9-1 Grading Explained

If you have taken an exam this year then this site may explain how those 9 through 1 grades will be awarded a little more for you. Your teachers may have explained it, but just in case, here it is…

http://qualifications.pearson.com/en/qualifications/edexcel-gcses/understanding-9-1.html?utm_source=teachitenglish&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=SEC_GEN_01JUN2017_postresults_Q

It is the Pearson Edexcel version but will be standard across the others as well, give or take a point.

RJ

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Structure

If you have studied GCSE English at any level, 9 through to 1 or A* through to G, then you will have seen the word “Structure” pop up from time to time. How does a writer structure this, or that? How does this speech show a level of structure that is different from the rest etc?

Sometimes, when you read a text and then you get a “structure” question, the lights can begin to go out as you think to yourself what the hell is going on here. Don’t worry. It is normal to be like this for unless someone explains it in a way you can understand it, then it will always be something that is beyond you.

This blog aims to do just that, to explain one way of looking at a piece and then applying yourself to the dreaded “structure” question. It is not as difficult as you would think. So, you have a text. It has got words in it. Obvious, I know. But have you ever stopped to think how those words are put there, in the order they are in, on purpose? Well, if you haven’t, then you need to start thinking of it now.

Structure, you see, means just that, how a text is built and just like that other thing you build, a house, it has several elements to it. Just as the house has foundations, so too does a piece of writing. Now, as I type this, I am not consciously thinking I know, I will write a short sentence here … adding the words ‘he fell’ as one sentence just for effect. No, I am writing, thinking of four things as I write and that is structure. What is in the mind of the writer when he or she is writing?

PS. If I was writing a story for you, I would add very short sentences in there.

Think poetry for a moment. A good poem has a style, a rhythm, a pace and only so many words on a line can be there, or the intended effect is lost. The same is true with prose [stories] as well, or with speeches. Indeed, it is the same with anything ever written. So when you look at something new next, stop and think for a moment; what was this person thinking or planning when they wrote this? What was their reason for writing it? Was it to teach, to entertain, to persuade people [the MLK speech ‘I Have a Dream for example]?

What was the reason?

To analyse a text when looking at structure, try to do so in 4 ways. This is especially true of AS and A2 level English as it is here, in GCSE terms. Given a text, whatever it may be, think word, sentence, paragraph, text. Keep repeating it now…

***

How has the writer used words; individual, strong, stylistic words for effect? In the Bible, there is a 2 word sentence, “Jesus wept.” It is written for effect. It is written to convey the real bitterness and sadness of the event that has gone before it. It is a reactionary phrase, a reactionary verb phrase if you will. Likewise, if someone wrote “he then plunged to his death” on one line, for effect, instead of two words being used for effect it is now six of them but look at each one. The word plunged is a powerful word, evoking an image in the mind of someone drowning, perhaps in the fear of the moment when falling. That is what I mean by looking at certain words, at a word level of usage.

Then there is sentence level work in a given text. Just as very short sentences are used to great effect, so too can they be extended, built on to really impact on meaning. Consider Dickens for a moment where he describes the fruit on display in the shop windows in A Christmas Carol. He does so in extreme detail. There are pages of writing just describing something that can and will be eaten that day. It is really quite technical language as well so when ever I taught the text, I read that bit because the students, aged twelve, found it too hard. After 5 years of teaching it one lad asked me how many times I had read that bit. “Far too many” said I. So write about how a text has simple and then complex sentences [use of colons, semi colons etc, more than basic punctuation skills] for effect.

Explain that effect.

Then go on to paragraph level analysis, looking at how a paragraph is put together. It might start off simple; easy words to lure you in to reading it further and then gradually get more difficult to read. Again, Dickens can be like that. No room for laziness when it comes to Charlie Boy. So, look at the length of each sentence. I did this with someone recently and he saw that the four sentences in the one paragraph had exactly the same amount of words in them; fourteen words. As a paragraph therefore, it was an evenly spaced and well constructed paragraph. This is how you can analyse in close detail and reflect how the writer has planned the thoughts out well.

