Monday, 22 May 2017

The AQA Lit text lottery

I'm not going to tell you which set texts I taught this year (it is actually five different ones across two schools), but it is not going to take a genius to work out what I wish I had taught!

Let's kick off with Shakespeare. The Macbeth question was a gift, Lady Macbeth's 'Glamis thou art...' speech and a focus on 'ambition'. The word is actually in the extract and, if any of the students sitting the exam couldn't quote 'vaulting ambition' to go with it, then they don't deserve to pass! Nice metaphor to analyse right there too. The extract is packed with metaphor, parallel structures and references to the supernatural. No obvious problems for well-drilled students there.

So, after a question about arguably the play's most obvious theme and a central character, you'd expect similar for Romeo and Juliet.

Romeo and fate?
Juliet and love?

You'd be wrong.

Samson, Gregory and Abram. But at least it would be an extract chock full of metaphor, references to destiny, the stars, or religious imagery? Well, you could have a stab at exploring 'naked weapon' (pun intended) and then...

Well, there is the repetion / repeation / repitition of 'bite my thumb' and some questions. My worry is that students will assume the turn-taking is Capulet then Montague, one side then the other, which it isn't. The follow up question on male aggression is fair enough, but not quite the gift of 'ambition' in option one.

So, the next question returned to main characters: Prospero and Ariel in The Tempest. The focus was about how loyal Ariel is as a servant. Reasonable question until you look at the extract. Starts off relevant to the question and then it is a description, with loads of great language features, about what Ariel did during the storm. Nothing to do with his loyalty as such.

Option 4 was for The Merchant of Venice, again the focus on a main character. Nice extract, nice question about Portia being a strong female, plenty to write about. Perhaps the fairest question on the paper with plenty to write about in both the extract and the rest of the play.

Much Ado is your next choice. Focus: Beatrice. Theme: her 'attitude to romantic love'. Lots to write about, there, but hang on a minute, there are some pretty obscure references in the extract. Without having that particular extract taught in detail, I doubt students are going to have the general knowledge to know what a 'measure' and a 'cinquepace' are! The references to 'earth', 'dust' and 'marl' take some explaining too.

So, then we get to our final choice for this section, Julius Ceasar. What should we expect? What patterns have been identified in the extracts and questions?

Are you kidding me? 'Friends, Romans, countrymen...'!

So, remind me, it was 'Is this a dagger..?' for Macbeth, 'Gallop apace' for Romeo and Juliet, 'The isle is full of noises' for The Tempest, 'The quality of mercy' for Merchant, and 'Rotten orange' for Much Ado, wasn't it?

Oh, no, it wasn't!

At least the question about a manipulative character is a bit of a challenge, but still.

How is this fair?

It isn't difficult to make it fairer than this. It really shouldn't be a text lottery. If the focus is gender roles, then that applies to all the texts; if it is fate in the tragedies, then it should be love in the comedies; if it is obscure minor characters, then so be it. But for all of the plays.

Clearly, with no tiers now, the questions need to be accessible to every ability as well. Not all of these are by any means.

On first glance, Section B seems a bit closer to an even playing field. None of the extracts were obscure, students should have been able to deal with whichever text they studied. Clear, character based questions, some leading to a related theme in the second bullet point.

Only, on second glance, there is one question that doesn't follow this pattern. The question for 'Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde' was the only evaluative one, i.e. 'Explore how far you agree with this opinion'. Again, not fair.

At least it was on Dr Jekyll, but again, if six of the questions are about the main character, why is the seventh not? Jekyll, Pip, Jane, the monster, Elizabeth and Holmes, but the Cratchit family for 'A Christmas Carol'?

So, you may have come out on top in the text lottery this year, but I urge you to complain to AQA anyway. Your students might be the ones to lose out next time if this continues.

Anyone fancy an Innogen question for Much Ado next year?

Finally, make sure Edna is covered for Friday's 'An Inspector Calls' paper! You have been warned.

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