Tag Archives: IBDP

July Man: Margaret Avison

A while ago my IB students wrote practice unseens on this poem. They found it very difficult to approach – as did I. Slightly chastened, I wrote my own commentary. I am sending this to them to mark for themselves, not because I think it is brilliant – I don’t, but because I hope it will model some good practice whilst trying not to make the whole poem fit into some pre-conceived ideas such as the poem being “about” global warming.
As is right for IB HL students I allowed myself 2 hours for this task and have included a copy of my original notes with the essay.

july man peel


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Creativity in Analysis: Why I love teaching Y13 IB

I have copied some of my Year 13 IB English Literature creative responses to Chapter 10 of Chopin’s Awakening. I left out only the pencil drawings that were too faint to copy well. These are to enable the class to have their own copies, but also to stimulate interest from other teachers/students.
It seems to me that the opportunity for creative response activities is fundamental to the IBDP course and students are used to this sort of activity from the earliest days of Year 12. Today they surpassed themselves and I wish I had recorded the comments that went alongside these little works of art. Nikita’s drawing of Edna in her fish bowl has simply so many layers of symbolism embedded in it that we all listened in awe as Chopin’s writing was analysed thoroughly in her explanation of this response.

Feel free to take a look and perhaps you might want to use the artwork to stimulate debate in your own lessons if you are teaching this text.

awakening 10

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TOK stimulus for presentation: The language of Government.

The TOK of the Government proclamation:

• Ofsted chief: ‘teachers don’t know what stress is’

• “The examination system that we have has got to be ruthless and stretching all pupils,”
• has said he intends to ditch the term “satisfactory” to describe schools and replace it with “requires improvement”.
• Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of Ofsted, told The Times that inspectors would mark down schools that gave pay increases to teachers who were “out the gate at 3 o’clock”. He said he expected teachers to stay beyond the end of the school day to “go the extra mile” for children, especially when working in poor communities.
• He also said that teachers unwilling to act as surrogate parents in poor areas to pupils who lacked support at home did not deserve a salary increase.
• He said: “We just have to accept the reality of that. If you are going to go and work in these areas, there has to be a commitment to working beyond the end of the school day. That’s why I asked those questions about performance management. It’s about recognising those people who do go the extra mile.”
• And Mr Cameron said there would be “no more excuses for failure in schools, no more soft exams and soft discipline”.
The quotations that open this document are taken from national press coverage of issues concerning Education over the last six months. They are, naturally, taken out of context and are not intended to be another teacher-rant at the unfairness of criticism aimed at our profession. This is intended as a TOK presentation stimulus.
It should be stressed that the intentions of OFSTED and the Government are in many ways laudable. It is obvious that all industries perform better when staff are “going the extra mile” or are staffed by employees who want the best for their “stakeholders” and are prepared to fight to achieve this. I have no intention of gainsaying the idea that exams should be rigorous, standards of behaviour should be high and commitment to the job should be strong.
So, what is the effect of the language used in communication here?
Some years ago, the finest TOK presentation I have known looked at the language of mark schemes and made much of the somewhat fluid meaning of “satisfactory”. It is interesting that this word has once again been singled out for attention by Mr Wilshaw. Consider his comment. It is generally known that “satisfactory” implies a sense of being good enough, but his comment seems to demand a change of perspective. Satisfactory is the third grade of rating under OFSTED – Outstanding, Good, and Satisfactory. Here there is no doubt that Mr. Wilshaw is ridding the word of any sense of being good enough, and seeking to attain improvement. Laudable in the extreme, but possibly disconcerting in a world where a perceived negative can end a career. Still, this one seems sensible and begins to remove the potential for misunderstanding so inherent in the idea of satisfactory.
Possibly more concerning is the idea of a “ruthless” examination system, especially when linked to the Prime Minister’s pronouncement about “soft” exams. What message is this sending to those of lower abilities? Are we really striving to ensure that they have no chance of attaining examination success? Obviously not, one hopes, but the wording suggests otherwise and here begins a litany of similarly Draconian pronouncements.
The language used of the education system in this country is relentlessly negative at present. What does this do to the perception of the industry? What do parents and teachers –with slightly different emotional positions – perceive to be the state of teaching in this country?
Mr Wilshaw has said that his 3 O’clock comment was taken out of context, but it is hard to see how the idea of “going the extra mile” or “pulling one’s weight” might be misconstrued. How are teachers meant to respond? The vast majority arrive an hour or so before the school day and leave some time after the bell, to continue to work later in the evening. Despite this they are being attacked () so they think) and labelled as not working hard enough – no discussion and no room for debate. Many parents may well have a view of teachers based on a perception of long summer holidays which seems attuned to that of Mr Wilshaw, but surely the problem is that the same point could be made about any industry in the county – form Council Office Workers to Merchant Bankers. What is the effect of singling out teachers in this fashion and why is it being done?
Not only that, but consider this: you are a parent of a thirteen year old just entering KS4. The much vaunted new exams will not arrive in time to save your son. Instead he is faced with a system that the government are fond of saying is unfit for purpose and driven by a “race to the bottom” in terms of exams. What faith have you got left in the system to support your son? In this case, what is the effect, with regards perception, of the rhetoric around examinations this summer? Even if you agree that GCSEs leave a lot to be desired, is the constant negativity helpful?
All of the quotations above can be explored and considered in the light of Perception and Emotion of the response to the language used. There is scope for an interesting presentation here. Are teachers too open to emotional responses? Is OFSTED so rational in approach that it has no concept of the perception of its language?
Go on, go the extra mile!


