teaching


Q3: Analyse how the writer uses language and structure to interest and engage the reader. (15)

In this text, an examination board is stating a task for candidates to complete. The question begins with an attempt to engage the reader directly with an imperative (“Analyse”), which leaves no doubt as to the action required.

Two pairs of components then offer further detail of the task to the reader. First, the reader is informed that they must discuss how the writer uses “language and structure”. The conjunction “and” in this noun phrase is perhaps intended as a signal to the reader that they must address both linguistic, and structural, features of the text in their response. There is an implicit point made here that failure to mention one or the other may be important, but why this might be is not made clear.

Furthermore, the terms used are themselves quite vague, which may also impact the engagement of the reader. It could be argued that the terms offer open-ended scope for reader interpretation, which is potentially engaging. However, students unfamiliar with the exam format may not be entirely sure what aspects of language or structure they are supposed to discuss, unless explicitly coached on what they will have to discuss in the exam.

Given the wide parameters suggested by the vague terms of “language” and “structure”, different readers may respond more generally, for example, commenting on the use of English and the question format, rather than specific technical details of the content.

Following this, the writer has provided another pairing, this time in a verb phrase (“to interest and engage”). This offers a range of actions to complete. The conjunction here could also be important, although the use of near-synonymous words may lead to some confusion, hence causing disengagement. It is possible that a reader may interpret this phrase to mean they should not address ideas that fail to be both interesting and engaging, and in not doing so lose further marks.

The question closes with a reference to “the reader”, which in this text clearly refers to an examination candidate. Although the word “engage” can mean “occupy”, which the simple of act of reading the question achieves, the idea of a “reader” being interested by the bland terminology is not particularly convincing.

In addition, there is an implication from the wording employed that the student is expected to know how to respond to a question phrased in such a generalised way in the exam. This suggests that such knowledge is presupposed by the exam board (“the writer”), with a logical inference from that perhaps being that teachers are expected to make this mechanical awareness the point of their lessons, rather than, say, making words and reading fun activities.

The number “15” appearing at the close of the text, isolated in parentheses for emphasis, may be a mocking final note reflecting the idea that the only truly important outcome of any interest to the reader is how many marks they need to get.

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This article at Observer on much of modern writing being steaming cow chips struck a couple of jarring chords.

I teach English, and am acutely conscious of the “five paragraph”, teaching to the exam, model of writing training the article talks about. It’s so pervasive though. And there’s such little time – “pig weighing” – and such high expectations of “getting the right grades”…  The utopian dream of being an inspirational teacher bucking the system is being constantly disturbed by the realpolitik of Target Grades, MiDyIS data (however that’s capitalised) and other five year plan impossibilities.

As the article suggests, few people devote time to reading any more. My students are all dedicated, but there are so many other things demanding their attention, formulae to be learned. While I love and enthuse about “English” – words and that – it most often feels like it’s a struggle against people who can do spreadsheets.

The five parts of this passage are in the wrong order. What is the correct order?

A. Fortunately, he does not have to convert raw scores to quotients.

B. Tonight, the teacher is marking reading tests.

C. Not only that, but the mark scheme runs to 32 pages also.

D. Each answer is multiple choice, and the sheets have been photocopied so it’s quite hard to make out the answers.

E. He is thinking about drinking gin on a school night.

Answers are available on the Scorer/Profiler CD-ROM, but we won’t tell you whereabouts.

Silas Marner, the deceptively slight novel by George Eliot, can still pose problems for modern, young readers. If you are unfamiliar with the book, the main character is an alienated weaver-turned-miser who loses his gold but regains his soul (etc). He has two leather bags full of guineas, gold coins he likes to fondle lovingly.

Tonight I was marking some empathic work from students – mostly diary entries in character. One of them had written:

My genies. My golden shiny genies. Why did you have to leave me?

The recasting of Silas Marner as a magical realist tale woven through with 1001 Nights is a wonderful notion. It even got better:

Gem Rodney, I bet it was that man. He was always jealous of my genies. Oh, how my genies overpowered his.

…and a jinn warfare aspect would certainly enliven the novel for a contemporary teen audience.

While we’re mashing:

Busy tonight fending off an end-of-school-tomorrow tutor reports deadline.

Faced with an Eiger of commentary to generate, and with the view that parents have enough text to wade through with up to 11 course content and individual progress updates, I lapse into fantasias of form tutor comments being something brief yet expressive. Haiku, say:

A mixed view for Sean:
Articulates ideas well,
Yet forgets his pen.

or semi-gnomic aphorism:

Sinéad’s approach to school is a Facebook riddle wrapped in a Snapchat mystery inside an Instagram enigma.

Regrettably, though, such brevity is frowned on. There is consequently a lot of paraphrase of already euphemistic analysis, finding ways to spin positively a recalcitrant student’s impending examination disasters, owing to their tendency to fanny about all the livelong day.

Tutor reports at least give one a chance to rehumanise the youth a bit. Stuff like the award for tidiest room, or the predilection for building mini robots, or the swimming trophies, or the surprise knack for a riffle shuffle executed exquisitely, or the prize essay based on ‘Nighthawks’, from the point of view of the window… these are worth mentioning far more than their granularly-graded hoop- jumping capacity.

One might go on. Regrettably, also, though… these things won’t write themselves.

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Hey! Teacher!

It was hot – damned hot – in the rehearsal spot.

Previous Rock Notes have mentioned that we jam in a drama studio space at a local school. A big room with a whiteboard in it and posters with useful vocab like Barn Doors and Apron. It also has windows that barely let any air in, making for humid conditions. So, the strings were once again twongling when tangling was expected, atmospheric factors exacerbated by a moribund battery in the tuner pedal we were sharing.

Partly prompted by the wonky tuning, and a week off for half term, the session brought a curious discordance of emotions: plateauing ennui, with the issue of the singer in ongoing work scheduling torment preventing us from hearing the full picture, if you see what I’m saying, and excitement, principally that we have advanced now to playing all the tunes without recourse to chord charts inked up on the board.

For some reason I am able to locate a dry wipe pen with considerably greater ease at practice than when I’m in class at the day job, but that’s another matter. Props, Stage Manager.

No garden today. Today I had to work. Periodically, ‘they’ let the boarding school students out to see the real world, and buy stuff.

As duties go, getting what was effectively five hours to wander round Leeds city centre browsing in record shops and going for a big bowl of spicy chicken noodle soup has to rate among my Most Preferred.

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Mmmm…  Bún gà Huế… Just delicious, from Pho, in Trinity Kitchen

Music finds, courtesy of Crash Records: Du Blonde (the continuing wonders of Beth Jeans Houghton), and Nozinja:

Coaches, headcount, bosh. “Not a bad shift…”
Back to the shovel next week.

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