Sunday, 12 March 2017

AQA Exam Update: Questions 3 and 4 bore galore


We are on that last big push for the final exams. We have taught the set texts and we are practising and practising for the exams. At the moment, my Year 11 class is working through Paper 1 with the opening of ‘Rebecca’. From the marking of their mocks, I have come up with these few points.



Point 1: Question 3 (Structure)

With the structure question, I have found that students produce more meaningful comments when the emphasis is based on the effect. Starting with a device leads students to obsess on the structural device and fail to explain things fully. When students focus on the effect first, they look for the structural device to support their idea.

This is the slide I gave students. They had to find these ‘effects’ in the text. Then, they had to explain the structural device to support it.

The writer is trying to make the reader curious about what is happening.

The writer is trying to make the reader sympathise with the narrator.

The writer is trying to make us feel like we are there.

In discussions, this led us to explore the use of narrator, the shift in focus and use of description. If students are to attain the high marks, we need them to independently engage with the effect and develop sophisticated explanations of the effect. Plus, they need a bank of readymade effect comments. They, probably, need to be a regular part of the language of lessons. I don’t suggest for a minute that we give students a list of comments like the above, but I suggest that we use these phrases more often in lesson.



Point 2: Paper 1 Extracts

Now, this is an idea adapted from something I saw on Twitter many moons ago. It was a simple idea to get the whole school shadowing the Carnegie Book Award. The idea was simple. You photocopy the opening page of the books and passed them out during tutor time. Students then judge which book is the based on the opening.

The shortlist is released this week and I am going to order all eight books. Then, for the next eight weeks, we are going to explore the opening of each book in English lessons. Now, here’s the interesting thing: I am planning on doing this with Years 7,8,9,10 and 11. Teachers are going to use the texts with their classes. Year 10 and 11 might have them as complete booklet, but KS3 will have the revealed a week at time.

We are going to have a clear focus:  narrative perspective and structure. How is this story told to us? What is interesting about how it is structured? I might even throwing in an opinion to support: Frank, my mate down the pub, thinks this opening is the biggest pile of tosh written in the last ten years. How far do you agree with Frank?

I am not a big fan of giving KS3 students GCSE papers and I am not too impressed with the KS3 test papers as I feel they are just repeating the questions rather than developing skills and knowledge over time. However, this approach will give staff a break from planning lessons, but it will develop this structure aspect as a school and a department. We are all looking at the same text and collectively discussing things. At the end we can vote for our favourite.   

I will use Twitter (@Xris32) to discuss and explore the texts over the next few weeks.



Point 3: Question 4 (Evaluating)

Again and again, we hit a block with Question 4. In fact, on any test, I twitch and start panicking whenever I see a question 4. However, I am very grateful to somebody on Twitter for providing this question and exam paper.

04:          In this question, focus on the whole source.



A student, having read this text, said: “This part of the text introduces a place, but it also introduces a character. The writer creates tension by giving us clues about the narrator’s life at Manderley.”

       To what extent do you agree? [20 marks]

       In your response you could:

       consider your own impression of the narrator and of Manderley

       evaluate how the writer presents the narrator and presents Manderley

       support your opinions with quotations from the text



Right, this week I tried something different and I was surprised how successful it was. I fail often with lesson ideas, but those failed ideas I hide from the public. I taught student to break down the opinion statement into three parts:

“This part of the text introduces a place,



but it also introduces a character.



The writer creates tension by giving us clues about the narrator’s life at Manderley.”

These are the starting points for their ideas. Then, I introduced the following words: Typical / Unusual / Predictable / Effective.

They then had to say which word they would use to describe the aspect in the text.

·         “This part of the text introduces a place, [typical]

·         but it also introduces a character. [unusual]

·         The writer creates tension by giving us clues about the narrator’s life at Manderley.”[effective]

Now, in future, I might change the words, but the students started engaging and evaluating the text quickly. Students started saying how typical is was for writers to start with a setting. They said it was unusual to not describe the character when introducing a protagonist. They felt the writer effectively created tension.

The next stage was to explore the methods:  

·         “This part of the text introduces a place, [typical]

o   Journey / personification / slow reveal / constant barriers / contrast

·         but it also introduces a character. [unusual]

o   personality implied / structure of sentences / limited use of first person / few opinions

·         The writer creates tension by giving us clues about the narrator’s life at Manderley.”[effective]

o   Repetition of barriers / use of mystery / questioning



The final stage was to look at the effect of these and link it all together. What is the effect of using a typical introduction of a place?

The benefit of structuring the analysis in this way, like the structure question, is that you are address the important stuff first. If students can start making pertinent comments and statements from the start, the explanation will improve. All too often, the most important comment is made at the end of a student’s paragraph and we have to wade through drivel to get to it. This pushes those points at the front.

Step 1: Typical / Unusual / Predictable / Effective.

Step 2: Methods

Step 3: Effect.

I found it helpful to use the same text twice, but give them a different opinion statement. 

“The opening is incredibly creepy[Point 1] and mysterious [Point 2]. It is effective in the way it builds and creates mystery [Point 3]. ”

Time will tell if it is useful for all students and groups. At the moment, it seems to be working with my class.



Thanks for reading,

Xris

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