GCSE English Literature - How we are assessing context transcript

GCSE English Literature

How we are assessing context

Ruth Johnson, Qualifications Developer, GCSE English

On the new GCSE in English Literature context is assessed by assessment objective 3 which has an overall weighting on our specification of 15 percent. When designing the specification we had a decision to make: should we put all the weighting for context on one or two texts, as it is now, or should we spread it across the different set texts? We decided to spread it across all the set texts except for unseen poetry, so AO3 context will be assessed on Shakespeare, the nineteenth-century novel, modern prose or drama, and the poetry anthology.

We made this decision for the following reasons: firstly, we think that the way you approach literature should remain consistent whichever genre you're studying whether poetry, drama or prose and secondly, that approach to literature should start with AO1 and AO2. Those AOs are really what the study of literature is about, roughly, the meanings and the interpretation of texts and the ways the writers craft text to create those meanings. So, those AOs should be dominant in whatever text you're writing about. A reader's interpretation of a text is also informed by context (AO3) but should never be dominated by it, so we didn't want to set questions that asked students to focus on the context of the text at the expense of the text itself.

The marks available for the different assessment objectives on the different questions reflect this relationship between them. For example, the nineteenth-century novel question is worth 30 marks. Of that 30, 24 are for AO1 and AO2, and six are for AO3 (context). So, context informs a student's reading of a 19th century text but doesn't dominate it. We've also thought hard about how we understand the whole idea of context.

Previously, context has focused on social and historical context but this has often led to students bolting on information about context to their exam or the controlled assessment answer, so we think this is too narrow a definition, and not necessarily helpful to a student's understanding of a text. In this spec the range of contexts will depend on the text, the author, and the task. In teaching and assessing AO3, teachers and students can consider context in a flexible way, depending on the text itself and whichever context are the most relevant for that particular text.

Above all teaching of context should be rooted in the text it shouldn't need or lead to history lessons but should use the text itself as a window into the context of the text. These contexts may relate to the relationship between the text and the context in which it was written, however these contexts may also relate to the context within which the text is set. Aspects such as location, social structures and features, cultural context or gender roles might all be relevant depending on the text. Context, where relevant, may also apply to literary context such as genre and also the context in which texts are engaged with by different audiences at different times. In the exam, in all cases, the question being asked will lead the student to write about context, so a student shouldn't have to worry about hitting the AOs. In answering the question asked, they will be writing about context.

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