and need to view new tricks with care, but this conference and its cousins across the world, offer a chance to engage in thought and exploration of my classroom practice. Often an area in which teachers are happy to use intuition and ‘good ideas’ rather than to engage in study of research, this conference has grown from a recognition that what Bennett called ‘folk teaching’ is not enough. In the last years there have been a raft of outstanding Education books which have made such research easily available for all teachers. The conference is a chance ot bring ideas together and , while networking happily, discuss and develop our teaching practice.
I have heard it said that TeachMeets are like car-boot sales. If this analogy holds, then #rEDlang was like sitting in Christie’s auction rooms with a few thousand quid to spend – not enough to buy everything on offer, but enough to make sensible decisions about the high quality material before taking the plunge and buying.
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The menu for the day was huge and my choices seemed ot create a day which created great links and an opportunity ot reflect on ideas highly relevant to my former life before teaching.
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So, Session 1:
 The relevance of Latin in teaching English.
Arlene Holmes-Henderson.
Arlene focused on the impact on cognitive development of engaging with the study of Latin at KS2. She offered a broad histoy of latin as key to university  entrance and subesquent reduction in curriculum place until rebirth in recent times 2010. I was hooked, not just be a wonderful energy in her presentatiojn but because my first degree is a Classics Degree (KCL, class of ’81). I need no convincing of the importance of Latin in schools and was pleased top see my ‘eccentric’ habit of referring to the subject through Latin references (‘It’s an imperative… Latin… Impero, imperare, imperatus sum, from which we get words like?’ ’emperor’. ‘Yes! and emperors give orders…’)  is something which was used in the presentation.  More importantly my twitter feed was full of tweets saying how much colleagues missed their Latin and so on.  A group of 40 or so teachers, on a Saturday morning, early, were enthused by games involving seeking Latin derivations of well known words, such as rubefaciant.
Arlene’s research project to find out about impact of Latin and work out if it can be a viable subject at KS2,is ongoing research indicates huge impact in literacy levels when schools take latin in kS2. Current data mainly from London and Solihull, and the absence of control groups seems a little disconcerting if we are to accept the improvements found as solely being due to Latin teaching, yet there seems to be a significant improvement in literacy levels in the schools in which she is working. One reason, she suggests, is the lack of settled pronunciation which makes it easier to engage with at basic level. Links across the curriculum are huge and it is clear that Latin should not be the province solely of G&T. Indeed, the literacy improvements seem to be mainly at lower ends of the ability spectrum.
We were off. I had relived my student days and begun to consider how I might be able to use this in my classrooms… ‘Salve Pueri, sedete, hodie Medicus Jekyll studiamus’.
Next was one of two sessions subtitled ‘the Micaela Way’. Little has polarised twitter debate in recent years than the establishment of the Micaela Community College in Wembley. Unashamedly confrontational to many, unashamedly individual and proud of its success ot others, I visited the school last week and wanted to see more of the thought behind the practice I had witnessed and read about in their ‘Tiger Teacher’ book. I don’t want to write at length about my visit and the school here. I had left the school both enthused and troubled and spent much of the next few days considering what I had seen – essence I was hugely impressed but concerned that many of the structures of the school could only be successful in the context of a school such as this, founded with only a Year 7 cohort in which to establish the regime and from which to develop it.  The staff are highly motivated  and whilst their book offended many by its ‘no compromise’ tone, the fact that a staff body have collaborated to write an influential work of paedagogy is remarkable and they should be congratulated for this sense of collegiality and common purpose. My concern is that SLT elsewhere, in search of a quick fix, will try to cherry pick ideas and impose them unwisely into a totally different environment. Micaela works because it is Micaela.  Micaela-lite would be a disaster.
So, Show sentences, the Micaela Way.
Katie Ashford
This focused on the need to actively plan for strategies to improve writing in student essays and longer work.
Katie cited capitals, spellings, syntax, agreements, conjugations, and use of fullstops as hindrances to showing content knowledge.
She  demonstrated the typical errors: if dictating (often a Micaela lesson content) errors abound, often due to low working memory and panic which derives from being left behind. She also commented that bottom sets show a huge range of ability and writing issues.
This, she suggests, the need to plan actively for range of common errors is clear.  We should not allow these errors to become embedded
we can give a tighter structure to the task of writing.
Grammar, she says, needs to be taught and not guessed, but activities cannot be pointless so that grammar can be fun. At Micaela, all English teachers
teach syntactical rules, part of speech and grammatical rules.  Micaela gives 20% of  time in y7&8  to grammar. Without grammar, students will find analytical writing too hard.
All at Micaela use the show sentence, rather than PEE. Ashford was scathing of PEE and therefore presumably of PQE, PEARL and all the other derivations. For her a good paragrpah moves from: X combines (or another useful verb) technical descriptors….embed a quotation… which shows…  Also, students are using a range of synonyms for technical lexis. This can be drilled each day, something which I saw in my visit when students were warming up by finding for a range of subject specific lexis to use in essays.  This sounds simple and clear and the examples given from student work (low sets) were almost all excellently crafted mini paragraphs. However, I did not feel that they were analysis – it seemed to me that these were assertions, written with skill and presented in such a way that they were convincing and suggested good subject knowledge, but with no indication that the students really understood how the effect was generated. There was no engagement in detail with the text and no attempt to develop the thesis by engaging in close analysis. Currently Micaela works with students up to Year 9. With GCSE looming I expect this will be tweaked further in order to engage with the detailed subject understanding required for top grades. Micaela is a thinking school and re-assesses its policies regularly. I feel this one is work-in-progress. What is clear is that the confidence of the students in writing well-crafted and mature paragraphs will make the development of closer critical responses eminently possible. I will watch this space with interest.
I moved then to Session 3: The classroom as rehearsal room. Jacquie O’Hanlon from the RSC.
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For most in the room, first encounters with Shakespeare are usually at school. A feeling of engagement or disengagement starts from this point.
O’Hanlon asked us to consider what happens when rehearsal room paedagogy becomes classromm practice.  Shakespeare is seen as daunting for students and teachers alike. For this she shared aspects of RSC education department paedagogy.
Since actors on day 1 have the same fears as students on day 1, maybe a key is the rehearsal room environment which creates the right environment for study.  Language must be engaged with and spoken aloud, movement is to be encouraged. Try: whispers, movement types all of which develop a shared purpose in the classroom/rehearsal room. She also explored the idea of restraints as a means to deepening understanding of a scene -refusing actors in certain roles movement is a means to exploring strength of character or power shifts. Now all this was familiar territory for me – as  a professional opera singer for many years, I am used to using these techniques in the rehearsal room when exploring character. I, like many, am wary of bringing them into the classroom, partly because of the time taken to working this way, and also because of the sense that we are not necessarily confident in our own ability to lead such activities. I also recall the numerous little techniques I might use at times to subvert such activities… what might year 10 come up with?
She is clear that learning through collaboration leads to deeper engagement.  She offered evidence that Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development requires students to be on the edge of their capabilities and supported by the teacher. Thus, she says, if stretched in this way, group and teacher can develop the ideas through discussion and further work.
I enjoyed the session and will look into making more use of this, possibly in revision, once the text is well-known.  I am not sure that i want to dive into such overt group work or drama lesson paedagogy with a group of students who are not yet familiar with the text and who stumble on each and every polysyllabic word.
It was a useful juxtaposition to follow this session with Jo Facer on what to do less of in the classroom.
 
