Reading & AO2

Have a look at the following picture. It is taken from the Edexcel GCSE English course currently running in schools and colleges throughout the country, or indeed the world.


There are several things there to wrestle with, especially the written and spoken language components, but what about the reading section, the AO2?

AO2 says “students must  explain, comment on and analyse how writers use language and structure to achieve effects and influence readers, using relevant subject terminology to support their views.” That sounds a right mouth full at first glance, but if you split it up, you get something that leads the student towards their final 2 exams where they will have to write in this style. Now remember, in this syllabus, one exam involves 19th Century literature and the other 20th Century non-lit studies. Therefore, I see the need to split these two ideas when covering these aspects in class. One half of the lesson may be lit based, with the rest being non-lit, or one lesson on each. It all depends on how many hours you have each week.

Let me try to explain further what I mean. This is how I would plan it all, at first glance. Two strands of work. One based on the 19th Century Lit requirement and the other on 20th Century non-lit. Through both, I would expect to see students broadening their skills in things like transactional writing; letters, diaries etc, as well as writing to analyse. The saying ‘practice makes perfect’ rings true every time. But the emphasis for me, would have to be on how to actually cover AO2.

Now, if we split up the AO2 comment, we see the following:




With these things in mind, you have to think about how these three things will be covered, taught and acted upon. Explanation of something needs to be clear and to the point. If a teacher brings in a copy of the “I Have A Dream” speech by Martin Luther King Jr, asking for an analysis on it, then the first thing to do is explain its context. When I was in training, the key thing being taught was “social and historical context” of a text. Therefore, I would expect to see a student writing about the struggles in America that brought about this speech.

Then the students need to make comment on the thing itself. The first section is explaining context. This section is all about personal thought, but please remember those PEE [D] chains again. They have not gone away and never will. If you make a comment, then follow it up, or embed into it, a quote from the text, before going into any further explanation.

Then, with those two sections covered, the student needs to actually analyse the text. Now, if it was the Dream Speech, my analysis would involve the use of Americanisms, of local language, or repetition, of style and emotive language, to name but just a few. So with these three elements included in a written analysis, one would expect a student to pass well in this reading section.

But, consider this; AO2 is only 15% of the final GCSE programme. This is where points could be won or lost in the exam, leading to an expected C grade becoming a D grade and a very emotional student [let alone the teacher].

So, the student needs to write these three things, in these three ways, upon reading a text. When I did my GCSE in 1991-2, my teacher, Steve P, gave us work to do in class so we could apply those three strands mentioned above. He gave us newspaper reports, journals, medical posters, adverts, really anything he could find. We would then be taught how to write using the three strands mentioned and each week, we would have a homework to complete. He would mark them out of 20. My first one was a 13, based on a poem. I then wanted a 15 and got one. He then encouraged us all to go a point higher. I got the 16, then the 17, then the 18, the 19 and I remember sitting there, thinking what the hell do I have to do to get a 20?

So I asked him. My spelling mistakes [at the time] were repetitively annoying so I brushed up on them using f7 on the computer for words like SEP -A – RATE and finally, I got the 20. Now these were elements to my coursework, so I ended up with 45% before I sat an exam. 50% was a C grade so I was fortunate. In the same way, I would set work like Steve did, with homework, to be marked out of 20 [just for personal and student use] so that a student can see their progression, as I did. Encouraging that element of competitiveness is important!

Now you are thinking I have forgotten something. No I haven’t. The AO2 goes on to say that this writing, explaining, commenting and analysing, needs to look at “how writers use language and structure to achieve effects and influence readers, using relevant subject terminology to support their views.”

Here is where the teacher’s creativity comes into play. How do you use language to influence someone? How do you structure what you say to someone? What effect are you wanting to achieve? If you go on social media and write something derogatory about an actor, then what effect are you wanting to achieve? Think like this and writing about such things, such texts, is suddenly very easy.

The last bit, about “using relevant subject terminology,” is all about those wonderful technical elements that are to be found in my Glossary of Terms, found here on this site. Search for it and see. If Martin Luther King Jr says something three times, then he is using rule of three, repetition, possibly alliteration and an emotive style of language. There are four points there, to followed with four short quotes and then, as you are writing, you get the chance to extend yourself, stretching your thoughts, ideas and analysis of a text.

It does not matter what the text is. Each one is written and created for a reason, so remember again those three words mentioned elsewhere: AUDIENCE, FORM & PURPOSE. When you remember those, suddenly you have a focus to your writing.

Now, a little task for you is to select your own text, from a non-lit perspective. Then, write an analysis of it and post it back onto the Facebook page attached to this website. Let us all share in how we make the changes needed as we begin to study [and teach] this new linear style of GCSE.

God bless.