I’ve written a numerous variety of essays. In school, college, and again in school once more, displaying my college students easy methods to do it. In my fourteen years educating I should have modelled a whole bunch of essays. I’ve probably set and assessed hundreds of the blighters.
My go-to technique has all the time been to mannequin the essay writing course of, to make seen how an knowledgeable essay author thinks. College students are sometimes left baffled by how briskly I could make selections about my essay, how I can pluck refined educational phrases seemingly from the ether, after which write with pace as nicely. With sore arms and muffled complaints, college students have been pulled alongside on the trail from novice to knowledgeable.
In my current pondering on evaluation – see my weblog on ‘The Drawback with Previous Papers‘ for extra – I’ve seemed to go additional and to hunt out deploying extra efficient diagnostic assessments to assist my college students develop their essay writing talent.
I gave the instance in my final weblog of setting ‘An Inspector Calls‘ essay to my 12 months 10 class, in preparation for them doing a summative essay writing job. [Dear reader, those essays sit in my work bag right now, taunting me] I described how my college students had so many errors and gaps of their data with their final essay, that it made my suggestions scattergun and never as efficient because it could possibly be.
I went onto write the next concerning the complexity of essay writing:
“They needed to play the ‘massive recreation’ of remembering quotes, writing insights about character, theme, social context, all in a coherent argument construction, with written accuracy, with out the apply and give attention to data to do all of this stuff fluently.”
In reality, writing a very good essay takes a bunch of data and experience. For English Literature then, we have to distill down that complexity into extra manageable diagnostic assessments, in order that our college students can regularly develop from their novice standing in direction of one thing like experience. To make use of an analogy, writing an excellent essay is just like the creation of a robust rope, with every sub-strand being woven collectively in unison. Every strand of the rope can characterize the essential data required for essay writing success.
If we’re to show nice essays, then we have to outline the strands that might be woven collectively to kind the rope. For my GCSE college students, you’ll be able to consult with the examination board rubrics, however they too usually show obscure and never as definitive as we want. My judgment is that the important thing strands of the nice essay writing ‘rope’ comes right down to college students figuring out (declarative data) and doing (summative data) the next:
- Show data and understanding of how the social context influences the author and their textual content (together with how completely different audiences could reply to the textual content);
- Show data and understanding of the character, themes and language of the textual content, making connections and inferences from throughout the textual content;
- Show data of the author’s alternative of literary units and generic conventions, based mostly on a wider data of literary historical past;
- Choose, retrieve and interpret proof (predominantly within the type of quotations);
- Make inferences from that proof on the author’s vocabulary selections based mostly upon a broad and deep educational vocabulary data;
- Plan and organise an essay right into a coherent argument, linking salient factors that tackle the essay query;
- Write with accuracy and readability, together with using lead sentences, discourse markers and educational vocabulary, all deployed in an applicable educational fashion (written within the passive voice, utilizing nominalization and many others.).
I feel we will get misplaced down the rabbit gap discussing the that means and distinction between phrases like ‘consider‘ and ‘analyse‘. I’ve ignored examination rubrics for that reason. I’m assured that if my college students might tackle the above strands, practising every in isolation, earlier than, over time, weaving them collectively into the ‘rope’ of a full, knowledgeable essay, that my college students would write nice essays for any English Literature qualification.
I feel there’s something helpful concerning the order by which I’ve introduced the strands above. By starting with the ‘massive image‘ of the social and literary context, we give our college students a schema – or a broader framework – by which to root their data of the textual content. If the textual content is ‘Animal Farm‘, they should see the massive image of Communism and Russian historical past (1), linked to the characters and themes (2), which can be couched in a dystopian fairytale (3). Provided that ‘massive image‘, they’ll start to pick out proof and make inferences and interpretations from the textual content.
Assessing Strand 1
Let’s take the primary strand and contemplate how we will use diagnostic assessments to higher develop their potential to ‘Show data and understanding of how the social context influences the author and their textual content (together with how completely different audiences could reply to the textual content)‘, lengthy earlier than they’re requested to take action within the ‘massive recreation‘ of writing a full, timed essay.
I feel the completely different strands lend themselves to completely different diagnostic assessments. Data and understanding of social context lends itself to cumulative quizzing. If we take ‘Animal Farm‘ as soon as extra, then an everyday quiz to consolidate which historic figures are represented by which characters within the novella. That is essential ‘base data’ and may be assessed slightly merely. As soon as college students have consolidated these fundamental details, they’ll start to show understanding of these characters: how they modify; their relationships with different characters; the themes and concepts they relate to, and their symbolism and many others.
One other apt evaluation for strand 1 could be utilizing graphic timelines, each for a way the textual content suits in a broader literary custom, in addition to a timeline for the textual content itself (for instance, with Animal Farm, the characters actions neatly translate to historic acts, such because the Russian revolution and many others.)