Jo Facer is Head of English at Micaela. Her session got to the heart of a school in which teachers do not mark books and in which paired work, group work are anathema and there are no carousels,  no work sheets, no video clips… no powerpoints… (the last a reference to a blog post of hers in which she outlined her dislike of the medium to outrage in the Twittersphere). In Q&A she was clear – no group work means no standing around chatting – the group is the classroom as a whole and discussion between teacher and class is what she sees as acceptable group work. I tend to agree.
Where she and O’Hanlon would diverge is that for Facer, lessons are sedentary and based on close study of the text with annotation (often modelled on the visualiser -woop!) the focus of reading Shakespeare in class. She advocates a reduction in activities and a rem,oval of activities designed for ‘fun’. I agree and this sense of the potentially condescending approach of many activities in the classroom would emerge again later in the day. What I am not sure about is whether removing movement and speaking of Shakespeare is not reducing the engagement with what is a play, not a passage of writing to be viewed in isolation.
She gave an entertaining story of the over marking inherent in most school marking policies before suggesting that we try whole-class feedback in class as opposed to individual marking. She makes quick notes re common errors and merit/demerit notes and then prepares to reteach the common errors to ensure all is understood and re-embedded. Micaela makes use of Knowledge Organisers to reduce homework and prepare for weekly tests.
Behaviour is at the heart of the school. She says all is futile unless behaviour is good –  I agree. This needs clear sorting out – low level disruption issues.  What I would say is this was presented as very ‘at Micaela’ whereas this seems to me to be something which should be part of education in any environment and is extremely well handled in many schools of which I know, with a possibly lighter touch than Micaela currently presents. What is true is that Micaela children are impeccable – silent in class unless addressed and moving round the school in a silent human train as they move briskly between lessons – no time is wasted and all time is used for education.
Q&A raised  issues of differentiation. She advocated consistent deployment of strong teaching for weakest children. Lower ability sets are given extra time – 1 hour a week so that all students complete the same tasks, but some can take longer.
Jo Facer is a great communicator and would be a wonderful teacher in any environment at all.  It is a pleasure to listen to her. The fact that i have areas of disagreement is stimulating for me – I would hate it if I were not challenged to consider my best approach. Like many teachers, I am a magpie and I have much food for thought here. Micaela has challenged much that we take for granted and I will not write it off because it is not convenient to be made to challenge our preconceptions.  It is, therefore, research in practice – in two years they will have their first results form a GCSE cohort which will give many a chance to rate them alongside other schools. I wish them luck. There are as many ways to teahc as there are teachers.  There is no single path which all must follow.
In session 5 –proper acting for proper teachers, Martin Robinson led a highly engaging and storng review of some of the issues around Drama and English teachning of Drama in schools. For him the is no need for classroom gimmicks… it’s about acting.  Again we heard that ‘constraints are the root of creativity’. He presented evidence in the form of  Rules for constraints from repertory theatre and stressed that we need to know the rules before we can break them…  (how true of poetry writing as well).
  1. establishing gestures- such as the Olivier Richard III allowed for a brilliant pastiche of Olivier’s hunchback, and made the point that without even uttering a word, a character had been presented.  He linked this to Anthony Sher’s depiction of the same character. The interactive session included a wish that all directors in schools would  stop ‘top of the head’ acting. Audience need to see faces – angst is not best shown when the best seats in the house wouod need ot be in the actor’s shoes!
  2. significant gestures – Using Dad’s Army as a medium for teaching this, he gave links links to Walker, Fraser, Mainwairing et al, and established their roots beyond rep and into Commedia Del Arte.
  3. use the one to nine – as demonstrated in the table below.
  4. think frying pan heads. As seen from above, imagining a round head with big nose- up-powering can be attained by following numbers on stage and frying pan heads… 9,7,2,1, is a clear path to power.
  5. where you come from and where you go to… Here was another chance for some Richard III as Robinson demonstrated the entrance from  a large ot a small space and so on.
8 usr the good character entrance
7 usc
9 usl the devil’s side….
5 sr
2 main area sc
6 sl
3 dsr
1 king dies: avoid dsc
4 dsl
R hero entrance
L devil’s entrance
row of power
weak
death of Kings
weak
  1. Effective entrance effect: window or door?  surprise or expectation? Robinson demonstrated that all entrances must change the atmosphere in a room – there will be a reaction of some sort from all whether of higher or lower status.
  2. Beat: the moment of pause which alters something in the room/scene.  This brief slot has inspired me to plan specifically for Jerusalem (Butterworth) in which the playwrite regularly uses the idea of a ‘beat’ as a punctuation or gear-shift in a scene.
  3. physical endowment tricks: clumsy? imagine fingers made of bananas. Shy? imagine a miners’ lamp on the head opposite. Again, what fun we could have with Lear 1.1 using this idea.
  4. Character development by choices. How many choices? – more choices, more depth… and which do the character actually reject and why. It is important to show the choice in the acting. Again, I see links to my teaching of Shakespeare and the study of ‘ideas’ in a soliloquy is an indicator of the relative stability of a character.  Plenty to work on.
  5. Inter personal, intra personal, extra personal plotting and the use of actioning: explaining what the character wants to do with the person they are acting with.Verbs of action such as ‘mocks, cajoles, taunts’ can hugley increase awareness of character development.

