EMC’s co-director, Andrew McCallum, outlines some welcome challenges ahead for teachers of literature at KS3 and KS4.
Here’s something to put cheer into the hearts of all you committed English teachers out there: despite earlier fears to the contrary, the status of literature in schools is rising and set to rise even higher. As an added bonus, students are going to benefit more than ever from being taught the subject using teaching methods that foreground independent enquiry, active learning and conceptual thinking.
Why is the status of literature rising?
English Language and English Literature, in part as a result of pressure from organisations like EMC, carry equal weighting in the assessment protocols to be used from 2016. If a student takes both exams, then his or her highest score in either is double-weighted in the new Progress 8 accountability measure. This means that schools have as much incentive to focus on attainment in Literature as in Language, as both have the potential to be the one that counts towards 20% of the weighting of the overall Progress 8 score. Given that the lower mark can still count towards the score as a whole, as one of the ‘open group’ of subjects, this means that the English subjects are likely to make up three of the 10 slots counting towards the overall score. Our subject, in crude assessment terms, is going to be even more important than ever.
What teaching methods will work best?
While new Literature requirements at KS3 and KS4 give the curriculum a rather old-fashioned feel, with an emphasis on conventional literary appreciation, tackling unseen texts and studying classic poems, plays and novels, the methods that will best prepare students are anything but old-fashioned. The demise of controlled assessment coursework, the end of early entry, the reduced need to focus excessively on C/D borderline students, tougher marking criteria and assessment by terminal examination only, all mean that students will need to become confident, independent learners, able to understand and tackle literary texts on their own.
What should English departments be doing now?
It is important that English departments plan into their current KS3 curriculum opportunities for challenging literary study to prepare students who will be taking the new GCSEs from 2015. Some of the key areas to focus on are:
Students need to be able to read texts beyond the literal, applying conceptual ideas to the nitty-gritty of storylines. They have to be able to draw inferences and deductions from their reading, while also explaining and justifying their thinking.
Students need to be offered ways of approaching texts from different points of view. Developing strong personal responses will still be important, but so too will be the ability to explore the responses of others.
Students need to get used to holding information about more than one text in their heads at the same time, making connections and also identifying key similarities and differences.
The increased focus on reading drawn from the literary heritage means that pupils will need exposure to a wide range of high-quality, but accessible, texts. The more they become familiar with some, the more they will be able to tackle new ones with confidence.
Students are going to have to think for themselves in the final GCSE examinations if they are to achieve the highest grades. They will need multiple opportunities in lessons to tackle texts on their own and in small groups with minimal initial intervention from the teacher.
The ideas outlined above about high quality engagement with texts have been at the core of our work for the past four decades. Those interested in developing literary study at KS3 might like to look at our most recent publication, Literary Shorts: Creative, Critical and Comparative Approaches and its companion anthology of short stories.
A sample of the resources can be found by clicking on either of the images to the right.
EMC is also running a course, Teaching Literature: New Challenges at KS3, on Thursday 16th October, to help teachers meet the new curriculum requirements and prepare pupils for the demands of KS4. Specifically the course will offer guidance, ideas and resources for tackling three of the trickier aspects of the new KS3 requirements for reading: seminal world literature, the author study and teaching whole texts, including those written pre-1914.
Look out for our next blog: ‘5 Tips for Teaching Challenging Literature’.