If we wish to diagnose our college students’ understanding of various viewers responses to a textual content, one other strategy is utilizing different kinds of graphic organisers, comparable to a Venn diagram, a ‘thoughts map’, or an ‘occasion map’ – see right here:
We are able to start to extend the diploma of problem, and the associated complexity of the diagnostic evaluation, by getting college students to narrate their data of a contextual issue to themes within the textual content, in addition to the viewers’s interpretation of theme and context. Right here ‘quick reply questions‘, that require a paragraph size response, are extra applicable evaluation instruments. It’s this development of evaluation that’s necessary.
Nonetheless, we should maintain our nerve that doing smaller, extra exact diagnostic assessments higher secures their data and understanding than taking part in the ‘massive recreation‘ of writing a number of essays. I haven’t even talked about the potential discount in trainer marking. [Ignores siren calls from the marking unceremonious neglected in my school bag]
Assessing Strand 4
Now, you might have famous that I missed out strands 2 and three, however I needed to deal with using proof, notably using quotations, given it is a actual stress level with the brand new GCSEs, as a result of nature of the closed e-book examinations.
There was a lot gnashing of enamel on the prospect of scholars memorising over 200 quotations for English Literature. It definitely will separate out kids who’re skilled to recollect quotations successfully and cumulatively, over those that will not be, however given the problem, we should always deploy good diagnostic assessments that not solely assist us grasp our college students’ present progress, however really assist them reinforce their reminiscence and understanding of quotations.
As indicated within the wording of strand 4, ‘choose, retrieve and interpret proof (predominantly within the type of quotations)‘, we will extra successfully separate out what we would like our college students to know and might do with proof from the textual content.
We regularly miss out the flexibility to ‘choose‘ quotations as a primary step. We have to prepare our college students to choose the ‘proper’ quotes. With tongue in cheek, I usually describe the precise quotes to be taught as ‘Swiss-Military-Quotes‘. That’s to say, these quotations that you should utilize for a mess of essay questions, as they embody many alternative concepts, themes or points from the given textual content. An efficient essay author can solely retailer so many quotations, in order that they have to be pertinent and chosen judiciously.
By way of diagnostic assessments for choosing good quotations, we will begin with utilizing a number of alternative questions that get college students to appropriately relate quotations to particular person characters or themes. We are able to get college students to rank order quotations with regard to their relevance, relative significance and many others. We are able to get them to pick out quotations when given a selected character, theme or potential essay query.
If we wish to check and learn the way nicely our college students ‘retrieve‘ quotations then we will set them timed challenges – with a ‘Citation Quest‘ (a problem to collate key quotes for no matter functions that you simply determine) which proves nice for competitors; or we will quiz them on what chapter/stave/stanza/web page quotations are from. Alternatively, or concurrently, we will get college students to plan a citation timeline, that types quotations by chronological order, and extra.
With every of the ‘choose‘ and ‘retrieve‘ diagnostic assessments, we will, if we select to, report their relative progress. It’s related, over time, we will improve the diploma of problem for these duties by factoring in timed situations.
In relation to ‘interpret‘, we’d like completely different, extra nuanced diagnostic assessments. Quick solutions quizzes can get college students to reply to particular person quotations. We are able to assess their understanding in such quizzes. We are able to assess them orally, with a ‘Only a Minute‘ exercise, whereat they should say as a lot as they’ll a few given citation. After all, focused questioning can elicit how nicely they’ll interpret a citation. I like the thought, slightly than tackling essays, or PEE paragraphs (PEAL, PETAL, no matter you name it!), of doing what Katie Ashford labels ‘present sentences‘ (see right here for extra: ‘Past the Present Sentence‘): successfully a concise response to a given quote.
After all, after we have now honed and assessed this extra exact textual data, we will extra persistently mix ‘choose‘, ‘retrieve‘ and ‘interpret‘ procedural data in singular duties. Over time, we may be extra assured they’re prepared to write down an excellent essay. What we have to do is use diagnostic evaluation – testing as studying – to make sure that college students can routinely choose the ‘proper’ quotes, retrieve them shortly, earlier than decoding them skillfully.
Tying all of it collectively
I do know English lecturers have sufficient to do, but when we’re dedicate our time, it shouldn’t be wading by means of infinite mock exams; it ought to be growing our topic data – notably our textual content particular insights – and growing and sharing higher diagnostic assessments for the texts that we train.
It could imply that we have now to rethink our typical trainer habits and return to the drafting board with evaluation of texts. If we get our evaluation of studying proper, we’ll probably be marking fewer, however higher essays. After spending numerous hours marking a number of thousand, I’m prepared for higher essays!