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  • Centralising Curriculum at KS5: Module Planning (in English)

    Once you have a well thought through curriculum map in place, the next stage is going to be to plan your modules within that map. Modules on novels or plays are superficially easier to plan; you know how much of the text it is reasonable to cover in a lesson and what questions you would ask about the text at each point to check understanding and to build connections across the text. However context and, as is particularly relevant in English Literature, critics will need to become a significant part of your teaching as well.

    I’ve usually in the past favoured frontloading context in two or three lessons before introducing the text, and to an extent I still think this should be the default of your planning, after all the English curricula favours historicist readings of texts and texts can become quickly unintelligible if students have no grounding in the world that produced them. However there is a danger here of cognitive overload, and students not thinking back to the context while they’re reading the text, text and context can become entirely disparate. Moreover some context will only become relevant at a certain part of the text.

    The easiest text to think about with this might be Animal Farm, a text that we teach in Year 9. The context of the Russian Revolution would merit pre-teaching, as would Orwell’s basic political views, as would the roles of Trotsky, Stalin, and Lenin, all of these factors are to play a role in a student’s understanding of Chapter 1. However, should the Stakhanovite movement be pre-taught? Should the role of Pravda? I’d argue not, to do so risks cognitive overload, and the examples of that specific context being most visible in text occur later in the text; I’d look to where you see them most in evidence and incorporate them there asking students to make links back to earlier examples of that context in evidence, and generally proceeding to fill context in slowly at a manageable rate.

    Schemes of Work I’ve seen from other schools often do the same with specific critics of a text. As I’ve said in an earlier post, we give students three broadly generic critical lenses to apply before they join our A-level courses, however they will also need to name critics and have read their work in order to succeed in the course. The worst thing here is to teach the ideas of half a dozen critics before students have studied the text being criticised, but the more common option of saving all critics until the end is not much less dubious. A wall of critics, often given in the form of key quotes, in three lessons at the end of the module isn’t much better in terms of cognitive overload, it still risks critics not being considered seamlessly in terms of interacting with the text, and that key quote approach isn’t exactly engagement with the critics at any rate.

    We introduce critics in lesson, in the lesson that a single critical voice is most relevant, we don’t introduce more than one per lesson, and we go back and consolidate critics frequently. An example might be in Act 1, Scene 1 of Othello where we introduce Frank Kermode discussing Iago’s language, ‘A foul mouthed N.C.O,’ here we can also teach a bit of context, that the F version of the play substantially sanitises Iago’s language compared to the Q version of the play; having taught that we can refer back to Kermode and the differences between versions throughout subsequent lessons; when Othello speaks in Act 1, Scene 3 we can introduce G. Wilson Knight’s idea of the ‘Othello Music,’ and we can discuss language differences between them. These in class introductions of critics are just the basics; we also set independent study in which students are expected to read the critical essays or chapters we refer to in class and precis them or condense them in to note form. Critics should become in time a reference point for both class discussions and academic discussions outside of class. Our department is fortunate enough to have a JStor subscription, an absolutely invaluable study aid, but while the most confident and academic students will enjoy countless hours wandering JStor’s vast reserves, the less confident need a starting point and we use the signposting in class as part of that.

    The planning for feeding in critics and context to a module in a way that is organic and manages load well can seem like an insurmountable task, and it’s one I’m only just beginning to get my head around, modules once planned are not set in stone and can be subject to endless revision. I survey students, and now teachers, at set points in the term to see if they have changes they’d like to make, and teachers themselves will often make changes to lessons while or before teaching them that are then fed back into the module (this is one area in which the flexibility of PowerPoint is very handy).

    One way in which you can aid in this process, albeit at the cost of increased workload, is to plan the lessons that are needed in a module beforehand and map the additional knowledge you plan to teach on to that; this ensures that everything is covered and no lesson has too much or too little. It does however exist at the cost of potentially reintroducing the dreaded medium term planning document.