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This was a great session in which Robinson – author of Trivium21C, one of the most influential books on teaching I have ever read – exuded passion and enjoyment for his subject.  For me it was also a reminder of the singing days – no sugar paper, but ‘proper acting’. I recall a one hour session on how to use a walking stick to establish character on stage. I was so happy to be translated back 20 years and also to be gaining so much material to store up an use in my current role.
Session 6: David Didau: importance of reading fluency.
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 One statement caught me at once: reading is taught in primary schools – secondary teachers not necessarily fluent in teaching the ‘how to’ element in reading. David stressed the lack of common agreement about where education research is actually heading before. stressing a key rule:
poor reading skills are not an indicator of poor intelligence. Reading difficulty is an inability to fluently decode. There are a number a number of potential reasons according to  learning and research:
  • glue ear – medical and often undiagnosed. Students can hear but might not easily differentiate the nuances of language. The NHS estimates that 8/10 children may have suffered with this at some point between the ages of 4-10
  • Visual problems – undiagnosed problems in sight are numerous in primary schools as children grow up.
  • English Orthography  – much better recognition and accuracy of word reading in y1 in early years. Research suggests that at 9 years’ old, French children  are worse than Spanish at accurate recognition of the orthography of their language and English children trail far behind – English does not sound as read and spelling is hugely inconsistent… it’s difficult.
  • Memory: Didau used Willingham and others to establish the, hopefully, widely understood concepts of the working ad the sort term memory. Since fluency relies on automatisation of knowledge of English Orthography- no longer conscious of knowledge. Skilled readers store a range of concepts such as inferences and clarification in their long term memory – if the process is very slow and not then fully discussed , ideas may be retained only in short term memory. Then comprehension is much harder to achieve. His powerppoint featured an amusing and worrying demonstration of the issues around slow decoding using a passage from Pride and Prejudice and some very simple and almost unanswerable comprehension questions.  I teach in a school in which slow decoding seems to be an issue. This is one to pick up for department research.  David will be publishing his presentation on his blog – I will be re-reading ASAP.
Session 7 considered the Research Informed Teacher: Carl Hendrick…
Head of learning and research at Wellington College.
This was the graveyard shift and it brought much together from the whole day. He raised issues around research : teachers are too often researched rather than researchers. often we are given reponses to unasked questions and these answers are then imposed as policy – learning styles or triple marking were both cited in this area.
There is, he suggests, too big a gap between research and practice. Often research is watered down by the time it gets to schools. Dweck’s growth mindset and Dylan William’s  Assessment for Learning are obvious examples of this. Daisy Christodoulou has recently engaged with A4L in her book  ‘Making Good Progress’. I will not sully her work with paraphrase.
Much research is prey to McNamara fallacy which measures what is easy to measure and ignores all else. This tends to highlight the lack of collective agreement about the direction of education research.
He gave some personal examples of research which has impacted his recent work:
  • The working memory is not large: it holds around 6 pieces of information and is easily overloaded.
  • Dylan William suggests that cognitive load theory (Swelling) is the most important feature of teaching in last few years. This refers to the effort needed to complete a task. Too much or too little renders the task too difficult. An awareness of short term memory and use of chunking is required in the classroom. He stressed an idea: ‘understanding is remembering something in disguise’ (Willingham).
  •  He used a poem, Nettles by Vernon Scannell as example here and I will be stealing it for use elsewhere in my IGCSE teaching – little gems cropped up everywhere during the day.
  • Cognitive load can be reduced by increasing knowledge and awareness and also by scaffolding material such as exemplar essays which are then fully discussed – a great example by @heymrshallahan appeared. She was in the room. Woop!

