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!
How much assistance do you give your pupils with their controlled assessments?
If you read the various teacher forums you will see that there is quite a discrepancy between schools. Some schools seem to just treat the CAs virtually as exams with the minimum of preparation. Pupils are only allowed to take in a few notes. Other schools seem to prepare draft versions with huge teacher input and then allow pupils to take a virtual draft copy into the assessment. And, of course, there are all the variations in between these two extremes.
Now, I’m not saying that one is right and one is wrong, but what does seem wrong to me is that pupils aren’t competing on a level playing field. The marks gained in these CAs form a sizeable part of the final grade and it seems unfair if pupils are sitting them under vastly different conditions. The idea was that CAs would remove exactly that inequality that many teachers felt existed with coursework where many pupils were able to call on a lot of external help – parents or tutors. It doesn’t seem to have worked does it?
Are 100% exams with no coursework/CAs the fairest way forward? What do you think?
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?