Then, look at the whole text level. Does it have moments of fun, levity, light heartedness? If so, then how does it build up to them? Does it do so using some of the ideas we have seen and looked at earlier? Is it a case of building up tension by lengthening the sentences? Or vice versa? If so then you have a technique being used so share it. Explain how this works and the desired effect, how you see it and do so, writing about how the writer has therefore, put all of this together to form what is good [or not] literature and be prepared to criticise it for your ideas are what get extra points.

But above all, do not forget that mantra; word, sentence, paragraph, text. 

Safe writing folks!

Task

Have a go at writing this, about how the writer, Charles Dickens, structures his opening to A Christmas Carol. [Use the mantra]. Post it underneath for me to share please.

Marley was dead: to begin with.  There is no doubt whatever about that.  The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner.  Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to.  Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind!  I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail.  I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade.  But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for.  You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Scrooge knew he was dead?  Of course he did. How could it be otherwise?  Scrooge and he were partners for I don’t know how many years.  Scrooge was his sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole assign, his sole residuary legatee, his sole friend and sole mourner.  And even Scrooge was not so dreadfully cut up by the sad event, but that he was an excellent man of business on the very day of the funeral, and solemnised it with an undoubted bargain.

The mention of Marley’s funeral brings me back to the point I started from.  There is no doubt that Marley was dead.  This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.  If we were not perfectly convinced that Hamlet’s Father died before the play began, there would be nothing more remarkable in his taking a stroll at night, in an easterly wind, upon his own ramparts, than there would be in any other middle-aged gentleman rashly turning out after dark in a breezy spot — say Saint Paul’s Churchyard for instance — literally to astonish his son’s weak mind.

 

Springboarding #2

For those who do not know, I am a huge Doctor Who fan, or a Whovian, as they are known. I am not quite a Geek in the sense that I can tell you what happened in episode 6 of the Tom Baker episodes, or even, what Rose said in Chris Eccleston’s first episode when her Mum first saw the Doctor, in her flat, whilst in her night dress or robe. But, I love it to bits.

So imagine my delight when I saw on Facebook yesterday, the chance to write for the BBC via something called Mixital [link below at the end], a story concerning the Doctor [and Bill and Nardole, for those in the know]. They are asking for people to write their own stories, or screenplays. Indeed, they give you the format to use should you wish to get trapped into that style of writing.

I had to have a go!

But it reminded me of the term “Springboarding” that we use in teaching English and I know, or suspect, that I have done another post on this matter, on how to do it, somewhere on this site, hence the #2 label here.

So, what is springboarding again?

Simply put, it is where I [or the exam board] give you a start line, or an end line of a story. Sometimes, it can even be a picture and then you have to write something based on it. I love the ones where I give a single sentence and the students have to plan and write a story that ends with exactly the same line. It is a fabulous KS3 writing exercise so that by the time they get to KS4 and GCSE, it is second nature to them.

Well, this story that the BBC wanted us all to write got me thinking, as any good springboarding thing should. What is my favourite monster from the show? Add that in as the scary element. Then, tease the reader, by only giving them the first instalment. Better that way, to leave them thinking what will happen next? 

Now, I do have to confess something here. I did not ‘plan’ this using any technique. It just came straight out of me. I let my creative juices free and within 40 minutes, had written just over 1,000 words.

Here it is…..

