Sunday, 26 November 2017

Speaking and Listening Assessments

I am going to put it out there: I was never a big fan of the old speaking and listening assessment. In fact, I hated it. I loathed it. I did it though, because the exam boards expected me to do it. I just detested it with my mind, body and soul. Why did I dislike it so much? Well, when you have seen twenty billion talks about football and forty billion presentations on horse-riding and/or fishing you question the point of life. I have hobbies, but I share them with likeminded people. And, that doesn’t mean my family or loved ones. I don’t thrust my hobbies on other people. I don’t react a scene from ‘A Clockwork Orange’ and pin people’s eyeballs open so they understand my joy of ‘Blake 7’ and various kitsch science-fiction from the 70s and 80s.

So, what have I done instead? I have suffered them. I have endured them, but I have smiled. I have listened to stamp collecting, ferret upkeep, trainspotting, flag signally, interpretative dance, tap dancing, knitting and many more. To keep me from nodding off, I have had to ask questions. So what are the dangers of knitting? Do you have to insure your feet for tap dancing? Can you get poisoned by licking too many stamps? The class always kindly attempt to join in and they ask harmless questions and often pointless questions. What made you start liking ferrets? Do your family dance? When did you start like dancing?    

Now, don’t think me mean and cruel; I am just realistic. I have yet to have the ‘Kes’ moment of poignant and profound meaning as a child holds up a mealworm and explains how you put it on a hook. When I write things like this, you always get someone informing me of how one child made the whole school tear up with their solo rendition of Celine Dion’s ‘My heart will go on’ at the end of a fifteen minute talk on how their rabbit means everything to them. The relationships we build with students are built through our daily interactions with students and not built and created in one moment. I could give a talk of how the use of CSO (blue screen) developed over the 1970s in Doctor Who, but you’d not get one iota of my personality from that talk or build a relationship with me.  You’d probably go: he knows quite a bit about special effects and Doctor Who.

This year, I am changing the speaking and listening talks and making it meaningful and relevant to the course. We are focusing on ideas and, in particular, idea related to the core texts studied. Take the following:

1: The duty a child has to live up to their parents’ expectations

2: The responsibility the rich have to support the poor

3: The role and responsibilities of parents in society

4: The gap between rich and poor in society

5: The changing role of women in society

6: How daughters are treated differently to sons

Each idea links to the set texts and that’s on purpose. We want to develop ideas and extend those ideas. We have forty different ideas and students are going to pick one and then prepare their talk around it. They will structure it around this format:

Engage with the audience – relate topic to them

A brief history of the idea

Explore key points

Relate to texts studied

Concluding point with further questions to consider

Questions from the audience and suggestions for connections to the text

Yes, we are removing the freedom to select ideas for themselves, but as my experience goes, that isn’t always a bad thing. We are instead getting them to focus on the ideas and developing their knowledge of an idea and extending and exploring it further. We might mirror Question 5 on Paper 2, but the key thing is picking the right points. English is about ideas. Reading other people’s ideas. Writing their own ideas down. A focus on ideas for Speaking and Listening assessments cannot be a bad thing.

This way the talks are meaningful for all involved. The student and audience develop a greater level of understanding of an idea. A student’s exploration of a how boys battle conflicting levels of responsibility to parents and friends will only help to develop an understanding of ‘Romeo and Juliet’.

A talk on Judo will just be a talk on Judo. A talk on the benefits of recycling will just be a talk on recycling. A talk on the changing role of women in society is revision for ‘Romeo and Juliet’, ‘A Christmas Carol’ and ‘An Inspector Calls’.  

Now, time for my talk on the reason why ‘Sapphire and Steel’ is the best series ITV has ever produced…

A hobby is a personal thing and when it is shared with non-likeminded people it becomes a form torture. 
Thanks for reading, 

Twinkl Resources

The people at Twinkl have given me a free account on their website and, in return, I said I’d review, occasionally, some of their resources.

This month’s finds are:  

AQA Paper 1 Practice Papers   

There are a growing number of papers here, and, given the lack of practice papers provided by the exam board, this helps with that. There are papers on ‘Jane Eyre’, ‘The Thirty-Nine Steps’ and several others. There are even mini-papers, which include questions to texts that most teachers will own. A few minutes with the photocopier and you have some practice papers.     

A Christmas Carol – In Context Information Cards

There are several packs for ‘A Christmas Carol’ and hidden amongst them are some really useful resources.  I quite like the ‘In Context Information Cards’ for presenting some key contextual facts relating to the time and I also thought a pack on Victorian Christmas would make a good starting point for developing understanding of the text.

Understanding Structure Display Pack

The structure question is one that most students struggle to grasp with and this little display is helpful. It visually represents three ways to present a story and shows how the three different ways affect the story telling and impact on the reader. Now, this resource is meant to be a display, but amongst the resources there is a suggested layout of the display. I’d use this as a task with students and get them to explore the impact of the different choices in the story.

