GCSE Secondary Secondary English

Secondary English – Linking Assessment Objectives

Regardless of whether we are teaching a combined or single-entry GCSE curriculum, the presence of the Assessment Objectives should, we know, be at the forefront of our minds as teachers when planning our courses and schemes of work.

This can, in some cases, be more tricky at Key Stage 3 than Key Stage 4. After all, at GCSE, the awarding body has done the job for us; it is their role to devise the ways and means, the assessment points and the outcomes. They decide the relative weightings of each assessment objective and put in place a curriculum which we, to all intents and purposes, follow.

However, it can still be tricky to know what these assessment objectives actually mean. For colleagues new to the profession, without the experience of taking examination classes through to the end point, without having seen exemplar materials and been part of moderation and standardisation sessions, it can be hard to get our heads around what these rather nebulous descriptors of achievement look like in practice.

For example, two of the GCSE English Literature objectives are:
AO1: respond to texts critically and imaginatively; select and evaluate relevant textual detail to illustrate and support interpretations

AO2: explain how language, structure and form contribute to writers’ presentation of ideas, themes and settings

In the best responses, these two objectives are linked. Candidates present a response which demonstrates their clear understanding of ideas and themes, with direct reference to how the writer has used language, or structure, or form, to present these ideas and themes.

In Section Three of Of Mice and Men, for example, George and Lennie are left alone in the bunk house. George lays out his solitaire hand using ‘a deliberate, thoughtful, slowness’. Lennie, however, ‘drummed on the table with his fingers’.

Candidates at all levels can say something about this. We all know about Steinbeck’s use of hands as metaphor in the novella as a whole: how he consistently uses this image to demonstrate his theme:  the plight of the working man. The use of the punctuation in the description of George’s behaviour, if students commented on it, the extra use of comma which intensifies the ‘deliberate, thoughtful, slowness’,  might be a means to accessing higher mark bands.  And then this description could be very successfully contrasted with Lennie’s childlike impatience – just like his impatience to ‘get the little place’.

A passage such as this lends itself very effectively to ‘responding to texts critically and imaginatively’, as well as ‘explaining how language / structure / form contribute to writer’s presentation of ideas, themes and settings’.

Sarah Darragh
English Teacher and author of A Bridge to GCSE English

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