- Students are not able to place texts within relevant social and historical contexts;
- In written work at KS3 to A level, students make vague and generalised comments when linking texts to their contexts
- Students have little understanding of texts in the literary canon written during the C19th.
How we’ve tried to fix it:
In previous years, we have taught a self-selecting Year 9 novel scheme (which involved teaching some analytical and evaluative skills and then letting them loose on a C19th text of interest). Whilst students enjoyed this unit, it didn’t give them enough of a sense of context across a range of C19th texts.
When restructuring our curriculum at KS3, we decided to dedicate some space and time to explore this period of literature in greater depth.
What were we trying to achieve in this scheme of learning?
We’d like students to be able to:
- Acknowledge the crossover between disciplines required in studying English language and English Literature, especially when studying C19th texts.
- Gain a deeper and wider understanding of the contexts in which texts are produced and received.
- To acknowledge the range of texts written during this period and their lasting legacies and current cultural worth.
Alongside this, our interest was also to build on and develop the following skills/ habits of mind:
|Select and synthesise evidence from different texts|
|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|
|Compare writers’ ideas and perspectives, as well as how these are conveyed, across two or more texts|
|Evaluate texts critically and support this with appropriate textual references|
|use textual references, including quotations, to support and illustrate interpretations.|
|Analyse the language, form and structure used by a writer to create meanings and effects, using relevant subject terminology where appropriate.|
|Show understanding of the relationships between texts and the contexts in which they were written.|
This brilliant guide, the ‘AQA introduction to C19th extracts at KS3’ was used as the stimulus (and the basis for most of the activities in this scheme) but for us, this was also about getting students to make more purposeful links when discussing context of the C19th (prior to their ‘text-specific’ focus at GCSE).
Therefore, the challenges and lessons are split into sections according to a range of C19th ‘issues’- education, the role of women, the British Empire, exploration and colonisation, crime and marriage.
One example from the scheme:
The opening of the scheme of learning forces students to consider some C19th ‘texts’. The texts they see are image sources from the British Library (https://www.bl.uk/victorian-britain) that raise questions about aspects of Victorian life that we plan to revisit later in the scheme. These initial images act as a prompt later in the scheme and are a point of reference for the students’ growing understanding.
In the first lesson, students are given the images, face down and asked to turn over one image at a time and to consider and respond to the following questions:
What sort of assumptions can you make (based mainly on the evidence in front of you) about what was:
a) valued during this period of time?
b) exciting about this period of time?
c) felt unnerving at this time?
At this stage, students are already able to see a series of patterns and links. With some teasing questions, students notice images of poverty linked with images of progression; images of exploration versus images of tradition. This leads to some excellent discussion about how literature ‘could’ respond to some of these dichotomies.
The scheme then moves to unpick some of these issues in greater depth, highlighting the social and political relevance of works of literature at the time.
Feel free to download this scheme of learning and the accompanying guide from AQA. This guide provided some much-needed stimulus and a fantastic range of C19th novel extracts to choose from.
Warning: Please check the scheme is appropriate for your students before using it– there are some sensitive topics covered, which may not be appropriate in your different contexts!
I hope it helps somebody, somewhere!
If you like the sound of this, feel free to download a PDF of the scheme of learning below:
The AQA booklet I’ve mentioned (and the primary resource for the scheme) is here.
The British Library has a wealth of excellent essays, extracts and original sources which provide some superb points of reference. For Victorian historical context, https://www.bl.uk/victorian-britain and for Victorian literature: https://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians