GCSE Secondary Secondary English

GCSE English – How to Succeed at Studying Spoken Language

Like many of us, I was surprised and a little bit scared to see the inclusion of a Spoken Language element to the Controlled Assessments for the new specifications. Having taught AS and A2 English Language for many years, the terminology didn’t daunt me and I had a plentiful supply of transcripts, but I was dreading the outcomes. I had a vision of some of my comedy favourites reduced to a shopping list of terminology. I feared for the great orators of the last century  – their landmark speeches recognised only for the fact that they didn’t contain an adjacency pair or a tag question!

I decided to take a different tack and opt into the study of idiolect instead. My class this year, a pilot group for the new specification, were all male, re sitters, who had all ‘failed’ GCSE in High School or at least that’s how they perceive it.  They are an eclectic bunch. For many of them, English is an additional language and one or two members of the group have only learned English within the last few years. Others speak English in college, but a different language at home and others speak English as a first language, but with a regional accent. Now we had something to go on.

Our Spoken Language Controlled Assessment evolved from a whole class discussion – a discussion that went so well and generated so much material that I ended up writing it up as a Speaking and Listening activity. That was a bonus for a start. In addition, I learned fascinating things about my students that helped me to understand a great deal more about how they write. I learned about the grammar and syntax of two West African languages compared to English, how difficult it is to learn a different alphabet with different sounds and how many students blend the English Language with their first language at home with their families.

Our next step was a ‘cutting and sticking’ lesson. The class made collages to illustrate their own idiolect or ‘Language Fingerprints’ as we termed them. Starting from a central photograph of themselves, we considered different avenues of our idiolect: the influence of place, family, education, friends and peers, the media/music/new technology. We wrote mini paragraphs about each aspect (if they were applicable to the individual) and illustrated them with images and cut out phrases and words. Secretly, what I was doing was embedding a plan for the Spoken Language Controlled Assessment.

When we were all safely ensconced in the ICT suite with our official plans, writing up the assignments, it was lovely to look over their shoulders and see them engaging with the task, because it was about them and their spoken language. The factors that have, at times, held them back in English became the material they could use. And the outcomes? Not dreadful shopping lists of terms, with limited analysis, but individual pieces about spoken voices that taught me a lot about what success in English really means.

Jo Heathcote
Loreto College, Manchester

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