The Visitor

Nardole was the first to notice that something very strange was happening. His senses began to tingle as he heard the faint noise coming from the Doctor’s study and as he pondered on what to do next, he then saw the foot prints trailing to the entrance door. But these were not ordinary footprints. These were footprints that trailed something else with them; small pools of water.       Something inexplicable was happening, or, as Nardole thought, the plumbing had gone, causing a minor flood somewhere; a student would be in there, moaning as usual. As he strode cautiously towards the door, he was then bombarded by a different sensation, a smell so wicked that even he, with his lack of sense of smell, was able to pick up on it. It was the unmistakable smell of fish, or salt water that somehow, had been left to go stagnant. Whatever was in that room was smelly and by the looks of the marks on the floor, a potential danger.
    “I think I should perhaps go and do something else,” he said, more to himself, trying to avoid what might become a tricky situation. And as he got to the door, he wished he hadn’t, for he was faced with a sight he had never seen before in his life, a sight so hideous that all of his senses became acutely aware of how terrible this was. Just as he was about to utter a stifled scream of terror, he heard that usual, quirky voice, telling him all was well.
    “Ahh, Nardole. Where have you been?” asked the Doctor. Nardole simply froze where he stood, a slight look of annoyance now forming on his face.
    “How am I supposed to know when there is something wrong, or when someone is here with you who may be dangerous, when you invite anyone in here?” Nardole was not pleased, but he quietened down at the thought that whatever this creature was was obviously not that dangerous.
     But what was it? What creature could stand there, dripping water, smelling like a stagnant pool and with a face that seemed to be nothing but eyes and gills? It was not a pretty sight at all and he reeled at the thought that he might have to get to know this one, or at least help him out.
     Was it a ‘him?’ He was not even sure of that now, but he relented long enough for the Doctor to tell him that this was a distant relative of a species he had encountered some time ago, in “another lifetime” he said. Nardole knew that that meant in another body, at another time back in the Time Lord’s existence, so he did not ask when and where and how. He just shrugged his shoulders and responded with a “Hi” that seemed half hearted in its extreme.
     “Nardole. Will you take this fellow down to the T.A.R.D.I.S for me and let him into one of the bathing areas please? He needs the water.”
     The Doctor never said “please” any more. It was a sign that all was not well but that he was being nice for a reason, hiding something from the creature, for now, avoiding the point or the opportunity for action by creating diversion. That was his usual way. And Nardole knew him well enough to agree and ask the visitor to follow him.
     “Walk this way,” he said, offering the Doctor a raised eyebrow and a smirk that suggested irony and a little bit of sarcasm, in an effort to lighten the situation. The creature followed, amiably enough, squelching as each foot hit the floor on the way out. For Nardole, it was a humorous moment in a stressful day. Working with the Doctor was beginning to pay its toll on him. Time, for him, was running out, but when would be the best time to leave the Doctor to someone else? That was his dilemma. That was his problem. That was the decision he would soon have to make.
     Just after this brief meeting, Bill walked in with her usual fresh expression of delight, offering the darkened room a little bit of light into the recesses of what had just gone before. She had seen Nardole heading off down the corridor, followed by someone she thought had some form of issue with his room in the halls of residence. That had to be the problem, so she did not ask.      “Hiya,” she offered, “How are things with you today?”
   The Doctor remained silent, as if he was in some form of trance, thinking things through; what is the next move? How does this situation resolve itself? With all these things rushing around inside his head, there was no wonder he was distracted, for his mind was racing with all sorts of possibilities.
    “Bill,” offered the Doctor.
    “Yeah, are we feeling tired or something,” she replied, “Because you are usually so much more bubbly than this, brighter if you know what I mean?”
    “Oh yeah, just fine. You know me. I battle all manner of aliens and always come out on top. A single Sea Devil is not going to worry me.”
    “Errr, what? Sea Devil? What’s one of them?” Bill was beginning to worry.
    “Oh, just someone I met a long time ago and who has now appeared again. You just missed him. He’s the one responsible for the water trails on the floor.”
     By now, Bill was officially intrigued. A real life Sea “Devil” to contend with. It was all too much for her to take, so she asked that fateful question.
    “Oo-kay,” she said, “I think. What is a Sea Devil and how do you know them?”
    This would be a long story, told in four sections, interjected by three terrifying moments at the hands of the Doctor and the mysterious visitor! By the end of the day, Bill would feel real terror, the sort that brings on the fight and flight sensation, the sort of experience she would never forget. If she thought robots with faces that projected emojis were strange, she would soon choose to opt for said robots over a Sea Devil, any day!