    I absolutely hate the way many schools do medium term plans. Ludicrously complicated multi-column documents in which every activity, additional resource, skill to be taught or tested, multi-stage learning objective and outcome, and the homework to be set, is mapped out in meticulous detail before anyone has planned an actual lesson. Even sillier is the retroactive medium term plan, in which all of that data is put on a document after a Scheme of Work has been planned. Once everything is on the document (and for an average 6 week half term in English documents are usually over ten pages long; twice that if you teach concurrent modules) the document will be filed somewhere to never be seen again; that was ten hours of work for some poor key stage coordinator – they can be longer than some dissertations. It will never ever be updated too, meaning that even if it were to be found, it will bear absolutely no relation to the module as its evolved two or three years from now. Or if it does, then your planning has stagnated and the time spent on producing this wastepaper would have been better spent on looking through your old modules and making changes to respond to areas for improvement you’ve learned since teaching it.

    A sensible medium term plan takes about fifteen minutes, and is sketched out on the back of a sheet of scrap paper. Divide it into six or seven hand drawn rows, one for each week and write down what core content will be taught that week; what will be taught mind you, not what questions you’ll ask or what activities you’ll set; and what additional knowledge of context or critic you will place there. The reason you don’t need to include the questions or activities, is that you’ll plan those while planning the actual lesson. Include the independent study too if you’re feeling fancy, although I often don’t. As you plan the lessons just cross out what you’ve planned and as you’re planning lessons scribble in any changes if you realise something doesn’t work or that the lesson will run on too long. Once everything is crossed out you can bin it (or if your desk is untidy as mine, your line manager might do that for you). When it’s time to re-plan the module with lessons learned from the term, you can start a new one.

    Now you’ve got your module mapped out, it’s time to move on to lessons.

  • Centralising Curriculum at KS5: The Basics

    About three years into my role, I have all of our A Level classes working to a centralised A-level curriculum that covers two different A-level courses over two years. That’s a curriculum that spans cumulatively 24 half terms with 18 hours a week of individual lessons, over 1200 hours of lessons planned for a year (substantially more than that in terms of hours taught due to more than one class being taught any lesson at any time). This has been something I’ve been working on since I became a post holder. The pace of development of my curricula may strike some, particularly those who lead at KS3, as being agonisingly slow, it’s the pace that I’ve worked at, and still am working at, to get it right; to build quality and sustainability. I would also argue that it’s the correct pace, to be able to have experiments, be reflective, and roll things out cohesively. It’s time to look back on what we’ve done, how we’ve done it, and why; the benefits of such an approach, the limitations, and how to address its drawbacks.

    Centralisation has long been a theme at Key Stage 3, where out of the box lessons and entire curricula exist and can be bought in. Those who saw me present at ResearchEd National this year, or who have looked at the slides on my first ever blogpost, may note an aesthetic similarity with English Mastery. That similarity isn’t coincidental, I learned a lot about how to plan lessons from working from the plans of the Mastery team. But at A-level we are dealing with a different set of contexts and in some ways we’re going down untrodden paths.

    A-level often resists centralisation and so do A-level teachers. We all know the traditional model of A-level, you put your brightest and most experienced teachers in front of the students and they do their thing. At its fullest extent this means A-level teachers choose the texts they teach, and a department has teachers all teaching completely different texts from the spec and relying on their enthusiasm for the texts they’ve chosen and subject expertise to deliver results. This isn’t a bad thing, and we absolutely rely on the knowledge and enthusiasm of our teachers to deliver different perspectives and experiences for students; but it is an administrative nightmare, it precludes quality assurance, and it has no robustness if any teacher has to leave a class and be replaced by someone who has a different passion or knowledge base. I’ve said before that our low turnover is an asset, but maternity leave or illness are unavoidable, and it’s better for our students that the entire curriculum vision does not exist solely in the head of one person – including myself.

    More commonly there is a general curriculum map that states which texts and modules are taught and when; this itself should be the product of relentless interrogation, reflection, and refinement to ensure a strong and well-considered pathway through the curriculum. When I talk to others leading at KS5 in English, I’m continually surprised by how many can’t explain why they plan to teach things in a particular order, or that their explanation has no basis in subject pedagogy. If you have placed a module in specific place (and this most often true of poetry) to allow for a full school assessment point, when the skills that they will need to succeed in that module are taught at a later date, you have not considered subject pedagogy as the priority in planning your curriculum map; you have prioritised low standards in your subject to aid convenience in data gathering.

    We have been reflecting and refining our general curriculum map since 2019, considering which skills and underpinning knowledge are based on others, and reviewing each year. However even with a well-sequenced curriculum map made up of modules to be taught, we found wildly different journeys through the modules. The journeys through an anthology of poetry or of non-fiction prose, as in the case of English Language and Literature, each have a rationale; but in discussion in department meetings we could find no one rationale stronger or more obvious than any other, and so – to the extent that there was no distinct advantage in following any single route – they could be considered to be essentially arbitrary. Coming up with one central sequence for texts within those modules was not difficult, and the advantages of doing so in terms of assessment, and for teachers being aware of their own progress through the curriculum, strongly argued in favour of this form of centralisation of sequence.  

    We teach Edexcel at A-level because we like the freedom it offers us to build out own course out of our cumulative expertise and interests. Two years ago I had largely completed the process of centralising lessons and assessments on the Year 12 courses, and towards the end of the year we dedicated one of the few meetings we get at Key Stage 5 to talk about the specificities of centralising the curriculum map for the next Year 13. Literature, which is where my expertise lie, was already accounted for; English Language and Literature classes were all adhering to the outline of the curriculum map in the Voices anthology, but by the end of the year all classes would have studied a different set of texts within the anthology. To get in to our first round of mock exams we required some touchstone texts that all had learned, and by the end of the year we required everyone to have taught the same eight texts, leaving twelve to be taught in Year 13 along with unseen prose. This was essential to allow Year 13 to be fully centralised, and all teachers understood the rationale and were happy to follow through with it.   

    Rationale must be communicated explicitly and at length for any decision made. It should be the product of extensive deliberation, involving the team as appropriate. Not every teacher needs or wants to understand the whole thought process behind a decision, most will follow it the decision anyway. The length of some of my emails is an in-joke in my department; however every teacher must have access to the rationale, if they disagree with a decision they should begin by being able to understand the thought process that went in to it, they should be able to challenge my reasoning if it’s flawed, and they should be able to explain those decisions to students and stakeholders. Rationale should be communicated for no other reason than that it builds trust, a team should believe that you’ve thought through every decision fully, and they should be given the evidence to show that. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve been required to implement a decision made by someone above me in the hierarchy which I can’t defend, where I’ve shrugged my shoulders when asked for the rationale, I do not want any of my team to be in that position; and I explicitly tell them that the contents of emails around decisions can and should be shared with students who have questions. Letters to parents also go home in my name explaining decisions, albeit of significantly lesser length than those that go to Sixth Form teachers.

    The two year curriculum map needs to be visible to teachers so they know what is coming up, and in addition to be being enlarged to a huge size on the wall above my desk, every teacher has their own copy, at A4 size, that they will often annotate as and when they need to make changes to it such as reallocating lessons between them and their pair teacher. In addition to emails that communicate the decisions, between learning phases, and in the approach to assessments I also send emails out reminding teachers of what is coming up and telling them where to input data and find the lessons. I’ve found that it’s ideal to send one a couple of weeks before the end of a module, and one at the start of each new learning phase, teachers have very high workload and an email telling them what to do can often be lost if it’s not to be actioned immediately.

    Having covered some of the basics, and I apologise to everyone who has read this rolling their eyes at the obviousness of this all, my next blogposts will be about how we plan for individual modules, lessons, and why, despite its recent unpopularity, we swear by the PowerPoint.         

  • Formal Assessment at A-level

    I consider anything for which a mark is created and reported or recorded ‘formal assessment’. Such an assessment may be summative or formative, which is really a question of where an assessment is placed in your curriculum; the determining factor of formality for me is the existence of a mark, something to tell the student, as well as to enter in to the spreadsheet, anything that might be a part of the production process of the ‘working at’ grade.

