Dual Coding the EDUQAS Poetry Anthology

I’ve talked about the usefulness of and science behind dual coding here, which includes an example of the process on the novella A Christmas Carol. Now I’ve created a resource for the Eduqas Poetry Anthology.

The images – a rationale

The file containing all the images can be downloaded here. The images are a mixture of quite explicit connections to the quote, whereas others are more metaphoric of the quote. The rationale here is to take advanatage of the understanding of elaboration in encoding. The dual channels of information processing, the auditory concurrent with the visual, may be assisted by symbolic representation within the visual pathway. When the image is recalled, multiple triggers are initiated, providing students with a deeper level of encoding. This also improves the retrieval of the information significantly, as explained here. I am really only learning about this and am open to these ideas being challenged, but for now it seems logical.

Where an image is abstract, an explantion is offered. Of course, your interpretation may be different, and you may want to include a different quote. There are only 5 images per poem, and this is designed with cognitive load in mind. Of course, this would, or maybe even should, serve simply as a baseline depending on your context. My choices are based on several elements: the contexts of the poems and what possibly drove the poet to write their poem, here, and here, the pragmatic approach to revising them, here, and my own writings that helped me flesh out a firm understanding of the key aspects of each poem, here (rationale found here).

My fabulous colleague Rebecca Walker assisted in designing the slides.

Applications

You may have other ways of designing your own. You may want to add an image to reinforce structure, or context.

You may use them as retrieval practice. Activities to vary retrieval could include:

  1. having 2 poems (10 images) on a single slide jumbled, and asking students to reorder
  2. presenting an image on a slide and asking for information related to it
  3. presenting 2 images on one slide from different poems and asking for links
  4. removing the quotes and asking students to fill them in
  5. Creating flashcards of the dual coding – may be best done with predesigned templates (here)
  6. getting students to find their own images – the idea here is that the longer they spend trying to find the images the stronger the memory of the content is likely to be.

There are many other possibilities, and I would love you to add your own thoughts in the comments if you have strategies that you’ve found worked. 

Here are the images.

Image 2: brainwashed. Image 5 : throwing marriage rings away
IMage 1: making the most of a bad situation. IMage 3: identity.
Image 1: balance of good thing passing and a bad thing passing
Image 1: connection. IMage 4: shallowness of relationships. Image 5: superficial expectations of love aren’t fair
Image 1: the rubric(expectations) doesn’t work. IMage 3: possessive, holding on very tightly. IMage 4: love is reduced to a small thing (the wedding ring)
IMage 1: lack of clarity in teh society. Image 4: even less certainty in direction. IMage 5: missed opportunity
IMage 4: world changes
IMage 3: arrogance. Image 5: refusal to listen to another perspective
Image 4: focus on the beauty of now rather than the future
Image 2: robotic lives. Image 4: generational – issue will recur. IMage 5: identities are gone
Image 4: careless disposal of body (flung). IMage 5: propaganda
Image 4: futility
Iamge 1: tragedy. Image 5: stories finally heard
Image 5: growing older and becoing aware

I’m Paul Moss. Follow me on Twitter @edmerger, and follow this blog for more English teaching resources.

Context discussions for EDUQAS Poems

THERE ARE 4 THEMATIC GROUPS OF POEMS 

  1. THE ROMANTIC ERA  
  2. THE POST ROMANTIC ERA 
  3. WAR 
  4. MODERN ERA  

THE ROMANTIC ERA 

The era is characterised not by romance, but by a desire to return to the ideals of Roman times, where creativity and nature were highly regarded. The era is mostly a reaction to the dominance of the industrial revolution at the end of the 1700’s, a revolution that introduced mechanisation and mass machinery. The advantages to society were abundant, however there was great exploitation of people at the time as laws were not in place; there was no precedent. Pollution, enormous wealth disparity, and a bowing down to all things science characterised the time, and poets and other artists at the time were concerned about this, and produced art to counter.     

‘London’ by William Blake 

Written in 1792 

The poem describes a journey around London, offering a glimpse of what the speaker sees as the terrible conditions faced by the inhabitants of the city. Child labour, the ‘corrupt’ Church and prostitution are all explored in the poem. It ends with a vision of the terrible consequences to be faced as a result of sexually transmitted disease. As a man and poet, Blake was highly critical of what he described as society’s disassociation with itself. He saw life being compromised by trivialities. He was self-educated and believed the educated class that dominated philosophy at the time was pretentious. He studied art throughout his life and drew images for all his works.  

The poem is the first we study from the Romantic era, and it’s the perfect example that Romantic era poems are not about romance; more so they are about the love of nature, creativity, and the human spirit. London explores the demise of these things in the height of the industrial revolution. The poem was written in 1792, shortly after the French Revolution, a revolution that gave hope to citizens tired of political corruption. ‘London’ is such a strong critique of the city and what it has become that the poem could be seen as Blake almost provoking action by the people. The hapless soldier reference is also a link to George III’s stubbornness in leaving the American War of Independence battle when everyone knew it was futile to continue. 

Blake is considered to be one of the fathers of the Romantic era, alongside Wordsworth and Colleridge.  

Excerpt from The Prelude by William Wordsworth 

Written in 1799 and published in 1804 (but revised several times as Wordsworth aged). 

The prelude is a long, autobiographical poem, showing the spiritual growth of the speaker and how he comes to terms with who he is, and his place in nature and the world. Wordsworth was inspired by memories of events and visits to different places, explaining how they affected him. He described The Prelude as ”a poem on the growth of my own mind” with ”contrasting views of Man, Nature, and Society”. 

In the poem, Wordsworth recounts his childhood experience of skating on a frozen lake at night.  Being alone with nature had a great effect on him. Essentially, the poem explores the moment when he realises that the world doesn’t revolve around himself, that he is a small cog in a much larger wheel. In fact, the sense of melancholy at the end relates to us all as we all feel a sense of loss when moving from childhood to adulthood; having to go out in the world on your own is daunting, and the poem acknowledges this. It’s in one long stanza to possibly suggest the blending of the memories and also that passing of time is short.  

‘She Walks in Beauty’ by George Gordon Lord Byron 

Written in 1813 

Byron is believed to have been inspired to write the poem after seeing a woman with very good looks at a fashionable London party. It has been claimed that the lady was in mourning and dressed in a black gown. 

Byron had many stormy personal relationships. He was famously described as ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’ and had a reputation for being lascivious, after his first affair with the older, married, high society socialite Caroline Lamb. He then had an affair with his stepsister Augusta, a relationship which produced a child named Medora who died at just five years of age. To escape these scandals, he married Anne Milbanke, a marriage that produced Ada Lovelace, one of the first ever computer scientists and good friend and associate of Michael Faraday and Charles Darwin (brilliant links to the Science course), the great Charles Dickens (obvious links), and Charles Babbage (went to school in Totnes), the man closely associated with inventing the calculator, and the concept of the computer. But the marriage failed, and Anne hated Byron, and she refused to allow Byron any connection to Ada; this forced his departure from England to Italy, but it was at the height of his fame in London in 1814 when he saw the character in his poem at a party. The character in the poem is Anne Willmott, Byron’s cousin’s wife. But when we read the poem we realise there is no sexuality at all in its content, and when we realise that Byron was supposedly sexually abused on two occasions in his childhood, we develop a greater understanding of his issues with relationships and the poem’s content takes on a deeper significance. We have a sense of empathy for Byron, knowing that having led an obviously difficult and troubled existence, he was still able to produce a poem of such incredible purity 

Ozymandias by Percy Shelley 

Written in 1817 

The poem explores the question of what happens to tyrant kings when they die. 

