The 10 ‘whys’ of Jekyll and Hyde

Like many English teachers, I’ve come across the phrase ‘This makes the reader feel…’ many times. This fairly clunky, and often misattributed statement makes a sweeping judgement about readers, and often leads to a very thin point, which misses out analysis completely.

When I posted this in April, it led to some debate about whether we can ever claim to know an author’s intention. Michael Rosen and Phillip Pullman even got involved, through a series of sub tweets. I felt simultaneously proud and ignored. And, whilst it’s very true that we do not know what a writer ‘intended’ to do, we can confidently, with evidence to support, say what they have done (whether it was the intention or not). Of course, this will vary from one reader to the next, but far better to teach students to make confident and assertive statements about what the writer has done (with the implication of it being for them as the reader), than encourage students to make sweeping generalisations about a reader’s feelings.

With the aim to edge students towards a deeper analysis I set about creating my own list of ‘whys’. Every time students offered close word analysis, I kept pushing them to go further and explain ‘why’.  Below is my list of 10 ‘whys’ for Jekyll and Hyde:

Stevenson exposes the hypocrisy of Victorian society
Stevenson argues against repression of mankind
Stevenson reveals conditions of working class London
Stevenson uses fog to create a gothic atmosphere and to symbolise all that is concealed
Stevenson depicts the Victorian sense of urban terror
Stevenson employs light and dark to convey struggle between good and evil
Stevenson reveals the struggle that emerged between religion and science
Stevenson reflects on the role of privilege, indulgence and ego in self destruction
Stevenson highlights public anxieties about science and the ethics of discovery
Stevenson uses motifs of concealment to symbolise repression

At sentence level these ‘whys’ aim to model confident language of analysis, ambitious vocabulary and contextual information.

Simply giving these to students would have missed out what they already knew from the text. So, I gave pairs a series of questions to tease out as much information as they could. These were:

  1. What could the two personalities of Jekyll represent?
  2. Why does the novel end tragically ?
  3. Why does Stevenson include descriptions of the area Hyde lives in? What do they show?
  4. Why is the fog referred to throughout the novel?
  5. Why is the novel set in a city?
  6. What do the lamplights, that seem to flicker through the darkness, suggest?
  7. Why are the references science and religion relevant?
  8. Why is Jekyll wealthy and comfortable? Why is he not living in poverty?
  9. Why is Lanyon the person to witness the transformation and why does it seem significant that he dies?
  10. Why does Stevenson use motifs of windows, locks and doors?

After sharing responses, we looked at the exemplar ‘why’ sentences.  Students have been given these and are learning them. This will give them vocabulary and ideas which they can later build on in their writing, and lose the vague, empty, reader response phrases altogether.

 

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I ♥ Literacy

One of my tasks for the coming year is to revamp our whole school approach to literacy, after falling slightly by the wayside. Initially, I wasn’t overly excited by the idea (even though I think it was me who offered…), feeling it would be like a busmen’s holiday, stomping over familiar ground.  But, the more I engaged with books, posts and tweets on the topic, the more I felt privileged to be trusted with such an important role. Far from being the poor cousin of the English HoD, it’s a role which may share some common ground, but is distinctly different from leading a department .

So where did this love spring from? A colleague told me that if you tell teenagers they love something enough times, they eventually will. Telling myself there is much that can be achieved has gone a long way in changing my attitude. Recent books like Closing The Vocabulary Gap (Alex Quigley, 2018), Thinking Reading (James and Diane Murphy, 2018) and The Writing Revolution (Hockman and Wexler, 2017) have helped to ignite this explosion in optimism. Older texts worth revisiting or discovering for the first time include The Secret of Literacy (David Didau, 2014), The Literacy Leader’s Toolkit (Tyrer and Taylor, 2013), The Literacy Toolkit (Amanda Sara, 2009) and Don’t Call it Literacy (Geoff Barton, 2012).

