Sunday, 18 June 2017

Turning the indicators on

Exam marking season is finally upon us. As I type this at my own pace and inclination, I know that there are several hundred teachers waking up to marking. They are in the process of marking hundreds and hundreds of scripts and probably regretting the decision, when they look out of the window and see glorious sunshine.

I have no desire to mark.
You could try to persuade as much as you like, but this man is not for turning…yet! One job I’d happily do with glee is to write the indicative content for exam boards. I’d happily do that job. I’d do it with aplomb.

The new GCSEs has changed my way of presenting assessments to staff and students. To get my head round the new GCSE, I have created indicative content sheets for all the assessments students have sat and I have loved every minute of it. But, it has made me realise that we do undervalue indicative content in lessons in English.

For years, I have walked into a classroom armed with a blank text and mined it for interesting nuggets of information and language devices. I walk in armed with a few things to point out. Usually, we have my ideas and several ideas from the class mixed together. The pace of this can be slow. It is, however, an organic process. We layer one idea on top of another idea.  Things snowball and combine. And, at the end we have a text annotated in detail and some reasonable points.

What if we utilised indicative content more in lessons? What if it was a regular part of the teaching? What if we are more transparent about the range of ideas a student could provide for a question?

Take this question I am using with a class tomorrow. Students are going to be given the extract and the question. They will have 5 minutes to bullet-point ideas.

How does Shakespeare present Romeo’s love for Juliet in the extract?
But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief,
That thou her maid art far more fair than she:
Be not her maid, since she is envious;
Her vestal livery is but sick and green
And none but fools do wear it; cast it off.
It is my lady, O, it is my love!
O, that she knew she were!  

Indicative Content

·         Beyond the physical realm

·         Perfect and  pure

·         Obsession

·         Glorification

·         Monomania

·         Opposite of everything else

·         Unique / special  

·         Sexual

Language Features

·         Metaphor – ‘light through yonder window’

·         Metaphor  ‘Juliet is the sun’

·         Contrast of ‘sun’ and ‘moon’

·         Contrast of  adjectives ‘fair’ and ‘envious’

·         Light and darkness imagery

·         Disease imagery

·         Repetition of ‘envious’

·         Repetition of ‘O’

·         Repetition of  ‘It is my …’

·         Repetition of pronoun ‘my’

·         Repetition of noun ‘maid’

·         Starts and end with exclamations

·         Use of imperatives

·         Structured with a question followed by an answer to the question

·         Sentences shorten when confident

·         Reference to Goddess Diana

·         Reference to sexuality – vestal livery

Of course, there will be more and I will add to them over day. When I have taken some of the students’ ideas, I will reveal these lists and develop their understanding and knowledge of the text.

Indicative content isn’t about making the student feel stupid because they didn’t find something. It is about branching out and opening the synaptic pathways, making them see things and the possibilities. The danger is that students see indicative content as a tick list, so that is why it is so important we stress that indicative content is about possibilities. To develop the range of points a student covers in their analysis, we need to develop their experience of points.

A student becomes a better reader by reading more. Therefore, providing student with more content will provide students with more content for their future analysis of texts. If I show students that they could refer to the repetition of a pronoun in one extract, they will recall it when they refer to another text.

Shakespeare is tough, but rewarding. So, it is important that we help students become better at analysing it. Yes, we could focus on one technique at a time and help them that way, but by the GCSE course they should be able to cope with multiple techniques and multiple ideas. We need them to see multiple aspects and have a knowledge of those multiple aspects. We need them to develop their knowledge.

Thanks for reading,


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