Ramesses (the Greeks called him Ozymandias) lived to be ninety-six years old, ruled as Pharoah for 66 years, had over 200 wives, ninety-six sons and sixty daughters, most of whom he outlived. He was a ruthless egomaniac. The poem is metaphorical, with Ozymandias potentially being England’s King George III. However, Shelley was careful not to be so direct in criticising him, because he was previously kicked out of Oxford for atheism, and so was reluctant to get into further trouble in this poem that mocks the king. King George III was considered to be a tyrant, warmonger and egomaniac himself; this is why the poem is written in a 3rd person perspective.  

Shelley eloped with Mary Godwin, daughter of the famous writer William Godwin, when she was just 16. This relationship was undoubtedly happening when Shelley was married to his wife. It may have been the cause of the wife’s suicide. Percy and Mary moved to Italy, where they spent a summer with Byron, and where the now Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein. Shelley died from drowning when he was 30, and a book of poems by Keats was found on him.  

‘To Autumn’ by John Keats 

Written in 1819 

The poem reflects on mankind’s relationship with a particular time of year. He wrote the poem inspired by a walk he had taken through the countryside; it is, therefore, a highly personal response. 

Keats initially trained as a surgeon but gave it up to write poetry. Six months after completing To Autumn, he experienced the first signs of the tuberculosis that would end his life. In the poem it is almost as though the medically-trained poet has understood that his life would soon end, and he is preparing himself for death. Keats died in 1821 aged just 25. The poem is almost an acceptance of death, with lots of references to positive things about the season of Autumn (season of death).   

Keats’ father died when he was 9, and his mother remarried and sent the children to live with their grandmother. The mother died 6 years later of consumption (tuberculosis). This detachment effectively made him the parent to his 2 brothers and his sister. This fact is important because he became very close to his siblings, and the death of Tom, his brother to consumption (tuberculosis) affected him deeply. The exhortation of living in the moment is then quite cool. 

POST ROMANTIC 

The era is represented by 2 women, both of whom suffered immensely at the hands of a male dominated society. They both became recluses as a result.  

Sonnet 43 by Elizabeth Browning 

Written in 1850 

Browning was raised by her wealthy highly religious yet tyrannical father who was a slave owner in The Caribbean. She became averse to such a trade, and she distanced herself from him. She lost her inheritance from this separation. She was very close to her brother whom became ill. She travelled to Torquay to help him recuperate, but he drowned whilst swimming. All of these events caused a great depression to overcome Elizabeth, and she became a recluse.  

Whilst a recluse, she began to write, and her letters were seen by Robert Browning, himself a famous poet. A friendship formed, and turned into love. The poem is a feel good story: from immense woe to love. Elizabeth married Robert, and they lived happily until their deaths.   

Imperceptibly as Grief by Emily Dickinson 

Written in @1850 

Dickinson was brought up in a very strict Calvinist family (religion). She had to frequent people’s homes all the time when she was young to help her father preach. She grew tired of this and as an adult denounced religion, which infuriated her father, and led to the end of their relationship. She may also have been in love with her brother’s wife, Susan, but unable to do anything about her feelings. Both of these factors may have led her to become a recluse. It is in this context that she learns to accept the way things turn out, setting a mood of acquiescence in the poem. When one good thing ends, a bad thing takes its place, and vice versa – balance is the meaning of life.  

WAR – poems from 1900 to modern day 

‘A Wife in London’ by Thomas Hardy 

Written in 1900 

The poem describes a wife receiving news of her husband who has died in fighting in the Boer War (1899-1902). The war was the reaction by the Afrikaans to the British Empire’s push into yet another colony to exploit its resources. 

Hardy wrote much of his poetry about death and war and the lives of soldiers in the 19th Century, and in particular the effects of war on the men and their families at home. The poem then is anti-war, but goes about it a unique and creative way, focusing on the effects on others as opposed to the soldiers. 

Hardy was a famous prose writer before he became a famous poet. Tess of the D’Urbervilles, The Mayor of Casterbridge, and Jude the Obscure are his most popular titles. Because most of his poems centre on the theme of death, he was, considered to be a very pessimistic man.  

‘The Soldier’ by Rupert Brooke 

Written in 1914.  

At the beginning of the war, many were still quite naïve about warfare—dying in battle was seen as a noble, heroic thing. At the time they weren’t concerned with machine guns, mustard gas or disease. Nearly 20 million died in World War 1, and 20 million went missing. The poem could either be propaganda, or an attempt to appease the grief of families who would inevitably lose a loved one, to make their deaths not seem like a waste. Brooke’s poems were well received by the mainstream media at the time, a media that had most definitely pushed propaganda onto the public, propaganda that unfairly distorted the realities and truths of the war, its causes, and its results. Brooke was from a very wealthy family, connected to high-ranking officers in the war, many of whom never saw real battle, but sent men to their deaths, and so his writings were likely motivated to assist the distorted vision of war. His poems are still used to this day by Royal Navy.  

Brooke himself died while serving in the Royal Navy in 1915, but it was from a mosquito bite that became infected, and he died of sepsis in April of 1915. 

Prior to the first moon landing in 1969, William Safire prepared a speech for U.S. PresidentRichard Nixon to give in case of disaster.[1] The last line of the prepared address intentionally echoes a similar line from the poem.[2] (“For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.”) 

‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ by Wilfred Owen 

Written in 1917 

Owen is recounting his fist hand experiences of fighting in Word War 1 in this poem. He describes the dreadful conditions of the battlefront and the death of a fellow soldier from a mustard gas attack. It is an honest portrayal of war, opposite to pro-war, patriotic ideas of the time. The poem is totally anti-war, and makes war a very inglorious business. Owen was injured in the war and was sent home to recover. It is during this time that he wrote some of his most critical war poems, and became well known for them alongside other poets such as Sassoon. Once recovered, he was reassigned to battle. 

Owen was ironically killed in action, when the war was practically over. His mother received news of his death just as the end of the war was announced. He ironically dedicated the poem to a poet called Jessie Pope, who wrote poetry at the time encouraging the enlisting of soldiers to the war effort. Owen hated her.  

‘The Manhunt’ by Simon Armitage 

Written in the 1990’s.  