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  • Students remember what they think about. We need to engage thought processes
  • Get back to teaching: challenge and take students to a new world rather than playing to your perception of their current interests. This was a cry against spurious ‘relevance’ and patronising of students. Put away the sugar paper, drop the ‘what would Romeo’s tweets look like?’ and do not be afraid to teach!
  • Stop privileging the extrovert. This rang a bell – too often the introvert can go missing.  We value the outspoken and reward overt participation It’s time to be more aware of the silent and the thinkers – the ones who might loathe the idea of shared actiivites and be happy when reading quietly.
  • Students need metacognitive awareness of how to study.He presented the highlighting and re-reading myth as debunked by Alex Quigley and others.
  • And finally: Direct instruction should not be shunned – relevant contextual knowledge must be in place for any sensible learning to follow. 2 students asked to discuss a concept of which they have no prior understanding or points of reference are doomed to fail to develop anything other than by guesswork. How true.
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Then it was all over, apart from refreshment and a chance to meet many twitter colleagues in the flesh. I was able to meet several of the @team_english group and what wonderful company they are. This is the latest twitter group of which I am a member – it is invaluable support and a place to share ideas. Not only them, but several people came up to comment about this blog – thank you.  It started as a hobby and has grown. The fact that people find it useful is heartwarming.  We all do the same job, just in different locations and different contexts.
As a result of Saturday 1st April 2017, my friends are not tweachers, they are real people.
LINKS to posts discussed in this article:
My top books: current thoughts – these I return to on a regular basis.

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Merchant’s Tale at AS: model answer

This is an essay by my colleague Laura Dunn. In it she has written a response to an OCR AS-type question about The Merchant and then added the AO assessment in the manner of an examiner… use at will!

Merchant Essay.pdf ljd

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A level unseen: OCR. Never Let Me Go

The passage under consideration is taken from Ishiguro’s 2005 novel Never Let Me Go, which is a study of dystopian society in which human clones are produced for the purpose of providing organs for their human counterparts.

The passage is set in a recognisably contemporary wold, one in which a driver has to ‘consult the map a number of times’ when trying to locate the destination at the end of the journey. The lack of electronic navigation suggests a period prior to the present day, and even slightly in the past when considered against the 2005 date of writing. In this it is comparatively unusual in that many of the best known Dystopian texts tend to be set either in a distant future or a distant past to enable a direct comparison with the present day. A novel such as John Wyndham’s ‘The Midwich Cuckoos’ has a similar relationship to the contemporary society which is depicted and both gain from the apparent normality of all that is described.

The first person narrator tells the reader plenty about the setting of the passage – she often repeats herself and seems to be striving to add details in the long sentences, as though trying to compensate for the inherent unreliability of the first person voice. The setting of ‘The Kingsfield’, a name suggesting grandeur and freedom, is unsettling. It seems to be both secluded, being ‘out of the way’ and ‘awkward’ to find, yet it is not a place of peace: ‘You can always hear traffic on the main roads…’ says the narrator, as though speaking to a friend – the drop into the second person seeming to confer a relationship between the reader and the narrator. Not only is ‘recovery centre’ confusing as a general location, the description of the micro-settings are equally strange. A recovery centre suggests a convalescent environment, yet here the rooms are ‘too stuffy or too draughty’ they cannot allow wheelchair access and the bathrooms – ‘hard to keep clean’- suggest a lack of basic hygiene, let alone the hygiene expected of a medical institution. Indeed this down at hell feeling is more akin to the ‘old world’ elements of a narrative such as Zamyatin’s ‘We’, in which the old cottage stands as a contrast to the crisp new dwellings and apartments, much as this centre is compared with Ruth’s centre with ‘gleaming tiles and double glazed windows’. Even in that description there is no sense of care, however.

The narrator also explores the contrast between the function of the buildings in the past and their current use. Once a ‘holiday camp’, the centre is now in a dilapidated and ‘unfinished’ centre, yet it is described as ‘precious’ conferring some emotional attachment, here unexplained.  This is reminiscent of the scenes in Orwell’s 1984 in which the protagonists find comfort in the dilapidated old room above the shop and believe that they have escaped from Big Brother, only to be caught out in the end. In this passage it is interesting that the narrator comments that the camp was intended for ‘ordinary families’. The suggestion is that the narrator is not from that background. No further information is given but there is a sense that the narrator and those like him/her are not worth the effort of completing the building alterations and are a devalued segment of society. This is heightened in the description of the pool and the diving board in particular. This last image seems to stand, regardless of any danger it might pose, and act as a magnet for the kind of thoughts expressed near the end of the passage: ‘taking a dive… only to crash…’. I tis as though it is a temptation to those inmates wishing to gain a sensation of freedom only to end up in pain or suffering a swift early death.

