Making Sense Out Of Chaos

So, the government in their perpetually inept wisdom brought in a new grading scheme and everyone has been trying to grasp the nettle and work with it; student and teacher alike.

Here is how Edexcel Pearson think it works.

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Regardless of what anyone else will say, especially teachers who claim that a level 4 is not a pass, the simplistic way to look at this chart is to see that the government are wanting you to look at two numbers; 4 and 7. If you can get an 8 or a 9, then brilliant. But we all can see from this that a 4 is a C.

However, I saw something yesterday that said the government and the exam bodies expect the same amount of students who got an A or a C to get a 7 or a 4. That is how they expect you to do. The rest then, are minor definitions of the highest grades and the very lowest ones. But remember, all of them, apart from a U [for Unclassified] are passes!

So, what do you need to do to get a 4 over the entire two exams?

Well, the first thing to note is do not panic and have a brain freeze on the day. One student of mine recently had a mock and this happened on the second paper. He knows what he is doing and should get a 5 or higher, [I am hoping a 6] but he let himself get flustered and then the old [or young, in his case] head froze and he shuffled his way through the rest of the exam, scoring a 4 overall [a 5 and a very low 4]. In the final exam to come in a few weeks, he should, if he does not let his nerves get the better of him, do well in both and then get that 5 for definite [if he does not, I will eat my car keys!], or a 6 if he writes the right things and does well in the second section of each, where being creative is not always the easiest thing to do on the day.

The second thing is to remember those PEED chains. You all know that the PEE stands for Point, Evidence and Explanation, or some other variant expression you have been taught, but how many of you take time to add Development to those ideas? It is so easy to write one point, use one short quote, to prove it and then say what it means before going on to the next point, but if you allow your life experience to find its way into the exam, especially in section A, where Q4 always catches people out, you will find that letting yourself go a little actually helps, if you stick to the answer. For example, if you write “The writer uses a pyramid like structure to his writing, using shorter sentences each time to make his point” [random, I know; first thing I could think of] and then add “when he says that ‘his life is always hectic” and then add that this sentence is mid length and leave it at that, then it is a waste of time.

I hope that makes sense.

But if you add development into that, at the end and say how it has an effect on the reader, how it makes the point come quicker, how it relates to modern audiences and is quite clever, reminding the reader of a sales and marketing tract, all these things can then add to your answer, before heading into the next PEED chain. Try it next time, in class, or in your next practice answer for Q4 and see what development does for your answer [and for the heart rate of your teacher].

The third thing you need to do is copy and paste the GLOSSARY OF TERMS off this site. Just type it in at the top and hit the link before copying and pasting into a word processing file. Then get someone to ask you to define [and give an example] of each one. Place a tick at each that you know. Asterisk those you cannot and then use that 6 pages to revise your technical English skills. Then learn them all by the exam so you know what hyperbole is and what it does etc.

Then there is that wonderful thing called Time Management which is covered here in this site as well. You have an hour, or 45 minutes for a section, whichever way you look at it, so break the time up for each question and stick to that time in the exam. Do not go over that time and especially under it, trying to pinch a minute or three from section A to give you a few moments more for section B.

Be ruthless in your time management!

But above all, go into the exams with confidence. You have been working towards this and working hard. Now go and make it worth the while. Make the best out of this situation and be the very best you can on the two days you are tested in this brilliant subject, and in August, when you get your results, rejoice with me, whatever they are.

Go on, get revising, now! What’s stopping you?

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The Great Poundland Debacle

Normally, I would write pieces on this website which try to encourage you all in your efforts to get that old fashioned Grade C in your GCSE examinations, but something happened this week that has made me take the end of my fingers to my partly worn out keyboard in an attempt to counter something that someone in middle England has said in the public domain about the new level 4 pass and how it is to be considered as a “Poundland Pass,” whereas the higher grade of level 5 can now be considered as a “Waitrose Pass.”

Here is the article in question! It is to be found in the TES, the newspaper for education professionals. In my opinion, such an article as this is not very professional at all.

https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/we-mustnt-let-gcse-grade-4-become-poundland-pass 

Firstly, to consider something like the level 4, which lots of students worked very hard to achieve last year and rejoiced in August when they received their grades, as a “Low Pass” [a local school teacher used that term this very day on a lad I know] whilst seeing the 5 as a stronger pass, is just wrong by anyone in the profession, so I say to the author of that comment, shame on you for even suggesting it.

A pass is a pass, whichever way you cook it. We all know that the old fashioned grades D-G were still passes, albeit at a lower level than the required C, which you needed to move on to such as A Levels or college courses, but they were still all passes and some of them well achieved, even the ones below the grade C. I remember a lad in Year 10 before I left Hall Cross School in Doncaster who was expected to score no higher than an F grade in his English Language exams [overall grade] but with help and assistance because of his Special Needs, achieved a B grade. Anything is possible. So when the government introduced the new system of 9-1 marking and grading, we as teachers asked a simple question; where will the C/D borderline be? What will equate to a C and what will not? We assumed that it might be a simple translation from 9 being an A* and so on, down the list, but soon found that this was not the case.

