Magazine article NATE Classroom

Shakespeare and GCSE Assessment

Magazine article NATE Classroom

Shakespeare and GCSE Assessment

Article excerpt


As English departments up and down the land gear up for the new GCSE specifications, there may be a tendency to go for a complete revamp of Schemes of Learning, lesson plans and assessment procedures. It is true that the new weighting of 60% English/English Language and 25% Literature on Controlled Assessment requires careful planning and organisation, but that's the only real change in the latest version of English Made New. What's reassuring and unusually good news is that Teaching and Learning principles and practices remain largely unchanged. Where they are changed, they are improved. Yes--you read that right. It takes some effort for a hardened sceptic like myself to take this positive view, but every way I look at it, there is something valuable to be gained across the Literature spectrum--and especially where Shakespeare is concerned.

The positives amount to eight significant improvements in what we do with students and Shakespeare in the classroom, and how we express a professional value of what they do. We are looking at some welcome refinement to curriculum and assessment here, and it's important to grab the opportunities and exploit them as Awarding Bodies look for examples of positive and successful practice to build into their ongoing professional development guidance and standardising.

The detail of what follows is based on the AQA specs, but much of it relates to all Awarding Body specifications.

Positive no. 1: revised Assessment Objectives

'Revised Assessment Objectives' may not sound like something to celebrate over a glass or two on Friday night at the Marker and Ferret, but a quick look is enough to suggest that someone at QCDA has thought creatively, practically and humanely about what matters in response to Literature. There: I've said it. My trusty and well-worn keyboard put up some resistance to completing that statement, but there it is, and I mean it, for about the first time in the twenty six years I've been involved in exams and coursework.

Look for example at a major improvement in Enl. The AO for group talk used to be:

'participate in discussion by both speaking and listening, judging the nature and purposes of contributions and the role of participants'.

Now it's:

'Interact with others, shaping meanings through suggestions, comments and questions, and drawing ideas together.'

The improvement is in the helpful detail of kinds of interaction and discourse maintenance that makes the objective a very practical guide to developing attainment. This makes Assessment for Learning more than a pious hope. It makes it direct student prompting at the point of performance.

Look at the sensible importation into En2 of the SCH dimension that I thought was always there (especially re. 'Different Cultures' poems) but which, to my surprise, hasn't been there in the previous AOs.

Look at the En3 improvement. The AOii was:

'Organise ideas into sentences, paragraphs and whole texts, using a variety of linguistic and structural features'.

Now it's:

'Organise information and ideas into structured and sequenced sentences, paragraphs and whole texts, using a variety of linguistic and structural features to support cohesion and overall coherence.'

The improvement is in the distinction between 'information' and 'ideas', and the reminder that within-paragraph organisation (sentence sequences) matters as well as paragraph organisation, and that textual cohesion and thinking coherence are two aspects of the writing process.

But best of all, look at AO4 for Literature. This used to be:

'Relate texts to their social, cultural and historical contexts and literary traditions'.

Now it's:

'Relate texts to their social, cultural and historical contexts; explain how texts have been influential and significant to self and other readers in different contexts'. …

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