The poem was written after having a discussion with Eddie Beddoes’ wife Laura regarding her husbands’ physical and mental injuries endured after serving as a peace-keeper in Bosnia. It describes her experience of her husbands’ return and the effect his injuries have had on their relationship. It’s one of the 1st poems ever to discuss PTSD. The poem is anti-war, but goes about it in a less direct way compared to Dulce for example.  

It was a part of a Channel 4 documentary, ‘Forgotten Heroes: The Not Dead’, where the lives of soldiers were examined. In the programme, this poem is read by Laura, to highlight the truth war can bring. The causes of the Bosnian war are disputed, with NATO claiming that ethnic cleansing was carried out by the Serbian forces resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. However, an independent commission into the war found there to be no mass deaths. This led to speculation that the war was not as noble as first purported, but propaganda and an excuse for the dismantling of Yugoslavia for economic reasons. This has significance as the soldiers were essentially fighting for a lie, a situation that could have psychologically affected them; a situation analogous to the Vietnam war. 

Mametz Wood’ by Owen Sheers 

Written in 2005 

Mametz Wood was the scene of fierce fighting during the Battle of the Somme, one of the bloodiest battles of World War 1. The battle lasted 10 months. There were 300,000 casualties. The poem describes the battle field in modern times, with soldier’s bodies being uncovered by farmers tending the land.  

The poem explores how war swallows up the lives of men, effectively making them anonymous. The poem tells us how the men’s lives are finally honoured. Sheers was involved in a documentary film project about two Welsh writers, David Jones and Wyn Griffiths. They served with the 38th Welsh Division and both fought at Mametz Wood. While Sheers was in France, a previously unknown grave was uncovered. It contained the bodies of 20 Allied soldiers, hastily buried but with arms interlinked as described in the poem. Sheers has said that when he saw the photograph of the grave, he knew it was an image that would stay with him and that it was a subject he would want to write about. This poem is the result, surfacing some time later, just as, he says, ‘elements of the battle are still surfacing… years later.’ 

Another contextual discussion can be based around the idea that the men were told to walk and not run as they emerged onto the battlefield. This absurd command is indicative of some of the ridiculous decisions that military officers made at the time (Gallipoli is another example), and this coupled with the fact that 300,000 soldiers died to gain only 100m of territory make the whole situation seem futile and shockingly wasteful.   

MODERN POEMS 

‘Afternoons’ by Philip Larkin 

Written in 1959 

Time, death, chance, and choice have been identified by critics as the leading themes in Larkin’s poetry. He focused on disappointments in life, the pressures of society, the desire to escape pressures together, the fear of isolation and aging. 

‘Afternoons’, like a number of Philip Larkin’s other poems, treats the theme of the passing of youth and the setting-in of middle age. But rather than focusing on his own middle age (Larkin was in his mid-thirties when he wrote the poem, in 1959), Larkin examines the lives of others, analysing the existence of a group of young mothers. He warns us that becoming domesticated leads to a loss of spirit, and loss of identity. The advent of TV in this time exacerbated Larkin’s worries. Living in cold, Hull may also have influenced some of the tone of his work.  

‘Hawk Roosting’ 

Written in 1960 

Hughes’s earlier poetic work is rooted in nature and, in particular, the innocent savagery of animals, an interest from an early age. The poem is written from the first person narrative of a hawk, who is at the top of the food chain in his wood. It discusses power. We could interpret the poem as literally being about a hawk, or the hawk could be a metaphor for a person in absolute power– a dictator. The Nazi party’s emblem was a hawk type figure. It could ironically be about Hughes himself as he is believed to have beaten his wife on several occasions.  

‘Death of a Naturalist’ by Seamus Heaney 

Written in 1966 

Heaney is a poet fascinated with nature and how humans react within it. He was apolitical (non-political), but his poems still contain valuable messages in them.  

The poem is both a description of Heaney’s experience with nature as a boy, and a metaphor for the loss of his childhood innocence, as he looks back at his youthful naivety. He is fascinated by the frogspawn and tadpoles of the flax-dam’, but becomes repulsed by a horde of croaking frogs in their maturity. It could also be a poem about change, and a warning to not be so adamant (sure) about things because you could change your mind as you get older. The sudden tearing away from youthful innocence could also be metaphoric of Heaney having to grow up very quickly with the death of his brother, and also potentially because of the violence happening with the IRA in Ireland.  

‘Valentine’ by Carol Anne Duffy 

Written in 1993 

Carol Ann Duffy wrote Valentine after a radio producer asked her to write an original poem for St. Valentine’s Day. She is a fierce feminist. She became the 1st British female poet laureate in 2009.   

Duffy’s poem is reminiscent of a poem by 16th century poet John Donne, who approached ordinary objects in original and surprising ways. The multi-layered complexity of the onion represents a real relationship and is used as an extended metaphor throughout. The poet seems to be uninterested by the usual ‘superficial’ representations of love, and instead tries to portray a more realistic symbol, because love can be painful and hurtful. In that way, the poem serves as a type of warning. 

‘Living Space’ by Imtiaz Dharker 

Written in 1997. 

Imtiaz Dharker was born in Pakistan and grew up in Scotland. Her poetry deals with themes of identity, the role of women in contemporary society and the search for meaning. She draws on her multi-cultural experience in her work. She works to raise awareness of issues in other countries. Dharker’s intimate knowledge of Mumbai is evident in this poem. The slums of Mumbai are where people migrate from all over India in the hope of a better life, and the poem explores the idea that optimism can thrive in adversity. The poem then is really about 1st world pettiness not really being worth wasting too much time over: there are more important things going on in the world.  

‘I don’t want to have to define myself in terms of location or religion. In a world that seems to be splitting itself into narrower national and religious groups, sects, castes, subcastes, we can go on excluding others until we come down to a minority of one’.   

Cozy Apologia’ by Rita Dove 

Written in 1999. 

Waiting for a storm to hit, the speaker thinks about her partner. She pictures him as a knight in shining armour, protecting her. He’s a vivid contrast, she thinks, to the ‘worthless’ boys she used to date. She’s embarrassed by how content their cosy, ordinary lives have made them.   

Rita Dove is married to fellow-writer Fred Viebahn and the poem is a tribute to him. It is set against the arrival of Hurricane Floyd, a powerful storm which hit the east coast of the USA in 1999. This factual, real-life context supports the idea this is an autobiographical poem. The poem mostly explores the idea that society has unrealistic expectations of what love actually is: it’s not Romeo and Juliet style, full of unrealistic passion and intensity, all ideas perpetuated (driven) by the media and superficial culture. It’s ok to be just content.  

Rita Dove was the first African American to be awarded the Poet Laureate in America. She also won a Pulitzer Prize in 1987. 

I’m Paul Moss. Follow me o Twitter @edmerger, and follow this blog for more English teaching resources.

Dual coding A CHRISTMAS CAROL

Having observed the wonderful presentation by Chris Curtis at Research ED in Rugby, I’ve composed a resource using dual coding for the novella A Christmas Carol.