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A response to “Prizes for all” and improvement…

Y13 TOKKISTS: read and respond – there’s a presentation in here – see what you can find.

Earlier this month, David Cameron announced that it was time to increase competitiveness in school sports and to get rid of a prize culture in which all participants see it as their right to be rewarded for mediocrity or failure. In recent weeks this sporting metaphor has been broadened and used as a response to the ongoing issues surrounding the marking of GCSE English exams this summer.

In general terms, the Prime Minister seems to be speaking sense – surely there is a need for sport to be competitive at a young age if the Olympians and Paralympians of 2020 are to be identified and honed to perfection. A lack of true competitiveness must tend to reduce the inspiration that drives the truly competitive to compete. Too many children faced with easy reward will settle for a level of attainment and never push themselves to go further. I would love to see sport re-elevated to a serious level in the curriculum alongside the e-bacc and other academic signposts (as long as Art, Music and Drama get equal respect – there is a place for competitive elitism in schools and it is not just in a Maths lesson).

To apply this idea to the GCSE marking issue and use it to justify the shambles of this Summer is disingenuous, however. It is not that, as a teacher, I want all to have prizes, but I do want a level playing field.

Using the recent Games as a metaphor for the exams:

1: Imagine there were no Paralympic Games. All the heroes of recent weeks would be forced to compete against able-bodied athletes in a single competition. In this competition there would be no chance of outright victory for any – except for David Weir who would clean up in the marathon. Of the others, Ellie Simmons, Jonnie Peacock and the rest, there would be the tag of gallant losers and the taint of being curiosities at the main attraction. These remarkable athletes might pursue their careers, but there would be little funding and little real inspiration to for the younger generation here. In the end there would be a second tier of competitions arranged with reduced standards for entry and these would not be treated with a great deal of respect… We might call this model the GCSE.

2: Mr Cameron no doubt sees the plans put forward by Michael Gove for a return to a clear two tier system as the answer – The O level model might be said to mimic the relationship between Olympics and paralympics, except for one thing.

The whole is based on this silly idea that “Prizes for all” must be removed from the system because it implies that too many prize winners are not worthy of their prizes. In the O level model the lower tier competition will still be precisely that – a low tier treated with disdain by many employers and thoroughly divisive within schools.

The issue that the politicians are struggling with is this – how to give the lower tier students a meaningful competition in which they can be proud whilst at the same time ensuring that it is treated with the same respect as the higher tier competition. No one watching the paralympics disparaged some of the incredible achievements witnessed on the grounds that the World Records were slower than those of the able bodied athletes. The differences between competitors were accepted and the wave of excitement was generated by recognition of competitors simply performing in a way that took the breath away. The paralympians were loved and respected in a way that few CSE students (if you can remember back that far) ever were.

And here is the problem that relates to this summer. Grade inflation, it seems is acceptable when Gold medals are awarded, but not when students are sitting exams. Day after day, paralympians shattered records by the dozen, yet no one complained – apart from Oscar Pistorius, who might have a justifiable gripe which will be looked into. Instead, it was held as proof of dedication and resilience from these remarkable young men and women that they were pushing themselves to improve, despite having achieved so much already.

This summer, students found the grade boundaries shifted between January and June, not just for exams, but for Controlled Assessment pieces identical in every way regardless whether they submitted early or late in the year. In some cases, particularly at AQA, it looks as though the D/C boundary was targeted to eradicate this “inflation”. Apparently OFQUAL did raise a concern to the Minister about the worry that genuinely improving students might be hit by this redrawing of the boundaries, but went ahead, nevertheless. We all saw the range of close finishes in the games – Pistorius losing to Oliveira, the GB women in the 4×100 medley and so on. If a similar rule had been applied here, the finish might have been extended by 10 meters and GBR would have extra medals, but everyone would acknowledge this state of affairs as so unfair as to be offensive.

So why is the practice acceptable in marking exams? Boundaries are always tweaked in line with the results and the complexity of papers, but is this necessary? The International Baccalaureate Diploma retains boundaries in exams year on year and has no record of grade inflation in its forty year history. Apparently GCSEs are a breeding ground for inflation – why?

Firstly, the habit of changing the curriculum as each new Minister strives to make his mark must cease. All this does is confuse students, irritate teachers and lead to a system in which grades and marks can not really be compared year on year because the criteria keep changing. This is unhelpful at best.

