Saturday, 22 February 2014

Drawing lines in the sand – Question 4 on the AQA English Language exam

It is war! Well, not really – but it does feel like it sometimes! Preparing for the final exam is becoming more and more like a Roman military battle. There are some people that like to use an oracle, but I prefer to prepare my phalanx and go headfirst into battle. It might be like the battle of Thermopylae, but we are not going to go down without a fight and without our honour and dignity intact after it.

The AQA Unit 1 exam is horrible. I have mentioned it before. A mad dash to show a full range of skills in two hours and fifteen minutes. It is a hit or miss scenario for a lot of students. A good day and the student succeeds. A bad day and the student fails. Miss one question, or miss the point on a question, and you could end up with going down a whole grade. The questions are deliberately vague and students have to be incredibly clued up if they are going to do well.

As a department, we are adapting our teaching, so that we can help students with the exam paper. To do this, we have adapted a specific target system. With each question on the paper, comes a set of progressively complex (thanks to a colleague for reordering these for me) targets. The idea being that teachers select a target for students to work on. Then, they are aware of some of the next targets to help them understand the line of progression. Also, it might get them to select some of the other targets. Furthermore, it will be a revision tool fool for students to use when they prepare before the exam.

Targets

These tables will be used in lessons to help identify the successes and weaknesses of sample answers and the students’ own work.

 
Question 1: What do you understand about …?

 

A
Select quotes from the text to support your ideas
B
Use speech marks ( ‘quote’) to show you have used a quote
C
Read between the lines by using the phrase – which shows
D
Use PEE (Point Evidence Explanation) to structure your ideas
E
Make connections between different points made in the text
F
Make less obvious points
G
Highlight how there are two conflicting sides of the argument
H
Pick out a flaw in the arguments presented
I
Discuss the writer’s opinion changes on the topic
J
Link ideas to how the how text is structured
K
Offer how different readers might interpret the argument in a different way
L
Offer your opinion subtlety by using adverbs 

 
Question 2: Explain how the headline and picture are effective and how they link to the text.

A
Select quotes from the text to support your ideas
B
Use speech marks ( ‘quote’) to show you have used a quote
C
Use PEE (Point Evidence Explanation) to structure your ideas
D
Make a comment about what the picture shows in the text 
E
Make a comment about what the picture symbolises in the text
F
Point out a language point used in the headline
G
Make a reference to the language used in the text
H
Make a connection between the picture and the headline
I
Make a connection between the headline or picture and the text
J
Explain how the headline or picture supports / challenges an idea in the text
K
Explain the reader’s thoughts when they read the text
L
Explain how the reader will react to the picture or headline 
M
Explore finer details of the picture such as colour, texture, positioning, etc
N
Explore how different readers will react to the text
O
Explore how the reader’s reaction changes over the text
P
Explore how some aspects are flawed


Question 3: Explain some of the thoughts and feelings of ….

A
Select quotes from the text to support your ideas
B
Use speech marks ( ‘quote’) to show you have used a quote
C
Read between the lines by using the phrase – which shows
D
Use PEE (Point Evidence Explanation) to structure your ideas
E
Describe the thought that the person has
F
Describe the feelings the person has
G
Give a reason why the person is thinking or feeling something
H
Give a detailed reason to your idea by linking idea to what has previously happened
I
Link your idea to a particular word or phrase
J
Explore how the feelings have changed over the text
K
Select four different thoughts and feelings rather than repeat the same one
L
Select less obvious ideas
M
Offer more than one possible reading of a thought: It could also be…
N
Make a link to other parts in the text
O
Use precise words when describing thoughts and feelings


Question 4: Compare how two texts use language for effect.

A
Select quotes from the text to support your ideas
B
Use speech marks ( ‘quote’) to show you have used a quote
C
Read between the lines by using the phrase – which shows
D
Use PEE (Point Evidence Explanation) to structure your ideas
E
Describe how the texts makes a reader feel an emotion
F
Explain how a writer creates an emotion through language
G
Select a word or a phrase and link it to the emotion / effect of the text.
H
Explain why the writer uses that particular emotion/effect for the text – link to purpose
I
Explore in detail why the language creates that particular effect
J
Make more points
K
Make a connection between the two texts
L
Make comparison of how the texts use language or effect in the same way
M
Evaluate the effectiveness of a technique 
N
Explore a subtle connection, similarity or difference between the texts
O
Make connections between different parts of the text when explaining a point

 
Question 5 / 6
 

A
Write in clear sentences
B
Use commas to separate parts of a sentence and for lists
C
Use punctuation marks correctly (? ! “)
D
Make sure commonly used words are spelt correctly
E
Use connectives to link sentences together
F
Use paragraphs to separate ideas
G
Make your writing suitable for the audience – formal / informal
H
Make your writing sound and look like the text is supposed to be
I
Use a range of sentence openings / lengths for effect 
J
Use a range of punctuation marks for effect
K
Use a variety of paragraph lengths for effect 
L
Make sure your writing is structured effectively – links / opening /closing
M
Develop ideas in paragraphs by using counter arguments
N
Build links across the text
O
Vary the tone of your writing across the text
P
Aim for a consistent style of writing across the text
Q
Use knowledge from other sources within your writing
R
Use humour (irony, satire or parody)

 
 
Teaching effectively the questions

The second part of our attack if focusing precisely on the questions. Rather than complete endless questions, we are going to target the questions in a refined way. I have spent endless hours collating information from every examiner’s report and model answer looking for specifics and approaches to dealing with the question.
 

