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‘Three things the new GCSE English Lit course taught me’

Most of our students will be sitting the first of the new GCSE English Literature exams next week. Two years of uncertainty, anxiety and an approach to grading that’s akin to pulling raffle tickets out of a hat are drawing to a conclusion of sorts.

Soon we may have a clearer understanding of what the exam boards actually want from our pupils so we can better prepare the next lot.

So, what have I learnt over the last two years? Well…
 

  1. A new specification always has its challenges, but the closed-book aspect of the new Literature GCSE has been a real battle, as well as the new and, in some cases, unfamiliar texts 
    After the national day of mourning when Of Mice and Men was officially removed from the English GCSE curriculum, we all picked ourselves up and went about selecting our replacements. I have enjoyed getting stuck into texts I’ve not taught before and (UNPOPULAR OPINION KLAXON) I’m glad the exams are now closed-book. 

    The closed-book exams have opened up new approaches to teaching and learning that I have welcomed; my pupils know these texts better than any previous year group have and I’ve been amazed by their capacity to reel off Shakespeare quotes and lines of poetry.

    They are now expected to engage with each text on a much deeper level, and I don’t just mean memorising quotes. Knowing that the book won’t be there in the exam means pupils have to really know these texts, which forces them to have an opinion – something that I think has been lacking in previous years.
     

  2. Literature is now more pertinent than ever before
    The study of literature, in my view, has always been the study of people and society. Since this new course began, the world our children live in has become markedly different – and, if Brexit is anything to go by, even a little smaller. 

    It is more important than ever to challenge the views expressed in The Sign of Four by Holmes and Watson when they talk disparagingly about Jonathan Small’s foreign accomplices…

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