The idea of dual coding is quite simple. Our brain can receive information via 2 channels:

  1. An auditory channel, which includes what we listen to as well as, and this is incredibly important to note, what we read. This has enormous implications for delivering content to students – do you talk at the same time as you are asking students to read something from the board? If you do, you are making it really difficult for students to carry out either of the requests: listen and read.
  2. A visual channel, which includes images.

Oliver Cavliogli is the master of all things dual coding, and if you ever get a chance to see him talk at a conference, make an immediate beeline to see it – talk about professional – wow!!! His website has lots of info on the science behind it all.

Chris uses dual coding in a variety of ways, but one thing he does is to use images to help students tell the story of a text. I’ve borrowed from this idea here to do the same for A Christmas Carol, choosing to add 3 images per stave in consideration of cognitive load. I’ve chosen the images, also with Chris’s advice of using black and white clip art images to create a minimalistic feel. Here’s how it looks, and then i’ll take you through the thinking behind it all.

  1. The first image is representing Scrooge’s greed. CONTEXT: referring to him as a sinner is significant for a highly religious Victorian audience.
  2. Surplus population – charity workers asking for a donation from Scrooge. CONTEXT: This links to Thomas Malthus’ theory of there not being enough food to feed everyone, so naturally the poor should die to relieve the ‘burden’ on the community. Dickens is mocking such an illogical (apoplectic opulence fo food in Stave 2) and nasty proposition by having the very nasty Scrooge represent it.
  3. Marley’s warning – change or suffer eternal damnation – which is not fire and brimstone, but worse – not being able to help others in the afterlife – Dickens take on this is interesting.
  4. Scrooge as a neglected solitary boy. CONTEXT: Dickens’ father had problems with money and was imprisoned for debt, forcing Charles to be taken from school to work.
  5. Missed opportunity with Belle.
  6. Tries to erase the past by extinguishing the candle – his world is on fire and he can’t handle it.
  7. Scrooge is worried at the plight of Tiny Tim. Hangs head in shame when reminded that Tiny Tim is surplus population.
  8. Model Citizen Fred – won’t disparage Scrooge at the party, is educated, is kind and jovial.
  9. Ignorance and Want – ignorance is worse – ‘doom’ on forehead. CONTEXT: Dickens was passionate about education, feeling indignant that he was deprived of it when younger, and set up many schools to eradicate the curse of ignorance. Education beats poverty.
  10. Scooge’s death is irrelevant to his colleagues – he’s become surplus to them.
  11. Thieves steal the shirt off his back, the shirt he will be buried in. Ultimate disrespect.
  12. Ghost of futue is becoming irrelevant, and is disappearing as a result.
  13. Complete change.
  14. Gives an anonymous gift – ultimate sign of generosity.
  15. Becomes a father figure to Tiny Tim.

The images would be introduced in sequence, with them aiding the encoding of what the quotes and section of the novella are trying to convey. Essentially the images are providing another point of access to understanding.

Image choice

I was unsure whether to make the images practically literal versions of the sequence described, or be completely symbolic, but chose to have a mixture, with some quite abstract choices. My reasoning for this was to allow the image to act as an umbrella for discussion, rather than it limit further thinking. For example, the butterfly image could easily have been a baby, but I thought there would be more to discuss with the butterfly. I’d be keen for your ideas about this. Here is a link to the images. And here is the link to the dual coded doc.

Is it dual coding or retrieval?

Dual coding is primarily concerned with the encoding of content. But can it be used for retrieval also? I had an interesting conversation about this with Dan Williams, in terms of whether using the images was aiding encoding or simply a process of retrieval. I believe it serves as both, with the process of encoding continuously evolving with the retrieval. I am certain however there is someone out there who can correct me on this.

Once the content is moving towards being secure, we can use the images BOTH as a source of retrieval, and as a way to strenghten any lingereing encoding issues. Below is an activity doing as such:

Instructional sequence

  • Handed out the document with only images on it. A3 in size
  • Students noted down what they believed the images to represent in their books.
  • After 5 minutes, I checked which images students were unsure of – some more obvious than others (aeroplane image e.g).
  • Went through each image with the class, asking multiple questions on each: quotes, links to other sections etc.
  • Students then wrote on the A3 sheet – what each image represents and a quote to match – more quotes preferred. Quotes taken from this knowledge organiser
  • Students added context discussions in at least 2 places
  • Students colour coded if desired.

Here’s what a finished product looked like:

Retrieval Activities

I’m thinking of activities to vary retrieval such as:

  1. mixing the order of the images up and having students reorganise
  2. presenting an image on a slide and asking for 3 or 4 pieces of information related to it
  3. presenting 2 images on one slide and asking for links
  4. presenting the partial journey – students fill in the missing images – this can start with only 1 or 2 missing, and build to have most missing
  5. getting students to find their own images – the idea here is that the longer they spend trying to find the images the stronger the memory of the content is likely to be.

I am going to create a similar resource for the EDUQAS poems. Stay tuned. It’s here now.

I’m Paul Moss. Follow me @edmerger and follow this blog for more English teaching resources.

My ResearchED talk from Rugby

Having the opportunity to speak at ResearchED Rugby was a real honour, and the event was simply a wonderful occasion. I met lots of incredibly friendly people, and I was incredibly inspired by their passion and willingness to improve the educational landscape, a passion I certainly share. A huge thanks goes to Jude Hunton for asking me to speak, and organising a superb event.

The rough transcript of my talk is below, and a link to the slideshow here. Please let me know if you can’t access it.

Teaching English is simply wondrous. But it’s hard too. There’s so much at stake, so much to do. Getting the pedagogical balance between the art of teaching and the science of teaching is difficult, imperative, but also EXCITING.  

In my practice, I was too heavy on the art – and not enough on the science, which ironically obstructed and even obfuscated the curriculum from shining through. 

We know what the art of teaching English includes: the purposeful curation and presentation of incredible texts, texts that become windows to the soul, texts that teach us so much about the word, but perhaps more poignantly, teach us about ourselves. We know how powerful the art of expression can be, to be able to express oneself with clarity, precision and insight. And we know how useful it can be to become artful in connecting with students as much as possible, to know the best way to keep them motivated, to become a part of their learning journey, and become inspiration that they never forget. But when I don’t consider the processes that enable students to learn or consider how to make the delivery of content as efficient as possible to assist understanding and retainment of that content, I create an imbalance. 

I know that this imbalance between the art of teaching and the science leads to learning gaps – leads to the Matthew effect taking over. The Matthew effect is exacerbated when students with culturally rich background knowledge are able to absorb and withstand poor instruction whereas those without the background can’t. This is because the culturally rich background allows students to feed off the reserves of cultural fat, whereas those without it emaciate with insipid instruction.  

We know this is a blight in modern schooling – which we must address in the limited time our students spend in front of us.  

So, in today’s session, I want to go through what I believe have been barriers to better teaching and thus better learning by my students, with the largest, and one I’ll spend the most time on, incremental design, taking up much of the focus.  

