Each set of mocks brings new frustrations, issues and worries. This year we noticed that students were neglecting the writer choices (A02) in the Literature mocks. The frustration we had was that over and over again students didn’t mention a single thing in reference to choices. They’d have these great points but it was never grounded in the text. We’d have the quotation floating in a paragraph or the odd mention of phrases, but nothing of relevance.
I have never been a big fan of learning quotations. Know the text well enough and you will not need a page of quotations. Quotations breed over-confidence in a text. A quotation becomes something to crowbar in an essay and not something to aid explanation. An obsession with quotations is dominating English at the moment. It has become the new ‘flashcards’ of revision. We are drilling them into the brains of students, when in fact we are creating false confidence. They think they know the text when they don’t. Quotations give, in my opinion, false confidence to students by the buckets. They feel they know everything about the text. Yes, they can regurgitate a text, but can they explain it. A few quotations are handy to know but there is a must better way.
‘An Inspector Calls’ is one of those texts where they don’t have a bit of text to help them reach that A02 objective. And does isn’t scare you? I was so sacred of it I wrote a blog about A02 things so students could have something to say about it in the exam. When we teach texts like ‘An Inspector Calls’ we obsess with quotations. In fact, we don’t blooming teach the play, but spend the whole text quotation making, searching and picking apart. We teach quotation skills rather than the text. And, this is a big problem in English. Quotations have become the quick marker of learning. Which is a bit crazy, given that we are trying to instil a love of literature. I wouldn’t walk into an A Level in English after a diet of quotations. The ideas are the enjoyable things.
I decided I had to change my approach to A02 and quotations. We as a school haven’t been a big fan of the obsession with quotations and it hasn’t affected us badly. I put the choices at the heart of the lesson rather than quotations.
I make one PowerPoint a lesson with this format:
Section 1 –p2
Gerald: Giving us port, Edna? That’s right. (He pushes it towards ERIC) You ought to like this port , Gerald. As a matter of fact, Finchley told me it’s exactly the same port your father gets from him.
What’s interesting about these choices?
What technique is being employed by the playwright?
What are we learning about the characters / motivations / personalities / messages in the play?
Now, this format goes against the ‘ye olde faithful quote exploding’. Instead of mining a quotation within an inch of its life, we, I mean I, pick out three choices. We explore those choices and why the choices have been made. For this one, we explored the role of port in the story and how it fits in with Birling’s obsession with status. Added to this is Birling’s obvious name dropping. As a group we explored the choices and the meaning associated with the decisions made by the playwright. Then, we moved on to another aspect of the text. However, the lesson was dominated by these choices. I returned to them at the end of the lesson and at the start of the lesson. I might rephrase the question, but I kept banging on about those three choices.
How does Priestley make us dislike Birling from the opening?
How does Priestley make us understand Birling’s motivation?
Then, in the next lesson, we looked at another quotation and three choices. This time another character and a different section. Another three to add to our original three. Six choices to think about in the exam. I continued and continued in this way.
After a week, I had several choices that students could quickly or should I say easily recall.
• - dashes
At the end of the week, I’d collect them all together and get students to think about how they could use them to support particular questions.
Oh – women easily express emotions when younger
Clothes – sexist attitude of men
Potty – how men don’t value what women think and feel
They had a board of choices to help feed an idea. They were not sifting through page after page of quotations. A quotation is tricky because you have to remember the quotation, the meaning of it and the technique or choice used in it. That’s three things. Students can remember the fact that Birling drinks port at the start. Port is easier to remember. It takes less memory space, in theory.
From a teaching point of view, it has made teaching ‘An Inspector Calls’ easier. Instead of cramming every lesson with quotations. Quick five minutes left, let’s find five examples of social inequality. It is structured around learning three choices. Three things. Three things a student will remember. At the end of teaching ‘An Inspector Calls’, I will have a page of choices. A page of A02 things to learn. A page that students can revise and use their revision time effectively.
I’d say that changing the focus away from quotations has been quite invigorating. Instead of cramming, I am exploring and discussing texts in far more detail than ever before. We are constantly modelling exam technique, but we exploring the text in a meaningful way.
To put it simply, how many A02 comments does a student need to make. Possibly two or three a paragraph. In one week, they cover twelve with me. Plus, we reinforced terminology and helped aid their ability to explain things. The emphasis is on explaining. By spending a lesson working on explaining simply three choices, we are developing the students' ability to explain things.
Better to spend time doing one thing well, rather than spend time doing lots of things ineffectively.
Thanks for reading,