Ten tips for A-Level Literature students

Read the set texts Ok, so this is THE most obvious statement. But it’s also the absolutely most important thing. First time through, read it quickly. If it’s a novel, try to get it read in a week or so. Read it as a reader. Then, when you’ve finished, write a quick response to it. Don’t worry about being academic here, but think about what you remember about it, your first impressions on finishing, the characters and ideas of it. Read all the set texts. Get the list in advance and read all of them – a large part of …

The symbolism of clothing and colour in The Handmaid’s Tale

One of the texts I’m teaching this coming year is Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, as part of the dystopian topic for OCR A-Level literature. Re-reading it (again!) it’s striking how much the colours play a part in the makeup of this novel. Clothing in dystopian fiction is an important signifier. The totalitarian dystopias – The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984 and so on – use clothing as a method of control, ensuring that divisions (often power hierarchies) are respected, and that people are in their appropriate places. In 1984, the Party members wear black or blue overalls (a working man’s clothing, removing …

Lessons from examining AS Literature

  This year I examined the Modern Drama and Prose paper for OCR. Obviously as an examiner, I have to respect certain confidentiality etc so the following is not specific to actual candidates, but will reflect the way I approach my own class in September.  As this was the first time my department went with OCR, there’s also some reflection to do on the process as a teacher/curriculum leader. As it ended up quite a length post, here’s a summary: Understand the way the mark-scheme is applied, shading the answer with assessment objectives. Answer the whole Balance seen/unseen texts, and …

Winter Swans – an exploration of one of my favourites

I’m teaching the new AQA GCSE anthology at the moment, and it has Winter Swans in, which is one of my favourite poems from Sheers’ collection. So I figured I’d set down some thoughts on it. Winter Swans On initial reading, the poem isn’t overly complex – the story of a couple whose relationship is undergoing some turbulent times but, but the end of the poem, they experience a brief interlude of calm. Sheer’s imagery of the swan has been criticised as being slightly heavy handed in some reviews of the collection – the dialogue in particular, of the lover …