Question 4 is the one that students struggle with nationally. It is a tough one. Comparing two texts and explaining how each text uses language for effect.  

From the various reports the following things I have found:

 

·         Explore individual word choices and compare those choices.

·         Band 2 – compare content and purpose

·         Generalised comments like ‘to make the reader read on’ hinder expression.

·         Need to explore a technique’s effect – shock, impress, persuade.

·         No point listing techniques.

·         Students need to discuss, explore, interpret a point rather than just compare.

·         Less able students better to write about the first text and then write about the second and compare while introducing the second text.

·         Consider students looking for the most interesting words / parts of the text.

 

Personally, I think the effect should be the driving force behind the answer to this question. The problem we have is that the question asks students to comment on the language first and then it asks for the effect. I feel we need to teach our students about the effect of the text first. They should think of the effect first and then ask the following question: How does the language create this effect? The problem with our students is that they compare language and not effect. If they compare the effect, they will get better answers. Otherwise, we have students endlessly comparing rhetorical questions, which will lead to a lot of ‘navel gazing’. For example: they both use rhetorical questions to ask the reader a question because they want them to think.

 

Effect

Activities

·         Students list a number of different feelings that a text creates.

·         Students are given a list of feelings and they have to pick the top three that best describe the text.

·         Look at a text and explore how a reader’s feelings change over the course of the text.

·         Students search a text and find examples of different effects.

·         Compare how two different texts use the same effect but with different language techniques.

·         Discuss why they use that effect at that particular moment 

·         Explore how there can be more than one effect or impact. For example: the word makes the reader feel scared and it highlights the severity of the issue by …

·          Highlight texts for the words with the most effect.

·         Write a set of questions that the reader has when reading the text.

·         Get students to complete the following sentences:

o   The word __________ makes me feel because ….. It also makes me think …. because…

 

Some possible effects: shock, warn, fearful, impressed, amazed, curious, worried, disappointed, guilty, sad, pleased

 

Language

·         Pick out texts and select two or three words. Students explain why that word is so effective.

·         Students are given a paragraph and they have to spot the words that create a particular effect.

·         Students pick out the most interesting words in a text. They read a whole text and then reduce it down to the three most effective words.

·         Students think of some alternative choices in an extract. They discuss why the writer didn’t pick the alternatives.

·         Students look at linking words and techniques together. They look at how combinations of words and techniques work together to create a particular effect. For example: The writers use of the word ‘lonely’ linked to the second person perspective makes the reader feel even more guilty as they feel responsible for what has happened.

·         Revise different techniques.

·         Explore why writers might use a particular technique in this circumstance. Or, explore the different reasons for using a rhetorical question, for example.

·         Categorise techniques based on effect. What techniques would you use for shock?

 

Possible sentences to use:

 

The use of _____________ (technique) and ______________ (technique) is used through source __ to create feelings of__________________________________

 

The word ‘______’ mirrors the _____________________ .

 

The reader feels _____________ through the use of ________________________.

 

The writer uses _________ to express that

 

This is reflective of

 

The reader will associate _________________ with the use of _________________. 

 

Possible phrases:

 

Invokes a sense of

To create feelings of

Understand the severity of

Reinforces the fact that

 

I think for less able students we need to get them to zoom in on one or two paragraphs rather than the whole text. A lot of the problems with this question is that students are not looking for intelligent comparisons. They just jump to conclusions. Furthermore, it is the explanation where they fall down the most. They can spot things, but they are not good at explaining things in detail.
 

Comparing

·         Compare effects. Take two paragraphs and get students to compare the paragraphs – the effect and the language.

·         Just compare two words. One from each text.

·         Write a paragraph and cover up the words taken from the text. Students have to guess the quotes used.  
 

The tasks here are about getting students to explain things better. The exam board explain how students picking out features or techniques isn’t enough. It is the explanation that gets them the higher mark and not an obscure technique.

I have drawn a line in the sand.


Thanks for reading,
Xris32

 

There are further blogs about the paper here:


2 comments:

  1. This is a great summary. Thank you very much for it.

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  2. I believe parody fits the definition of creating in Anderson and Krathwohl's "A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing" (2001), which is the revision of the taxonomy that has creating as its highest level. (Bloom's highest level is evaluating.) Anderson and Krathwohl talk about using the higher levels of thinking to help students develop content knowledge. I think you'd find what you do is gold-star work by their standards if you've time to devote to figuring out their scheme.

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