One of the first significant barriers was a lack of understanding about cognition. Fortunately, research has provided us with what could only be referred to as a game changer – by Sweller – and I’m not only saying that because he’s a fellow Australian. Understanding cognitive load in designing sequences of learning is crucial. Awareness of working memory and its function and poignantly its limitations in learning should ultimately be driving all curriculum decisions. 

This leads onto the next game changer – memory. Prehension of how to assist students retaining information has guided my lessons, with quizzing prevalent in most lessons, and me consciously interweaving concepts and using elaborative retrieval to help students make connections and strengthen memory. I’ve written about various strategies to assist the retainment of content, from creating a story around the curriculum to allow or greater connections between texts and themes, as well as varying retrieval exercises, and finally, utilising the notion of elaborative retrieval, which again , via making connections through storytelling facilitates the triggering of multiple neural paths to arrive at a desired memory.  

The learning scientists are the go to people for discussing memory, with good explanations offered for students themselves to assist their metacognition. 

The 3rd aspect of cognition is dual coding. I would recommend you see Oliver Cavliogli talk about this, but… he is speaking next door right now, so I guess I have to tell you. Well actually let me use another of the greats to explain it: the brain has 2 channels for learning: auditory (listening and reading) and visual (images). What Chris has done here is to help students remember the entire story of Romeo and Juliet, almost using images as a trigger for retrieval – it essentially becomes an elaboration method, where there is now another possible neural path for the memory to travel.  

This is most definitely the next wave of teaching and learning. 

So now I have a better understanding of these, I remove a barrier to learning. 

The next hurdle was a pandemic plague on education – the obsession with observation and progress. Bjork points out that learning can’t really be measured or observed in a single session – and it’s because of again the understanding of cognition – retrieval strength vs storage – if information was just delivered, it’s going to be fresh, and able to be recalled easily – seeing progress then in a lesson is a false claim. Better off coming back a few days later. I discuss this here in this post about smashing observation – if you have to go through it – show off what your students have been learning over time – deliver lessons that demonstrate learning over time.  

Another one bites the dust! 

Teaching to the test. A pernicious beast! Understandable with accountability. Daisy Christodoulou obliterates the notion, explaining that it actually doesn’t make any logical sense anyway. What is assessed is taken from a domain, and we if assume a certain section, and another comes up in the exam, then we’ve done a huge disservice to our students. A better idea is to teach the domain. 

A concomitant to this is understanding the domain. Taking the time to work it out is crucial – but also being pragmatic. You can’t teach everything, and I think this is a trap for teachers, wanting, with good intention, to teach the world. For example, it’s probably better to teach KS3 story writing as a 45 minute story – to match the GCSE task – this is because it takes a long time to develop writing skills, and narrowing the scope of style will help ensure mastery, or allow us to get closer to it at least. Of course, this tends to run counter to the ideal of English, the romance of it all, freedom of expression and open ended creativity, but it’s not practical – we can’t have it all, and if we try, we might end up with nothing.   

Adapting teaching based on progress of students is a seminal idea by Dylan Wiliam. Far be it for me to add anything to it, but I wander if teachers would be better advised in ensuring delivery of content is incremental so as to avoid moments where pivoting is needed? 

Again, we get closer to where we want to be. 

The final, rather large barrier, is poorly designed curriculum that either isn’t progressive, or doesn’t have the precision to ensure mastery is possible.  

I want to discuss this in 3 contexts: a pragmatic approach, with teachers walking into lessons tomorrow, designing a unit of work, and designing a whole curriculum.  

For teachers considering adapting practice tomorrow, which of course is all of us at some point, I’m going to zoom in on these 3 ideas: 

Modelling: I’ve learnt a great deal from these 3 educators, with Andy Tharby illustrating the usefulness of the I, We, You approach – an apprenticeship approach very much in line with Rosenshine’s principles of Instruction.  

I have added to this concept with the notion of the 4th dimension: the student model – based on the idea that a good student model may be of more use to other students than my model – the curse of knowledge playing a part, but also the register and vernacular may be better suited –especially for struggling students.  

Sarah Barker’s assiduous approach is brilliant – not even allowing any writing to happen until students have absorbed multiple views of the process.  

And tom Needham’s worked example approach, enormously beneficial in reducing cognitive load and in assisting strengthening of writing.   

I’ve been working on the design of a creative writing unit with a very pragmatic approach incorporating the strategies above.  

My view is that at GCSE level, students must know how to write for the 45 minutes. As a base, I have students follow a structure design – with no exceptions. I want to avoid common complaints of lack of creativity = no writing. The structure helps build connections to the main character, and provides a relatively simple plan to develop a decent story. There are 4 sections: which you can read here: a part of a portfolio type assessment, with 2 stories needed to be written before the closed book assessment.  

*Go through sections and comprehension activity and individual sentence design. 

The findings of this approach have been very positive: Very weak students copied model – which is fine, because now they at least have an embedded structure to work from, whereas previsously they would have ended the unit with nothing. Some made minor adjustments to plot; Some were able to use prompts to write an alternative story; Those who chose different structure for second story could evaluate. It led to the development of exam length stories for students to read and become inspired by stories, and to see models of what is required/possible. 

The second consideration to improve teaching overnight is loosely linked to modelling: direct instruction – Tom’s blog again is worth a read in learning about this, based on work by Engelmann. 

Follow through project: monitored the progress of at risk students using multiple models of learning. What the results showed was that for basic skills like reading and maths and language, direct instruction outperformed compared to most other models. Interesting, and poignantly, DI outperformed other models in cognitive abilities: higher order thinking particularly, including against models that explicitly try to develop these skills: open education, discovery learning.  

I’ll allow you to read this: 

And this: 

As you can see, it’s all about mastery before the next stage is introduced. 

It’s certainly going to dominate things from here I believe.  

The 3rd immediate improvement I have made is to write. Stemming from a request by a high-level student for some reading on particular topic, I observed that learners really didn’t have anything to read – there wasn’t anything bespoke for GCSE length.  

So, I started the ball rolling – having a blast along the way, and gaining valuable insight into how themes etc can be discussed, in timed conditions, and developing points in a response. It’s also been amazing fun. It led to developing CLOUD 9 WRITING, where students from around the globe could submit essays of high quality – to read, to learn. Please help me by adding submissions to the platform. 

The second context for avoiding incremental design flaws is in planning a unit of work. I want to approach this from an assessment angle.  

Let’s take a poetry unit in KS3. What I want to demonstrate here is that each assessed component is an individual thing, a component that can be isolated when giving feedback. As soon as you start adding multiple assessable aspects it makes it harder to isolate issues and intervene.  

*go through each phase of the assessment cycle. 

The final element is designing a whole curriculum, and I want to focus on what is an intrinsic part of what we do: grammar.  

Originally, this arose from a state of apoplexy with the pervasive crime of comma splicing.  

I used Daisy Christodoulou’s thinking from the seminal Making good Progress and considered that issues need to be unravelled, and the key components taught in isolation.  