     The most common form of formal assessment at A-level is against the mark scheme, in general this is to be preferred in English as it gives information that is generally very useful and – to the standard that English marking ever is – reliable. In English this means marking work of essay length, produced in timed conditions. Once a week or once a fortnight seems to be fairly normal. This is extremely time consuming with some of our A-level class sizes (it’s a bit of a nuisance any time you go over ten) and so as our cohort size in English has continued to grow, I’ve had to substitute valid formal assessments which don’t make my team hate me.  

    When new to my role as Key Stage 5 Coordinator I created a series of multiple choice quizzes (MCQs) to assess recall across all topics, I won’t claim that the first MCQ was of no use – it taught me that one class hadn’t been taught an entire module – but there was ultimately little correlation between performance in multiple choice quizzes and performance in essays marked against the mark scheme. When combined with the fact that good MCQs take forever to make, it made the most sense for my workload to stop producing them.

    There were also worthwhile but unasked questions as to whether this use of MCQs could be distorting the learning priorities of students, and the practice of teachers. With MCQs one can ask a fairly simple question, e.g.:

    Which location does the play Othello begin in?

    1. Cyprus
    2. Verona
    3. Venice
    4. Florence

    Any student within a lesson of studying Othello is likely to recall the answer to this question, indeed many who have not studied Othello will know that he’s ‘the Moor of Venice’. The four locations given are plausibly Shakespearean, although the only one which a student might give as an incorrect answer is ‘Cyprus’, the location that most of the play takes place in. However, an incorrect answer here does not necessarily indicate a misconception, it is more likely to indicate that a student has not properly read the question. Attention to detail is an important thing to teach, and students rushing should be diagnosed, however the rushing of an MCQ may not indicate comparable rushing of a 2 hour 15 minute paper with only two questions.

    A key challenge to this MCQ question is that it’s simply not hard enough, any student who would struggle to answer the question would probably be struggling so transparently with comprehension or attendance that they’d have been identified in the first two weeks on the course. We don’t need to ask the question. A less facile question might be this:

    When does Othello say this:

                                    ‘By the world,
    I think my wife be honest and think she is not.
    I think that thou art just and think thou art not’

    1. Act 3, Scene 2
    2. Act 3, Scene 3
    3. Act 4, Scene 1
    4. Act 4, Scene 2

    This tests a more nuanced understanding of the play. While the superficial skill here is to know key quotes from Othello (something that we refuse to provide for any text we teach as a rule) and where they are located, a more skilled student can reason this. Without recalling those exact lines, a student with a flexible understanding of the structure of the play is likely to recognise that those lines show Othello’s doubt and insecurity, and know that Act 3, Scene 3 is ‘the temptation scene’, therefore the lines are – even without recall – most likely to be from Act 3, Scene 3. This has produced a useful piece of data, in that it’s tested for a piece of knowledge that we’d expect students to have, with a question whose answer could be achieved in multiple ways. Here the question is hard enough that success, or lack of it, is a useful metric. Success in this question had some correlation with performance.      

    A question of some validity might be:

    Which of these lines is spoken by Bianca?

    1. ‘There; give it to your hobbyhorse: wheresoever you had it, I’ll take out no work on’t.’
    2. He went hence but now, / And certainly in strange unquietness.
    3. ‘I know not where he lodges, and for me to devise a / lodging and say he lies here or he lies there, were / to lie in mine own throat.’
    4. If it be not for some purpose of import, / Give’t me again: poor lady, she’ll run mad / When she shall lack it.

    Here recall of quotations may be used in answering the question, but also knowledge of plot events along with the ability to read Shakespearean prose. The wall of text produced in the format of this question means that most GCSE students would balk at it, however it is easier than it looks. In this case two of the answers may cue students towards thinking of the handkerchief, and any student thinking along those lines will find the question noticeably easier than those who hadn’t followed my train of thought in January 2020. About half of responses to this were correct.

