Again, a PowerPoint for students to refer to after a lesson. In this case an essay question from May 2014 from the Edexcel IGCSE Literature paper.
Tag Archives: Edexcel
This is a well-known poem to teachers of KS4 over the years. It is back on the IGCSE syllabus for Edexcel, as part of the English Lit Anthology collection. Since the new IGCSE makes the poetry part of the exam and removes it from the optional coursework, I thought I would link my “Blessing” posts here.
Some time ago I set some Year 11s this well known and much examined poem as an unseen. I was rather unsettled by the lack of structure in their responses and felt the need to take time to recap SLIME and SCASI to help them to tackle the task… For those unused to the mnemonics: Subject/Style, Language, Imagery, Meaning, Effect and Setting, Character, Action, Style, Ideas. I prefer the second one which I first came across as a teacher of the IBDP where it was recommended to me when approaching unseens in their mammoth two hour unseen paper.
I thought of using this poem when exploring techniques for discussing unseen poems: https://jwpblog.wordpress.com/2015/10/28/unseens-for-examinations/
One of my students then emailed me and asked for a model response!
So, here goes (written in a single sitting with no more than 25 minutes allowed for either essay to mimic the examination):
“How does Dharker create a sense of wonder in the poem?”
Focus on the language used in the poem, the use of images and literary effects, any other relevant feature of the poem.
‘Blessing’ by Imtiaz Dharker
The skin cracks like a pod.
There never is enough water.
Imagine the drip of it,
the small splash, echo
in a tin mug,
the voice of a kindly god.
Sometimes, the sudden rush
of fortune. The municipal pipe bursts,
silver crashes to the ground
and the flow has found
a roar of tongues. From the huts,
a congregation : every man woman
child for streets around
butts in, with pots,
brass, copper, aluminium,
and naked children
screaming in the liquid sun,
their highlights polished to perfection,
as the blessing sings
over their small bones.
SLIME: This poem, written in free-verse is set in a hot and dry part of the world where water is scarce and where any appearance of it is a cause for excitement and rejoicing. The free-verse form enables Dharker to organise the poem around ideas with a freedom to draw attention to specific words or phrases without consideration of rhyme or rhythmic pattern. An example of this comes at the end of the third stanza where the list of utensils gradually decreases in status whilst increasing in urgency until the line “frantic hands” in which the adjective conveys both a sense of despair and of excitement. The sentence does not end at the end of the stanza, however and the fourth stanza opens after the enjambement with the ambivalent image of “naked children/screaming…” Here the image manages to once again convey the double emotion – the verb offering suggestions of pain to the same extent as it offers suggestions of enjoyment.
The stanzas of the poem follow an approach to the issue of water in their content. At the opening of the poem the pair of single line sentences, with their clear present tense outlining of the situation – “there is never enough water” present the context for the poem clearly. This is then countered by the imperatives in the second stanza which urge the reader to engage fully with the poet: “imagine…” The imperative verbs and the use of onomatopoeia on “drip” and “splash” help to convey the scarcity of this much sought after commodity.
It is in stanza three that Dharker uses imagery to convey the thrill of the water leak and to establish a link with the poem’s title. Already she has introduced the idea of a “blessing” at the end of the second stanza by describing the water as the “voice of a kindly God” (though we might wonder how “kindly’ a god is that keeps his people in such a state of need). As the third stanza develops she develops the idea. The water is variously described as “the sudden rush of fortune” and as “silver”. Both images create a sense of great value and worth on a materialistic scale. In the next stanza, however the “congregation” worshipping around the pipe are treated to the image of water as “liquid sun”. This is a clear metaphor which puts water on the same level as the sun as a life-giver and a provider of Goodness. No wonder it is seen as a blessing and is viewed with wonder, even when it is an imaginary event.
Despite this Blessing there is a single disquieting thought at the end of the poem: The first line and the last line form a couplet of their own with the unsettling message that “the skin cracks like a pod /over their small bones”. In the final stanza, Dharker clearly focuses on the children and using the euphemisitic phrase “their highlights polished…” draws attention to this fact. Her euphemism allows their stark thinness to be seen in a positive light and thus confirms the sense of wonder found elsewhere in the poem.
SCASI: The poem is set in a hot, dry part of the world, where water is seen as a scarce commodity to be valued highly. The setting is clearly described in the opening line of the poem in which one of the possible readings suggests that the very “skin” of the Earth itself is cracking “like a pod”.
