Considering Huckleberry Finn: OCR A level introduction

A short powerpoint designed to whet the appetite… and to engage discussion prior to reading.

Huckleberry Finn


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‘Still I rise’ Q&A

In response to Year 10 who are studying this for EDEXCEL IGCSE. It was intended to be a short question and response activity – not a long essay…

Still I rise: Maya Angelou.

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Q1: Describe the speaker in lines 1-4 of the poem? What specific language supports your description? In the opening stanza the poet is clearly angry and defiant. Her language is strengthened by the use of alliteration of B and T sounds in ‘bitter, twisted lies’. Not only does this seem to spit defiance at the speakers of the lies, but shows a clear understanding of the liars themselves: bitter because, presumably, they resent the idea of a black female becoming so successful.

Q2: Why does the poet use the image of dust in line 4? How does this image contribute to the tone of lines 1-4?  The stanza concludes with the first statement of fact – she will ‘rise’ like the dust. The simile suggests not just the current position of blacks at the bottom of society but also links to the Biblical image of Adam and Eve being created from the very dust of the Earth. The language is calm – the rise is inevitable and she knows it.

Q3: What 3 other images in the poem contribute to the poem’s tone? Explain the effect of each image.

  • Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
    Weakened by my soulful cries?
  • This simile manages to link the physical appearance of the downtrodden slave, wearing a metaphorical yoke to weight down the shoulders with the physical distress caused by slavery, likening the slope of the shoulders to the constant dropping of tears.
  • Does my sexiness upset you?
    Does it come as a surprise
    That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
    At the meeting of my thighs?
  • A knowing simile – the speaker is well aware that her confident sexuality is highly attractive and that men cannot resist watching her. More than this, the use of ‘diamonds’ both shows the degree to which she values her sexuality and also the extreme attractiveness of her as a potential sexual partner.
  • Just like moons and like suns,
    With the certainty of tides,
    Just like hopes springing high,
    Still I’ll rise.
  • The moons and suns in this simile are not just visual representations of wonder – both life giving in that the moon is an ancient fertility symbol in many cultures, but also suggests a never ending cyclical process – as she rises, a blazing sun, the moon – a cold and white symbol- must inevitably sink.

Q4: The speaker poses 7 questions in the poem. What is the purpose/effect of these questions?

To force the reader to re-evaluate their pre-conceived perceptions of her as a black woman. Angelou challenges her readers in highly sensitive societal areas – wealth and sexuality. It is worth remembering that miscegeny (mixed-race sexual relations) was a deep-seated fear of many of the Southern States of the USA.

Q5: What is the effect of the repetition in the poem?

The poem relies on the creation of a sense of inevitability. As the repetition becomes more intense, almost as though there is a congregational joining of the affirmation of the message, the inevitability becomes unstoppable. The tone becomes that of a rally or a church service.

Q6: Who is the audience (the reader) for this poem? How does the speaker portray this audience?  

Both an audience of similar women to herself – her repetition of the ‘still I rise’ message linked to the figurative images of wealth and sexuality are designed to give others the confidence to express their feelings in this way – and a potentially hostile (white) readership who rest their short-sighted attitudes on the single story of the black woman of loose morals who is a threat to their well ordered society.

Q7: Briefly explain the connection between the language and syntax of the title and the theme and style of the poem “Still I Rise.”

‘Still’ carries two layers of meaning – one level is the basic sense of an event which continues through time, another is the sense of an event happening despite all attempts to prevent it. Put together, there is a sense of growing inevitability to the ‘rise’ of the speaker.  This idea combines both the social norm of rising in society and also contains ideas relating to more religious imagery – a form of resurrection perhaps. This idea is reinforced in the structure of the poem in the second section:

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Here the repetition becomes swifter and more ecstatic. The cries of ‘I rise’ suggest that the event is actually taking place until the final 3 lines present an unstoppable momentum to the poem.  Combined with the positive imagery of a new dawn and the ‘dream and hope of the slave’, the message is clear. This is happening and nights of fear (lynch mobs and other threats being real fears) are being consigned to the past.

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An introduction to English Literature: initial thoughts.

Next year, Year 12 begin the first straight-through teaching of English Literature at A level. The unnecessary hiatus of AS has been lifted and we may have a bit more time to explore the subject.

