Bringing literature to life: the new GCSE syllabus has reinvigorated my students

Aug 23, 2017 by

Moving to a closed-book, exam-only system filled me with dread – but my students have worked harder than ever

Jo Bullen –

Every year, I find myself in the strangest of situations as students filter out of the exam hall. For their entire school careers, teachers have been the ones to impart knowledge, guide them through tricky questions, and set those tricky questions ourselves. But all of a sudden, the students are the experts: experts in the paper they’ve just taken. So we stand at the doors, anxiously awaiting their impressions of the exam, trying to decipher for ourselves whether the paper was “so easy” or was, in fact, “well hard”.

This year, the first of the new GCSE English Literature specifications, the situation was more fraught than ever. Had we, as teachers, really understood what we were doing when creating practice questions based on one specimen paper? Had we covered all of the key themes and characters in enough depth? Had our exploration and understanding of the context been enough? We were expecting the usual weary smiles, anxious faces and complaints about hands going into spasm.

But these conversations were not what I was expecting.

“Yeah, and then I used ‘stumbling, tripping, falling’ and talked about it being a triplet, and that verbs connected with clumsiness show how the boy hasn’t grown up yet,” said one student.

‘Me too!” said another. “Then I talked about how that changes at the end of the poem, to show how their positions have reversed.”

There was so much excitement about poems we had gone over again and again, to much eye-rolling and mutters of: “Can’t we just study one really well?” All around me, students were reciting lines they’d quoted, references they’d used, and comments they’d made. They were wide-ranging, detailed and, in some cases, incredibly perceptive. In one of those rare, reflective moments it hit me: they know these texts. They really know these texts.

Moving to a closed-book, exam-only system filled me with dread. Having only ever taught – or experienced – a coursework-exam combination, where students at least had a copy of the text during the exam, my first instinct was to panic and then be consumed by an overwhelming rage aimed at anybody with any degree of political influence who had allowed this to happen. I didn’t see what was to be gained by students memorising chunks of text which they may never need to use. I felt we’d waste time in which we could be honing other skills.

Source: Bringing literature to life: the new GCSE syllabus has reinvigorated my students | Teacher Network | The Guardian

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