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English teachers, Dickens and some Shakespeare too

There is nothing in the world so irresistibly powerful as ideas. The same ideas behind the icons of our English canon that inspired their works to begin with. As a student, before looking at how a writer has used language, our students must be confident they have understood what the writer is truly saying: the authorial intent. Have students understood the reasons behind why the writer has written the text? Only then should students look at how the writer achieves this purpose.

AQA’s “Insight report: 2019 at a glance” summarises characteristics of the best answers against answers where students performed less well, relying heavily on surface-level “technique spotting” and unguided word exploration.

Here are some of AQA’s report findings and suggestions for teacher takeaway: 1. “Effective answers establish their own interpretation or line of enquiry for their answer.”

What can teachers do? Teach the importance of a topic sentence/thesis statements.

2. “Providing a clear structure for their thoughtful or conceptualised response.”

What can teachers do? Teach the writer’s ideas and intentions behind key scenes and quotes, not just the plotline.

3. “Students who reach the top level of the mark scheme write with great clarity and precision.”

What can teachers do? Explore effective topic sentences versus poor topic sentences, with effective topic sentences being explicitly linked to the writer’s ideas and intentions.

4. “Rather than overuse obscure technical terminology, they tend to use a strong and confident general vocabulary to illustrate their own thinking about the texts.”

What can teachers do? Explicitly teach tier 2 vocabulary and reinforce through writer’s ideas and quotes.

5. “We’ve seen an increased focus on characterisation and the structure of texts as a means of conveying ideas and meaning.”

What can teachers do? Explicitly teach what ideas each character represents and different points of the text. English teachers know this all too well: the very substance of the quotations and methods we teach are merely the shadows of greater ideas. Quotes and methods are but a shadow. Shall we end this blog here? For by my fay, I cannot reason.

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