The narrator is not travelling alone.  ‘Ruth’ is mentioned but seems to be little help. The narrative does not suggest she speaks and does not suggest she engages with the narrator. Indeed, we can surmise that the pair do not travel widely. Although the sound of the ‘big roads’ is clearly audible, the map has to be used to locate the centre. It is the narrator who has to ‘consult the map a number of times’ suggesting not only that he/she is in control of the journey but also that he/she is not a strong navigator. It is also unclear what the relationship is between the narrator and Tommy – the boy they are travelling to meet. One assumes he is a ‘donor’ since he seems to be an inmate, yet Ishiguro uses this term without offering any explanation. In this case, rather as with terms such as ‘recovery centre’ ordinary’ the reader sense a meaning which is hidden from us, but of which the narrator expects us to be aware.  Whilst it is not unusual for Dystopian texts to be narrated by an everyman figure, this figure often seems to be a character of marked intelligence or scientific ability, such as H.G. Wells’ narrator in ‘The Time Machine’ or the protagonist of Zamyatin’s ‘We’. Even Winston Smith, who in many ways is a deeply unheroic figure, has a job of some responsibility and importance in ‘1984’. The narrator here seems to be garrulous and pleasant, but in no way a character of special note.

The language used is plain and matter of fact. Sentences are often extended by significant subordination and the addition of simple clauses after a dash to impart extra information: ‘the Square- the place where you drive in when you first arrive…- an example of this unfinished atmosphere-‘.  In this example there is also the use of the second person as though to address the reader which helps to make the reader complicit in the narrative. Elsewhere the vocabulary is simple, sometimes deceptively so as discussed earlier, but usually suggesting a lack of range in the narrative style of the narrator. There is an informality in the contractions : ‘it’s’ , ‘can’t’ which also suggests that the narrator sees the reader as an equal and helps to build up the conversational tone of the piece.

Overall the atmosphere created on the ominously ‘overcast and chilly’ day is one of threat. Although the passage begins quite easily, the effect of the ‘shadowy’ figures, suggesting both threatening gangs of anonymous youths and even a slightly ghostly aspect, as though the former holiday makers are somehow reimagined in the new setting, it to create unease. When Tommy emerges, his clothes are old and ‘faded’ and he has put on significant weight. The two images together suggest ill health rather than health.  This added to the highlighted difficulty in finding the centre helps to present a society which has been deliberately cut off from the mainstream or ‘ordinary’ families alluded to in the passage. Whereas in Brave New World or A Handmaid’s Tale, the centres for reproduction and other scientific advances are places of awe and fear, the emotion here is lesser. It is sadder, somehow. It suggests more neglect than ‘recovery’.

The passage in question: never-let-me-go-ch19

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Filed under OCR English Literature, OCR NEW English Literature, Paedagogy, Uncategorized

People will do anything, no matter how foolish, to get whatever they want…

An essay lesson for OCR English Lit…

A year 13 essay presentation.

 

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Much Ado: Comedy and Marxism

 

I gave a short lecture as an extension exercise for y11…

maan-comedy-and-marxism

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UNSEEN for discussion: The Time Machine. OCR A level

Another unseen for discussion…

Others:

unseen: Delirium

unseen: Brave New World

unseen: the Road
I found this one tricky for the reason that I know the text quite well and want to apply that knowledge to the scene described. Resist this temptation! Stick to the text as written. It is a setting (locale)- rich passage. I also struggled with literary context – I’m not sure that Star Wars is really valid… ideas please!

This passage is taken from the late 19th Century and is written by a man who must be seen as the originator of the genre of science-fiction Dystopias. Written at a time when Britain was an imperial power seeking to conquer and rule new lands and to attain new wealth from hostile territories such as South and Central Africa, it is no surprise that the plot line focuses on the discovery of new worlds and of a discussion of their socio-political make-up.

Here, the initial focus is on the narrator, who has evidently just arrived on the ‘shore’ of a new world. His impressions are carefully recorded as he looks at his new setting.

Wells uses colour to help his readers to visualize the scene. The contrast seems to be between ‘scarlet’ and shades of red and the ‘inky black’ of the Northern sky. The description of the sky : ‘scarlet, where cut by the horizon’ suggests a great wound which seems to be threatened by the ‘huge hull of the sun, red and motionless’. The sun is turned metaphorically into some form of ship – the colour may suggest a warship, which is mounting guard over what lies beneath. This landscape, a scene of ‘desolation’ is a possible inspiration for Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’, which moves the idea of the desolate and pained landscape from an alien world to a ruined Earth. Aside from the ‘harsh reddish’ rocks, the only colour seen on the ground is the ‘uniform poisonous-looking green’ of the moss-like substance which is growing. The landscape in terms of colour suggests other books by McCarthy such as No Country for Old Men in which McCarthy draws on the colouring of the hostile landscapes of New Mexico as well as writings about the planet Mars, such as his own War of the Worlds. Wells draws attention both to its uniformity and its ‘intensely green’ colour possibly suggesting an unnatural origin.

All can be seen under a sky which is both ‘Indian red’ in hue and also showing a darkness, creating a sense of ‘perpetual twighlight’. The use of the adjective ‘Indian’ is redolent of the time of Empire and would allow the reader to make links in their minds between this traveller and the first colonisers and rulers of the Indian subcontinent. The whole landscape is caught in ‘twighlight’ – a sinking down of the light – not yet fully dark, suggesting the possibility of hope and/or life being present, but on the wane.

Even the stars are described as ‘pale white’ and though they shine ‘brightly and steadily’ they do little to lift the ‘wan’ sky – the colour suggesting ill health and approaching death.