Then, the accusation of inflation ignores those students who really do try hard. It is a feature of education in this country that teaching is probably improving over time. Certainly, the implications of OFSTED is that weak teaching is unacceptable. Consequently we have to assume that weak teaching is being eradicated, otherwise there is no real justification for OFSTED to exist and keep prowling around our schools. To this, add the vast amount of web sites/blogs/VLEs which support children right up to their exams. These have only really existed in any quantity in the last few years. It would be arrogant to claim that we who blog are directly responsible for the rise in grades, but equally stupid to sneer at improvements when so much support is available to be used by the keen and energetic student.

Instead we should embrace the improvements whilst trying to ensure that standards are maintained – not higher one year and lower the next to suit political needs, but maintained in such a way that an employer or University or FE college knows what a C grade means, because there are clear comparisons year on year.

In short, the treatment of students by OFQUAL is something of a disgrace. No one would have stood for such interference with the development and improvement seen in the athletes – why should we accept it when it affects vulnerable 16 year olds?

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IBDP Part 1: introducing Literature in translation

A powerpoint to clarify the new format Literature in Translation element of Literature A1.

Literature in translation


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IBDP English teaching

I gave a talk at Brunel University PGCE department last week to illustrate some of the possibilities to explore when teaching English Literature for IBDP.
My thinking was that with around 300 schools offering the IBDP (not a small number when one considers the 168, or whatever it is, grammar schools in the country) trainees should have some exposure to the syllabus where possible. At my school we have many trainees and run an EBITT. I assess for QTS. I am always puzzled that trainees seem so unaware of this world-wide alternative for post 16 education. We offer IBDP and our trainees will always have access to the classes, even if only for observation purposes.
The aim was to introduce the IB as a whole and to discuss key differences in the teaching of IB – notably the oral elements and the coursework module. With orals counting for 30% of the overall diploma, this is a hugely significant change in teaching and assessment, let alone in studying techniques.
We also discussed ToK and its role in enriching the learning experience in English.

The trainees seemed enthused, one suggesting that he was applying to schools offering IBDP was gald of the information, another commenting that since IBDP teaching and the syllabus itself seemed to closely resemble the teaching and courses on offer at universities, it was surprising that so few schools offered the option.

I attach the PowerPoint from the session and a video of one of my current students giving his oral presentation. I welcome feedback…


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I wonder how many of you are writing presentations about the occupy London campaign have considered this: as you wrestle with utilitarianism and ideas linked to the freedom of a democracy, as you read Mr Miliband’s comments in the press and the comments of the church, you are probably planning a presentation focusing on right and wrong and the way to behave in a good, fair society.
I look forward to reading it and hearing it, but ask you to remember this: you have to provide an alternative viewpoint and this idea might help you. Consider the language and the idea of “occupation”. When the Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan or when Hitler occupied Poland nobody would have called this occupation good, yet now the people who cry “occupy London” (or Prague or New York) are seen as latter-day Robin Hoods. You should consider whether the choice of verb in this protest actually serves to undermine the protest rather than to strengthen it. Occupation has long been seen as implying a hostile takeover or invasion -generally unwonted and rarely supported by the occupied people. In your argument, this may provide the alternative view. The choice of word seems to undermine the very principles that the protesters are protesting about. Give it some thought!

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Charlie Hebdo, fear and fundamentalism- a TOK Presentation in waiting.

Some time ago, I wrote a piece discussing the irrational fear of music felt by totalitarian leaders and suggested a TOK approach. https://jwpblog.wordpress.com/2010/08/26/why-are-we-afraid-of-music-tok-thoughts/  On the train this morning I read that the offices of the satirical magazine CHARLIE HEBDO have been firebombed and destroyed by a group responding to the promise that the edition was to be edited by the Prophet. As usual, there were to be cartoons and writing that sought to satirise one particular religion – Islam. Not in good taste and not particularly funny either.
So why the response? Humour has always sought to puncture hypocrisy and draw attention to idiocy, from the time of Aristophanes. In this country Private Eye is regularly involved in exposing and debunking and is often in court as a result. Private citizens will often seek to repair damage to their public image in this way.
Why should religious belief allow the imposition of one will on another? No individual is under attack here yet the response seems as disproportionate as that of the medieval inquisition when faced by a scurrilous heretic.
As TOKKISTS you need to consider the basis of knowledge working here. Much is based on perception and much on an emotional response. Reason is absent on both sides and the magazine will no doubt gather strength as a result. Many will read it who did not even know of its existence prior to the attack.
Consider other recent cases from the Danish cartoons to Monty Python and all the way back through the satirists such as Swift or the truth tellers such as Solzhenitsin or Grossman.
Why do totalitarian regimes so fear words? You tell me!

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Hardy poems: guide and analysis

This guide has been moved to the English Edusite : http://english.edusites.co.uk/

Enjoy it!

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