There exists a tension between suggesting that teaching literary analysis and argument benefits from providing a framework of categories and acronyms, and giving students carte blanche to respond as they choose. This is somewhat of a false tension: almost every student benefits from understanding a framework of possible response to a text – the best students, of course, break these rules (and invaribly follow principles, consciously or not!).

One pedagogy that I recently (two months ago) returned to is that of writing exam answers in real time using a visualiser. The readable (and highly credible) John Tomsett wrote frankly about his experiences of having students ‘copying from the board’. When someone speaks in the public eye about trying something that, in the eyes of some, would be seen as transgressing some of the not-too-distant status quo of an entirely constructivist curriculum, it gives me (and you!) something of a thumbs-up to try it, too.

Modelling answers to question is nothing new – it is a fundamental part of what any teacher should do (those who can, do!). Typing these answers is common. However, writing a response, and compelling students to record the same response in real time seems to be (from recent formative tests) effective. There is something about writing that makes a different: perhaps it is the fact that the writing on the visualiser is more like the writing on their page. Perhaps the deliberate mistakes and redrafted improvements seem more credible when they aren’t hidden as in a word document. Maybe the intensity of writing for thirty to forty five minutes consolidates the experience so much more potently than copying the paragraph from the whiteboard.

Of course, demonstrating to students the thought processes of analysis is essential. Returning to the framework, I refer to the flowcharts and concepts that are discerned at various points in our curriculum. Often, these are broken (with an edit!) for a more appropriate response. An opening statement might run for several sentences in order to link with a previous paragraph. The technical terms of language might appear later in a paragraph to prioritise the tracking of a theme. And weasel words like ‘quote’ and ‘book’ are judiciously replaced (crossed out!) with more precise terms. For those whose approach to literary analysis is shaky at best, I model pseudo-stuck moments where I ask the right questions to help me get-unstuck (redirecting the writing to connotational analysis, or considering reader expectation, or refocussing my analysis on a theme for example).

Student reactions so far have been highly positive. For example, Year 11 responses to the extract-based question have become more focused on language, form and structure for section A (both from focusing on three main paragraphs of analysis, a rule broken somewhat in our timed examples!), and section Bs are more rooted across our text (perhaps from the demonstration of physically opening the book to incorrect chapters that are rectified by referring to key points of plot that should be remembered).

For a student to be genuinely educated, it is essential, I think, that they can respond with skill and passion to any text. Skill comes from experience, and passions comes (in part) from personal engagement. Both of these can be modelled by the teacher with humour and academic intensity through the construction of an exam answer in real time. Give it a go!

The next step, for me, is to perhaps record these modelled responses and to place them in our video marking library alongside our rubrics. Although I have moved away from rubric booklets (where students track their perceived improvements) for the time being, I believe one day I will return to that practice: being directed to these modelled paragraphs in real time (and having the expectation to copy these down in real time while listening to the teacher’s thought process) could be a real boon.