On Thursday I tweeted a grand plan for KS3 literacy next year. I have one tutor time slot per week. People may have had poor experiences of bolt-on literacy programmes and may feel negatively towards it, and I know skills do not work when taught as generic, transferable ‘things’ (more on that later). However,  it is a golden opportunity have whole year groups focusing on the same thing, at the same time, each week. If there is one thing worth more than money in education, it is time.

We have been given time to raise the importance of something that is so fundamentally important to progress that, without it, darkness falls. My version of literacy (and I think it is vitally important that schools do personalise their version of literacy for their cohort) includes Presentation to build pride in learning, Non-fiction reading, Oracy, Vocabulary, Punctuation, Spelling and Sentences. This is some of my thinking behind plans for September:

  1. I followed @AlwaysLearnWeb’s idea of a termly focus. This way, teachers – in their role as both tutor and subject specialist- have time to reflect on each focus in their departments and discuss how they will contribute to raising that standard. In September, I’d like to have a Literacy Lead from each department to raise a literacy item in departments meetings relating to the work of that or the previous term.
  2. We are covering everything in Year 1. However, I don’t expect us to fix everything in Year 1. I want the grand plan to support all staff, as well as all students. Covering all bases, staff will learn the common shared language of literacy from topic sentences, to nominalisation, to paragraph types. Without this shared language, or shared purpose, we will never move properly forward. It only takes some analysis of KS4 whole school mock data, looking at students achieving low grades (1s and Us) across all subjects that you find yourself at the very sharp end of the wedge; poor literacy has an impact on the whole school, not just the English department, not to mention the devastating, far-reaching impact on young people.
  3. We’re starting with presentation because we want to set expectations high and maintain them. Currently, I’m a senior teacher (though not full SLT). I’ve learned over the past month how important it is to have SLT support for literacy, bringing together the T&L, Progress & Outcomes, and Pastoral strands of the school. I’m going to ask for a whole school book audit, so that by the end of week 2 all students have had some comments about their book work. Using whole class feedback, a single RAG slide on the board can be used to communicate to the class who is meeting expectation and who needs to improve. This will be one of our observable outcomes to judge impact throughout the year. Thanks to @MsSfax for her posts on handwriting for this section.
  4. Resources must be at an absolute minimum. There isn’t time in the day (nor money in the pot) to photocopy, create booklets, buy separate books. Everything must be achieved through PPT and odd bits of lined paper. Tutors are hard pushed as it is and need ready-to-go material. That poses the problem of juggling clean, clear, short PPTs* that are also wholly self-contained. To do this, I used the ‘hide slide’ function to give instructions in yellow boxes to teachers (you may need to re-hide slides if you download the resources). To signal to students that tasks are important,  I’m also going to make more use of the school planner, so students will be asked to record targets or responses. That way they have their own reference record for the year. *I’m already failing on this, so need to keep trimming things down – even lose some sessions to spread others over 2 weeks. Each literacy ‘lesson’  includes a mini quiz, what/why, task. There is deliberately more task material than can be covered.
  5. Earlier, I mentioned the problematic nature of some literacy ‘teaching’ – generic, decontextualised, non-transferable. I think this is where it is important to be really clear on your vision and core purpose. For our school, the purpose this year is to develop that shared language with students & staff, and to raise the profile of literacy once again across the curriculum. Tutors will take the strategies and knowledge back to their departments to use more specifically, in context, making them explicit. Some content will naturally be delivered more effectively than others, some sessions will push tutors out of their comfort zone; nevertheless, the key messages will be out there.
  6. I also wanted to draw on quick wins – lots of quizzes, competitiveness, some humour and provocation to ‘engage’ (although I realise this is another ‘mad woman in the attic’, and best left alone).
  7. Finally, how will I know any of it will have an impact? Some strands are observable (presentation, handwriting, improved student spoken interaction in class) and will be picked up by class teachers, departments, learning walks. Some self-reflection will be captured through online surveys. Mostly though, we are trying to have an impact on the school culture, which is not comfortably measurable. I’ll be looking at things like whether we have more students interested in debating than last year, whether more books are being taken out of the library, whether any staff choose a literacy focus as their PM pledge, whether my own classes feel more confident in offering answers in front of their peers, whether teachers report more students using punctuation or ambitious & sophisticated vocabulary, even if they are now getting it wrong.

