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A Level English teachers - a cry for help!

(8 Posts)
Esker Thu 03-Dec-15 20:32:21

Is there anyone around who teachers A-Level English lit and would like to discuss successful approaches?

I'm teaching the new AQA AS Specification, English Literature A, but I would value advice from any teachers of KS5 English.

I'm just wondering what you tend to do in a typical lesson - what kind of activities you set up, and how you facilitate discussions?

I have a very able and enthusiastic set, many of whom are hard workers.They are interested and take notes and contribute (albeit with varying degrees of confidence). However, marking some assessment essays for exam practise, they just can't seem to articulate themselves coherently and address the exam questions effectively.

We do an awful lot of writing practise, and I'm constantly providing them with models of strong work, however I feel that this can come at the expense of the time we spend actually discussing the texts and engaging with content.

When I think back to how I was taught A Level English, it seems that all we did was discuss the texts and write notes. We barely had any instruction on how to write essays. Therefore maybe my approach of trying to teach them to write essays is actually wrong headed?

This is my second year of A level teaching, but my first year of course on the new specification.

If any wiser and more experienced teachers have any wisdom, I am all ears!

We are studying Othello, Atonement and The Great Gatsby.

ConesOfDunshire Thu 03-Dec-15 22:27:55

I'm firmly convinced that oracy is the key here. Can the pupils articulate their ideas clearly when speaking? Really consider this - I've been focusing on oracy a lot recently and I'm coming to the conclusion that we listen to their answers and fill the gaps for them without realising it.

So, I would suggest structured talk: debates, games like 'I couldn't disagree more', frames and structures for verbal comments. Get kids to film themselves and each other, and critique their use of critical language. Then do a practice timed essay. Simply practising writing over and over won't help them to improve unless you develop their skills too.

Esker Thu 03-Dec-15 23:32:18

Thank you Cones, I really agree about us 'filling in the gaps'. I'm very guilty of taking their, often underdeveloped, responses and then elaborating for them, assuming that they will benefit from this.

We are debating tomorrow and then I want to plan some structured discussions for next week.

Thank you so much for taking the time to reply!

redexpat Tue 22-Dec-15 20:15:40

Something that has really helped me (although it was in danish for foreigners a-level equivalent) was to take a good essay, photocopy it, then cut it up into paragraphs. Make them put it back together and argue for their reasoning to put paragraph d 1st. It really helped me to see how an essay should develop and build. I wish someone had helped me more with this before a BA and MA where i was just frustrated because people couldnt follow my argument, even tjough in my mind it was crystal clear.

MidnightHag Tue 22-Dec-15 20:26:07

There is a good blog called Reflecting English. Have you seen it?

thelaundryfairy Tue 22-Dec-15 20:42:42

I am teaching the new EdExcel Literature A Level and having a similar experience to you. So far, we have read 2 prose texts, discussing and making notes as we go along. Homeworks have mostly consisted of re-reading what we´ve covered in class and making specific notes, e.g. on themes. The little variation from reading, discussing and note-taking has included looking at context and critical reception, which we´ll do much more of next term.

In terms of essay writing, I try to point out what they´ve written well, and why, and what was poor, and why, and how it could be improved. I highlight chunks of essays to read aloud in class, and, as a previous poster has said, I try to help them develop their explanation of their ideas orally.

I'm teaching the new AQA AS Specification, English Literature A, but I would value advice from any teachers of KS5 English.

I'm just wondering what you tend to do in a typical lesson - what kind of activities you set up, and how you facilitate discussions?

I have a very able and enthusiastic set, many of whom are hard workers.They are interested and take notes and contribute (albeit with varying degrees of confidence). However, marking some assessment essays for exam practise, they just can't seem to articulate themselves coherently and address the exam questions effectively.

I have taught the old spec. A Level in the past and generally reading and discussing the texts from every angle has been my approach, nothing too fancy, and those students managed to write essays well by the end of the course (and achieve good results). I think it can be difficult to teach essay writing, particularly en masse, and would suggest perhaps specific feedback and advice for each student. Perhaps have a lesson where they can get on with something independently (e.g. research 1920s for Gatsby context) while you go around giving everyone 5 minutes of feedback on their latest essay.

thelaundryfairy Tue 22-Dec-15 20:44:29

Ignore previous post! It is rather confusing as I somehow managed to copy and paste part of the OP into my response(!)

Here is my real reply:

I am teaching the new EdExcel Literature A Level and having a similar experience to you. So far, we have read 2 prose texts, discussing and making notes as we go along. Homeworks have mostly consisted of re-reading what we´ve covered in class and making specific notes, e.g. on themes. The little variation from reading, discussing and note-taking has included looking at context and critical reception, which we´ll do much more of next term.

In terms of essay writing, I try to point out what they´ve written well, and why, and what was poor, and why, and how it could be improved. I highlight chunks of essays to read aloud in class, and, as a previous poster has said, I try to help them develop their explanation of their ideas orally.

I have taught the old spec. A Level in the past and generally reading and discussing the texts from every angle has been my approach, nothing too fancy, and those students managed to write essays well by the end of the course (and achieve good results). I think it can be difficult to teach essay writing, particularly en masse, and would suggest perhaps specific feedback and advice for each student. Perhaps have a lesson where they can get on with something independently (e.g. research 1920s for Gatsby context) while you go around giving everyone 5 minutes of feedback on their latest essay.

nobodysbabynow Mon 28-Dec-15 17:35:22

OP, does your school subscribe to TEACHIT? There are some great resources and ideas on there, many of them available even without the sub.

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