For months, teachers did not know for sure and then came the bomb shell, that level 4 would be what was once considered a grade C. So, we professionals knew we had to push for the level 4 and above as much as possible, for the student and for the school or college. As a teacher myself, I knew there was going to be some issues that would need ironing out; what is the difference between a 4 and a 5? How do we stop employers demanding the 5 or colleges doing the same when a 4 is still the equivalent of a C? How do we sell the idea to the country that if a level 4 is a pass, then that has to become the benchmark needed for students to continue in education or be seen as having what used to be termed a C grade?

Now, it seems, with articles like this one, that employers are trying to insist on the level 5 as the benchmark, making it totally unfair to those who worked their backside off last year to get that level 4. One young man I know took a tutor on in late March of 2017. His exams were at the end of May and early June for all his subjects. He was eighteen and working, as well as being a trainee engineer and all he needed was the confidence to write his head off in the exam, especially Section B, where writing freely was something he had never really mastered. In approximately six weeks of one hour sessions, he was successfully taken by his tutor from the level 3 [or below] to a level 4 and when the results day came, his level of joy and excitement, as well as blessed relief, was palpable. When his tutor got the email, it had lots of exclamation marks [tut tut, I know] showing his utter joy in his success. His reaction is what passing at the right grade does to a student and is the best thing in the world for any teacher to see when the grades are given out in August.

So, to make it so that the work and effort he put in is now a waste of his time, effort and money is something that makes me ashamed of the profession I love and adore, as well as being ashamed with the government who introduced this sham in the first place and have let this happen. I may have taken my pension and not work anymore in the classroom due to disability, but I see these comments in articles like this and I cringe. How can we let those outside of education suddenly say that level 5 is the benchmark grade to get, or else? How can we stand by and let articles such as the one above dictate the levels of success achieved by so many hard working individuals? I know the article is trying to make that assertion, but to even mention words like “Poundland Pass” and “Waitrose Pass” is essentially insulting and offensive to student and to teacher alike. I find it incomprehensible that any teacher should create such a label as this, especially glibly like this one! I would loathe the idea of working in his school.

To all those hard working English Language and Literature students out there, I say this: keep going, keep trying hard, keep learning and head for the best possible grade you can get. If that is a 5, then rejoice with me in your success. If it is a 4, then rejoice also, for the grade you get is accepted by this teacher as a C grade and is accepted as the benchmark for future development. To think any other thing would be tantamount to labelling someone as incapable at whatever they are doing. I for one, when any student gets their results, rejoice in whatever grade achieved. These students have put a lot of work in over the last few months and years and deserve all the success they can achieve.

All students expect the same thing. It is up to us as teachers not to disassociate ourselves from the positives by mentioning the negatives. It is up to us to promote best practice and that does not mean referring to a level 4 as anything but what it is, a pass at GCSE English.

The Bear – Robert Frost

The Bear

Robert Frost

The bear puts both arms around the tree above her
And draws it down as if it were a lover
And its choke cherries lips to kiss good-by,
Then lets it snap back upright in the sky.
Her next step rocks a boulder on the wall
(She’s making her cross-country in the fall).
Her great weight creaks the barbed wire in its staples
As she flings over and off down through the maples,
Leaving on one wire tooth a lock of hair.
Such is the uncaged progress of the bear.
The world has room to make a bear feel free;
The universe seems cramped to you and me.
Man acts more like the poor bear in a cage,
That all day fights a nervous inward rage,
His mood rejecting all his mind suggests.
He paces back and forth and never rests
The me-nail click and shuffle of his feet,
The telescope at one end of his beat,
And at the other end the microscope,
Two instruments of nearly equal hope,
And in conjunction giving quite a spread.
Or if he rests from scientific tread,
‘Tis only to sit back and sway his head
Through ninety-odd degrees of arc, it seems,
Between two metaphysical extremes.
He sits back on his fundamental butt
With lifted snout and eyes (if any) shut
(He almost looks religious but he’s not),
And back and forth he sways from cheek to cheek,
At one extreme agreeing with one Greek
At the other agreeing with another Greek
Which may be thought, but only so to speak.
A baggy figure, equally pathetic
When sedentary and when peripatetic.

Analysis

This is a poem about a bear but it is also about so much more than just the bear itself. The poem uses “he” and “she” interspersed throughout, so I choose not to use a word of gender unless directly quoting, so as to not confuse. [It may be a typo off the website I took the poem from and if so, then apologies].

