GCSE poetry anthologies are wonderful. Whilst not every poem may be to one’s liking, the vast majority are a joy to teach. Purposefully, we conduct this joy into our students, moving them to mastery as quickly as possible. We envisage students would have a thorough understanding of every poem contained in the anthology (15 in AQA, 18 in total in the Eduqas spec): a deep knowledge of metaphoric structures, imagery , detailed contexts, and the poems’ meanings and purposes. Whilst I of course always maintain high expectations, and provide multiple pathways to subsume the knowledge, and provide explicit revision strategies, I am not naive enough to believe all of my students can achieve this absolute. Some students find it overwhelming to learn this quantity of poems to the level of mastery, considering the amount of other Literature texts they must have similar depth of understanding with, and the amount of other subjects they have to negotiate. I believe it is right that I provide these students with a revision strategy that provides an opportunity to hopefully get them over the shockingly nebulous line.
The Eduqas Poetry Anthology can crudely be broken into 5 themes: War, Relationships (including love, loss, grief), Power, Time passing and Nature. My thesis is that if students can gain an an in-depth excellent understanding of at least 4 of the poems (ones in blue), they should be able to compare either of them to any poem presented to them in part A of the exam concerning any theme. If they are presented with one of the four in Part A, then even better.
This comes from the fact that the poems are actually wonderfully linked, an important feature of a strong curriculum. The 4 poems highlighted in blue can be discussed in relation to any of the themes. Yes, there are some imaginative adjustments in places to suit the themes, but it certainly can be done, and I think, actually makes for more interesting discussions, and deeper thinking about the poems. Sometimes it is the context that serves as the nexus, and this too makes for wonderful discussions. The practice then consists of writing essays where the theme would not automatically jump out at you, for example war as a theme for the poem Afternoons.
The 4 poems in orange are what I believe are the next layer of revision, for those who can and want to learn more than 4 poems. This of course gives them even better options when they see Part A’s offering.
A good knowledge of all the poems is crucial, as any of them can be chosen by the board for Part A. However, it’s one thing to have a ‘by heart’ understanding of a poem and another to be able to deconstruct it on viewing it. Even now I would have to admit that I don’t know all of the poems off by heart (Death of A Naturalist – you’re killing me), but if you placed any of them in front of me I would analyse them with the highest of confidence.
Your average student who is genuinely busting his or her hump to pass will be greatly relieved to know that their revision can be more manageable with such a strategy. Of course, you can manipulate the table to suit your preferred links, adding poems you feel are more suited to each theme. You may even disagree with the themes. You may not even have any of these poems on your list, but the strategy is there for you to adapt if and as required. Can you make revision more accessible for your struggling students?
The sharing by the very kind Sana of her essay on The Last Duchess being compared to poems in the AQA Anthology, an idea sparked by Macbeth Insights, gave me the courage to post this idea, and I thank them for it, as previously I was a little concerned it may be preceived as dumbing down the poetry course. I am now comfortable with it serving as a lifeboat for overwhelmed students.
The above table is available here, and comes from my revision website that has lots of resources for Language and Literature courses, all free and created by me. Download for adjustment, editing, or to use as is. Hope it works for you. (If it doesn’t load, let me know and I’ll send it to you). There are also some outstanding poetry essays on the CLOUD 9 WRITING section of the site that explore some of these links.
I’m Paul Moss. Follow me on Twitter @edmerger, and follow this blog for more English teaching resources, and general education resources and theories.