I have recently planned and taught an ambitious scheme of work for a Key Stage Three class in my non-selective school.
For too long I taught literature with the idea that students would (and therefore, should) only read a complete text in class. Great teachers here have challenged that notion. Granted, classroom reading is a wonderful thing, and shared oral traditions are powerful for the teller as well as the listener. However, there are limits when students are taught AS IF they only need to read in classroom time, especially for those who are inclined (and able) to think conceptually.
In the past, and as can be seen from the vast majority of whole text schemes of work, once the class has read a text (often without specific points of questioning indicated a la Reading Reconsidered…) a bunch of tasks were allocated to stimulated some thinking about the text. Invariably, the text would be taught in a such a way where students would not necessary range across the text: tasks would often require only working with evidence from specific sections at a time.
With my ambition to underpin my lessons with a conceptual curriculum for students firmly stated, I planned a SoW more conceptual than before. Focusing upon an interwoven AO1 and AO2, the lessons would seek a basis on concepts of studying and appreciate novels as experiential concepts rather than as a series of tasks. It presumed a certain (expected?) level of expertise on the part of the students, and was openly demanding.
Initially I read the entire novel again. I took about a fifth of the text and used this to formulate a series of questions to guides students elsewhere. I combined this with a wonderfully created knowledge organiser and shared this digitally (ideally this would be a booklet to provide to students).
The following are (in note form) some of the concepts covered in this six week, 12-15 hour SoW based on Holes:
Presenting Free-Direct Narration and Narrative Choices.
Asking questions about why Holes is set in a desert, with the choice examined. A pre-reading activities focused on unfair punishments, and the setting out of expected reactions, or otherwise.
Whilst the narration is not true free indirect narration in terms of changing in accordance with different characters, there is a certain perception in the narrative voice of a whimsical take upon hardened criminal activities.
There was also a short cognitive science section (!) where students were openly expected to recap concepts as they were encountered, and that they had to think..
Some context upon Junveile Detention Centres was delivered: ideally some non-fiction prompts could have been provided (with an extension via the novel ‘Boot Camp’).
The cover was also conceptualised: the focus was on detecting how ‘sanctified’ or ‘sanititsed’ the story is, especially for those who have enjoyed the film.
This led into a selection of extracts that, together with a series of prompt questions based upon differing perceptions, intending to become a series of modelled exemplars on close language analysis that moved away from analysing figurative language.
Character vs Characterisation
The second lesson focused upon character creation. A series of generic actitivies based upon identifying connotations of the character names was devised:
This then led into the difference between character and characterisation, with questions of meaning rasised: to whom does meaning belong? A visual representation of the relationship between the author and the reader and the text is created, and the class is encouraged to create paragraphs of analysis based upon identifying and analysing the processes of characterisation. Again, students need strong levels of paragraph-level analysis, and of identifying conventional figurative language.
This was then extended onto extracts on Stanley. These were deliberately chosen to be short on traditional figurative language, and strong on AO1 implications. Through a series of carefully primed questions, students are encouraged to develop their own abilities to ask questions of character and characterisation.
This sequence of learning progressed onto secondary characters, asking questions of what makes a flat and round character, and what makes a character achieve a purpose beyond that expectation (with the traditional notions of an open character being that of a character who changes).
Writing a three part essay on a character was the extended independent work expected after the initial front-load of experience and knowledge. This aimed to focus students on analysis that was beyond the spotting of techniques, and instead on narrative themes and suggestions.
Subplot and Plot vs Story (or ‘what actually happened’)
Moving from characters (and the establishing of characters in the first 14 chapters or so), the SoW progresses onto subplot tracking. With this, ideas were contextualised with the science of story-telling where the oral tradition of story-telling was expounded, along with the notion of dopamine and visual tracking. This was applied to an adult-needs model of story-understanding (i.e. how storytelling aids those who work in the private sector, especially in marketing).
The idea of narration vs story vs plot is explored. Ideally, more rigorous tracking of subplots would be useful, but students were expected to enhanced their character-based analysis paragraphs with links to the subplot, analysing precisely how the subplots expanded onto points made about characterisation.
Heroes vs Villains
To demonstrate the difference between subplots and plots, story and narrative, the characters and The Warden and Kate Barlow were explored within the focus of the hero vs the villain. Questioning assumptions of hero vs villain, students explored the etymology of ‘villain’ and Marxist ideas of class fears and ideologies. Superman and Lex Luther paid a visit, too.
Jungian Archetypes were used as another bridge between characters and characterisation, with students identifying their friends who played these particular roles.
Understanding, and questioning, the assumptions of a question is essential for students to write truly interesting answers. To do so, students needed to identify what would be ‘default’ answers to key questions on the text (through character and theme), before deciding on qualification or slants on those assumptions, rather than mere oppositions.
Identifying key points of character through how they respond to a crisis/climax
Plot arcs and story pacing was taught through the medium of the climax. The conventional story arc was analysed before the Robert McKee (story) plotting graph was taught. The intended insight was that it is through climaxes where we truly understand character, especially choices that balanced between two equally dubious or difficult choices. This led to a creative writing task where students needed to depict a new theme through the rewriting of an aspect of writing. This promote of a different theme demonstrated the usefulness of word choices to create a sense of theme in the first place.
Creating an Argument with Statement Sentences
Teaching statement creation, an argument, was part of this. See the accompanying post based on PEE(eeeeeeetc)l and SWEATY.
Statement sentences were created, initially in the form of noun phrase + active verb + insight (see post).
Writing a three-part essay based on theme was the work before half-term. This was trickier, and based on three possibilities:
- A paragraph based on that theme as applied to a character.
- A paragraph based upon a relationship between two characters (requires greater conceptualisation of the character).
- A paragraph based upon an idea or concept (again, usually linked to a character or their relationship with others).
Final week: tweaks
In the remaining week, tweaks to analysis were provided, along with the idea of creating arguments… Question the assumptions of the question; tracking themes/ideas across the text; detecting points of change or experience; aiming for intertextual references; linking the subplot to the main plot to deepen a point of analysis; analysing possible reader reactions from different demographics (especially with an American vs a contemporary international audience).
Of course, as with all these things, the points of consideration need to be as to whether:
- Students actually read the text.
- Students are excited by the academic challenge of these concepts.
- The confidence of the teacher to use Total Participation Techniques to make the students receptive during front-load lessons.
- Students consolidate concepts in such a way as to apply them elsewhere.
- Teachers want their students to be stimulated conceptually rather than do a bunch of (perhaps dislocated) tasks.