This is something that once I had the challenge and a thought about which monster to use, appeared in my mind, but the trick was to take every step as logical as possible. Yes, I had to start at the top, at the left and then indent every paragraph. That, as has been said on here many times, is how the marker will expect to see it in the exam. They will drop points if you leave 2 line gaps between paragraphs [as I am doing when typing here].

Yes, I had to use direct speech skills, like indenting speech, using the ” and the ” where necessary, along with the correct punctuation inside the speech marks. Note the full stops! But in the end, once I had those skills learnt, the writing of it was so much easier for me. That is why we try to teach you the skills needed, to make the exam writing easier and much more fun.

Fun?

Yes, I believe you can have fun when you write. Whether you are doing AQA or Edexcel or OCR, all of which I have seen their sample material, they all seem to be veering towards the use of free writing [stories] in their creative section of the exam.

So, if you get the chance to write something creative on June 6th, let the creative juices free to flow. Free your mind enough to be able to be as creative as possible, so that you can write something that is not only good, but accurate also. You never know, it might be the difference between a 4 [low C of old] and a 5, or even a 6 [B of old].

Happy writing!

For the Mixital link, see here: https://www.mixital.co.uk/channel/doctor-who-fanfiction

Section B Task – New Exam Paper [AQA]

As preparation for the new exam coming in June, one of my students and I took a look at the new sample materials on the AQA website and there, in all its glory, was the new style of Section B task, an either/or task rather than the usual two tasks as before. In the past, the first task has been worth 16 marks and the final one worth 24 [total of 40 marks] but now, there is just a single task worth 40 marks [24 for the piece and 16 for SPAG – spelling, punctuation and grammar].

The task on the exam paper read as: Write about a place that is severely affected by bad weather [or something like that]. This is his response, done in two one hour sessions. See how many things you can spot in this…

***

Castleton was always such a bright, beautiful and picturesque place. It was located in the heart of the North Yorkshire Dales, south east of Whitby. It had a population of 525, before the decision was made to build a residential care home.

It was a lovely, scorching, summer’s day, a typically normal day, until the colossal, grey clouds came rumbling and rolling in over the hills. Then the rain started bouncing down heavily, which was fairly unfamiliar for this small village but nobody thought anything of it and carried on with their day. But, as it gradually started getting worse, farmers were forced to pack up and go home and the small village turned into a ghost town; not a soul in sight.

The torrential rain was getting worse by the minute, floods were starting to form in the valley which was beginning to flood. People started to panic as it worsened, when all of a sudden, disaster struck; the power in the small village became faulty, causing power cuts to begin in every home, one after another. As the floods developed into torrents of water being spread everywhere, people started fearing for the people in the new care home that had just been built. As there was no power at that time, the elderly people were worrying, not being able to see much or see a way to get out of their problem.

The care home, which was located just at the bottom of two hills, was now in danger as the rain came running down the valleys, directly into it. The home, as well as the village, had never seen weather like this before. But there was nothing anyone could do with the power loss. The rain had deteriorated that much that it had started to wear away at the hillsides; mud was starting to fall down towards the little village. In this day and age, another Aberfan was unthinkable, surely, but the brute power and force of the water as it gathered with the silt and the soil, transformed it into a mire of dirt and decay.

The villagers all knew that a landslide begins to fall downwards and if it did here, then the new care home would soon become buried. The locals sat there in their homes, looking out at the sheer ferocity of the rain water in total fear as they realised just how helpless and hopeless a situation it had become. In just over an hour, the peace and beauty of their village had been turned into a catastrophe of clay and mud; they all knew that they could not do anything.