60-Second Reads

As I teach a range of students, I think this ’60-Second Reads’ idea has quite a lot of merit for the classroom - especially for the lowest sets. The packs contain short texts and a series of quick questions. They make a great starter for these classes. There’s a range of texts and they are short enough and accessible enough to get students to engage in the lesson quickly. I like how the questions focus on different aspects of reading. Plus, there are some Christmas themes resources too.

All resources can be found here:

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Two simple words to counterpoint an idea

I think we can simply forget the simplicity of words when describing texts. We often go for the big, meaty ideas. We love a catch phrase or a nice slogan to wrap up an idea in writing. We often use sound bites or we peg words to ideas as we teach them. Look this idea here is an exploration of the sublime. And, this one is an example of the macabre. And, that one there is a cliché. We happily peg words to our ideas. However, ideas need to bash against different ideas and shouldn’t stand on their own like at dad watching his son playing football.  

Take the words ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’. A pair of words I love to use when exploring texts. It is important to have the other word when analysing a text.

Bob Cratchit feels inferior in this setting and that inferiority is symbolised in with the image of a single lump of ‘coal’.

Scrooge demonstrates his superiority in the manner he speaks to Scrooge.

Now, if you want to go further with developing an idea you can bring out the big guns – the adverbs. Physically. Spiritually. Mentally. Socially. Morally.

Then you can develop the idea to say that Scrooge is socially superior to Bob Cratchit. Through in some social context and you have a fairly reasonable idea.

 Scrooge reflects the power structure in Victorian London with his social superiority and Bob Cratchit’s inferiority is reflected in the single lump of coal.

We want to raise the level of understanding students have of texts, but a recent exploration of the concept of the British ‘stiff upper lip’ with students made me understand that a counterpoint is needed. To explore the repression of British society, I need students to see the opposite. The emotional frankness of Americans helps to show how the British culture represses particular emotions.

Students need ideas and we need to help them develop ideas. One word and one concept isn’t good enough. Schools constantly plod through one word at a time. We waft key terminology under the noses all the times, but conceptually we need counterpoints.

Take some of the following for example:

Socialist / Capitalist

Conditional love / Unconditional Love

Requited love / Unrequited love

Obligation / Option

Rational / Irrational

Committed / Uncommitted

Nostalgic / Expectant

Active / Passive

We over burden students with ideas and cram their little heads. We know the new GCSEs have big demands, but what if in our desire to cram their brains we neglect to refine and develop thoughts. A whole lesson on requited and unrequited love would help students understand love better, and possibly, relate to the idea in life. My own daughter likes to worry and an important step for her was understanding the difference between rational and irrational fears. Once she could separate the rational from the irrational fears she worried less

I am teaching ‘A Christmas Carol’ and I am thinking about what counterpoint words I might use and then, there staring at me with this little eyes are Ignorance and Want. The two are together. There isn’t one on their own. They are conceptually linked and closely linked together - under one cloak.  It would be interesting to know what words people would use to counterpoint concepts in ‘A Christmas Carol’.

Thanks for reading,


Sunday, 5 November 2017

Structuring a response to Question 2 and 3 in the AQA language exam

This is going to be an incredibly short blog. I am going through the preparations for the mock exam and one thing has transformed how students are writing about the text. Oh, and it introduces students to some Daft Punk - not a bad thing! 

SPOT it 

The students know that the first three get you a band 2 (ish); however they are needed to link to the explanation so that students can progress higher. 

SPOT it  - The writer uses the adjective...  
QUOTE it  - ...'dark'...
EFFECT it  - ... to create a sense of ....  a feeling of ..... an atmosphere .... a mood .... 
EXPLAIN it  - [explanation of how the reader feels and how it links to the meaning and plot]

Once we go through the SPOT / QUOTE / EFFECT we were able to get to the explaining: the key for doing well on this question. We were able to pin down the explanation - 

An explanation of a plot point in relationship to the mood - the character feels this because of X and Y 

An explanation of the reader's feelings and perspective towards the character - the reader sympathises / connects / scared for

An explanation of the readers feelings towards the text - the reader trusts the writer / the reader will expect X because this a thriller / the reader expects

An explanation of a change in effect - the reader at first feels Y but now they feel Z

An explanation of the writer's purpose - the writer wants the reader to be ... so that... 

Students had to write three decent sentences after the SPOT/QUOTE/EXPLAIN sentence and it produced some really interesting discussions. The explanation wasn't structured so much, because students needed the space to explain. 

Now to the tune of Daft Punk's 'Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger' ...... SPOT it, QUOTE it, EFFECT it, EXPLAIN it 

Thanks for reading,