But I realised that it’s not as simple as it seems. There are huge barriers to students becoming really comfortable with components of a main clause, critical knowledge in deciding how to punctuate clauses.  

The 2 main issues are a lack of sequenced schemes of learning in working from the basics. Of course, there are immeasurable numbers of grammar lessons online and in books, but nothing that suitably goes through bit by bit, and written for a secondary level student. So, I have decided to design it:  

*play animation of design 

What it needs of course is for students to master each stage before moving on – another aspect severely lacking in current offerings. This means taking each section and providing activities that ensure mastery, with each new section building and consolidating. 

Here, I’ve designed the sequence of activities. Notice that the activity is carefully planned so as not to include other word classes that could confuse this section – for example, including gerunds or anomalies. There is a mix of correct and incorrect examples to ensure guessing isn’t a successful strategy, and each type of word class has a summative section that tests each specific type in combination.  

Mastery of each is crucial, as the next stage builds on this one.  

So I have a plan – I have the scheme designed already, and lots of activities. I want to include videos to enhance the learning of specific knowledge (dual coding) AND I WANT TO UTILISE ADAPTIVE TECHNOLOGIES TO help students achieve mastery –this can then be done as intervention, in tutoring, at home etc.  

There might be other ways of teaching grammar, but for me it has helped students with punctuation, because I can discuss with them why the comma shouldn’t be there.  

It’s also opened up the opportunity for me to deliver much more precise feedback in writing. It’s allowed me to discuss language much more in class, with comfort. It’s empowered students, helping them gain confidence in understanding more about the language they use every day, and opens their abilities in using language for effect.  

So when attention is paid to incremental design flaws, in fact, when we pay attention to all of these barriers to learning, we eliminate them, and we restore the balance – we provide opportunity for the art of what we do to flourish. 

So, in summary,  

  1. English teaching can become more of a science 
  1. We can eliminate learning gaps by considering research 
  1. INCREMENTAL DESIGN IS ESSENTIAL 

Thank you 

I’m Paul Moss. Follow me @edmerger and follow this blog for more English teaching resources.

Creative Writing: the most damaging phrase ever?

Creative writing is a linguistic villian that has lots to answer for. Why? It widens the learning gaps of struggling students; it’s a unit of work that is much more difficult to manage; it’s notoriously difficult to accuratelty assess, and the word creative is a nebulous expression.

LEARNING GAP MONSTER

For much of my teaching career, creative writing units have traditionally been the time I taught the least. I assumed that really it was up to the students to come up with a good idea and run with it. Yes, I would offer prompts, images of interest, and even the reading of other short stories, but what invariably happened was that those with lots of reading in their background and those who were already quite capable writers usually excelled and revelled in the time, whilst those without the cultural context would labour and wallow in self-doubt. If you ever wanted to see the Matthew effect in action, creative writing assessments were a goldmine of data.

Because creativity has been seen as requiring imagination above all else, little attention is paid to helping students write!

Because creativity requires lots and lots of background knowledge that is manipulated to develop novel ideas, those without it are further disadvantaged when no direct writing instruction is offered!

Because of this lack of direct instruction in writing, the gap between struggling students and those who have had access to lots of stories and background knowledge widens significantly!

Because of the repeated lack of success over time with creative writing, struggling students become savagely demotivated and the gap ironically further reduces the chances of future success!

The reality is that most students need lots and lots of guidance in writing, in constructing sentences and especially in structuring a story to suit the allotted time they inevitably build towards – the GCSE exam.

BEHAVIOUR MONSTER

‘I’m not creative so I don’t have to write’ – In hindsight, this is something I’ve heard hundreds of times, and again in hindsight, and much to my utter chagrin that I allowed it go on for so long, became justification for students in my class not engaging in doing any work. The reason was that if I was attending to a student to assist in their story, it would take some time, offering original ideas and prompts. In the meantime, a student who believed they couldn’t come up with an idea would take advantage of the fact and not bother, blissfully aware that they had a fool proof excuse.

The reality is that most students need guidance in writing, in constructing sentences and especially in structuring a story to suit the allotted time they inevitably build towards – the GCSE exam.

ASSESSMENT and EQUIVOCATION MONSTER

The impossibility in validity regarding creative writing assessment has been handled extensively, but most notably by Daisy Christodoulou here. The term also engenders concerns with what creativity even means, and traps young players with the fallacy of believing it can be taught. Perhaps most nocuous of all is the ostensible limbo the educational community seem to have fallen into, unsure whether to promote it in schools, and if they do so, of being at risk of perpetuating something that may be pedagogically invalid: it’s become a case of the baby being thrown out with the bathwater, an issue I offer a solution to here.

All in all, it’s easy to see why the phrase CREATIVE WRITING is a damaging one. It’s a trap! In the next post I’ll offer a solution to how to teach this aspect of writing.

I’m Paul Moss. Follow me on Twitter @edmerger, and follow this blog for more English teaching resourtces and general educational conversations.

INSPIRING READING

Few educators would argue that reading is critical to a successful education. Reading builds background knowledge: of ideas, of vocabulary, of sentence construction, of spelling and of punctuation. It helps reduce the Matthew effect, and is possibly the only way to mitigate cultural bias implicit in GCSE and other standardised assessment. The more you read, the more you can read, and the more you will learn. David Didau presents an intuitive argument that having access to more culturally rich knowledge can spiral into advantage:

  • more knowledge potentially gets you into a better class at school, which pushes cognitive development compared to a weaker class
  • more cognitive development plays a part in determining the type of people you hang out with
  • those associations with people of equal or higher levels of cognitive development push and strengthen further cognitive development
  • higher cognitive capability opens access to cognitively demanding jobs, which are normally higher paid
  • intellectual levels are maintained via environmental contexts and demands

The graph below represents the potential widening of the gap between students when they are presented with varying cognitive demands over time.

Designing curriculum that demands intellectual rigour then becomes more than simply a consideration: it becomes imperative, with reading at its core. But crucially, we must design the sequence of teaching with precision, in order to avoid gaps in learning. The incomparable Tom Needham advocates such an approach here. This means that we have to be pragmatic at times, and if necessary, provide struggling readers with extra sessions to accelerate their levels to match those in their class.

Despite the enormous benefits of reading, unfortunately for many young people, and perhaps more pertinently for students who are in the higher grades at school, the love of reading, and thus reading independently, seems to have become as fictitious as the books we espouse, except for a select few. The causes of this are for another post, but it leaves educators with a dilemma. How can we get students to read outside of class?

SHORT STORIES

Building capacity to sustain attention is critical to engage students with reading for pleasure. Whilst incredible literature will always rise to the top, it is important to note that lots of it takes some time to achieve its greatness (length), and most of it requires expert teaching to help unlock the potency. The average student can be put off by a multitude of reasons, but difficulty with the cognitive demands of a text as well as a lack of perseverance are two large factors that quickly become indomitable forces against reading, invariably resulting in students not reading at all. I am certainly not suggesting that we pander to these inadequacies, but shorter stories could become the gateway to longer texts, and if it comes down to reading a shorter text or not reading at all, the choice is clear.