My intention is to try to engage with ‘Literature’ per se and to lose the sense of set-book-focus which I feel has made A level hitherto so much the poor relation of IBDP studies. Our students are not in the Upper Sixth as an end in itself – they are preparing for University. Some will opt to study Literature – let’s prepare them.

Anyway, here is the first version of my ‘welcome to Literature’ lessons.  The project will be filled out but the outline is here. I welcome comment and am grateful for the stimulus provided by Andrew Green of Brunel University, who pointed me to Daniel Pannac.

So, you chose Literature

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USA Literature: Arts in context. What can we gather from music?

As I begin to prepare for teaching American Literature for OCR A level next year, I want to explore the music which parallels our study. Art is holistic. To study literature without an awareness of music and fine art, for example, would be unhelpful.

I’m not sure how best to arrange this.  I will write a summary of what i see as useful and post a link to a Spotify playlist where examples can be found.  I hope this will be interesting and useful.

Beginnings and Puritans.

Before the arrival of Europeans on the East coast, there was music. Much has become extinct, but the Native Americans had a music, largely based on rhythmic drumming which was repressed as they were systematically chased away from the new ‘civilised’ inhabitants of the New World.

These were the religious escapees from Europe and the Empire builders. Their music and their literature was largely religious and reflected the stern puritan outlook of many. In the 17th Century, music was given to the Lord and not intended for relaxation and revel – unless one was not of the Chosen People. Sure, on board ship there were shanties and popular songs; soldiers marched to rhythmic folk ditties, but these were generally not regarded as men of class or men who had any form of soul worth redeeming.  Each European group brought its own version of the music of North or South Europe and church music, as exemplified by the Bay Psalm Book of the First New England School grew up. Composers were often self-taught and their music gradually deviated from the European norm as a result. Composers such as the splendidly named, Supply Belcher, were the first authentic voices of American music.


As the 18th century saw northern Europe dominate the development of New England and East Coast culture, so the voice of Catholic South was domination development of music in states to the West of the continent. The one an austere church music based often on Scottish Presbyterian models with ‘lining’ of simple melody a feature, the other, the rich polyphony of Spanish renaissance music.

And then there were the slaves.  Drawn from the vast array of races and cultures of West Africa, they brought no single influence, though once settled, there grew up a culture based again on the religious influence – the spiritual. As the influence of Christianity became rooted in the slave society, so the expression of sorrow, pain and patience under suffering began to pour out in musical form.  A form which would eventually mutate into the blues and thence to rock and roll. In essence a true American art form.

19th Century – civil war and emancipation.

The great change to society came in the 1860s. Until,this point American society was disparate. The war forced societies to merge. The great armies brought together soldiers from the whole of the continent and the boundaries between communities developing much along the lines of the historical ethnic forebears was changed for ever. This cultural shift was helped by the emancipated slaves, whose music could now become an influence beyond the South and also to a startling rise in urbanisation following the victory of the industrial North over the Agrarian economies of the South. In or around 1890, fewer than 1 in 4 citizens lived in urban areas. By the 1920s, more than half the population lived in the great cities.

The elite in the cities of the East coast had long established themselves as facsimiles of their European cousins – Philharmonic societies and Opera companies were founded and music performed – almost entirely European music. The closest thing to an Amercian symphony at this period was Antonin Dvorak’s New World Symphony written in 1893. It is so called because it was written in America. The only evident Americanism is his use of ‘negro’ melodies. There wanted yet an American voice.  The musical directors of these companies were Europeans –   Mahler or Toscanini for example in New York.  Students of literature might compare this idea in a writer such as Kate Chopin. In her novel The Awakening, there is competition between the creole folk song – simple and alluring, the trite Europeanism of French Operetta and the emotionally explosive high Romanticism of Chopin and Wagner.  Her novel is sert in the melting pot of New Orleans. The salons of Boston, where Henry James’ heroines reside was appalled and disgusted by the impression created.  Class was European, not American. Music and Literature agreed.

So what of the non-elite?

The war brought an upsurge in Military music and in the ballad form of popular song. The music of the ‘blackface’ popular song, of composers such as Stephen Foster became subsumed into the musical lexicon of the warring factions – as did the hymns of the European tradition. The ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’ the anthem of the Union being based on the hymn John Brown’s body…’. Whilst the rousing tunes and military tread of John Philip Sousa engaged the minds of the victorious North European society of the great East Coast Urban elites., the south – the land of Dixie continued to reflect music more redolent of a mixture of cultures -Creole, Slave, and French in particular and also that of another authentic voice – the hillbilly – the lowest stratum of society, the rural poor, carving out a living in the Appalachians and other areas of the Southern States. These areas were still dominated by country music – the folk song tradition of the settlers.