The final element added is the sea. In The Road, the sea is a symbol of hope – the focus of travel, here it is sinister –an ‘oily swell’ that takes on the personified elements of a living thing – ‘rising and falling as though breathing’ – and leaving it’s salt deposits along the shore – pink in the red light of twighlight. As in the science fiction writing of Asimov, the description works best because it is so little altered from our known reality – it unsettles but is not ludicrous.

In this setting, the presumably male protagonist, typical of the genre though not given a clear pronoun here, is seen as a careful and rational character. He stopped ‘ very gently’ and when under threat simply places his ‘hand on the lever and add{ed}s another month’ between himself and the monsters which threaten him. He does not panic under stress, a man of the Empire and the period, just as the hero of Wells’ The War of the Worlds will turn out to be. He has plenty to fear: he has mistaken giant crabs for large rocks and when they move towards him he realizes his mistake. The writing develops into longer sentences in paragraphs 4&5 as the tension mounts and action begins to replace description in the narrative. The crab is a ‘sinister apparition’ suggesting otherworldliness rather in the way that John Wyndham will write about mutated nature in The Day of The Triffids or The Kraken Wakes, it crawls towards him and the slow inevitability of its movement is powerful. Wells has slipped into the second person form of address as his narrator addresses the reader directly to increase the power of the description – ‘Can you imagine a crab as large as yonder table…?’ which suddenly places the threat in the same room as the reader and uses the imagination to turn a normal piece of household furniture into a hostile killing machine. It is ‘metallic’, like Wyndham’s Kraken and Wells is careful to use similes which will be easily recognized – antennae ‘like carters’ whips, suggesting both length and potential pain.

When he is touched by one of these antennae, the narrator describes the sensation as like a ‘fly’ landing – inconsequential- but when he tries to remove the antenna it is withdrawn and the focus moves to the mouth of the creature: ‘all alive with appetite’. The mouth is the focus now: the rest is forgotten. The claws’ descending upon me’ are the personified instruments by which the mouth will be fed.

The narrator calmly makes his escape but little has changed as he regards the same shore and the same crabs at a greater distance. He remains seated in or on his machine and makes no attempt to move away or to explore. There are now more crabs suggesting a greater threat and the sky remains red while the language has taken on a more apocalyptic tone – ‘desolation’, ‘Dead sea’ ‘poisonous-looking green’, ‘thin air’, ‘appalling effect’. There is a change however: a ‘curved pale line like a vast new moon’ has appeared in the Western Sky. On Earth in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun sets in the West and rises in the East. If this moon-line is an indicator of rising hope then Wells has neatly reversed the expected cyclical sequence – the moon suggests hope while the sun seems to aid the desolation of the world and the hope is rising in the West.

Wells was a life-long socialist and his views on colonization and treatment of a downtrodden workforce will not chime with the ruling establishment of Britain in 1895. His new world, an alien landscape, is one which seems to be in the thrall of powerful, unfeeling and cruel masters in the shape of the crabs, but which shows indications that there may be a weak force for the good, symbolized by the weal displays of light from the stars and the moon-line. It is a world redolent of George Lucas’ Star Wars films – evidently influenced by Wells description here – and of the landscape of Tatouine in particular.

The passage does not include any real suggestion of how the narrator will act from here on in the story.

untitled

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Unseen prep: OCR A level

This is my response to a passage from Lauren Oliver’s 2011 novel Delirium. The passage is found below the unseen.

The sound file of the lesson today in which we discussed the passage is included due top absences from the class.  It helps my Year 13 to keep up.

The passage is drawn from a 21st century novel aimed at Young Adults. Dystopia has proven to be a common genre for such writing with the exploration of totalitarian states in works such as The Hunger Games providing material for Hollywood blockbusters.

In this passage the contextual settings of era and the condition under which life is lived is clear and typical of the genre. The piece is set in a future world, one run by scientists and doctors who strive to control the emotions and feelings of the people. Such control has been a staple of this genre since works such as Zamyatin’s  We and Huxley’s Brave New World.  The passage opens with a clear statement that love has been “identified as a disease” by a ruling elite. Time is evidently important to the narrator –a teenage girl- and we are given information about the passage of “sixty four” years and also the countdown to the “ninety five days” before her maturity and the “operation”.  This narrative device – introducing a countdown to an important, yet unspecified event – is a key device in Patrick Ness’ novel The Knife of never letting go, in which the male protagonist is on the run in the days leading up to his birthday and entry to adulthood. Another typical device is the reference to the past as the “dark days”. In a Dystopian novel it is necessary for the “now” to be officially portrayed as the good times and for the “past” to be seen in a negative light.  We see this clearly in works such as Logan’s Run or Brave New World and here the narrator – a girl still in education seems to accept the official notion of a “dark” time which she is lucky to live outside. Her acceptance of the regime is signalled by her choice of “of course” as she opens paragraph Seven by seeming to accept the need for the operations to continue.