In this harsh environment, the children and the locals living around a burst water main gather to collect water. The action is “frantic” and Dharker uses the third stanza to highlight this. Using enjambement to help to suggest the tumult, she combines metaphors of sound “roar of tongues” and a long list of ever more mundane utensils to suggest the possible aggression and the urgency with which the villagers contend with one another for water. Ultimately it is revealed that even “frantic hands” are used, so desperate is the need to gather this life-giving liquid.
Within the crowd, the children are singled out for attention. At first the imagery is ambivalent – the “naked children/screaming…” carries an unmistakable suggestion of pain as well as one of sheer enjoyment. The sense of wonder is stronger, however, due to the euphemistic description of the bodies: rather than emaciated and unhealthy, these children have “highlights polished to perfection”. It is as though the Blessing of the water has cured all illness and brought nothing but joy.
This is Dharker’s intention, since the poem is a clear presentation of the view of God providing all for his followers. The “congregation” are literally blessed by “liquid sun” as the life-giving water pours forth. To these worshippers, the water is more than this and its high material worth is suggested by references to “silver” and to a “rush of fortune”. Fortune also connotes luck, and it is possible that Dharker is being ironic in her title. After all, the God who provides so little in the normal scheme of events, as suggested by the empty onomatopoeia of “splash” and “drip”into the low status “tin cup” of the second stanza, does not seem as one who might be likely to provide such bounty as is here unleashed.
The poem uses the freedom of its free-verse structure to ensure that readers are led to the positive view of the leaking pipe. After opening with the dramatic couplet which sets the context in two single sentence lines, Dharker introduces a sense of wonder in the second stanza with the imperative “imagine” which allows the reader to summon up the mental image, assisted by the imagery of sound referred to earlier. In the third stanza, the listing and particularly the enjambment across the space to the fourth stanza help to increase this sense of wonder as the momentum of the poem is increased allowing it to gather speed and power towards the end.
Dharker seems all too aware of the naivety of the villagers who worship at the poor workmanship of the “municipal pipeline”. However, in her telling of the event, it is the sense of wonder which is presented clearly to the reader. There is, however an important message concealed in the structure of the poem which is seen by reading the first and last lines as a couplet with no punctuation: The skin cracks like a pod/over their small bones. Using “small” to present a human dimension to the poem and presenting the harsh reality of the event in this way allows Dharker to show clearly that all the wonder created by the incident will do nothing to alleviate the underlying issues.
I hope that these are some use to my readers. They are not perfect and are not meant to be. I want you to be able to see how I have applied the framework of either structure to ensure that my writing has a purpose and a flow which is more effective than a linear reading of the poem. Feel free to send comments or to mark my writing!
My attempt to derive a teaching resource – you will need big paper and pens and can dip in rather than use this as a coherent lesson model:
I hope I have done this justice…
Try as I might, I simply cannot find teaching room for the new Spec IGCSE in English Language and English Literature within yrs 10 & 11. I take it as read that my students will read the whole of the texts designated as coursework, as though they were engaged in the examinations. With this in mind, the addition of an extra play in the drama section really does mean a year 9 start. And so it is that I am engaged with Of Mice and Men, not as a class reader but as a future exam text. This is tricky given that the whole thing is still in draft form. Still, what ho!
Welcome back to IGCSE – the area that still offers OMAM and TKAM, should you wish to teach them!
So what else does the new Spec have to offer those of us still teaching it?
Paper 1 is still focused around the anthology, but there are significant changes for the better. The current paper is worth 70% of the whole and the time spent teaching Anthology A is rewarded with a short analysis question worth a mere 10 marks and taking around 20 minutes to complete. Hardly value for the teaching-time. In the new paper there are sensible alterations: the weighting is now 60% and the Anthology is now central to the paper, being paired with an unseen non-fiction passage for close analysis and comparative writing. That’s more like it! And it gets better: the passages no longer look like a dog’s breakfast of colourful leaflets and Geography text books. What’s more, there are speeches – a TED Talk no less. This might be fun! The unseen ensures that skills are taught and the longer focus on the passage rewards diligent study and teaching properly. The rest of the paper is now designated as Transactional writing, with hopefully a clearer focus on the transactional nature of the writing, currently a little vague. It is also good to see a choice of question. For too long Creative writing in exams has been anything but. This seems to me to be a step in the right direction, which is continued into Paper 2. The two sections carry the same mark, making the Transactional writing a significant contribution to the whole: 30% of the oIGCSE mark on 1 question.The marking introduces a new AO, imaginatively called AO5 which can assess the quality of SPAG up to 12/30. Much clearer than the current allowance of “one third of the marks”
In paper 2, students are tested on the poetry/short story section of the anthology and more writing. I still find the poetry/short story idea rather clumsy and wonder what 3 of the 5 current stories did to deserve being thrown out! It is hard to complain about Tony Harrison (The bright lights of Sarajevo) and Maya Angelou (Still I rise) being included, though I wonder how many students will have already prepared the Susan Hill- maybe that’s the point. It still seems clumsy though, and I will offer the classes the exam rather than the coursework, if only to ensure broad coverage of the booklet. With no means of testing which passages have been read, the coursework option really does seem to dumb down the process of study in this paper.
