‘Personal opinions that are unconsidered and unsupported are not judgements.’ (Ofqual)
‘Students can enjoy the creativity of bringing their own fresh, original ideas to the reading of a text/texts.’ (Examination Board)
How do we reconcile the two?
As always we start with the DFE curriculum orders.
In English Language the section dedicated to critical reading and comprehension states that students should ‘draw inferences and justify these with evidence; support a point of view by referring to evidence within the text…’.
In Assessment Objective AO2 there is the clear injunction: ‘use relevant subject terminology to support their views’. Assessment Objective AO4 asks them to ‘evaluate texts critically’: the questions for this will lead them towards such evaluation.
There is frequent mention of a range of commands: see Edusites English Glossary of Frequently Used English GCSE Terms in Associated Resources but ‘evaluate’ needs clear definition here. The OED gives us ‘appraise’ ‘assess’. In turn we get to ‘estimate the worth of’ and ‘estimate the quality of’. So as far as we are concerned it means to make qualitative judgements about what has been read: with the constant proviso that these are supported by evidence from and reference to the text.
What is blindingly clear in all this is that (as in the Ofqual statement above) there is absolutely no room for assertions or generalisations, unsupported opinions or prejudices (or worse); irrelevance, digression or loss of focus on the text and task. Across both specifications candidates must put, and clearly show that they are putting, knowledge and understanding of the text/s first and commenting/ analysing/ drawing conclusions second.
In particular for reading in English Language candidates are asked to:
Read unseen non-fiction texts from the 19th century and either the 20th or 21st century. One text will always be drawn from the 19th century.
Learners read a wide range of high-quality non-fiction texts drawn from the 19th and either the 20th or 21st century. This may include for example, essays, journalism (both printed and online), travel writing, speeches and biographical writing.
Learners are required to read in different ways for different purposes. They read and analyse texts that are designed, for example, to persuade, inform, instruct or advise.
They explore how effectively texts achieve their purposes by comparing and evaluating the usefulness, relevance and presentation of ideas and information.
Learners engage with texts, developing independent viewpoints and recognising different interpretations.
They develop knowledge and understanding of linguistic and literary terminology to support their analysis of texts.
This supports the development of personal view of what has been read.
Examiner Tip: students don’t necessarily have to show familiarity/competence/expertise in all these areas at once! Remember that the skills the examinations require are built up incrementally as the paper develops.
Establishing an Overview of Shape, Pattern and Purpose
The groundwork for developing a considered and well-supported personal view begins with thorough and rigorous reading of the set text. Whether it is a lengthy novel (Jane Eyre, say or Great Expectations) or one of the three or four reading passages in the English Language Examination, the same principles should apply.
Texts should be read in full (over a period of time with a play or novel, obviously) to establish an overview of what they are about; how they start, develop and conclude and, in the simplest of terms, what happens in between. Only then is it possible to go into finer detail to examine why language has been used in a particular way at a particular point for a particular effect and what judgements might be made about it.
Read the following passage so as to be sure you understand what it is about, how it starts and concludes and how it develops from the former to the latter and how the different sections are linked. You should also note any striking uses of language as you do so.
Examiner Tip: students need to work very hard to understand the pace at which they read: some people read more quickly than others: so students need to practice with these passages to discover and be aware of how long it takes them to thoroughly read, absorb and think about so many hundred words.
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