Pt 3 #eduqas Language: get it down

This is the final instalment of what is a pretty comprehensive guide to how I teach the Language papers for the Eduqas spec, although I should hope that they could be useful for teaching Language generally. This instalment looks at writing in the exam, and how I provide students with frameworks to enable them to write with confidence.

Reading: short, scattered, succinct.

As pointed out in my blog around planning, the annotations are the plan- not only because it is a logical, methodical way to extract ideas, but because time allows for little else. Gone are the days of page-long plans (thank to Lord), and so planning habits are great habits for Literature as well as Language. However, where I am probably more lenient with this in literature practice, I am a stickler for waffle when it comes to Language responses. You. Do. Not. Have. Time.

We open with a one sentence statement to introduce our understanding of the question. This is simply, ‘To some extent, the writer presents the performer as exciting and dramatic.’ ALWAYS to some extent- we are tentative writers. We then get to work.

We use what, how, why (thank you Becky Wood et al) when writing in response to a text, and I describe it to students as a levelling up process; if the question requests for how,(how is the performer described as exciting and dramatic) we are using what, how. Therefore, the one mark questions want us to respond with what, and the how question demands what, how. Still with me?

Our statements are then shortened from those hefty PEE chains that never end, to two key quotations to explore one idea, three times over.

plan

If the question is: How does the writer show the horrors of Sassoon’s experiences as a soldier? [10], a response may look like:

The writer shows the horror of Sassoon’s experiences as a soldier within the extract. The use of the personal pronoun in the quotation, ‘I told myself,’ indicates that Sassoon tried to convince himself that killing was acceptable and usual ; he was in denial. Furthermore, the italics used in the line, ‘unnecessary risk,’ emphasise the ways in which Sassoon had questioned whether his actions were his own, or just obedience; he seems disconnected and desensitised. 

And so on, and so forth. The quotations complement the ideas, rather than the ideas relying upon the quotations. The other strategy we use within both literature ad language that features here is doubling up: the use of two adjectives to extend analysis. Note, ‘acceptable and usual…. disconnected and desensitised.’ It lifts writing to a more analytical level but ultimately, relies very much on having repeated conversations throughout the year around rich, thematic non fiction or fiction texts alongside the key texts studied. Doubling up is language that I use throughout the year so that when we discuss ideas, write up notes, explore characters, we ALWAYS use ‘beginning, middle, end’- don’t just give me words to describe characters, but words to describe them at that point, for example- but also doubling up features heavily in those discussions. One idea isn’t worth the challenge; two will make me think.

The other way in which I approach the challenges of the Language paper questions is to find familiarity in the questions; I highlight that what we are being asked to do is nothing new. It’s no different, not really, to the conversations and analytical repsonses we have always known. It’s just against a clock this time.

The how question is recognisable to all as analysis; students (whether mastered or not) are at ease with these questions the most. The structure question: again, we’ve see this. We know this. The thoughts and feelings question demands the why: why does it make us think what we think? We use evocative or evokes within our why . For instance, What impression of Charles Dickens do you get from the article could produce the following three ideas:

The words,’ a greater force,’ indicate that Dickens has a powerful presence as a speaker. I think the word, ‘force’ evokes a gravity to his voice for the reader that demonstrates the audience respect him as he delivers his readings.

And so on.

For the comparison, we are what, howing again, but signposting whether what we present is a similarity or difference. However, the foundations of the question are recognisable to use, and actually, it’s far less burdensome on cognitive load if a student walks into that exam hall chanting what, how as part of their internal monologue.

Finally, I give word or line limits a lot when we model, group write or independently practice responses. The pressure of limiting is effective because it reinforces that many words is not the end goal to seek here: when students ask, ‘how much should I write?’ I tell them, ‘whatever your plan tells you to write.’

Writing: selective, not excessive

Writing for Language is a tricky one, and probably the one that I still feel isn’t something I can chant at students and ’twill be done. The mastery of writing does not accept shortcuts or formula, and rightly so, but instead relies upon deliberate practice, modelled response and an ability to identify what is required from a ‘cold’ task within a short space of time. Again, 200 word challenge, every time over. I’m hopeful that as a subject, we are moving away from writing units of learning, and can now take a more regular and thorough return over and over to writing, because in my opinion, that is the only way it can be done well.

Where does that leave us? Other than that window plan I was banging on about here, it is the expectations that you set with writing over the years to that endpoint. For me, this starts at year seven, by chanting, ‘selective, not excessive.’ The most prevalent error that I find comes with developing writing, is the overuse of a good idea.

You’re Year 6. You’ve absolutely nailed a semi-colon. You get it. Your teacher knows you get it: everyone is enthralled by your semi colon use. What do you do? Well, that semi-colon got you six stickers, three certificates and an email home last year in Primary so now you’re in year 7, you’re not giving that baby up. It then takes careful, conscious effort for teachers in Year 7 to drive home that it wasn’t the semi-colon that won the hearts of the nation, but the way that one semi-colon was used to create a particular impact at that moment in that text. I give one of: one ellipsis (never at the end, kids), one so, so sentence, one fragment. We share and read and learn from examples of one of from other writers and each other. We are selective in our choices because like Eminem, our semi-colon only has one shot, and we are keen to make it a good one.

I hope that this series of blogs has been useful: I’d really love to hear different approaches from others, especially as I move back over to AQA but am always keen to talk Eduqas with people. Thanks for reading.

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