The first lesson with my Year 11s went particularly well. I’m all for autonomy in the first few weeks of term. However it is not always something that can be achieved: there is an element with all learning (or even just functioning in a classroom of 30ish people)  of simply completing work in a disciplined manner.

It was suggested by a student that during the assessed discussion there were essentially two roles possible: presenting the poem, and provoking a critique of the poem. While there are four suggested roles – chair, critiquer, ideas-person, time-person – the  latter three essentially provoke discussion of the poem in three ways:

1)  Critiquer: to cause the speaker to defend/analyse their poem in regards to a certain contention (such as whether CotLB is ‘outdated’ for a modern audience.
2) Ideas-person: to  cause the speaker to further develop an idea or notion they may have already said (such as the sound techniques in CotLB inherently celebrate the visceral experience of combat.)
3) Time-keeper: to focus the speaker on a new topic of discussion (by either intervening a dialogue that is becoming too lengthy, or by re-focussing the speaker on a different technique/aspect of the poem entirely.)

Finally, the chair should intervene by moving the conversation onto another person, or by specifically inviting a person to intervene.

Why be so specific about the ways that someone can intervene in a  speaking and listening discussion? I imagine that the more able students will become aware that discussion requires: intervention and contention; clarification and support; and above all a guiding-influence to maintain a balance between flow and clarity. And I imagine that most people (let alone most students) imagine that intervention in a discussion comes through who talks loudest, or is merely an act of personality.

They wouldn’t be entirely wrong: the study of English is as much an exercise in personality as it is in intellect. That statement would appeal to those who might think that the study of literature is a civilising influence, or even journalists like the Orr-lass who thinks that rioters not purchasing her newspaper imply a literacy problem (because, of course, the 1950s were a golden age for more than just Wolves FC.) However, the nature of attaining an English GCSE is not down to personality, nor should it be.

I want my students to be aware that discussions require intervention, clarification, and the invitation of ideas for debate and development.  I know that are aware that this is not always possible, and that it is not always desirable to contrive the roles suggested above. But to at least be conscious of the need to play such roles is a skill useful for any line of work.

In all, I think that I’ll re-create the discussion cards to summarise what has been said above, and then see if that aids the students’ discussion. We’ll see.