Here are the resources for the first term – thank you for reading this post. Please feel free to adapt and use. Any comments welcome!

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/i0pcxdwz2jj0372/AAAWZNk3U_pVKyP1DbBx98Tya?dl=0

Human Flourishing

Against an extended KS4 or shortened KS3

In 2013, Michael J Reiss and John White wrote a paper called An Aims-based Curriculum. They advocate that schools should be striving to achieve two simple goals: ‘to lead a life that is personally flourishing’ and ‘to help others do so, too.’ Whilst these statements may seem too broad and akin to motivational-poster-speak, there is a great deal in them that has been echoed through time – education and knowledge as an end unto itself. The document in full is well worth reading and breaks these two aims down into fine detail – addressing moral education, basic needs, human flourishing and rich background understanding.

Recently, there have been a number of Twitter polls asking questions about early entry for GCSE and/or shortened KS3/3yr KS4 with an end goal to improve Y11 results. In one, a staggering majority of respondents said they already did, or they planned to, or they were thinking about it. I can’t help but hear Amanda Spielman’s words ringing in my ears:

“Are we all clear about what is being lost from that missing year and are we happy to lose it?” (gov.uk, 2017)

There is more excellent, absorbing, life-changing and life-affirming literature in the world than we could possibly begin to cover. As English teachers we know we are only scratching the surface. We are constantly treading a fine line between those texts that are culturally important and open up the world to our students, and those texts, outside of cultural capital, that provide us with classroom moments where jaws drop and the power of words becomes real. Do we really want to lose this to working on Lang P2 Q4? I know that’s an oversimplification, but there is a point to be made. What are we really gaining through early entry or extended KS4?

To me it feels like a race to the bottom. Because one school is doing it, another feels they must in order to compete. But I think everyone loses.

Far from tackling the ‘Wasted Years’ of KS3 (here), and making them purposeful, there is a risk of devaluing them further. The idea of using KS3 to build firm foundations, over 3 years is lost.  This is where we have opportunities to nurture human flourishing – SoW on different voices, on gender, on race – on human experiences across time, as well as developing knowledge of discrete elements of writing, reading and speaking- tone, form, vocabulary, inference and so on. Martin Robinson in his post A Narrowing Curriculum states that ‘a good education doesn’t offer one lens through which to see the world, rather it offers a variety of lenses’ and that ‘reductive pressures’ should be resisted.

As well as losing valuable content, we deny students the right to mature. The writing of Y10 students across a cohort is very different to the writing of Y11. Even in this final few weeks there is evidence of pennies dropping & lightbulb moments. And anxiety, of the healthy & measured kind, is not only natural but also a great tool for bringing things into sharp focus.

Maybe rather than asking whether we should extend KS4 or opt for early entry, the questions we should ask are: What can we do to make our KS3 provision better? How can we ensure they are KS4 ready? What specific knowledge do they need to start Y10? Perhaps, most importantly, if we are aiming for principled curriculum design, how can we enable our students to flourish?

 

References:

Michael J Reiss and John White (2013):  An Aims-based Curriculum: The significance of human flourishing for schools 

Martin Robinson: martin robinson.wordpress.com

The Wasted Years: http://www.gov.uk

HMCI’s commentary: recent primary and secondary curriculum research: http://www.gov.uk

 

 

No Bells, No Whistles.