At this point there is a necessary divergence:

Post war: Urban

In cities like New York, music flourished. By the early 20th century the growth of an audience for the Musical launched many a career, at the same time as the explosion in recording technology and simple publication of sheet music. Apart form the great European music widely available in the concert hall, the 3 minute song became the currency of popular music. As the ‘Jazz Age’ approached, access to music had never been simpler. The arrival of emancipation  had allowed black culture to spread rapidly. The blues, derived from spirituals had evolved into Jazz in cities like New Orleans, in the South. This in turn became blended with popular culture and hit songs like ‘Ol’ Man River’ from the musical; Show Boat blended the former slave culture with the new popular music of the North. Among the librettists on Show Boat was none other than P’G’ Wodehouse who joined composer Jerome Kern in the great hit number ‘Bill’. Boundaries were falling.  The composer who best encapsulates this era is George Gershwin. He travelled from popular song, via works for full symphony orchestra to his opera Porgy and Bess (1934). This is a true landmark of American culture – An opera in the vernacular, written about life in the poor black community, with a heart-lifting message, which does not shy away from issues such as drugs and racist bullying and which requires a black cast. It has not been universally popular -many black actors have refused to play roles which they feel perpetuate negative stereotypes – drug peddlers, prostitutes and so on, but it is a vital step in the development of an American Classical Music canon – the mixture of ragtime, keening, blues, and great romantic arias is a first fusion of the rich tapestry of music available in the America at this time.

Rural South and the birth of Jazz.

In new Orleans at the end of the 19th century the melting pot, as suggested earlier, was beginning to develop another authentic voice of American music: Jazz. This is a form associated with the black community and originates in processional and marching music based on the songs and spirituals which has typified the community hitherto.  The new feature of Jazz, over the dance-oriented forms of ragtime which represented ‘black’ music to this time, was improvisation – the free voice taking a theme and owning it – a true sense of self-expression. Ragtime, typified by composers such as Scot Joplin, the first musician from the black community to become a household name, was ubiquitous in the dance halls and bars of the country. Jazz would become the voice of the South and the voice of a race.

Jazz Age.

I’m sure every student reading Gatsby will have been asked to research the Jazz Age. What a time. Just as Gatsby’s mansion is filled with the flotsam and jetsam of an immigrant society, so music was beginning to fill its various voices. Ragtime develops into dance crazes such as the Charleston and Jazz is tamed to develop into the phenomenon which will mark the 1940s – Swing.  Improvisation is still a part of the process, but the whole is tightened and organised to best fill the three minute needs of a 78RPM  disc and to provide comfort food for the masses and in time to spread the American image overseas. Jazz would need to wait for the next artistic explosion – the be-bop experimentation of the 1950s and 60s – the erosion of rules and rejection of form that can be seen in poetry of the time and the beginnings of utterly abstract art movements.  In Gatsby, the music is ‘there’, not central, yet it is such a clear symbol of a shift in society. It is now post world war 1, the societal boundaries are breaking, a musical form which encompasses all is developing, yet it is a sanitised form of the genre – not the scream of freedom and self expression of New Orleans, but the tamer ‘danced Jazz’ of the northern cities.

In parallel change had come upon the European Classical tradition in the form of Charles Ives (1874-1954). No composer can be as worthy of consideration as the authentic voice of American Classical music even if his experimentation renders much of his music ‘difficult’ even today. He takes the sound effects of composers such as Mahler or Richard Strauss – particularly the use of ‘noises off’ and offers a specifically American take. Mahler may embed the cowbells of his Austrian heritage in his symphonies, Ives runs recognisably American marching bands straight into each other whilst establishing a musical narrative in the forefront of the hall – about as wild a rule breaking as Whitman or Eliot or other voices of modernism found in literature. The effect is disconcerting to say the least.

After Ives, Aaron Copland is probably the next voice to create a distinctively American sound. His ballet Appalachian Spring taps into an artistic movement which was seeking to link back to tradition and the ‘old ways’ in the aftermath of the War, much as the Georgian movement in Edwardian England had done. He makes dance heroes of figures of the American West in the ballets Rodeo and Billy the Kid and creates an instantly recognisably ‘American sound’ with spacious chords, slow moving often recalling the huge spaces of the country, mixed with popular folk song and religious melody recalling a more innocent time.