The Creative section (Imaginative) is vastly improved. Not only a choice of three questions, but a picture stimulus too. The paper is now worth 40% of the whole – value for learning!
I do not understand the logic of removing Speaking and Listening from the IGCSE and the bolt on Presentation assessment seems useful, but carries no weight in terms of results. We now need to record a sample and ensure records are kept relating to that sample – 30 students form the cohort, with 10 each of pass, merit and distinction submitted. It all adds to the admin and to the time these things take.
Language Draft specification: International_GCSE_English_Language_A_draft_specification
Language Draft Sample assessment materials: International_GCSE_English_Language_A_draft_SAM
Language and Literature Draft Anthology: International_GCSE_Anthology_English_Language_A_and_English_Literature
Paper 1: Here things change. The 16 poems of anthology C, which always seemed to be a good advertisement for coursework, though “The Beast” – the 6 poem coursework task was ever unwieldly and complex, has now become the centre piece of paper 1 and cannot be relegated to coursework. Good. Not only that, but the poems will need to read as vehicles for comparison and there is a question based on an unseen poem. This is harder, yes, but so much more satisfactory if we wish students to become scholars of the genre, rather than the anthology group.
The paper links poetry with modern prose. OMAM is there, as is TKAM – I will opt for OMAM because it is short, yes, and needs to be taught in year 9 to begin with. But I will opt for OMAM because it is such a good text at this level. I have blogged about it often for this reason ( OMAM posts ) and still love teaching a text which so engages the hearts and minds of teenagers. The other texts are:
To Kill a Mockingbird: Harper Lee
Of Mice and Men”: John Steinbeck
The Whale Rider: Witi Ihimaera
The Joy Luck Club: Amy Tan and
Things Fall Apart: Chinua Achebe
In Paper 2 we have a choice between exam and coursework. Here I may well opt for the latter: I do think that the skills learned in terms of drafting and editing work are valuable and would be sorry to offer no coursework across the whole syllabus – it still exists at A level and the skill needs to be learned at some stage. This paper is Modern Drama and Literary Heritage. The latter sees a mix of drama and prose, though I am someone who feels that Shakespeare should be read at this stage, if only to allow a student to leave English having touched this greatest of all great writers in our language. The choice is nice, though hardly daring: Macbeth and R&J and the prose options – Austen (Pride), Dickens (Expectations) and The Scarlett Letter reflect a lack of imagination – a new syllabus should be a chance to explore the new rather than to recycle everything! The GCSE exam boards promoted Carol to GCSE level – daft. This board has simply taken the path of least discomfort by keeping Expectations. Pray God for Copperfield or Nickleby! ( Though I really want Hardy).
The modern drama is much more fun though:A View from the Bridge Arthur Miller
An Inspector Calls: J B Priestley
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night:-time Simon Stephens
Kindertransport: Diane Samuels
Death and the King’s Horseman: Wole Soyinka
This year it will be Priestley – because it is brilliant and it is never too early to make students think about our society and to become a little more aware of social responsibility. ( Inspector resources ) Who knows though. I fancy Kindertransport and once the new A levels have settled down…
Lit specification draft: International_GCSE_English_Literature_specification
Lit sample assessments: International_GCSE_English_Literature_SAM
So, all told, I think this has improved a course of which I was fond anyway. I wish there was more imagination in some areas and still heartily dislike the poetry/short story link. But much has improved, especially in Language paper 1 and Lit paper 1 now ensures due weight be given to the study of poetry. Yes.
I like this.
Oh, nearly forgot – it’s 1-9 grading, so no issues there….
Another 10 minute planner which looks at the character of Don Pedro in Much Ado About Nothing. Again, although aimed at IGCSE/GCSE this may be useful for post 16 students as a quick refresher.
Another 10 minute planner… “How does Priestley present the character of Gerald as an upper class young man?” Again taken from the January 2014 Edexcel Certificate paper. The same title will not reappear this summer, but I hope this will take you along the possible thought processes for answering such a paper.
A 10 minute planning screencast to assist my yr 11 students. The question comes from the Edexcel Certificate January 2014 paper, but the ideas and thoughts are valid.
A short powerpoint to help with writing analysis – the ideas are quite straightforward and are designed to start discussion rather than to act as the finished article.