This term I have opted for simple, routine and impactful tasks for Y11. Two weeks in and we are in the ebb and flow of recap, revisit, write. I was thoroughly inspired by Dawn Cox’s post ( here  ) and wanted to make sure students continued to work hard right up to the exam. In past I have certainly been guilty of being fooled by students’ overconfidence, so this year – repetition (do it again, and then again-but better) is key. I don’t think there is any substitute for reading exemplar responses and writing responses in the run up to exams. I know posters are beautiful, and I like a multi-coloured-pen poster as much as the next  person, but our time in class should be spent sweating the hard stuff – the quiet wrestle with remembering and putting thoughts into sentences.

Here is what we are doing (and again, I owe much to Dawn Cox for sharing her approach) :

Lesson 1

  1. Recap previous learning: Language P1 Section A
  2. Revisit content : An Inspector Calls. Focus on how to articulate your central argument/interpretation, ambitious vocabulary etc.
  3. Look at exemplar exam response model: Gerald as an untrustworthy character. Annotate for AOs

Lesson 2

  1. Recap previous learning: Content from AIC
  2. Give exam question: plan together. How does Priestley present the theme of guilt and remorse?
  3. Write response in timed conditions

Lesson 3

  1. Feedback on exam response – guilt and remorse.
  2. Revisit content : Macbeth. Focus on how to articulate your central interpretation, ambitious vocabulary etc.
  3. Look at exemplar exam response model: marriage of Mac & LM (Act 1 sc 7) Annotate for AOs

Lesson 4

  1. Recap on learning: Content from Macbeth
  2. Give exam question: plan together. Change in Macbeth (Act 5 Sc 5 ‘Tomorrow…’)
  3. Write response in timed conditions

and repeat ad infinitum, interleaving more content from language papers and other lit sections.

I worried at first students would find the whole process horrendous but it seems to have had a calming and reassuring effect on students, as well as bringing on board a few who have been battling me using their mind power for the past 18 months.

Here are some of the resources I’ve been using. I hope they are useful. The key with the ‘Final Revisit’ sheets and the model answers is that the emphasis is on reusing vocabulary to express the more complex ideas, as well as how to stay focused on a central, controlling idea in the texts. The vocabulary, we have been embedding throughout Y10 and 11 (more here) and the controlling idea or authorial intention, I have written about here.

Recap, revisit, write.

 

Sources:

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Jo Heathcote and Alexandra Melville, Collins (2018)

An Inspector Calls. Julia Burchill and Lindsay Skinner, Collins (2018)

@GCSE_Jekyll

@GCSE_Macbeth

@Aninspectortho2

 

 

Should we make a bigger deal of authorial intention?

Structure comments, analysis – make sure you zoom in now, methods, reference to themes. Ooh, and don’t forget context whatever you do.

Good writing comes from deep understanding and exposure to modelled responses, over and over again.  The more I write model answers for my students, especially under timed conditions, the more I realise how nuts some of my past advice has been – either confusing, counterproductive, or completely unattainable.

The challenge for English teachers is two fold, especially in mixed ability contexts. On the one hand, we need to get the broadest range of students over the baseline standard, as is the gift of accountability measures. On the other is the obligation to push students to reach for the stars. Sometimes these two things can feel at odds. Do they really need to know this? Will this confuse the issue? Is this too limiting an approach? If there is one thing teachers are outstanding at, it’s finding sticks to beat themselves with!

The AQA mark scheme for literature responses looks like this:

AQA lit markscheme

If we teach to the top, which I think we must, words like ‘critical’ and ‘exploratory’ require much more than formulaic responses. These essays long for a hint that the student can hold more than one line of argument and still steer their essay in a straight line, with a clear guiding thesis. Can we facilitate both the ‘consistent’ and ‘explained’ essays of level 3 and 4, as well as the higher level approaches, without making the whole house of cards fall?

Part of that juggling act, holding more than one line of argument, is the confidence to allow room for ambiguity, and complexity. Before we can expect students to write confidently about multiple possibilities, they must be encouraged to think about multiple possibilities, and teachers must be clear in how they want to teach multiple possibilities.

