This summer I was promoted to Head of KS5 Literature, leading a team of six people. I enjoyed the support of some very experienced teachers, including a principal examiner and ex-Head of an elite Asian school. We needed to switch from an AS course to a linear approach using AQA English Literature A. This involved some conversations about how best to organise the course, with our prime decision as to whether to divide the respective papers between teachers, or whether to split the papers between the teachers. The democratic decision was to divide the papers between the teachers so that we completed the second paper in Year 1, and the first paper Year 2.

What was most interesting in our proposed models was what we should prioritise. For example:

a) Should we begin Year one with one teacher focusing on Shakespeare? Or would Shakespeare be apt to leave until Year 2? This was a hard decision.

b) Should we start with The Great Gatsby (Paper 1 text) or The Handmaid’s Tale (Paper 2 text) in Year 1? The Great Gatsby is arguably an easier text and can perhaps capture the imagination of the students.

c) How to integrate the NEA and Modern Prose into the course.

One of the arguments for the split paper was the teach generalised skills of comparison that might cross-over onto other papers. I am inclined in my 14th year of teacher to feel that skills for each question are fairly situated.

One of the key benefits of this curriculum is that there will be an intense period of comparison between the texts. In this allocation we purposefully have both sides focusing on comparative pedagogy across all three of our texts. These are perhaps the most critical lessons of the year.

I have some general principals that I have shared with my department:

a) Lessons are to be seen as prompts with a culture of pre- and post-reading essential. This is supported by two aspects:

– OneNote (our faux-VLE)
– Booklets

Booklets contain mini-tasks, questions and key extracts. They contain, also, key time-frames for reading, and enrichment reading. These link to the OneNote whereby all lessons have PowerPoints that are printed as webpages onto OneNote. Lessons are taught via The OneNote…

b) The majority of lessons are led organically through Socratic questioning and Harkness methods. Key points of understanding are recorded via Screencasting for later revision, including Cornell prompts as our regular plenaries and starters.

c) Regular quizzing is essential. This has yet to be truly integrated: we have Quizlets created for our all texts, but the adminstration of them has not truly been embedded. There is pockets of practice in the school, but it really requires someone, perhaps with a technology remit, to lead this practice for our students. In the meantime, they are being used organically by students. This is a key ambition of us though. One of the main issues is that integrating quizzing in lessons is somewhat busy.

d) A strong historical basis for our curriculum. I feel that basing a curriculum on themes or even just the exam in a really weak way of doing so. Strong social-historical points inspire students, and provide nodes of experience upon which to hang everything else from.

e) Regular assessments need to be held. Assessments on comparative texts need to initially be on solo texts. Ideally the questions for these texts are given in advance, or at least a theme. The purpose of this is to provide students with …

I am considering being more explicit with the kind of expectations we have of students prior to assessments.

f) Freedom for teachers within an organised curriculum.

Each week I publish a ‘The Week Ahead’ email for each of the four teams in the KS5 Lit department. In this I track the MTP plan, with tweaks and anaphoric references. Teachers are free to teach the content with whatever pedagogy they wish, and to concentrate more on some lessons than others. However, covering all the content in the time we have, in at least some form, and allowing students to return to content, is most ideal.

The danger, of course, is for teachers to form a kind of reader-response approach where lessons become undirected conversations that feel enjoyable, yet actually don’t lead to learning. Socratic questioning and Harnkess discussions are essential; to engage with the clunky failure that is almost all writing must not be avoided though.

I will reflect on what we do in due course.