The European tradition continued to flourish – though not widely performed in Europe, composers such as Walter Piston and Howard Hanson followed the lead of the late 19th century 2nd New England School, writing in a highly Romantic language. There was also the influence, again, of immigrants. It is hard to decide whether composers like Stravinsky, Rachmaninov or Schoenberg can be said to be ‘American’. They are great composers resident in America, but it is hard to point to direct American influence on their music. Kurt Weill, on the other hand underwent a complete change of voice. Rejecting the Brechtian sparseness of his Berlin Years in favour of a directly American popular song sound exemplified in works like his opera Street Scene.

Post World War 2.

Now it gets complicated!

As the soldiers returned and American society tasted prosperity like never before, a new segregation developed in addition to the segregation of the blacks in the Jim Crow South. In turn the state turned on possible Communists, those opposed to the increasingly belligerent actions of the state in the Far East, those who seemed to be misfits due to their sexuality or their choice of relaxing stimulants and so forth. Each time this manifested itself, art responded accordingly. The blues developed into the teenage phenomenon of Rock and Roll (complete with lewd hip swivelling), and that in turn into the huge range of sub genres that we see today. Society was fragmenting and each fragment carried its own bubble of musical stimulus. The urban jazz world explored be-bop as an antidote to swing in the same way as the Beat poets rebelled against the strict notion of form applied to earlier poems. Writers like Bob Dylan recalled the folk music of earlier times in his largely acoustic writing of protest songs around the time of the Korean and Vietnam Wars, only joining mainstream music in 1966 with the use of electronic instruments and amplification. In the late 60s the psychedelic drug culture reached its apogee at the great Woodstock festival – free love and drugs were on the bill in New England, as well as in San Francisco – long seen as a somewhat louche city. In the classical sphere, minimalism, led by Steve Reich and Philip Glass reflected the minimalist movement in art, and a new type of Classical music was born after the war: the Film Score.

In this field, there had always been music – pianos accompanied the silent movies of the early 20th century and artists such as Charlie Chaplin not only acted but also composed his own soundtracks.  After the war, filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock altered the medium forever. In a Hitchcock film, the music is a character – the shrieking violins in psycho or the pounding orchestral pursuit in North by North West. Pre-war composers such as Eric Korngold and newer voices such as Bernard Herman rose to prominence. By the 1980s composers were stars in their own right: John Williams is probably the finest example of the group, though Elmer Bernstein and Ron Goodwin or James Horner also stand out.

Unlike in the UK where serious composers such as Ralph Vaughan Williams, William Walton and Malcolm Arnold were heard both on screen and in the concert hall, few Americans seem to have done the same. The notable exception is the remarkable Leonard Bernstein.  Composer, conductor, educator…

The post war American city was a divided place-  increasingly a divided society was withdrawing into small sections of closely guarded territory. Bernstein caught this shift like no other. His musical West Side Story merges Shakespeare with the Upper West Side of Manhattan – the gangs are now American boys and their Puerto Rican neighbours. This musical exploded onto Broadway in 1957 and caused a wave of shock and adulation. Gone was the safe ‘American musical’ in which love was chased in the strange worlds of South Pacific or sanitised Nazis. Bernstein probably has marked American Classical Music forever in this work – part Jazz, part twee glee song (the satirical Officer Krupke), part full blown Romantic Opera, this work encapsulates the divisions of the society it portrays whilst merging the Latin sounds of the Puerto Ricans with the European and ‘American’ musical language  of the Jets. A true American masterpiece for the masses.

Enough. This has strayed form my original idea – there is not enough direct Literary linking – I may have to come back to it.

The Spotify soundtrack can be found USA playlist

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Still I rise, Significant Cigarettes, Dyslexia… Anthology Part 2

My former colleague Michael Mellor left this wonderful teaching outline for the Edexcel IGCSE new anthology….

I like it…

very much indeed.  Thanks Michael.

NEW IGCSE Lang_2016_Angelou_Tremain_BenZeph


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The Apprentice… hired?

A quick plug for a year 8 group and @mariatrafford who showed me some of their Apprentice material today.