Then, all of a sudden, a gigantic piece of granite stone began rolling down the hill, sliding its fearful, frightening way from the top of the brow, directly towards the care home. Stunned villagers who were still out in the rain watched in amazement, some videoing the event as it happened, not thinking of their own safety. And when the final thing happened, they all saw and marvelled at the power and intensity of nature as the care home vanished under an avalanche of mud.

Would there be any survivors of this tragedy? Only time would tell.

***

Well done EH.

New Exams Are Here – Paper 2

Okay, so you have taken the first new style GCSE English paper and you are preparing for the second one. What should you expect?

AQA have an example on their website. Here it is, broken down for you, to knock all those fears on the head.

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These first two are the first external source, like the ones of old, but instead of 3 of them, there are only 2 to read and answer questions on.

The second one is below…

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So, above are the inserts you are required to read for this exam. You have 15 minutes to read through them and check the questions or tasks that need to be answered.

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Once again, look at this front page. Note the times are the same as Paper 1, the marks the same, how you are assessed on reading in Section A [PEED chains etc] and on your writing in Section B [SPAG marks included]. No dictionaries allowed.

Then look at the first task. This is new.

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It is simply a case of shading in the right areas. But make sure you get it right. Facts are one thing. Opinions are another.

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If the first task is worth 4 marks, then 4 need to be shaded but now this is worth 8 marks so even though a summary is to be written, it has to be done clearly and properly. Could you get away with a line down the middle of the page and ideas from both men on either side?

I think not! As a marker, there is no way I would mark high if this happens.

Then comes a question that asks you to refer only to Source B.

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It is another of those “how does the writer use language” exam questions but note please, the marks have gone up to 12, so 6 good points fleshed out by 6 good quotes and developed explanation and all should be well.

Then comes this… worth 16 marks. Note how the marks are going up each time.

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Now, we get to something that we are used to in the past, a ‘compare’ task, where you have to show how both people do certain things in their writing. For 16 marks, I would expect 8 good, well rounded points with 8 equally good quotes, well used and well explained, in extreme detail.

This will be the question that makes the difference in this section of the exam!

With this done, section A is complete and yet again, the same [or similar] time management structure applies as in Paper 1. That would be 5 minutes for Q1, 8 minutes for Q2, 12 minutes for Q3 and 20 minutes for Q4. I would advise this slightly different time frame because of how the marks are different for each question as compared to Paper 1.

Then comes Section B.

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As in Paper 1, you have a single written task to plan and execute well. Paper 1 was creative writing in Section B. This is more argumentative and therefore, more difficult. It sets the premise that homework has no value and should be banned. 24 marks are given for ideas on page, how well thought out etc. 16 marks are for spelling, punctuation, grammar, paragraphing [see 2 rules for paragraphing and stick to them] etc. You can so easily write a good set of ideas and write them poorly and score very low on this part of the exam, if you do not paragraph your work clearly, with indented paragraphs and no lines missed.

NB: Write it as you would type it and enjoy doing the resits in November or doing the entire GCSE again the following year.

The task asks you to explain your point of view about homework and its merits. Yes, of course, some students do not do it and are chased by teachers all year long. Others get older ones to do it for them and do not learn. But on the other hand, homework is something that can aide learning, if used correctly. So, plan and prepare on the first page in section B and then write the thing well.

Once again, an easier exam than in previous years, in my humble opinion and one I would relish having a go at, if only I was a student again.

Remember: Be brave. Be the best. Let the markers have all the stress!

New Exams Are Here – Paper 1

Have you been fretting recently? Have you been concerned about the style of the new exams? If so, read on, for this is the first sighting of the new 2 paper style of GCSE English, taken from the AQA website. Below appears a series of photos and then a short explanation, for anyone to understand. I hope they make sense.

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This first one is the new formatted front sheet to Paper 1. Note the 1 hour 45 minutes. Note also that the inserts we are used to are included inside the exam paper. Only when we get to Paper 2 do we see external inserts to quote from. Note also how the marks are split and the 15 minutes reading requirement. That is not 1 hour plus 15 minutes. It is 15 minutes to read the inserts and 45 minutes for each section. Less writing, fewer pages but a greater need for accuracy.

