This term, I’ve approached my Y10 English class slightly differently. Traditionally, we’ve done what the majority of English departments (I think) do: half-termly unit blocks on Shakespeare / modern novel / poetry etc. An assessment at the end of each half-term. Teaching the old spec, we interspersed the language paper simply because we found it so dull we couldn’t face a full half-term of it.
Reading a lot in the last year about memory, interleaving learning and so on, I decided to take a slightly different experimental approach.
I’d teach it all at once.
Essentially, returning to learning regularly is helpful for long-term, deeper memory. In addition, removing the unitised approach would hopefully remove students’ tendency to learn it for their assessment then forget it – fairly deliberately! – until April of Year 11.
The other reason was to keep it fresh. After five weeks of any text, both students and me tend to get a little fed up. Lessons risk falling into a rut of saying the same thing: “It’s another example of the fire motif, isn’t it.” And when the enthusiasm’s waning, they’re waning.
So my medium term plan for Y10 this autumn looked like this:
I’d centre the term around the modern novel – The Lord of the Flies, in this case – and then I’d drop in the poetry and language papers around it. That, on the long term plan of the year, would take us up to about February half term when the core text would switch to Romeo and Juliet.
I also used the other texts as language practice. Either a section of The Lord of the Flies or a poem, both of which have consolidated the style of questions for the language paper and the students’ analytical approach.
Has it worked?
I’m really happy with how it’s gone.
Drawbacks: It wasn’t quite as interspersed as the plan. A combination of illness (mine) and needing to teach them a little more about timing, speed and GCSE level work meant I reduced the language to focus on paper 1 (the fiction and creative writing) rather than trying to introduce both language papers.
Outcomes: I’ve loved it, actually. We’re about where we should be in terms of the novel and the poetry content, having also covered a fair few Language paper examples. Lessons have felt fresher, partly because doing different texts has meant I’ve been changing it up more, and also students have different responses to different activities.
Several don’t like the novel – which always happens, I think, although some are coming around – but then they can come to lessons knowing they’re doing at least one lesson that week on something else that they enjoy more.
Skills are more embedded. Not only because of the intertwining of literature and Language, which I think just makes good sense anyway, but because they’re starting to connect texts together in a way I was hoping for but wasn’t sure would work. Studying Porphyria’s Lover last week, for example, a discussion of the themes of power and silence developed into a comparison of the way that Jack withdraws from Ralph and discussing it as a kind of silence that punishes Ralph in a similar way. That they could draw on very specific examples of the early actions in the novel from September, and link with poetry they were doing now, and a poem they did at the beginning of the year (The Farmer’s Bride) made me very happy indeed! It feels like a richer understanding is developing, and that’s also coming through in the confidence of their writing, I think.
To keep it all organised, both for now and revision, we have an index system. The title is always along the model: “Lit 2: Lord of the Flies Chapter 2” or “Lit 2: How to write poetry comparison”, Then, during the lesson, they write a page number on their page, and at the front of their books add the page reference and index title. It’s brilliant. Part of their finishing process is tidying up if needed and finishing any empty indexing, so their books can be put into a folder that they keep all their books in. They do mostly work hard, most finishing a book this week, so their indexes are full! But again, with the recent poetry essay, they were able to easily refer back to pages and find what they were looking for.
I’ll definitely keep it up – there’s a lot to recommend it. In the coming term we’re finishing The Lord of the Flies, doing some more poetry and paper 1, and I think I’ll start to bring in more regular creative writing. After half-term, Romeo and Juliet will be the core text but in discussion, and occasional essays, we’ll keep coming back: nothing will be left behind!