    Ten questions, for each text, of wildly varying difficulty made up my first forty question MCQ. It was mostly useless. Year 13 results in the MCQ were extremely poor, despite half of the cohort securing A or above when assessed with the essay questions used in exams. I theorised two possible conclusions: students knew the answers, but their ability to answer depended on how the question was asked; students didn’t know the answer, but knowing the answers weren’t important to their success in the subject. I’m sure alternative interpretations are possible, I’m also sure that it doesn’t really matter why the MCQs were producing low utility data.

    We’re all familiar now with the maxim that, rather than practice making perfect, ‘practice makes permanent.’ The implication being that students who rehearse a mistake, misconception, or even a sloppy exam habit, are going to have a much greater chance of embedding a weakness that is then difficult to overcome. Assessments in class, especially if we produce many of them, are a likely method of embedding these errors, unless they are considered carefully. Continually practicing MCQs would be likely to improve results in MCQs, but may serve to skew students’ perception of success to MCQs, the obvious truth is that a great result in an MCQ cannot be substituted for success in an essay. If the former is not a predictor of the latter, to the extent that we need to double up assessments, then using the MCQ at all increases workload at the same time as diminishing the focus on what we want our students to get right.

    I mentioned in my first blogpost that we don’t provide any formal assessment to Year 12 until Week 5, and even then, we do not provide A-level grades. This lack of formal assessment early on is with the intention of ensuring that focus is kept where it needs to be. When we assess too early we distort the assessment, and we create data that has little utility. For example, if our first module was on Othello, something that we allocate 12 weeks to teach, we could assess at week two. An assessment question here might be:

    How is the relationship between Desdemona and Othello presented in Act One?

    Students in week two would have the knowledge to answer this question, but unfortunately it does not provide a high validity assessment opportunity: Firstly no reasonable assessment question would confine the focus to just one act of the play, as it doesn’t test knowledge across the play. Secondly, all A-level mark schemes assume that a student has knowledge across the play, and so can make references across the play in the formation of their argument.

    This presents an assessment problem. You could develop your own A-level mark scheme which assessed only what you’d taught them, and use it to produce a grade that you assume steadily extrapolates to one they’d receive had they learned the whole play, however in this you’d be creating a guesstimate flight-path – one even less reliable than the flight-paths we abandoned at Key Stage 3. To name one problem, you have no idea whether a student who does well handling the content knowledge of just Act One, will be able to produce an essay which sythensises and selects well with five times as much content to choose from. More likely you would grade them against the actual A-level mark scheme, and there you have to ask yourself ‘is the mark I am awarding them honest?’ To avoid the potential for failure you may inflate the mark, then you have the potential that students will experience the disappointment and confusion that once they have completed the play they find that their mark either does not improve (as it obviously should) or even declines (as it obviously shouldn’t). You could also mark them accurately which will ensure even the best of them get an E grade.

    This is hugely demotivating, and probably a reason that most schools spend so much time on resilience in Year 12. Having worked hard in the time that you’ve taught them and tried their best, students will still see a mark at the bottom of the mark scheme and consider themselves a failure. It will cause some to question whether they are in fact any good at this subject, whether they want to even continue with it. I would ask a further question, what was that formal assessment in aid of? Did you need to go to all of that work to discover that a student who has not been taught the whole of Othello does not actually know the whole of Othello? I would posit that if you needed that data you can skip the assessment part entirely and give the whole class Es, because that is, realistically, what they are working at at that stage of the course.

    You’ve also practiced the wrong skill. Yes they’ve written an essay in timed conditions, but their essay only represents a fraction of the knowledge that is necessary in the completed product, even though it may be of roughly the same length. There will probably be a lot of close analysis of a relatively narrow span of the text, after all they did well at GCSE in which that skill was examined constantly, but there has been no need to select carefully, and unless they’re going to increase their writing speed exponentially, mastering these essays for small sections of the play will likely teach them to run out of time in the real thing.