Her acceptance is, however , challenged by the two single sentence e paragraphs earlier in the passage. In the first she tells us that the sight of “uncureds” (reminiscent of Orwell’s manipulation of language) remind he of her “mother” and in the second that her life, however good, is marred by “pain”, whether physical or emotional is not clear,  and a possible lack of safety.  The narrator, a girl –a feature of 21st century and especially Young Adult Writing and a break from the stereotypically male protagonists in this genre from HG Wells until the emergence of writers such as Malorie Blackman in Noughts and Crosses made a conscious effort to engage a female readership, is clear in her opening statement. She presents information without embellishment and in a direct manner. Her sentences are simple and straightforward: “ Everyone else in my family has had the procedure already”. The lack of a proper noun for the “procedure” suggests the normality of the action and the level of acceptance  into everyday discourse, much as the clones in Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go refer ot element s of their treatment as ‘donations’ or ‘carers’. The build-up of the unexplained adoption of everyday terms is unsettling and helps to convey the sense of threat found in the new society. She is clear that ‘scientists’ have found a ‘cure’ for the disease ‘amor deliria nervosa’ and the language develops to present love – one of the finest and fullest emotions of a ‘normal’ contemporary world, as something to be feared and shunned.  Again, the idea of controlling emotion to ensure loyalty to a state is a feature of many texts such as 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale, Brave New World and so forth.

As she tells the reader about the process in the first paragraph her language becomes more descriptive and emotive: the list of 3 illnesses which can result and the use of a verb such as “writhing” to describe the sensation of love she currently feels suggest an emotional response which is not evident as she begins her narrative.  The descriptions of those who are diseased are graphic and unpleasant – ‘dragging their nails… their mouths dripping spit’. The reader notices first that it is only girls who are seen to be behaving in this way and may also infer that far from being uncured, these are the victims of some unspecified operation devised by ‘scientists’ devoid of feeling and emotion which has itself left the victims in this parlous state. It is reminiscent of the state in which Alex is left following his ‘cure’ in Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange.

Love is ‘cured’ and the narrator looks forward to being ‘paired with a boy’ in a world in which presumably pairing is needed for procreation but little else. She is supported by an older sister and an aunt – both given names- who seem to have convinced her that the process is a good thing. Her wedding dreams are another common convention – dreams tend to display a view of reality and the subconscious as seen in McCarthy’s The Road  – and the ‘blurs’ of the face of her husband hints at the lack of closeness that will be found between the couple.  This is accentuated by the onomatopoeic heart beat: ‘womp, womp, womp’ suggesting that there is no increase in emotion between the couple. Indeed the narrator seems proud of this fact, suggesting that he rheart does not ‘skip or jump or swirl or go faster’ – a list suggestive of happiness and freedom. This has no place in her new world.

An interesting feature of the passage is that the school system still teaches elements of the ‘old ways’.  The symbolism of the ‘dark days’ is clear – a time of threat and  a lack of clear vision, yet the narrator is aware that there was a time when love was viewed as ‘something to be celebrated or pursued’.  She drops into a second person narrative, speaking directly to the reader as though to a friend or confidant (‘It affects your mind…) and explores the problems which are contained in the ‘Book of SHHH’ and acronym derived from the tricolon title of the book outlining the rules and structure of the new world order, which suggests from its name that this is an area to be kept silent and not to be discussed.  The full title of the book, linking ‘safety’ with ‘happiness’, suggests a euphemistic approach to controlling the thought processes and practices of this society.

There are moments of the text in which the writer presents a surprising normality. I find it jarring to read of the United States, as though the geo-political order has not changed. Whilst Orwell or Zamyatin are at pains to remove the continental nomenclature familiar to their readers, writers such as Ishiguro or Steven King make no attempt to hide the location of their texts from their readers. Not only has the geopolitical system not changed, but neither has the counting of the months and years – the narrator has a birthday on ‘September 3’.  This tangible link to the world of the reader helps to make the narrative more accessible, perhaps, and creates a heightened horror when reading of the ‘invisible, sweeping tentacles’ with which a personified love is said to be ‘choking us’.  The writer uses the easily recognisable feelings associated with love: heart in the mouth, shortness of breath and so forth in a way to accentuate the negativity that has been gathered around the emotion in this passage. The descriptions of suicides – from the hyperbolic and graphic “tear their eyes out or try to impale themselves on the barbed –wire fences” ( the addition of the adjective “barbed” here raising the emotion significantly) to the girl who “dropped quickly” serve to intensify the feeling of entrapment felt by some members of this society.

It is clear that this society, whilst using television to ensure that the deaths are seen as a warning for all, cannot prevent people from taking the ultimate sanction. The feeling of being trapped in an unfeeling system is clear throughout the passage from the clinical descriptions of the ‘cure’ and the scientists by whom it will be delivered. Only at the end of the passage do we get under the cover of the emotions presented by the narrator. Her sentences become short and direct, almost desperate – ‘I’m nervous of course. … I want to get it over with’ both suggest the impending cure as a rite of passage which heralds adulthood.  Ultimately the narrator used an extremely short paragraph to draw attention to her feelings: ‘the deadliest of all deadly things: it kills you both when you have it and when you don’t’ suggests recognition of the cognitive dissonance of her situation.  She seems to crave love and yet also to crave its removal. The suggestion is of a lose/lose situation –an ideal choice for a dystopia.

delirium

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Year 13 Dystopia Unseen

This is another attempt at an unseen to provide discussion and critique for Y13 students studying the OCR A level (Dystopia). The passage is from Brave New World and is found beneath my attempt at writing a commentary. Again I have consciously used the SCASI layout I favour. Possibly the hardest thing to realise in an unseen is that there is no answer which will address everything.  Try to hit the mark scheme, work to a planned format and do not be afraid of your opinions, if they are supported from the text.

50 minutes.

The passage is drawn from Huxley’s 1931 novel ‘A Brave New World’. The novel deals with issues around a futuristic society which has replaced the human reproductive process with a mechanised and highly clinical process of cloning known as Bokanoskification. The novel explores ideas around determinism and scientific advances at a time when such topics were being explored in society, following the First World War.