I think it is a fairly common human trait to reject ambiguity. Even as adults we do not cope well with unstable ground, and my feeling is that for teenagers this is even less so.  Definitive statements are far easier to deal with. This is also true of complexity. One reason seems so much more satisfying than 5 or 6, each with varying levels of impact. The problem with many of the GCSE Literature texts is that they are chosen precisely because of their ambiguity and complexity – their richness and opportunity for multiple interpretation. We are doing students a disservice and, perhaps restricting grades, if we don’t open up this ambiguity for them. This is perhaps one of the limiting factors of knowledge organisers. Whilst they serve a vitally important purpose (and I am a huge fan), reducing a text to a single A4 sheet leaves little room for knowledge that deals with ambiguity, subtlety, intricacy and interpretation of a GCSE literature text.

However, we can head this off at the pass and give students the knowledge and tools they need. Chris Curtis, here and Sana Master, here reflect on how to cope with ambiguity in texts and express it. Both are excellent posts in addressing this.

Here is what I am going to do when we return:

  1. Remind students explicitly of the complexity and ambiguity in their key texts. Use mindmaps to determine factors that detract from or support the central idea/thesis and ensure students are comfortable with these perspectives.
  2. Model paragraphs, that help students juggle 2 ideas together. Remind students of language scaffolds that help with evaluative statements to give a clear opinion: whereas, ultimately, whilst, primarily, fundamentally, critically,  peripheral, arguably  etc.
  3. Ask students to define authorial intentions, so that they are clear about what the writer was trying to do throughout the text. This can be the driver for strong opinion and unpicking effects analysis. A good way into unpicking authorial intention is to ask students questions about the characters if they existed in alternative realities: What would Macbeth do if there were no witches? What would  he do if his wife said ‘Yeah, you’re probably right. We should leave it’ ? What would Jekyll do if he couldn’t separate himself? What would happen to the couple in Winter Swans if they didn’t see the swans? Would they get back together? These questions can help students tease apart the details from the intention. Authorial intention for AQA texts may look something like this:

Jekyll and Hyde: To expose the hypocrisy of Victorian society

Macbeth: To reveal the nature of man (humankind)

An Inspector Calls: To warn of the immorality of a capitalist society

Winter Swans: To reveal the strength of a relationship even in conflict

Mother Any Distance: To explore how complex relationships become when you reach young adulthood

We can rarely say with absolute certainty what the author’s intention was, which is why there is a tendency in student responses to focus more on what the author does (the language, the imagery, the plot!) rather than starting with what they intended. However, this can lead to poorly constructed essays which read as either ‘what happened when’, or ‘a journey through the extract in a hundred methods’.

Once students have confidently embedded their understanding of the authorial intentions for the text, they can start to shape responses which use this as their driving thesis.

How does Shakespeare present the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth?

The relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth is important but certainly not the main cause of the tragedy in Macbeth. Though this extract suggests Lady Macbeth plays a more dominant role, this is peripheral to the main action of the play. 

To what extent is Sybil Birling responsible for the death of Eva Smith?

Sybil plays a critical role in An Inspector Calls. However, it is more what Sybil represents, along with other characters in the play, that is ultimately responsible for Eva’s death. 

How does Stevenson convey fear and terror in this extract and in the novel as a whole? 

Fear and terror are a key feature of this extract and Jekyll and Hyde. Stevenson used fear to comment on Victorian society and the dual nature of man. 

The benefit of starting with authorial intention is that it gives students a licence to write about two opposing points in their essay. The extract may not match up with the whole play, the statement may not reveal the whole truth. They do not feel their essay is confused because they have stated at the outset ‘it’s not quite that simple’.

 

Any comments would be most welcome.

 

 

 

Waving, not drowning

Excellent delivery of subject knowledge in English goes a very long way. But, like it or not at this time of year it doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves that we are in the company of some quite  anxious young people. Some have glimpsed the ocean that lies beyond July and it’s not that welcoming – just a endless sea of nothing. Or so they think.