This can be achieved by exposing them to short, 400 – 600 word stories. It just so happens that this is the length they are required to write for their exams, so focusing on this length has an extra benefit. In fact, exposing students to these types of stories has 4 large benefits:

  • it is an extremely accessible length – 3 – 4 minutes of reading
  • it models good exam creative writing – this can be in terms of structure, as well as offering multiple opportunities to engage with vocabulary, varying sentence construction and its effects, and spelling and punctuation.
  • it provides students with ideas to generate their own stories
  • it inspires reading for pleasure

EXAM LENGTH STORIES

I need your help to build a bank of strong stories, so that students from around the world can develop their reading.

For this reason, I have decided to create a platform for students to read and share such stories. It is along the same lines as Cloud 9 Writing, but the criteria is a little less strict. Having said that, the quality still has to be maintained, and submissions need to be error free, of the designated length, and be entertaining. The platform is called EXAM LENGTH STORIES. At first, the name seems rather unimaginative, and therefore ironic, but I wanted it to say what it does on the tin, and explicitly direct students to engage in reading to assist their exam preparation. I don’t think I could make it any more explicit.

I need your help to build a bank of strong stories, so that students from around the world can develop their reading.

Student stories are submitted by teachers (an immediate quality check) via completing the upload form,* and student names of course are withheld from view. You may point out that there are quite a few sites online that publish short stories, but I can see that the quality control in terms of suiting exam style criteria is lacking, and so EXAM LENGTH STORIES may well better suit students sitting GCSE and other standardised assessments. The other advantage of this platform is regarding posterity.

Posterity

One of my great laments is that I never kept really good stories written by past students. I must have read hundreds of them over the years, and certainly have read a few out to my respective classes, but invariably, most were written in exercise books that were thrown out, never to be read again. The waste of resource is staggering. EXAM LENGTH STORIES seeks to eliminate this, calling on teachers to submit stories that are just plain and simply good reading. They don’t have to be mind blowingly author level good, they just have to be good. With access to free, moderated, purposeful stories that can be read on the bus, train or any time where 3 minutes is available, we eliminate potential barriers for the reluctant reader. Shortly, I will be creating comprehension activities to go along with each story, so they can be used as a teaching resource also.

Ultimately, EVERY story read is a movement in the right direction. Let’s all help build this so we engage our students with enough stories to hook them as readers for life.

*If you submit the form and don’t receive a reply, it will not be from want of trying from my end. Sometimes, school emails block the message generated from the platform’s email address. If this happens, please recontact and send stories to mosstribeeducation@gmail.com Thank you.

I’m Paul Moss. Follow me on Twitter @edmerger, and follow this blog for more English teaching resources and discussions.

CURRICULUM: an experiment that worked

As I greeted students after their first GCSE exam, I couldn’t help but be a little proud as the majority eagerly exchanged tales of success, literally bouncing in their shoes. The exam had thrown a slight curve ball with one of the main questions, but students had been able to, as advised, take a moment to make connections with what they knew, and then proceed with confidence. But as I stood there, so happy for the students, I also became mightily relieved that a curriculum experiment I had placed a considerable amount of faith in had clearly worked.

Focusing on students knowing their stuff!

Having absorbed lots of research into memory, ironically begun by stumbling across some wonderful posts by Joe Kirby (ironic because I was unsure about The Michaela School’s approach to education), I, albeit slowly because of the lack of evidenced transferability of cognitive science into school settings, set the wheels in motion for fine tuning my practice to account for how students’ brains best receive information and how they best retain it.

When I designed our GCSE curriculum, I began with a core channel of knowledge that formed the baseline content that every student would need to know. The expectations were relatively high (based on previous years), with the baseline including high level vocabulary and some precise details from each text. This core channel of knowledge had to be communicated with clarity to the students, and so, was designed in the form of an amalgamation of two powerful teaching tools: a knowledge organiser that served as a retrieval resource.

Embedding continuous retrieval practice into lesson sequence, making multiple links between learning sequences, developing depth of understanding through contextual exploration and incrementally designing assessment and learning became stock standard strategies I employed. I spent far more time being pragmatic about the realities of the course, and specifically prepared students for exams (here, and here), which incorporated redefining effective revision approaches. I concluded that I wasn’t going to take risks on handing the process over solely to the students, knowing that no matter how many times I talked about effective strategies, without modelling it explicitly the whole thing became akin to simply talking about a new concept in class and not modelling it for students to see things in action.

The focus on modelling became a priority, and this has had a large impact on eliminating gaps in student knowledge. Consequently, I set up a one-stop revision website for my students providing lots of students’ examples of successful writing, amongst other things, including a focus on writing and punctuation, particularly grammar knowledge development.

One of the most enjoyable things I’ve done this year was to spend time writing lots of essays on texts I was teaching. It reconnected me with a love of writing. Whilst in a style not enjoyed by some, and weirdly made known, it served a valuable purpose: I wanted to put my money where my mouth was, to see just how best to go about writing about the texts, to see how much time was a factor, and to offer and invite several high flying students in my class access to higher level thinking and discussions about themes and characters.

This led to them writing lots of high quality essays, and led to the development of Cloud 9 Writing, initially a platform for my students to read other class essays without the awkward moment of having to seek them out. The success of this got me thinking it could benefit lots of students by opening it up to the country, and then, the world. The idea, initially enthusiastically ascribed too, was tainted by a discussion about the inability of anyone to accurately say an essay was of grade 9 standard, a point that ironically missed the premise of the platform: to inspire students to think more about texts and to therefore write better essays. The distraction unquestionably and unfortunately deterred prominent teachers who have students of such calibre from contributing to the site, but nonetheless, some wonderful essays have been uploaded, and I sincerely thank teachers who have contributed their students’ work, and some of their own. The fact that the site has had thousands of views proves it to be a valuable resource, and I am determined that it will grow.

The real indicator of success?

For my lower set students, the consistent focus on retrieval through quizzing and class discussion and modelling how to transcribe their knowledge has certainly paid off. I know it’s early days in the exam season, but if only you could have seen their faces (I am sure you did see many like this too). Students who were usually destined to fail these types of exams because of the heavy reliance on content were experiencing the joys of success in being able to participate in the occasion. The final result, a lottery due to nebulous grade boundaries, will almost not matter – they have most certainly achieved something else. They could write about the texts, even when initially thrown, because they knew enough about them to participate. This is crucial: they could participate because the curriculum had been designed to incrementally breed success.

SUCCESS BREEDS SUCCESS!

By eliminating as many gaps as possible, students who would normally run from challenge because of a lack of resilience or being able to sustain focus, were motivated to continue the next sequence of learning because they experienced success in the last. They could participate because they were practised (still not even nearly enough for what I wanted, but baseline level at least) in writing responses. They knew the layout of the exams (except the 4 who wrote about the wrong text – arrrgggghhhh – attendance issues), and they knew how to react whilst sitting in the exam hall.