Written by Robert Frost, this poem describes how the bear acts and reacts in its natural environment. The description begins with the bear pulling down the tree branches that are over hanging for it to get at some food. But Frost describes the bear like we would a “lover” as it “draws down” the branch. As soon as it has retrieved the fruit it wants, it lets the branch go and the whole movement is described in one fell swoop, as it snaps back “upright in the sky.” There is a sensuous movement being described here, for the poet thinks the bear is a thing of beauty, capable of movement in such an exquisite manner that gives it a majestic manner as it feeds. This poem then sets the tone for the rest to follow, whereby we are led into the mind of the reader who is pro-animal and pro-animal rights in his approach, or so it would seem.

But could there be anything deeper than this when it comes to hidden meaning? To ascertain that, one has to consider what comes next as there are no verse endings like in four line verse. So one line interconnects with another and so on through the poem as we see the thoughts and feelings of the poet.

The progress this bear is making is the sort of progress that is seen as showing realism in the sense that the bear is in the wild but it is in its own element as well, something to not go near, something to watch and honour, rather than fear and hunt. Descriptions therefore, of how the bear “rocks a boulder on the wall” as how it is “making her cross-country in the fall” enable us to see the great animal in its element and at a certain time of year. The Fall, in America and Canada is the time of year we call Autumn, when all the leaves are falling from the trees and life is beginning to run out throughout nature as the elements give way from the warmth of summer, into the Fall and then moves on into winter. For the bear, it is a time of year where there is a lot to do, a lot to find, to store for its hibernation months through the long winter but there is also not a lot of food left for it to grab. That is its dilemma.

The level of progress it makes is called an “uncaged progress” in that it lingers where it needs to and lumbers off “down through the maples” leaving a wake of destruction in its wake as it leads its life in the natural elements. But then the poet makes us think of how we treat nature and animals in general, our attitudes to them and their needs. He says “the world has room to make a bear feel free” but at the same time, “the universe seems cramped to you and me.” It is true that what he is saying is that “man acts more like the poor bear in a cage,” fighting with rage against anything that will inhibit it. In this way, he is saying that we humans are just like the bear, capable of being nice and kind and also capable of living by our most natural, basest emotions and activities.

The bear fights a nervous inward rage, his mood rejecting all his mind suggests.” How true of humanity is that? We are so fickle at times, wanting things for ourselves over and above the thoughts and needs of others. There is an animal facet to humankind that the poet is making us think of as he paints the picture of the animal in the wild who “paces back and forth and never rests,” just like we do through life instead of focussing on something more solid and more worthy of our time and efforts. The bear’s head is described as swaying “through ninety-odd degrees of arc” as if it is looking at “two metaphysical extremes.” Life for us is like that. We can be taken up with one thing or another when we are either concerned, or worried, so when we look at this poem we need to figure out whether we think the bear is at peace, or not at this moment. Is the bear shaking its head from side to side in rapt contemplation, or is it doing that because life is an endless bore of walking and hunting and eating? Has the bear lost the plot of life and become useless and so, is shaking its head from side to side like some do when they are in the depths of madness? Or, is this shaking of the head that kind of side to side movement that a bear naturally does when moving? The sense of movement in the bear is so strong in this poem, even though the bearsits back on his fundamental butt with lifted snout and eyes (if any) shut.”

Whatever your answer is should be seen as the correct answer, for with poetry there is no wrong answer, for we each come to the reading of a poem with different life experiences and because of those differing life experiences, we interpret a poem differently to others. Therefore, your answer is just as valid as the next person and should not be taken as wrong, even by your teacher. This bear, to me, is nonchalantly sitting there, minding its own business. In parenthesis, Frost stresses that “he almost looks religious but he’s not.” It is the movement “back and forth” that paints the picture in the mind of the reader that makes them wonder why this bear is doing this. The bearsways from cheek to cheek” on a magnificent backside, as if contemplating what to do next.

It is as if the bear is thinking things through but it is also described as a “baggy figure,” something reflecting the utterly “pathetic” nature of life “when sedentary and when peripatetic.” The word “Sedentary” is sometimes used to describe someone who sits around not doing very much, so it suggests that life is one where there is not much to do any more. The bear has lost that special lifestyle that a wild bear should have, probably because of the influx of humanity into its natural region, which does suggest that the poet is being pro animal and anti human in his depiction of this animal in the wild. “Peripatetic” as a word, is usually used to describe someone, like a home tutor, who goes from one home to the next to teach his or her subject. Likewise, it here describes the bear’s wandering lifestyle, one of loneliness and despair and therefore, makes this poem quite a sad one, bordering on the depressive.

But then again, this would be natural for this poet because if you look online at his life, you will see that he had a lot of experience of things like mental illness and depression, in himself and his family members, both through his natural family and the family he married into. So, is this poem a metaphor for how he feels his life has gone? Is the bear a metaphor for him, shifting aimlessly on his own backside at times, sometimes feeling that life is nasty, brutish and short?

The answer is up to you, but it is worth a thought.