    While low stakes informal assessment can be used to review content knowledge continuously, and here you might as well use MCQs; there is no point trying to arrive at a formal grade here, and if you’re reviewing extended writing, there is no point providing anything other than comments and suggestions until you have taught enough for a meaningful assessment to be conducted. If it takes 12 weeks to teach a module then you should not be grading before those 12 weeks are completed.

    While creating assessments in which students are certain to fail is demotivating, the lack of any kind of metric for how well students are doing also has the potential to be demotivating. Students who’ve gone months without any idea of whether they are succeeding or not, are students likely to feel increasingly aimless and disconnected, removed from any sense of their progress after the weekly of fortnightly marks of Year 11. So we do need to give them some kind of grade fairly early on.

    Here is where the assessment in the first five weeks comes in. I’ve deliberately chosen for this assessment a text that can be taught in that space of time, and moreover an assessment question so open-ended that it doesn’t require highly extensive or detailed knowledge of the text to be assessed:

    ‘Using Agamemnon as your primary example, along with your knowledge of the history of tragedy, discuss the question ‘to what extent is tragedy a genre that embodies justice?”

    This question is suitably open-ended, it can be approached almost entirely as a philosophy question for those that way inclined, and it cannot be assessed using an A-level mark scheme. We report back on this formal assessment using one of four grades:

    • Above target
    • On target
    • Below target
    • Cause for concern

    The ‘targets’ referred to here are not based on final targets, ALPs projections, or individualised in any way. In fact I make a point of not knowing how well the data says a student in Year 12 is ‘supposed’ to do until the very end of that academic year. The targets instead reflect a consensus across the A-level team of what ‘good’ should look like, with ‘above target’ being exceptional and ‘below target’ meaning a student requires more work. ‘Cause for concern’ is a very rare grade, and indicates that early intervention is needed if the student is to make our minimum expectations (we set our baseline expectation at 100% A*-C with most or almost all at A*-B).

    In doing this we have provided that feedback, a student who sees OT knows that they are doing well, a student with BT knows they have more to do, a student with AT gets to bask in our adulation. These grades go through a level of internal cross-moderation to ensure consistency between classes, and are taken by students to be valid reflections of their performance without the need for letter grades. We believe them to be more motivational and to represent a truer reflection of where a student is at at an early stage of the course with a skillset, and set of underlying knowledge that they will need throughout their examined modules.

  • Explicit teaching of writing at A-level

    Every year a cohort of students arrive on A-level courses in English, and every year their teachers experience despair induced by the necessity of unteaching the product of five compound years of explicit paragraph structures. PEEs, PEAs, PQEs, PETAZs, PETZLs, PETAZLs, PETERs, PETELs, PETARs, PETALs, SQEs, SQIZEs, SQIREs, every school has their own and teach their own analytical paragraph structure from Year 7 onwards. The reason for doing this is obvious and sensible, your chosen paragraph structure ensures that students remember all necessary parts of an analytical paragraph, and if they can churn out a few of them they can get a decent grade in every part of the Literature assessment.

    The thinking behind this is that the paragraph is the unit of meaning at assessment; both the paragraph and the essay are essentially modular, some teachers will teach their students to write good thesis statements as their first paragraphs, but you don’t really need to, it’s not required by any mark scheme. The result of this is often found as an essay structure that feels effectively random, with paragraphs which could be rearranged in any order. The paragraphs themselves can be incredibly repetitive; while teachers may teach a few sentence starters, students only seem to remember one or two, and what is set as an essay question is responded to as between four and five nearly identical gap fills, each gap filled by a different quote. A standard that would could get a grade 7 at GCSE is unlikely even to get a C at A-level.

    Fortunately, students are mature enough to understand the significant difference in difficulty at A-level, and the necessity of learning a new set of habits to succeed. Unfortunately, there is a sometimes perilous side effect of predictability: security. We tell students that they need to stop using their old paragraph acronyms, and the question we always get is, ‘what paragraph structure should we use at A-level?’ Removal cannot come without substitution without leaving students feeling completely unmoored, moreover the absence of substitution increases the chance of relapse.

