Magazine article NATE Classroom

Recreative Writing: English Literature at a Level

Magazine article NATE Classroom

Recreative Writing: English Literature at a Level

Article excerpt


As we commence on the second year of the 'new' A Levels in Literature it is an appropriate time to reflect on their impact on teaching and learning in the classroom. The key differences (there is nothing 'new' under the sun) are: fewer modules, more texts, more coursework, texts in translation, critical and thematic approaches and 'recreative' (dread word) options.

There is no doubt that the new courses have necessitated a stark adjustment in teaching practice. The increase in the amount of texts to be studied has demanded that we no longer 'go through' the text, which has got to be a good thing. Some specifications suggest that we give some texts a 'light touch' and there is much scope for unpacking what exactly this means in teaching terms. Students have to do more independent learning--i.e. independent reading--which is all to the good apart from the fact that many come to A Level with very little skill in this area. The transition from GCSE to A Level remains a huge issue. We can only wait and see what the new GCSEs do to improve the situation. This, coupled with the fact that students may be asked to produce coursework in the first term of AS Level, makes the whole process particularly daunting. However I suspect that this is more daunting for the teacher than the student. This year I found AS groups impressively eager to step up to the mark. I, on the other hand, found myself supervising 120 pieces of Literature coursework and a little overwhelmed.

The biggest thrill however, for me, was the enthusiasm with which students--certainly not all, but a significant number--embraced the opportunity to tackle the recreative approach to text. I do wish someone would expunge the word, it is both unhelpful and inaccurate, but nevertheless it is the welcome return of the creative response to text.

Students have been starved of any outlet for creative writing ambitions in Literature assessment since Curriculum 2000. It was not surprising then that about a third of my charges this year jumped at the chance to express their engagement with text in a creative mode. Although I encouraged all students to have a go at recreative pieces, those that chose to submit them for coursework were ultimately self selecting. I was genuinely surprised, and not a little relieved, to find that those who were unable or unwilling to pursue their creativity didn't. There were no instances of unsuccessful work or of students so attached to their creative outpourings that they didn't recognise the need for editing and development. I was particularly pleased with those that transformed drama texts into poetry. This proved a very fruitful exercise and the close relationship between the two genres was explored very productively.

Here are some extracts from students' recreative responses to A Streetcar Named Desire. This proved a very popular text for this option, far more students tackled Williams in this way than chose to tackle Shakespeare. They enjoyed playing with his style of stage directions and found the character of Blanche, particularly her state of mind, quite compelling. It was also fascinating to watch them experimenting with the American idiom and how obvious it became when they hadn't got it quite right.

Here a student tackles stage directions full on, imagining a scene where the minor but pivotal character, Shaw, discovers the truth about Blanche that he is later to share with Stanley:

Shaw leaves the reception room and starts down the long, pink lit path of rooms, stopping briefly by number eight to light another cigarette. As he travels down the path, the light of the flamingo casts a formidable shadow across the wall of doors--accentuating his already prominent height and air of authority. Before reaching the door of number twelve, he rattles the keys in his hand and places the cigarette in his mouth. As he does so, the door beside him, number thirteen, begins to open. …

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