I am not and have never professed to be an expert in A Level Language, but I have some lovely students that I am currently tutoring. I agreed to take on the tutoring with the caveat that I’m not an expert but I’d give it my best shot. What a revelation. I am actually loving it. It is a new challenge; it is exciting; it is fun; it is so rewarding and hopefully above all else; it is useful for them. I’m going to clarify what I’ve been doing with them here and hopefully my online colleagues who read this will be able to let me know if this sounds useful and on the right tracks or not. I’d really appreciate hearing if what I’m thinking and doing is familiar to those who teach A Level Language, as my expertise and degree is in Literature, so this is new territory for me.
First, I printed off the resource glossary and familiarised myself with that, as well as the specification and past papers, so that I’d know what we needed to look at. Then I called in the experts: former colleagues who teach the specification came up absolute trumps and looking through what they sent me was a godsend and has given me a wealth of knowledge – thank you @miss_thinks (Rachel) and Kelda (not on twitter); twitter @team_english1 also came up trumps and signposted what to do and what to look for; finally Dr Vincent Leigh @fratribus (thanks @dileed for being a good egg and putting us in touch) gave up his time to have a chat with me, which was invaluable and @MrMcVeigh shared some resources which have proved very very useful, as well as the @Englangblog account which is brilliant.
In the first session, we discussed exactly what it was that they were looking for support with. Essentially, we came to the conclusion that they were feeling insecure about how to write about English Language at an A Level standard and that they knew about the AOs, but were struggling to understand how these worked in writing.
With this in mind we went over a basic essay structure:
How to structure Paper 1 Section A Q1/Q2:
Introduction – Contextualise the extract – say what the extract is about, why and when it was written. State what you will cover in the rest of the essay.
Main Paragraphs – Structure them around patterns that you notice in the language.
Consider the following ‘invisible questions’ to help you think about this:
What does the text do?
How does it do this (techniques)?
Where does it do this (evidence)?
Why it creates a specific meaning?
What and why it creates a specific effect?
What is it teaching you as a reader?
How was the writer positioning themselves?
Conclusion – Summarise how the language/features are used and explore why the writer positioned themselves in this way.
Then, I asked them how they would annotate the text, in order to be able to identify the features that they were going to write about. This was really useful as it became evident that they weren’t sure what to look for. I gave them the glossary that the exam board provide and we discussed what the following meant:
Tone – Specific
Lexis and Semantics
I then asked them to annotate the article as they would normally and that showed me that despite discussing it, this was something that needed explicit teaching. That struck me as interesting as at GCSE I teach this, but I wonder if at A Level this is not yet embedded and that it needs to be revisited explicitly, so that students can start to approach texts critically right from the start. If they are unsure what the text contains, then surely they can’t write most effectively about it?
As a result, we clarified a guide to annotation as follows:
Guide to annotating at A Level
Question the text on a whole text level. Think about – what it is about? Who is speaking (the authorial voice)? Consider the purpose, audience, format and tone and what the author wants you to learn. How is the author positioning themselves? Are they expert or layman? What do you think they intend the reader to think and feel and why? What is the title suggesting and why? Does the title guide the information in the text? Zoom in on specifics at a: Paragraph, Sentence, Word level; also, consider the graphological features and how they support your reading of the text; think about where patterns are occurring within the text; what do you notice that seems important or relevant?; consider the denotation and connotations that are coming up.
Obviously, this guide is not an exhaustive list of features to start annotating for, but a useful starting point, I hope.
Then, we looked at some sentence level work, as during the course of discussion with Q&A it was evident that these were not securely embedded as knowledge. Thinking about: Simple, complex, compound and what these look like and how sentence purpose can be a useful pattern; declarative, exclamatory, interrogative and imperative. Through the sentence level work we looked at examples, considered what imperative and modal verbs were, abstract nouns, subject, verb, object, pronouns, prepositions and participles. Considering these through sentence level examples was useful as we were able to go over and discuss these and consolidate/introduce the knowledge of these. We did this by using worked examples that we talked about linked to the text.
I think what I discovered, again, was that the basic building blocks need to be secure before you can really do justice with the new knowledge. This consolidatory work was really useful and has come up several times since.
Finally, we worked together on positive and negative tones, coming up with a list of specific tones that they might want to consider and identify. We also looked at PAFT and bias to think about this and how this is important with the representations that writers are making.
I asked them to finish annotating the extract based on what we’d discussed in preparation for the next session.
We built a bank of ‘invisible questions’ that they could use to help them interrogate the texts and consider what the meanings and representations were:
What do I notice… about…
- patterns relating to words
- patterns relating to tone
- shifts/changes in tone
- the format/graphological features/overall structure
- patterns in sentence structure and purpose
- other examples of patterns in the text
- other terminology used in the text that seems interesting or relevant
Then, we considered the following questions in relation to this:
- How are any of the above used?
- Why are they used?
- Why or how do they create specific effects?
- How is the author trying to position you?
- What is the author’s intent?
- How do you feel as a result of what is said or done in the text or the patterns you have identified?
Then, we con-constructed an introduction with questions and answers. We unpicked this to see what each sentence was doing and did the same thing again but with a main paragraph.
Students wrote a paragraph and we swapped and peer assessed, using the criteria from the previous lesson and their strengthened annotations. I wrote at the same time as them and we discussed what was written in all examples and how to smoothly embed AO1 and AO2, as opposed to treating them as two stand alone aspects. We looked at the mark scheme and unpicked what it was actually asking for and how that was shown in the different examples that we had produced. The highlighted parts of the text were up for discussion.
Students were asked to annotate the second source at home and we discussed the context of the 19th century and how this could immediately help us understand the second source on a superficial level, at first.
We looked at the comparison structure and discussed the second source in detail. We looked at the question and recognised that it asks for both similarities and differences and that this meant that they would need to do both. We also looked at the mark scheme for the comparison to try and identify what was being asked for. We then co-constructed the example below.
First, we did a quick quiz and went over the areas that hadn’t stuck yet.
Next, I got the students to explain in their own words what the different highlighted colours equate to.
- Pink – 2/3 ideas to focus on
- Orange – comparative points
- Blue – Terminology
- Purple – Analytical Verbs
- Yellow – Evidence
- We discussed the analysis bits.
Then, we did a bit of maths on how long each question should last.
P1A Q1 & Q2 – 35 minutes
P1A Q3 – 30 minutes
(which I hope is the correct advice) We worked it out by the mark distribution.
Then using the model with the annotations, they wrote their own comparative paragraph and I wrote at the same time. Then, we swapped and peer assessed. They highlighted the work with the same colours as above and considered what those colours told them. It was evident that comparison focus was weak and that although we’d all written about the same example, we had different styles and that was okay. The important thing was to bring in next time writing on meaning and representations the strengths noted in their peers work.
Next session, we are moving onto P1B and looking at that. What I’m hoping from this blog post is some more experienced teachers of English Language A Level will have a read and confirm if what I’m advising is accurate and helpful, or if there are things that I’ve missed or misinterpreted. I’d be hugely grateful and appreciative, as the last thing I want to do is confuse the students or get it wrong. Thanks in advance for any advice. It really will be hugely appreciated.