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The two pictures above are one insert, from a story by Daphne Du Maurier and are to be read and then, students are to answer questions. Below is Q1.

 

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Can you remember the first task on the F paper from last year and the years before? That was a simple list of four things. This is the first question, an easy one to get you into the paper. 4 things means 4 points. Only write two and you only score two. Simple!

Then come the harder questions.

 

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This is one of those “how does the writer use language” ones, where you have to mention any stylistic devices used, any alliteration, similes, metaphor etc. This is where the PEED chains begin. Note the amount of marks has just doubled, so 4 points made, 4 bits of evidence and lots of explanation and development and you get the full 8 marks. A half hearted effort here can mean the difference between one mark and the next, a 4 and a 5, or even higher.

 

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Then you get Q3, which is again worth 8 marks. This one asks about writing structure, how attention is focused by the writer to the reader, about how and why things change at some point and any other features you see and can make mention of. So far, in 3 questions, you have the chance to score 20 marks.

Then this happens.

 

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This question is now worth 20 points so here is where you will lose some marks if you mess it up and do not write what you should.

It is based on an opinion of how the writer brings the characters to life. Now, it does not matter whether you agree with it or not, what you have to do is write about it, so do not get hooked up on agree or disagree. It asks how far you agree, so you have to think where you stand on the matter and then write a balanced argument for what you think to be the case. It says you have to support your ideas with reference to the text, so PEED chains still in operation.

With the first 15 minutes of reading time and these 4 questions to answer, you are forced into a time frame as follows:

15 MINS – READING

5 MINS – Q1

10 MINS – Q2

10 MINS – Q3

20 MINS – Q4

And when that is done, you have done the new Section A of the new first exam!

Now, in the past, Section B has been 2 tasks; one worth 16 marks and the other worth 24, with 25 minutes and 35 minutes being advised for each one respectively. Here, your Section B is a single task of 45 minutes [and that includes planning].

Power of Y planning takes 5 minutes, so you have 40 minutes maximum, to write the thing, but what is it to be?

See below….

 

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You have a choice of 2 tasks, not the other thing that I am sure will happen [where some berk will try to answer both tasks in 45 minutes – it has been tried before now so please just do one task].

Your either/or in this instance is really a brilliant one when it comes down to it. If you chose the description based on the picture, then you have all the imagery there in the picture to be able to plan and write a lovely descriptive piece. If you chose to do the second one instead, where you have to write the opening part of a story about a place that is severely affected by the weather, then the options are limitless and this is why the new exam is trying to do that for you as student.

Think for a second!

Pathetic Fallacy and Foreshadowing allow you to begin with bad weather, rain, gusts of wind, leading into a possible ghost story like The Woman In Black. If you are a Doctor Who fan, then episodes like Knock Knock come to mind, or Blink, where there is rain. Or perhaps, you choose something that you know. I went potholing once down something called Jack Pot [yes, it was called that] in Derbyshire. It is literally a 5 foot hole in the ground that you climb down, but if it rains, it fills up, so my story could be about a potholing disaster where the hole fills with unexpected rain and how the adventurers try to survive against all odds.

With all this done, you have completed your first new style exam. In essence, it is a lot easier than the previous ones of years gone by, so I foresee raised levels of success. If teachers, like me, do their job right as they prepare their students for this, then percentage rates of 5 and above [4 = C of old] will forever increase, so long as the government do not have heart failure and knee jerk their way into something else.

So do not panic. Be brave and prepare for Paper 2 [see next piece on this site].

 

 

 

 

 

Trouble at ‘T Mall

If you ever wondered why John Cooper Clarke finds his way into anthologies with his poems, here is why, seen today on social media. His words are simple, straightforward, funny as hell and brilliantly played.