This year I have taken on the running of our KS5 literature specification. It has been an interesting experience, calling into question my philosophy of what makes a worthwhile curriculum.
One conversation that was had with outgoing staff was of the prioritisation between content and specification. While a spurious division in many ways, I believe that the content of the texts needs to come first. Knowledge of the specification is fairly easy to teach; content of the text requires expert prompting and frequent revisiting.
I would go so far as to say that situated teaching of the texts is actual teaching; teaching points of the specification is an important extra.
Of course, such teaching requires a few precursors. the first of these is that the teachers need actual experience in reading and analysing literature itself, at a decent and recent level. Without that practice, the teaching cannot really guide the students. Instead a kind of generic approach to literature becomes the only possibility. The students wouldn’t know any different, but a focus on reading literature and understanding methods of criticism is fundamental. Just knowing how many marks are on each question is not enough.
Of course, mark schemes are tremendously vague. The keywords across specifications that suggest the best writing vary from ”detailed… sophisticated…perceptive”. Understanding that you need to include, across an essay different assessment objectives such as context, genre expectations, and varied methodology such as language, form and structure isn’t just an important extra – they are part of a holistic appreciation of literary criticism.
Still, understanding each text on its own basis is essential. It takes hours to read a text. These texts need to read more than once. And, as I say elsewhere, when the content is selected and guided in advance, then the planning time needs to focus on reading.
That is vision.