It is also useful to remember that English is a subject about ‘voice’ (creative, critical, persuasive) and an element of that is giving away something of themselves. With some of the students we know who really, really struggle, committing your voice to paper is a small act of courage and one we can easily overlook in the days to come.

What things can we say to our Y11 to help steady the ship at such an uncertain time?

  1. No one knows your target grade. I read this the other day on a blog (end of term brain – I cannot remember who, sorry!!) and I thought it was a fantastic reminder. Y11 need reassuring that the examiner has no expectations (positive or negative). They have everything to play for on the paper.
  2. Don’t stay stuck. Leave a few lines and get on with the next bit you can do. If a sentence won’t form in your head move on and come back to it.
  3. Have a mantra. Mine is How do they feel? How do you know? How do they feel? How do you know? Having prompt question mantras can help a derailed student get back on track when time management and pressure become a little overwhelming.
  4. Gaze at the paper – not the room, not the other students, not the clock. Read, re-read and re-read again. Everything they’re looking for (especially true of Language P1 and P2) is there.
  5. GCSE is a hoop, A level is interpretation. University is independence. Reassure students it is okay not to have independent views for J&H. It is ok to make the same point everyone else is making. Y11 are hopefully at the beginning of an exciting academic journey and demonstrating understanding and an overview are critical at this stage.
  6. Be your own critical best friend. Physically put your work next to a model answer and check whether your work looks and sounds the same. If not, be honest, what is missing and where should it go?
  7. I’m going to answer this in timed conditions with you! I’ve started doing this this year and was amazed at first at the hit my handwriting took. It opened up the realities of what they need to do in 10 minutes. We need to be ever mindful of over complicating tasks and our instructions. Sharing responses with the class is also a powerful exercise for building trust and self-confidence in students.
  8. You are brilliant. As HoDs and teachers, we carry our own burden of anxiety and it can be easy to pass this on – work harder, work faster, do more, do more. Telling a young person when they are wading through mud that they ARE edging forward is sometimes all that’s needed to keep them going.

Improving Close Language Analysis

Slide22

 

We are what we repeatedly do. At the moment, our students are repeatedly writing weak close language analysis.

In our AQA GCSE breakdown for language the average score for Q2 (P1) and Q3 (P2) was much lower than I had anticipated. This is a worry, mainly because the ability to write good close language analysis is the nuts and bolts of all four exams. Unless we get this single thing right, we are unlikely to make huge gains on other parts of the exam.

During our INSET department time, we agreed that we would make this, and only this, the focus of our starter activities all term for Y11.

Attached is a simple 28 slide PPT, with single quotes from both literature texts and unseen fiction (slides 1-5 Jekyll and Hyde, slides 6-10 Macbeth, slides 11-15 L&R poetry, slides 16-20 An Inspector Calls, slides 21-28  unseen fiction).

Every Y11 teacher will be using this for a variety of starter activities throughout term 3. These include:

  1. Identifying what language techniques are being used.
  2. Identifying which are the rich language words in the quote.
  3. Identifying the contextual importance of the quote (the point in the narrative, the themes it highlights, the character information revealed etc.)
  4. Analysing the effect of individual words, specifically answering the question of why this word? by considering synonyms and connotations
  5. Analysing the effect of the word or phrase in sentence and in context.
  6. Constructing short analysis paragraphs drawing together the above, using a variety of modelled frameworks which do not include ‘This shows that….’
  7. Magpie-ing (stealing) the good work of others to improve own work.
  8. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

 

Taking the quotes from literature texts means we will also be surreptitiously revising literature content. The little voice inside my head that reminds me of  the ‘need to interleave’ is calmed knowing that students will have to draw on their factual knowledge in order to write with fluency about each quote. The bottom line is also that – without the confidence to do this properly, all writing becomes reduced to thin, formulaic, descriptive, and often very short responses.

Please feel free to use and adapt the PPT here.