Taking a chance of investing in explicit teaching based on understandings of cognitive science and common sense may just have been the best decision I’ve ever made in teaching. The approach’s obvious success this year will feed into subsequent years, and fortunately for those who will come into my future classrooms, is only going to become even more fine tuned and more precise.

I’m Paul Moss. Follow me on Twitter @edmerger, and follow this blog for more English teaching resources and education discussions.

A COLLECTION OF ESSAYS

I’ve written a number of essays on texts:

POETRY 

MACBETH

LORD OF THE FLIES

  • There are other HIGH QUALITY essays on Cloud 9 Writing, a platform for high quality writing. 

I’m Paul Moss. Follow me on Twitter @edmerger, and follow this blog for more English teaching resources.

DEATH OF A NATURALIST – an interpretation

The title of Death of a Naturalist is not accidental, the ostensible drama and hyperbole apt metonymy for the unnatural quickening and capricious nature of a modern childhood transition to adulthood. The young boy, implied to be Heaney himself with the use of first person pronouns, is initially oblivious to the oppressive semantic field. The punishing sun and the festering dam anaemic to the will of the adventurer, the synaesthesia in ‘wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell’ powerless to distract from the superlative in ‘But best of all’. The warm thick slobber, the ‘heart’ of his life experience, dominates his every spring. The parochial fixation is manifested in the shrine-like attention to the ‘jampotfuls of the jellied specks’, the word ‘ranging’ on the windowsill exemplifying the boy’s specious comprehension of competent care for the natural phenomena, but equally demonstrating his impressive patience, the alliterative ‘wait and watch’ emphasised by the preceding caesura. The continuous enjambment, metaphoric of the boy’s inexorable enthusiasm, is juxtaposed with his guileless immaturity in describing the knowledge he’s learnt from Miss Walls regarding the workings of the cycle, and its fatuous associations to the weather. Poignantly however, the caesura abruptly ending the first stanza forebodes change.

The single moment in time emphasised in stanza two, the ‘one day’, the sounds he ‘had not heard before’, signals an awakening, a realisation, a life changing juncture. The negative semantic field now turns militant, the angry frogs ascribed as grenades, invading his thoughts and threatening obscenely. Sound imagery is used to evoke the nascent torment, the plosive ‘thick’ highlighting the depth of this new but blurred intelligence, and ‘chorus’, positioning the sound as overwhelming, unrelenting. The adult spawn is seeking vengeance. The boy is ripped out of his world in an instant, with the short sentence, ‘I sickened, turned, and ran’, but Heaney, with the child’s hypothesis of the ‘great slime kings’ as antagonists, is keen to impress that his immaturity still abounds, and is thus indubitably not ready for the transition. Here Heaney laments his own impressions of the world he has known, with his younger brother’s untimely death, and the increasing violence in Ireland prematurely wrenching young souls from their natural life progression and stages. In such context, the naturalist doesn’t stand a chance. In this vein, Death of a Naturalist is as much a political poem as anything else, surreptitiously designed and seemingly innocuous in its tale of a naïve rural boy, yet damning of a society that expedites the growth of the child for selfish insensitive adult purposes. It is the loss of innocence in Death of a Naturalist that Heaney draws our attention to, but it is not just the loss of the singular childhood of the poem: it is a collective loss, a loss that attenuates us all. 

  

This analysis is a part of a series of expositions into texts I’ve been teaching GCSE students. Other poetry essays include: As Imperceptibly as GriefOzymandiasExcerpt fromThe Prelude vs To Autumn, Mametz Wood vs Excerpt from The Prelude, Excerpt from The Prelude vs To Autumn. There are other poetry essays on Cloud 9 Writing, a platform for high quality writing. 

Other essays include expositions into Macbeth: here, and here, and Lord of the Flies

I’m Paul Moss. Follow me on Twitter @edmerger, and follow this blog for more English teaching resources.

EXAM PERFORMANCE – TIPS IF THE WHEELS COME OFF

One aspect of preparing for exams that I’ve decided to focus more attention on is exam performance. I’ve talked before about preparing for exams here, and Elisabeth Lucy wonderfully discusses taking students through the exam in mock fashion here, but in this post I discuss how I play devil’s advocate in order to assist students in how to handle particular scenarios in the exam. I want students to be able to react better to certain situations, and I think a good way to do this is to take them through possible issues. That way, if they do experience such a barrier, they don’t fall into a heap, and maintain a professional approach to their performance.

ISSUEHOW NOT TO REACTHOW TO REACTExplanation 
Anxiety as you sit downPanic more, and think the feeling will continue the entire examFocus on controlling your breathing. Ignore everyone else, close your eyes, inhale for 6 seconds, and exhale for 6 seconds – do this 5 times. Know that you likely won’t feel like this once you start writing. Anxiety is normal. Everyone will be feeling it. It will also get in the way of your brain working how you need it to, but if you control your breathing and regulate your heartbeat, your brain will be your friend again. 
Not the question you hoped forPanic – give up – don’t write anythingTake a moment to think – how does the question link in some way to what you have been revising?If you know the texts well, the question will be able to be linked in some way to what you know. Examiners ask questions that sometimes are directly related to what you’ve done, but sometimes want to test you harder. But it’s always related to the text in some way.   
Question is too hardPanic – give up – don’t write anythingTake a moment to think – how does the question link in some way to what you have been revising?If you’ve found it hard, it’s likely that everyone in the country feels the same. This will mean the grade boundary will adjust, so it’s really important that you keep writing. Even if you are not confident in what you’ve written, it’s much better to write something than nothing.  
Don’t understand the questionPanic – give up – don’t write anythingLook for any key words in the question. There must be some reference to the text you recognise. Write about the story of the text. Remember the story doesn’t change. Writing about the text’s storyline and themes will still get marks, and when all the marks are added over both literature exams, picking up 5 or 6 marks for this question may be important overall.  
Others seem to be writing lotsPanic – give up, you’re obviously not as good as everyone else. – don’t write anythingStop looking at everyone else. Focus only on yourself. Keep writing.You don’t know what others around you are writing, or thinking. They may be doing a different question, or they may be writing rubbish. You can’t judge yourself on others. Also, remember you’re not going to be judged by those in your class
Time is passing but you haven’t finished your answerKeep writing. Stop writing on that question. Move on to the next question.The first few marks are easier to get than the last few marks in EVERY question. You will spend 10 minutes to get the last 2-3 marks in a question, but 10 minutes will get you 4-6 marks in the beginning of the next question. 
Spent too long on a questionPanic – give up – don’t write anything. Do a quick calculation of what time is left, and how many questions you need to answer. Apportion time related to how many marks questions are worth. Miscalculation of time in one question probably won’t ruin your whole exam. It’s so important to keep writing. You may be able to salvage things; just reduce time spent on remaining questions.  

I’m Paul Moss. Follow me on Twitter @edmerger, and follow this blog for more English teaching resources.