At the moment, I am working through Paper 2 skills with Year 10 and we are working on the infamous summary question – Question 2. A question that students struggle with. I think part of the reason they struggle with it is due to the fact that it doesn’t involve learnt knowledge from lessons. In fact, it is a question that involves a lot of prior knowledge and that element is not something students freely use in lessons.
This week I have been looking at ways to stimulate the grey cells and get students thinking about what is actually happening in the scenario of the texts. Often, the scenario knowledge is lacking from students so when they answer a question they repeat what the text says.
After reading the Boat extracts from the 2019 paper, I gave students this list. They are things associated with the context of the extract.
• Two men in a boat
• No immediate support
• Planned race
• Atlantic ocean – large and no islands
• Rowing the boat – no engine
• Want to get there quickly
• Will take seven weeks
We spent time with this list, adding and exploring points. I do think we need to guide students on the exploration of the event featured in the text. Later in the exam paper, they have to explore the writer’s thoughts and feeling and they are closely linked to the writer’s context and perspective. We need to explore the position from the beginning and it is something students don’t get easily. They think the answer is in the text and often it is largely common sense and based on a specific situation. A policeman in a different country facing a rampaging elephant. A climber dealing with a life threatening storm. A person seeing a surfboard for the first time in their life. All these are experiences which students can identify in part with, but they struggle to do. I feel that we have to draw out more of the perspective elements and more of the situation’s context. That’s key to any inferences and any writer’s thoughts or feelings. I am stuck on a mountain and it will take days for people to rescue me. I am an outsider and the local people are hoping I will fail when dealing with this crazy animal.
So, this time around, I have been teaching Question 2 with the emphasis on context. What is the situation here? The writer is rowing a boat across the Atlantic ocean when it capsizes. Why might that be a problem?
In lesson I built things up with the students. We started with the ‘because sentence’.
Because there is no immediate support, the boat will need to have …
Because this is a race, the boat will need to be…
This allowed students to place the emphasis on their contextual knowledge before exploring the inference and extending it by using the phrase ‘so that’.
Then, we extended things by adding a conditional sentence to explore how that one contextual element could have a consequence.
Therefore, we end up with some logical thinking and explanation of an inference.
Because the boat holds two men, the boat will need to be lightweight and small so that the men can move the boat fast and easily change direction. If the boat has large and heavy, then the men wouldn’t be so fast and it would take them much longer to get to their destination. This would result in it taking longer to travel the slow down their time to complete the race.
Working with students and marking their work, I was intrigued by a student’s sentence construction. They used repeated the following phrase ‘as it is’.
In Source B we can infer that the boat is spacious as it holds lots of passengers.
The ‘as it’ phrase works in a similar way and helps to link the contextual knowledge to the inference. In fact, this student used it repeatedly so that they were always linking to the contextual knowledge.
The thing we need to focus on with Paper 2 is perspective and more importantly the factors related to the perspective. What are the factors affecting the writer in this situation? This isn’t something we really look at. We don’t look at the Paper 2 extracts and go: What are the writer’s hopes, dreams and fears? However, maybe we need to. Or, maybe me need students to relate more to the context. If you were stuck on a boat in the middle of an ocean and it capsized, what would your dreams, fears and hopes be?
Thanks for reading,