I love this module, developed several years ago with Lisa Healy and Traycie Wrycraft in the good old days…

This year:  Design and pitch for a franchise running a cafe at school which can served the local community.,..

No film , but the resources of one group: @CoCo – Coffee On, Coffee Off.

Coco Pitch

apprentice overview composite

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Practice Questions OCR A level

In the absence of past papers and having exhausted my imagination and the titles I can cull from OCR training material, I offer these for the Pre 1900 poetry and drama paper:

1 ‘Seduction is most effectively accomplished through flattery.’

In the light of this view, consider ways in which writers represent seduction. In your answer,

compare one drama text and one poetry text from the above lists. [30]

2 ‘It is rarely good for us to get what we want.’

In the light of this view, consider ways in which writers portray appetites and desires, and theirconsequences. In your answer, compare one drama text and one poetry text from the above lists.

3 ‘Marriage can be a prison, marriage can be a paradise’

In the light of this view, consider ways in which writers portray marriage. In your answer, compare one drama text and one poetry text from the above lists.

4 ‘Literature rarely shows power being used well’.

In the light of this view, consider ways in which writers portray marriage. In your answer, compare one drama text and one poetry text from the above lists.

5 ‘Verbal wit is women’s strongest weapon’

In the light of this view, consider ways in which writers portray women’s use of language. In your answer, compare one drama text and one poetry text from the above lists.

6 ‘Life goes on but literary texts must end’

In the light of this view, consider ways in which writers end their texts. In your answer, compare one drama text and one poetry text from the above lists.

7 ‘Pride goes before a fall: the greater the pride, the greater the fall’.

In the light of this view, consider ways in which writers portray pride. In your answer, compare one drama text and one poetry text from the above lists.

8 ‘Writers, readers and audiences delight in the spectacle of sinfulness’.

In the light of this view, consider ways in which writers portray sinfulness. In your answer, compare one drama text and one poetry text from the above lists.

And this was posted recently by Anton Viesel – a teacher in Northampton:

OCR A Level Paper 1 Section 2 questions Continue reading

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Jerusalem: the Play by Jez Butterworth

Interesting stimulus for a much under-resourced play. Yr12 – read this.

Beyond the Zeitgeist

Do we  believe that Johnny “Rooster” Byron is having sex with Phaedra, the 15-year-old girl he’s sheltering from the stepfather who has apparently been sexually abusing her? And, if we do, how come we don’t think Johnny’s abusing her, too? Or do we?

These questions go to the heart of what makes this play so interesting and disturbing—and the answer is only partly that Mark Rylance embodies Johnny as such a vivid life force that we might almost forgive him anything.

The tenderness of Johnny’s third-act scene with Phaedra certainly suggests a relationship. She brings down the curtain on the second act when she suddenly emerges from his trailer in the woods and calls his name. When she emerges again in Act 3 to find Johnny alone among the dilapidated furniture scattered in the yard out front, she recounts the thrill of being crowned queen of the annual fair on…

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HoDs need to talk. The value of support groups.

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?

Teaching Literature at A level.pptx (002)

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:

Define literature?

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?

Canon work:

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.

theory out

 theory in

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!

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Filed under Paedagogy, teacher training

OCR AS Eng Lit: Unseen model for Dystopia

The June 2016 paper included a passage from Ayn Rand’s Anthem as a source for the question: Discuss ways in which Orwell explores the threat to individuality in 1984.  I have encouraged students to focus on contexts -AO3 is the dominant AO – and not to stray from Orwell himself and the period around his creation of the novel with no reference to other writers.  Since we are teaching with the eventual A level in mind, this is confusing for the students – it almost feels as though they have to go backwards a little. Still, I think it is preferable to having to engage with wider reading and exploration in Year 13 alone.

Here goes: timer on…. 15 mins reading and notes for a 45 minute (maximum) writing period.


