When was the last time you sat with a group of 15 HODs and had a day devoted to you? Today?
At this point I will come clean. As a HOD in a private school I am a member of a group designed to support each other and to offer advice and a listening ear.
To some this will smack of a Masonic Self-Help group to sustain the monopoly of the elite, but it is not. Truly.
We meet once a year and otherwise, share the occasional email asking for comment about assessment of the new A levels or ideas about approaching teaching Linear A levels in a school dominated by non-reformed subjects.
We could all benefit from this and I wonder how many HODs have the chance?
As English Teachers we are lucky. The staggeringly brilliant @team_English and a variety of # groups give support and solace. But there is something about being in the one room and relaxed…. I’m all for it and will willingly work with any HODs in my area to set something up. 4 or 5 of us had an OCR A level group which ran for a while, but it is tricky. Surely senior managers can realise how beneficial this can be – a day off for each HOD in the summer? It won’t break the school and there will be undoubted benefits.
This year we met at Aldenham School, and many thanks for the impeccable hosting!
We had 2 CPD sessions in the morning:
Andrew Green (Senior Lecturer Education Brunel University)
Paul Clayton (Director of NATE)
Andrew drew focus on the fundamental reasons for study of literature at A level. This was not board focused and was a general discussion which prompted me to consider how I am serving A level students in terms of skills needed for University study.
The A level is a Linear study and has been devised as such by all boards. We should remember that and allow time to develop – the linear model was praised by all HoD’s present who have the chance to run it. The AS was an afterthought and in our later discussions we all commented on feedback from the boards who seemed disappointed that schools are teaching it.
Andrew posed 2 questions:
Why study literature?
What is literature actually about?
… and focused on the new Assessment objectives:
The very open wording, moving away from Language Structure and Form gives a much a broader scope than old objective. Students are, instead, asked how writers’ shape texts’. Thus personal contexts will shape texts, meaning that AO2&3 are linked inextricably. AOs 1&4 link and suggest an awareness of how writers themselves write about linked texts.
Now there are worries: this is great in theory and from an academic in Further Education but we have a different master – our results. It is hard to see how an examiner of the A level this summer can award AO2 and 3 simultaneously or how a piece of writing can afford not to carry the ghost of the old AOs in it. But it started the thought process, and that is what meetings are for.
Note that set texts in this world become examples of a genre rather than as individuals. That is to say that all the boards require students to extend their awareness of other texts in similar genres – for me on OCR, my students are reading 1984 and Handmaid, but considering as much Dystopian literature and film (is film Literature? is another question) as a requirement in the new Unseen questions. Likewise the need to be aware of contexts of all sorts – socio historical and literary is vital for the Doll’s House/Chaucer pair of texts. Suddenly my students really need to understand the eras in which works are produced. IN my selection 1399-1845 is quite a span.
Is it time to reevaluate delivery in light of 2years of a new syllabus?
Remember that A level is intended to have a much closer link to the requirements of further education than hitherto. We must move beyond the syllabus in order to achieve well, especially into a range of contexts to present the knowledge required for success This can be built into 2 year delivery.
5 steps to Heaven:
1 We need to understand the history and development of language and establish links between the texts being read across this course.
2 How do we develop awareness of the mechanics of creating a text?
3 How to balance the personal contexts of the reader with the texts being read? Do we really explore and ‘play’ with the texts?
4 How to harness the new worlds of social media in order to engage with studies?
5 How do we enable students to read and respond to critique and to evaluate worth and quality?
In this activity get the students to build up their own contexts which affect their perception of a text, then discuss.
Andrew then posed questions to stimulate and raise awareness of breadth of course. Required consideration for excellence and high UCAS?
I can imagine a lunchtime cours eof classes for U6 university hopefuls each looking at this list:
Is film literature ?
Is soap opera literature ?
What is the point of studying literature ?
Is it more important to study old rather than new?
How do we evaluate quality?
Can we still call a Text ‘good’ if we dislike it?
Should a good text equate with difficulty?
Who decides what literature is good?
Create and defend choices of canon?
Can we ignore the writing which ‘came before’?
Placing texts in rank order?
This seems to me to be material at the heart of the study of Literature and vital for discussion. To avoid it seems to restrict the awareness of our students too far. I am enthused.
He explored Criticism and Theory:
Students should address this but it turns into contexts in reality since critical reading is a context for reception. How early should we begin to embed critical theory? (I wrote a module a while ago to reinforce feminism in y8 poetry through study of homer and various more recent interpretations of the Odyssey in poetic form).
Are students ‘natural theorists’ (Eagleston)? Possibly. We need to tap into the body of theory which can be used and to develop awareness of how best to use it. Something else to get my teeth into.
These are not ideas beyond the scope of students in KS3 let alone KS4 – let’s use them.
Finally, via Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies we approached seeking critical lenses and replying whenever required to stimulate thought. Copies of ‘critical lens statements were provided. What others may be needed? Critical lenses
Andrew has shared his materials with us for use in our schools. This is his work and please give him all credit should you use it.
Using art to encourage personal engagement and contextualisation:
Getting students to develop titles. How do titles alter our perception of a work of literature? Do we look for a manifestation of the title? He went on to show how he used art work – usually highly abstract to engage discussion. This leads naturally to a discussion around Barthes: Do writers ‘own’ meaning? – which helps to develop awareness of taste, to discuss nature of ambiguity; to look at the role of reader in interpretation; to consider the motivation and craft of the writer; to inquire what authority a teacher might have and to explore the significance of titles.
WOW. It was only 11.15.
It feel wrong to have so little to say now about Paul’s session – excellent and focused on GCSE unseen texts. The main reason is that much of this was interactive – we explored a wide range of activities designed to help younger students tease out the finer points of unseen analysis in a world in which all GCSE/IGCSE exams now have an unseen quotient.
Paul’s powerpoint is here: 10th May 2017 please credit him if you use this.
It is a mine of useful information and activities. I particularly enjoyed the sentence combining exercise on Utterson!
In the afternoon we have the Business of the Day and discuss the last exam series. I will not break ranks and share too much, apart from saying how good it is to hear colleagues being so frank and open about their respective results, cohorts and interaction with the exam boards. One point of general interest was that most schools are now teaching A level straight through, having started by offering AS and finding this unsatisfactory. There was a split regarding the schools’ practice for unreformed subjects. One or two schools had moved all subjects ot straight through delivery , even if unreformed and others were stiull offering study leave and similar gaps for all students which, it was felt, seriously undermined the attempts to deliver the straight-through courses.
Eventually it will all come out with the wash. Or so they say. Probably just in time for the next curriculum change!