    There is a common enough solution to this found in frequent assessment and correction. They’ll learn through conditioning that ‘this can be evidenced in the quote ‘….” results in an automatic E, and in time they’ll associate GCSE habits with failure and the more nebulous habits of A-level with success. The precipitous drop from GCSE success to initial A-level failure seems a near-universal experience: it’s spoken of in Year 12 assemblies, in tutor times, in online student support groups and university expos, NetSixthForm and PiXL6 both have resources on it. We’ve built a resilience model for failure in to our expectations, but some of that failure may be avoidable if we can explicitly teach them what we’re looking for in the first place.

    Unfortunately A-level English Literature typically has no exemplars, no indicative content, and a mark scheme that’s learned by experience. A class worth of A and A* essays will provide a dozen different models of excellence based on entirely different approaches to the question. Our first challenge in teaching students what we’re looking for is that we may not know what we’re looking for. Explication can only begin once we mastered a bit of taxonomy.

    In my department, the first five weeks of Year 12 are used on a ‘sacrificial’ module, both logistically and thematically. Up until week five, students are taught two concurrent modules, one on the history and ideas of Greek tragedy (having read Poetics over the summer holiday) and one devoted explicitly to Aeschylus’ play Agamemnon, the first play of the trilogy, The Oresteia . Of course Agamemnon, is not an A-level Literature or Language and Literature (first modules are kept the same across both courses) text. However teaching Agamemnon gives us some advantages that translate across all subsequent modules.

    Our first advantage is solely operational, it means that students can transfer in to our course early on without having missed parts of the final examined texts, this is not uncommon in our school where the first few weeks of study will usually involve several subject changes, with our courses typically acquiring a some new students.

    Our second advantage is in assessment, having not set them an A-level assessment we have no reason to give them an E when they do badly. In fact most of our students are not assessed against A-level mark schemes until Easter of Year 12, by then we’d expect very few below a C.

    A third is found in the opportunity to create course culture, of which more in another post.

    This post is about the space that is created in the Greek tragedy module to teach to the assessment, or rather how to teach away from the most likely errors and foibles of the pre-KS5 writing frameworks.

    There are three assessment preparation lessons before students write their first essays in English. They are on: using critics and context; developing an academic tone; and finally on answering the question. The question they will be assessed on it ‘Using Agamemnon as your primary example, along with your knowledge of the history of tragedy, discuss the question ‘to what extent is tragedy a genre that embodies justice’?’ The question is introduced to students a few days before the assessment, and they are allowed to use their own copies of the text in the assessment.

    The first two assessment preparation lessons cover universal necessities, and the more didactic slides can then be reused in whole class feedback in any instance in which multiple students have made the same mistake (having said it once, does not mean they will remember it forever). We find showing and analysing models of the writing of others to be the most effective way of teaching, having conducted the bonfire of the acronyms, and I’m deeply indebted to Mark Roberts’ You Can’t Revise for A-Level English Literature: Yes You Can and Mark Roberts Shows You How for many of the models we use. I highly recommend the extremely useful volume to our students.

    Slides from Critics and Context include these explications:

    While teachers are free to remove and edit slides containing tasks in powerpoints, along with the sort of ‘meta-talk’ which becomes commonplace on slides, the rationale for any lesson or task should remain intact and be consistent across all teachers.

    Our second assessment prep lesson is based largely of Mark Roberts’ Chapter 7, and in each model we present a counter-model. Our points for improvement are based on eight tips collated from this chapter, and applied to texts later on in the course, with their application also being modelled with the text that they are to write on during their first learning phase ( usually a half term, although some are deliberately shorter or longer). Part of this serves to frame the narrative as being one of development; we are seeking to refine our way to an A*-A. It also, obviously, makes our own feedback more intelligible:

    In our third assessment prep lesson we seek to draw together the strands of both modules together, largely through a series of discussion points based on the philosophical underpinning of the question.