Is knowledge-rich becoming a buzz word?

When I was still teaching in America, I noticed many booklets and powerpoints from English teachers with ‘extracts’. ‘I’ve made some nonfiction extracts for paper 2’ and ‘here is a booklet of ‘women in  shakespeare’. This intrigued me as the use of extracts in this way isn’t really something I ever encountered in my own education and not something I felt the need to use. But now that I’m in the English sector, I notice this approach more frequently, especially when trying to incorporate  more difficult authors like Chaucer and Beowulf all in the name of rigour and powerful knowledge. But when I look at these books of extracts, I’m struck by the tasks. What do we actually want them to learn?

Novels and stories have a natural arc to them. The development of character, the shifts in changes, Aristotle’s tragic plot structure just to name a few. When we create schemes using extracts, we are crafting another narrative arc whether we consciously craft it or not, and if we aren’t careful, though we have ‘powerful knowledge’ there, we might fall into skills-based teaching. If we create a scheme of work around ‘women in shakespeare’ we look at women in shakespeare, that sounds great. But underpinning that scheme are tasks based on questions types rather than the knowledge of the text than under pins them. If you bring Chaucer into your year 8 curriculum, but all of the tasks are ‘how does the writer use language to’ and ‘ how is the text structured to interest you’, you aren’t teaching Chaucer, you’re teaching language paper 1. What is the richness of knowledge we want (and expect!) year 8s to get out of Chaucer?

Instead, we might approach it with a text-first mentality. When I make schemes of work, the first question I ask myself is ‘what do I want them to know at the end of the module’. If we do that, it may prevent ‘how does the writer use language to’ from spending so much time in our schemes. 

Here’s how I’ve been approaching extract teaching: creating schemes of work with modules around topics

Here is part of a scheme from Year 9

This scheme is on rhetoric in politics and looking at how an author conveys their point (which I know sounds like language paper 2 Question 4, but bear with me). 

The aim of the module is to: have pupils interrogate rhetorical choices that are made in political speeches and the intended effect of them. Why is Enoch Powell making such a case of saying ‘a hardworking constituent’, why does David Lammy emphasise ‘British subjects’ and ‘British citizens’ never saying ‘immigrants’ in the way that Powell did? How does rhetoric shape our understanding of political issues?

What I want them to know is key political speeches and ideas that have shaped their world so as they navigate the world, they know when someone is trying to stir moral panic, they know the dog whistles that politicians might be using to pander to audiences. I already have pupils noticing that an article from the BBC said the state had ‘removed’ individuals rather than deported them and that ‘it’s almost as if they’re trying to absolve the government of the wrongdoing’. So will they know how to approach LP2Q4? Probably. But that’s not the point of this scheme. 

I have yet to see long term whether this approach works as it’s my first year and the first implementation of this module, but that’s the rub of research informed teaching. It can solely inform what we do and then our subject should decide how we continue. Not the language paper.  When we do so, we narrow education and remove the joy that comes with learning. 

I’m on twitter @MsJasmineMN 

A Note: I realise that we need to practise questions types at KS4 because the language paper exists and is incredibly silly. This isn’t a knock on anyone that does this. I’m talking specifically about KS3 being used to simply practice the language paper.

And yes, those are actual comments and vocabulary from my pupils. My year 9s are incredible and I model high level vocabulary every day as well as explicitly teaching it. 

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