Tag Archives: AQA

The Laboratory by Robert Browning

I have to admit that despite owning a beautiful ancient copy of Browning’s poems I am not that familiar with many. The Victorian age seemed to fall between poetic periods that I have studied in detail and it’s only really Tennyson and Rossetti that I know well. The poems of Browning seem to be a popular choice for GCSE anthologies; The Last Duchess has figured in several, as has The Laboratory.

Presumably this is because both poems are excellent examples of the dramatic monologue and both convey a strong sense of the  persona of the narrator.

Most pupils seem to enjoy The Laboratory which provides a wealth of poetic devices to describe, abounding as it does in metaphor, alliteration and onomatopoeia. One of the main ways in which the persona of the narrator – unbalanced, amoral and verging on the pyschopathic – is conveyed is by Browning’s skilful use of rhyme and rhythm. The use of rhyming couplets within quatrains and a strong jaunty anapaestic metre helps to reinforce the narrator’s unhealthy anticipation of her rival’s planned demise. The whole atmosphere is one of unsettling Gothic melodrama.

Plenty for pupils to get their teeth into!

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Contact me for revision sessions

If you need specific help with Edexcel or AQA poetry, Shakespeare or other literature texts please contact me and we can set up a Skype revision session via Helping Learning at a time that suits you. You can book either a 30 minute or an hour session whichever you feel works best for you. The revision will be tailored completely to your needs.

Please call me on 07855301904 or 01189737686 to discuss further and fix a date/time.

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School closed?

Worried about your son or daughter missing lessons in their crucial GCSE/A level year? The snow need not be a problem.

Why not book a couple of Skype lessons with me? There is no obligation to sign up for a specific set of lessons or make a long-term commitment.  Some pupils just require a couple of lessons to fill in material that they have missed at school due to weather closures or illness. Lessons can be tailor-made to suit your needs. Similarly, revision lessons can be arranged to focus on specific problem areas. I have experience with AQA and Edexcel  GCSE English Language and English Literature. Skype lessons cost £25 per hour session and £13 for a half hour.

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** NEW ** AQA GCSE Moon on the Tides anthology revision sessions

Two revision sessions are now set up on helpinglearning.co.uk for poems from the Conflict cluster of the AQA Anthology.

For these sessions I have not specified the poems – the student can choose which  two poems  he/she would like to revise. The sessions are on Saturday January 5th at 10am and at 11am and each lasts for 30 minutes. Registering with HelpingLearning is free and the sessions will cost £13 each.

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Anthology themes

How do they go about choosing the poems to fit the various themes for the GCSE poetry anthologies? What are the criteria?

In previous years I have taught the AQA anthology but this year I am mainly teaching the Edxecel one.  Both anthologies are subdivided into clusters: Conflict, Relationships, Character and Voice and Places for AQA, and Relationships, Clashes and Collisions, Somewhere,anywhere, and Taking a Stand for Edexcel.

Imagine my surprise to find a poem that I taught under the theme of Conflict for AQA figures under the theme of Relationships for Edxecel.  Another poem that features under Character and Place for AQA ‘The Last Duchess’ by Robert Browning –  is under Relationships for Edexcel. No wonder pupils get confused! At least both boards are agreed on ‘Nettles’ by Vernon Scannell and Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 – they both are in the Relationship clusters!

‘At the border.1979’ by Choman Hardi is not a poem that I personally would have picked  at all (but that’s another blog altogether!) but it originates from the poet’s collection ‘Life for us’ that deals with the violence of war and persecution, alongside the pain of displacement. Most of the other poems in the Relationship cluster for Edexcel are about love in one guise or another. There are so many wonderful love/relationship poems old and modern, English and other cultures – why pick one that at best has to be shoe-horned into its theme?

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Spring cleaning in the summer

Things are getting quite quiet now on the teaching front as schools break up and people go on holiday. This is the perfect opportunity to take stock of my teaching materials.

I’ve had a massive clear out of old books that I hung onto – just in case – and ruthlessly pruned my printed handouts/worksheets which seem to mysteriously multiply without much help from the copier. I’ve also treated myself to some new textbooks etc as the AQA courses, for example, changed significantly last year. Apart from anything else it’s gets rather boring teaching from the same textbooks year after year. I like to be able to work from books that aren’t always familiar to pupils – they get bored too if I’m using the books they see every day at school.  A fresh approach, a more interesting handout can make all the difference.

I must also confess to indulging my compulsive obsessive gene and re-organising all the books in the house which are now neatly categorised and/or in alphabetical order by author.  And yes, I know that’s rather sad…..

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Moon on the Tides

This year AQA have made significant changes to their English/English Literature GCSE syllabi. Not only have controlled assessments replaced coursework but we have a new poetry anthology which is most welcome. Instead of having a selection of poems from other cultures (rather variable in quality in my opinion), four chosen poets plus a selection of pre 1914 poems(again rather randomly chosen), this year we have poems organised into four themes or clusters. I’m sure most teachers and tutors will welcome a fresh choice of poems to teach – after five years of teaching the previous anthology it was hard to summon up quite the same level of enthusiasm!

So far I only have pupils studying two of the clusters – conflict and character/voice but the collection of poems in both these seems to be engaging pupils. I think the poems included in the place cluster look particularly interesting.  This year the exam includes a question comparing two poems – one named and one chosen – plus a question on an ‘unseen’ poem.

Pupils are finding tackling an unseen poem quite a challenge as this is something they are unused to. In the past teachers have given them notes on the set poems from the anthology which can then be learnt and (hopefully!) reproduced in the exam. The unseen tests their analytical skills and is certainly useful preparation for those students planning to take English at A level or beyond.

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Controlled assessments

The change this year to controlled assessments instead of coursework for AQA English has caused some concern for parents and students. Together with a new course format and a different poetry anthology some schools seem to have found the transition tricky. Dates for CAs have tended to slip with the result that students have felt unsettled.

Just as previously with coursework, sound preparation is vital for the controlled assessments. They form a significant part of the final grade. Thorough knowledge of the text and a good understanding of how to structure the essay are essential. Private tuition helps students explore their personal response to texts and to develop their own essay writing style, in a less pressurised environment. In a large class it is difficult for students to work at their own pace.  A tutor has the time to examine a student’s written work in detail, suggesting improvements and encouraging experimentation. Writing skills, like all skills,  improve with practice and individual tuition provides that opportunity. Students are often amazed by the amount of work we cover in one hour compared with a lesson at school. No time is wasted in taking a register, keeping order or dealing with other students’ problems.

Why not give it a try if you’re keen to improve your CA grades?

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