Respond to the question without the source:

Names – identity lost as unperson, 6079Smith

Identity lost in uniforms and 2 mins hate, also in common living and shared activities

totalitarian regimes scared of individuals – all reflect ideas of the Party – Katherine and anti-sex league vs Julia

writing as source of identity – thought police

Homogenised history/past…



Stalin/Hitler regimes and control

Orwell against fascism in 1930s Spain

Orwell aware of poor living conditions and proles lives from earlier writings.,

Orwell at BBC propaganda unit controlling thought and therefore reducing individual responses

Ideas explored in Animal Farm


Equity 7-2521

Home of the street sweepers – collective living


need to write for ‘no ears but our own’ – thoughts forbidden (curse)


Unable to resist the urge to rebel…

Orwell’s 1948 novel, 1984, is a warning to humanity about the dangers of a totalitarian state. Written after the defeat of Hitler and in the time of the emerging Cold War, the focus seems to be clearly Stalin’s Russia, though Orwell, who had fought against Franco in the 1930s and who had worked for the BBC propaganda unit in the Second World War is able to reflect the shift from Nazism to Communism as a focus with the ever-shifting background of alliances observed in his novel.

At a human level, such regimes seek to destroy individuality and this is explored in this pair of novels. Rand’s protagonist, Equality 7-2521 seems to have lost all individuality and become absorbed into a kind of ‘hive mind’, even to the extent of thinking of himself in the first person plural – ‘We’. Winston Smith has not yet descended to this level at the start of 1984 though he keeps jis name solely because of his status at work, where he is known as 6079Smith. Orwell has given him the blandest and most common English surname of the time as a step towards the loss of his identity and the replacement of his proud forename Winston again suggests a wish to remove his personality. Winston, recalling Churchill, suggests determination to fight on against impossible odds. The regime will not wish to engage with this idea. Individuality is further lost at the end of the novel when Winston becomes becomes an ‘unperson’. The negative prefix of this Newsspeak construct reinforces the idea of a removed identity – the fate of all who fall foul of the Party and its way of life – much ion the same way as Stalin’s victims sent to the Gulags lost all identity and rights as citizens, living out their lives in a hidden half-world at the Arctic Circle.

Identity is also seen in the way one dresses. In Rand’s text we learn that all men wear an ‘Iron Bracelet’ as an identity marker. In Orwell’s text the work force -the ‘Outer Party’ workers are required to wear blue overalls and to lose all sense of individuality in their clothing. This sense of commonality can then be seen in their behaviours – all required ot take part in the 2 minute hate and all chanting ‘B-B’ in homage of Big Brother regardless of any personal feeling. It is only in the highest echelons of the Party and in the ‘Golden Country’ that people can dress as individuals. The hypocrisy of the senior party members seen here is reminiscent of the enormous freedoms to accumulate wealth and material goods seen in Soviet Russia while the ordinary people starved.  In both texts there is an evident hand-to-mouth existence for the ordinary workers – Equity steals candles and Winston soap – everyday necessities.

In Rand’s text, the protagonist is aware of the need ot write -to explore his thoughts for ‘no ears but our own’. He is writing in his customary 1st person plural and referring solely to himself, just as Winston, when writing in his diary is driven to explore the thoughts which can never be spoken aloud: @I hate Big Brother’. For both there is a clear fear of reprisal for ‘thoughts which are forbidden’. In 1984 the constant awareness of the telescreen and the activities of the Thought Police result in those thought to be harbouring thoughts which do not suit the Party being taken away to the Ministry of Love. The euphemistic name, just as in Rand’s Palace of Corrective Detention – suggests a location in which people are helped rather than tortured. In this  Orwell departs from his Soviet model. Though clearly modelled on the Lubianka, no one in Soviet Russia would view the headquarters of the KGB in any way other than its grim reality.  Orwell is using his experience in the BBC propaganda department to show the power of controlling public expectation.

The final paragraph of Rand’s extract hints at the idea that in all men there is an urge to rebel – to recognise the moral issues in a situation and to stand up for the ‘right’. This ties in with Winston. He is not an heroic stereotype – downtrodden and frightened, hampered by his varicose leg he finds it in himself to rebel first as a lover as he is able to reject the attitude of his wife Katherine and the anti-sex league to find his own individuality in love with Julia (who ‘adores sex’) although this will eventually be his undoing, and then in his ill-fated attempts to subvert the Party system.

He has been spotted as a rebel without needing to be ‘six feet tall’. He has been played by O’Brien and will pay for his individuality in Room 101 and in his subsequent reincarnation as an unperson. He has lost his individuality since the Party cannot allow independent thought – it must have control of the Past, the Present and the Future.


43 minutes. I’d love some feedback if anyone reads this – where would you mark it in OCR AS marks schemes – and why?

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Filed under OCR A level, OCR English Literature, OCR NEW English Literature