From the outset of the passage there is a harshness to the setting. Described as ‘squat’, the building stands ‘only’ 34 stories – immediately unsettling the reader of the day for whom skyscrapers were still a rarity by the idea of such an immense building being viewed as short and fat. The sign on the faced of the building proclaims the coldness of the process being carried out – ‘hatchery and conditioning’ suggests not only the animal nature of the reproductive process but also the clinical process of preparing the embryos for their life ahead. Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, written in 2006 also deals with cloning and conditioning but the element of science fiction evident in this passage is not found in that novel which focuses more on the moral questions than on the actual process by which the embryos are created.

The ‘enormous’ room within continues to present a ‘harsh’ and sterile setting. The writing focuses attention on a cold and hostile environment: facing ‘north and with a light which ‘glared’ through the windows. The light within is described through a tricolon: ‘frozen, dead, a ghost’ which builds to the conclusion that there was once light in this place – such light is now a mere ghost of its former self. It seems as if the ‘soul’of the building, represented by the light, has been removed. This clinical coldness is perhaps derived from the buildings depicted in Zamyatin’s We (1922) rathe r than from the cosier laboratories found in HG Wells’ novels of the 19th century, such as ‘The Time Machine’.

The room is clearly built on an industrial scale and this is mirrored in the words of the Director when discussing the Bokanovskified egg-  from eight to ninety six buds, and every bud…perfectly formed embryo’. He develops the process over two stages in the writing – ‘buds’ is possibly the only remnant of the idea of beauty and wonder in the act of human fertilisation and it is here being used to describe an inhuman process, devised by an inventor with a name which is Russian in form, suggesting an awareness of the cold regimented life of the new Soviet block, as explored by both Zamyatin and by Orwell in his novel 1984 (1948).

The character of the Director – anonymous and cold, just like the setting, is presented through his speech and his description. His appearance: ‘tall, rather thin but upright, suggests a moral rectitude as well as stature and the students are clearly in awe of him – scribbling frantically as words come from the horse’s mouth. His facial description with the ‘rather prominent teeth and ‘floridly curved lips’ does seem to suggest the physiognomy of a horse -an unsettling image and also one of the few dashes of colour in the overwhelmingly pale interior of the Hatchery. He reveals the hatchery to his ‘boys’ in a manner reminiscent of a magician  –  a man whose dialogue suggests his pride in his achievements. There is none of the revulsion seen in the character of Madame in NLMG.

The worryingly single gender group of students are awe struck by his ‘menacing geniality’, possibly representing a society which can be kind to those who toe the line, reminiscent of so many totalitarian dystopias such as 1984, are singled out as ‘young, pink and callow. Again the colour, suggestive of beauty and fragility of youth is at odds with the harsh white surroundings in which workers pull on ‘corpse coloured’ gloves suggesting that this is what lies ahead for the youngsters – their life drained by the actions and the surroundings in which they work. The workers are ‘plunged’ into ‘scarcely breathing silence’ by the arrival of the Director suggestive of his power and the cowed nature of society, even of the society working in this kind of state sponsored (presumably) establishment.

Huxley presents the passage in a mixture of omnisicent narration and direct speech. The only voice heard is that of the Director and the narrator offers comment which seems possibly ironic when he adds a sentence to the end of one such speech: ‘Rams wrapped in thermogene beget no rams’. It is the narrator who equated the sperm donor to the process of AI in field animals and also the narrator who adds the possibly ironic ‘progress’ to the final paragraph extolling the wonders of science. This could be read as free indirect speech, suggesting the Director’s thoughts, and would be equally valid as a reading – highlighting the Director’s pride at what he does. Huxley also delivers ideas though the use of tricolon ideas such as ‘One egg,one embryo,one adult-normality’. The anaphora stresses the previous status quo – the adult normality of a single embryo from a single egg. The following passage eulogising the new world in which to live clearly stresses the idea of the Brave New World and its apparent progress.

In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Miranda’s coining of the title of this book is used when she looks on the group of dissolute drunkards who have come ashore on her isl;and. That is the irony of the title: it is not an advancement at all. A Brave New World is a mistaken utopia. Consequently as we read Huxley’s novel we carry this intertextuality in our minds. Nothing is quite a wondrous as it seems at face value. Other ideas running through the text include a suggestion of a divided and controlled society.  The Director’s suggestion that all will get a ‘general idea’ is countered by the narrators comment that all would receive ‘as little of one, if they were to be good and happy members of society, as possible’ The slightly complex syntax draws attention to this statement and suggests a society eager to control access to knowledge and by granting the ‘privelege’ of occasional ‘generalities’ the populace is prevented from accessing a clear contextual knowledge of the world around them rather in the manner of the controlled environments in which the clones live in NLMG. They are allowed contact with the outside world, but never enough to feel that they are part of it. Indeed they show no signs of ambition to be part of it, just as the boys here respond with an unquestioning acceptance of all they are told.

bnw

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Jerusalem (Butterworth) knowledge organiser

A knowledge organiser to support teaching of Butterworth’s Jerusalem on the OCR AS syllabus.

jerusaelm-organiser

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Merchant’s Tale: Knowledge Organiser

A knowledge Organiser for the Merchant’s Tale in Sixth Form.  Will also be linked to James Theobald here.

merchant-organiser

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